A hive population wake-up call

Overwintered colonies that starve usually do so in early spring, just before the first nectar flows. In the northern climates, colonies may starve as late as April, even though everything appears green and lush.

Part of the reason is that many pollen plants bloom before nectar plants. Here in the Pacific Northwest, red alders flower early and sprinkle butter-hued drifts of pollen on car windshields and picnic tables. But pollen isn’t nectar and it doesn’t provide the sugar fix the honey bees need. Nectar-producing flowers may not appear for several weeks after those first dustings of pollen.

Then too, some of the earliest nectar supplies may be unavailable to honey bees due to inclement weather. To use another local example, big-leaf maples provide buckets of early nectar (and to-die-for honey) but in most years it is lost to spring rains that keep the honey bees inside. They can only look out their windows and sigh.

Consumption goes up while supplies go down

Aside from the weather, the annual life cycle of a honey bee colony puts it at risk of spring starvation. In the northern hemisphere, most colonies have plenty of food from the end of summer through December. During that period, the colony continues to shrink, brood rearing slows or stops altogether, and without brood, the colony keeps the nest cooler, at around 68°F (20°C). All of these factors reduce the daily food requirement.

But in the weeks following the winter solstice, the colony slowly reverses itself. Brood rearing begins again, and with brood rearing comes the need to keep the nest warmer, at around 93°F (34°C), give or take. On warmish days, the bees may venture out for cleansing flights, and flying bees use more fuel than clustering bees. On really warm days, they may actually attempt foraging, an activity that expends even more fuel.

Slowly at first, the hive population increases. Within weeks, the population gains momentum, and before you know it, there are many more mouths to feed. The food supply gets used up faster and faster as the supply gets lower and lower. It is easy to breathe a sigh of relief on that first April morning when you see your bees flowing out of the hive and playing in the sunshine. But depending on your local area, some of those colonies may not live to see May Day.

This year I took the unusual step of providing candy boards to all my colonies. Normally, I only supply them to colonies that lack sufficient honey stores. But after our unusually long, dry summer and parched autumn, I decided it was safer to feed everyone. With the candy boards in place, I relaxed. Bad move.

The population problem

It turns out that last Monday was a wake-up call for me. The weather was a balmy 55°F (13°C) with no rain, so I inspected every hive. What I found floored me.

My colonies are out of control. If I didn’t know it was January, I would have guessed it was May. My doubles have bees covering all twenty frames. My triples have bees covering 25 frames. Bees oozed from every seam, even along the sides. A few of the candy boards have golf ball-sized lumps of sugar remaining.

At first blush, you may think this is a good thing, but my immediate thought was, “How the heck can I keep these bees alive till spring?” In truth, I don’t know if I can. We still have two or maybe three months to get through and I’ve got about three times more bees than I had in October. Although I’ve seen this happen in the past, it was always an isolated hive or two, never an entire apiary.

Bad weather or bad management?

My first thought was to blame the weather. Okay, the weather is weird. Early in the winter we had a cold-snap that lasted about two weeks, but since then it has been warm—lots of days in the forties and even the fifties. The warm days could easily cause an early population increase.

On the other hand, I put pollen supplement in the candy boards. Normally, if I use pollen supplement at all, I don’t offer it until after the solstice. But this year, due to a poor foraging season, I put the boards on a month early. That may have been my big mistake: too much pollen too soon. I had buried the pollen patty inside the sugar, thinking that they wouldn’t get to it right away, but they excavated passages to it immediately.

Considering the alternatives

So now what? When I knock on the individual boxes, some sound dense, as though they may still contain honey. Since it’s warm, I can go in and rearrange the remaining honey frames, making sure they are above or immediately beside the cluster—except they aren’t in clusters, they are teeming mobs. Or I can go buy a pickup load of sugar, something that doesn’t appeal to me in the least. I’m still undecided.

I have to say, tiny clusters in winter worry me, but this worries me even more. I wonder where to go from here.

Honey Bee Suite

Too early for spring
Spring is still months away. Public domain photo.

Winter hive check: what to look for

When you check your winter hives, what do you look for? How often? Should you open them? Should you use a checklist? What if something is wrong?

The answer for me is simple: I get nervous as a cat if I don’t check my hives at least once a week all winter long. But “check” is an open-ended word. What I check for depends on what I find. Sounds like doublespeak, right?

Checking for me means walking past each hive with a cursory glance. If the glance raises a question, I look further. If not, I keep going. Let me give you an example.

A battle with gravity

Last weekend my husband found it first. He came to me all anxious, “You have a hive that’s tipping over.” And he was right. One tall hive that sits on its own stand was leaning like the Tower of Pisa because the front two legs of the stand had caved into the ground.

On closer inspection, it appeared that the ground had been undercut by moles. In the dry summer, the parched ground had remained rigid and held up the stand. But once saturated by winter rain, it collapsed, sucking the hive stand into the mud.

Since the whole thing was strapped together with a tie-down, he was able to push it backward while I dug out the ground underneath and forced in some paving stones. Within a few minutes we had the hive level as a pool table. I could hear the bees sigh with satisfaction, relieved of that lurching feeling in their stomachs.

You never know what you might find. Trees down on top of hives, breaches by animals, snow packing all entrances, rainwater running into—instead of out of—the hive. Depending on your set-up, you might find insulation torn away, lids blown off, or hives hit by vandals.

The perfect number of dead bees

I also look at the number of dead bees on the landing board. I like to see some dead bees because it means the others are in there doing what they are supposed to do: keeping the hive clean and healthy.

If I see no dead bees, I gently rap on the hive until I hear them purr. If all sounds okay, I run a stick through the entrance to make sure it is clear. If there are many dead bees behind the reducer, I pull it out and remove the piles of decomposing bodies.

On the other hand, if I see dozens of dead bees on the landing board, I sift through them. Is there a queen? Do I see deformed wings? Are their heads missing? Are other insects mixed it? An excess of dead bees on the landing board may signal a Varroa mite problem. Other insects parts may mean an infestation. Missing heads may mean a vole is leading the good life.

If I’m concerned, I may pull out the Varroa tray and look for insect parts, mites, and leaking honey. Comb debris tells you where the cluster is and how big it is. Pools of honey may signal an invader.

If the Varroa tray isn’t in use, I may put one in for a few days, and then have another look. The Varroa tray can be a great diagnostic tool for things other than mites.

A peek under the hood

When a closer look is warranted, I may pop the lid for a quick peek inside. Many times when I haven’t been able to hear anything, I’ve nervously lifted the lid only to find them bunched up in the candy, munching away. Perhaps they don’t “talk” with their mouths full? I don’t know why I can’t hear them in the candy, but seeing them there is always a welcome sight.

That said, if your bees are gathered on the top frames and there is no supplemental feed, you should check further. You may need to go into the hive and move frames of honey closer to the cluster, or you may need to add supplemental food.

I’ve often heard beekeepers say that though they think their bees are out of food, it is too cold to open the hive. My opinion is that it is never too cold to open the hive if the bees are starving. If you open the hive and dash in some food, some may die of cold, I get that. But if you wait until it’s warm, they will probably all die of starvation. I hate the expression “no-brainer” but that’s what it is.

The same goes for combining hives. The time I sifted through the landing board bees and found a dead queen, I quickly combined the hive with another using a single sheet of newspaper. They weren’t going to mate a queen in December even if they managed to raise one, so the hive would have been doomed. The combination let it some cold air for sure and probably killed some, but it yielded a nice strong colony the following spring.

Beekeeping often involves sacrificing a few for the good of many, but that’s okay. It’s exactly the same thing they do. Since their entire social system is based on that philosophy, you shouldn’t beat yourself up for making a decision that kills some bees—it is far better than losing the entire colony.

Water, water everywhere

Once you have the lid up, you should check for moisture accumulation. Dry honey bees can successfully handle extremes in temperature, but a wet honey bee is a dead honey bee.

There are various ways of handling excess moisture, some very dependent on where you live. Some beekeepers add extra ventilation, some like to tip a condensation board so the water runs down the inside of the hive instead of dripping on the bees. My personal favorite is the moisture quilt, which captures the moisture and then slowly releases it to the outside air.

When honey bees lived in trees, the punky interior of the cavity captured moisture and the bees were kept dry. But in man-made hives, we often have to help things along. In our digital world, new tools such as the BroodMinder are available to help you monitor the humidity in your hives as well as the temperature.

Deciding what and when is up to you

During most of my weekly rounds, I find nothing. But on that occasion when I do, I try to solve the problem as quickly as possible, keeping in mind what is best for the colony as a whole. Some things can be put off for a warmer day and some cannot. It’s up to the beekeeper to decide which is which.

How about you? What do you check for and how do you do it?

Honey Bee Suite

Hives in winter
Hives during a winter hive check. © Rusty Burlew

Hydroxymethylfurfural in sugar syrup

Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is a naturally-occurring organic acid with the formula C6H6O3. It is often formed during the dehydration of sugars, especially fructose, and is known to be toxic to honey bees.

Much has been written during the past few years about the occurrence of HMF in high-fructose corn syrup* (HFCS), but that is certainly not the only place where it is found.

Regular table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide, meaning it is composed of two monosaccharides. In the case of sugar, those monosaccharides are glucose and fructose. Sugar is easily broken down into its components parts. The process is called inversion, and the resulting product is called invert sugar. Once the sugar is inverted, the fructose portion can dehydrate and form HMF.

Honey bees do it with invertase

The honey stomach contains invertase, an enzyme that inverts sucrose into glucose and fructose. Invertase by itself does not increase the production of HMF. However, the inverted product becomes acidic because the fructose donates a proton during the reaction and thus behaves like an acid.

The production of HMF from fructose can be enhanced in a number of ways. Heat, for example, increases the production of HMF. Honey that was heated contains more, HFCS that was heated contains more, and sugar syrup that was heated contains more. Acids that are used to invert sugar also speed up the process. Citric acid, vinegar, or cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) added to sugar syrup can rapidly increase the formation of HMF. And time alone can increase HMF as well. Old HFCS contains higher levels of HMF, as does old honey.

High HMF equals high mortality

You can find many articles detailing the numbers, but basically the higher the HMF levels, the higher the bee mortality. Low levels of HMF may be such that we can’t easily recognize the increased mortality. For example, if you have a 10-15% bee mortality due to HMF, you may not notice it. But if you couple that with mortality due to mites or a pathogen, the extra bee deaths may be enough to push the colony over the edge.

I can’t say that I ever noticed extra bee deaths when I was feeding cooked fondant. I switched to uncooked sugar several years ago out of sheer dislike for the process. But when I look at the science behind the production of HMF, I can’t see any reason for heating sugar. Why take the risk? Bees are equipped to invert the sugar themselves without producing HMF.

On the other hand, is feeding old honey worse than feeding newly cooked fondant? The answer is a moving target—a complex subject with no easy answers.

Isn’t the pH of sugar bad for bees?

Related to the discussion of HMF is the often heard admonition that feeding syrup or granulated sugar is bad because the pH of sugar is about 7 (neutral) whereas the pH of honey is down around 3 or 4 (quite acidic). This argument assumes that the pH of nectar is the same as the pH of honey, but I don’t believe that is a safe assumption.

When bees process sugar syrup, they treat it like nectar, adding enzymes, storing it, and drying it. So the pH of syrup should be compared to the pH of nectar, not the pH of honey (the finished product).

Since many nectars contain sucrose, it is most likely that honey bees will make the nectar more acidic by inverting the sucrose, just as sugar syrup becomes more acidic after inversion into glucose and fructose. I don’t know the pH of nectar, although I assume there is a wide range. But the pH of nectar is the number we need to know before we can conclude that the pH of sugar is somehow harmful to bees.

*LeBlanc, B. W.; Eggleston, G; Sammataro, D; Cornett, C; Dufault, R; Deeby, T; St. Cyr, E (2009) Formation of Hydroxymethylfurfural in Domestic High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Its Toxicity to the Honey Bee (Apis mellifera). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 57: 7369-7376

Honey Bee Suite

HMF molecule png
HMF molecule


A no-cook candy board recipe for wintering bees

For several years I’ve been looking for a way to combine a moisture quilt with a candy board. I wrote a post about this a while back, but the board in that example contained cooked candy. I wanted a no-cook candy board for several reasons.

The first reason is that cooking sugar syrup is both dangerous and boring, a bad combination for me because when I’m bored I don’t pay attention. Not paying attention when you’re working with molten sugar at about 240 degrees F is not a good idea.

The other issue is that I keep reading articles that say cooked sugar forms high levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), especially when you try to invert it with an acid such as cream of tartar or lemon juice.

The entire “invert-the-sugar-for-the-bees” argument is kind of ridiculous anyway because honey bees do it instantaneously, thanks to the enzymes in their saliva. Lots of types of nectar have high levels of sucrose, and honey bees have no issue with this, inverting it without knowing it.

The candy board frame

A candy board made to place below a quilt could not be solid, obviously, because moist air from the colony could not be collected by the quilt if that air never reaches the quilt. Secondly, the no-cook candy board could not be flipped over because “upside down” doesn’t work well with uncooked sugar.

Debbe Krape in Delaware sent me some no-cook ideas that she collected, and then directed me to the West Central Ohio Beekeepers, where some of the ideas originated. I went to work altering the plans to make them work with my system. The following is what resulted.

The candy boards are made from baggie feeder rims (or mountain camp rims) that are about three inches deep, and a plastic queen excluder, the kind that many people don’t like. A friend told me about the excluder idea, and it seemed to be the perfect answer. Remember, the excluders are not meant to exclude queens, but simply to hold the sugar in place.

Once the feeder rims were assembled, I nailed the plastic excluder onto the bottom of the rim, adding what I thought was a reasonable number of nails along all four sides. Actually, I started this project using screws, but I didn’t have enough of the type I needed, so I just used nails instead. If I find the nails pull out from the weight of the sugar, I will go back to using screws, but so far, so good.

No holes in the frame

Note that I did not put an entrance hole in the candy board frame. Every candy board design I saw had a hole somewhere, either for an upper entrance or ventilation or both. Most recommended tiny holes that I thought wouldn’t do much good, and most had to be shielded from the candy that might block them.

Since my no-cook candy board will have ventilation through the center, and my quilt has ventilation ports, there is plenty of opportunity for air flow. For the bees—should they want an upper entrance—I simply placed an Imirie shim below the candy board. This shim has the added benefit of providing some space between the candy board and the brood frames, in case the candy board sags in the middle.

Once complete, I spread a layer of plastic wrap on the table, placed the empty candy board on the wrap, and then positioned a piece of 2×4 lumber in the center of the candy board. (No, I didn’t measure the wood; it was just a random piece I found under the saw table.) Later, when the wood is removed, the empty space provides the place where the air will flow from the colony up into the moisture quilt. Some of the moisture will condense on the underside of the candy board, which is a good thing because moisture on the surface of the hard candy allows the bees to consume it with ease.

The pollen supplement

The next thing I did was prepare the pollen supplement. I decided to add the pollen supplement (as others have recommended) so that as spring approaches the bees will have an ample supply for brood rearing. Here, where we have so much spring rain, it is often hard for the bees to get out and forage for early pollen. But it was important to me to have a free choice patty—free choice meaning the bees can eat it if they want to, but they are not forced to eat it. If the pollen is mixed uniformly into the candy, the bees are more or less compelled to eat it even if they don’t want to.

I made each pollen patty from 100 grams of Mann Lake Bee-Pro pollen substitute, 200 grams of baker’s sugar, and 105 ml of water. I like baker’s sugar (also known as bar sugar) because the fine particle size allows it to dissolve quickly. Baker’s sugar in small quantities can be expensive, but in the the 50-pound bag, I pay only 2 cents per pound more than regular sugar, which is totally worth it.

At first the mix looks dry and crumbly, but I just knead it like bread for a minute and it makes a silken patty with the consistency of bread dough. You can make them in advance and they stay moist if wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap.

The no-cook candy

I decided on ten pounds of sugar per candy board based on talking to beekeepers in similar areas. I’ve heard seven pounds isn’t enough, 15 pounds is too much, so I arbitrarily decided on 10. I think most of my colonies should get by on their own honey stores anyway, but the candy board is an insurance policy of sorts and not designed to replace all their food. The feeder rims I used are plenty deep, and I think they could hold 25 pounds, depending on what you need in your area.

I placed ten pounds of baker’s sugar in a pot and added 10 tablespoons of water. Some folks recommend much more water, but one tablespoon per pound worked perfectly when I used the baker’s sugar. I don’t know if it would act differently with regular sugar, but you can experiment. Start with a small amount and add more if necessary, but remember the more water you add, the longer it will take to harden.

After adding the water, I just reached in the pot and worked the mixture by hand. I thought it would be a dry mess, but the small amount of water was amazing. It reminded me of the texture needed to build a sand castle that will hold together without slumping. It also reminded me of really dry snow that barely works for a snow ball.

Once mixed, I spread a layer on the bottom of the candy board, divided the pollen patty and put a piece on either side of the wood, and put the rest of the candy on top. Then I just tamped it down until firm.

By next morning the thing was hard as a rock. I removed the wood from the center and placed the candy on a hive. Just above the brood box I added the Imirie shim with the opening in front, then the candy board, then the quilt, then the lid.

The excluders nobody likes

I always hear stories that honey bees will not go through plastic excluders, so after a few minutes, I lifted the quilt for a quick peek. The central area was crawling with bees that hadn’t seemed to notice the excluder. I think it must be a psychological barrier more than anything: if you have to go through an excluder to do to work, that’s one thing; but going through to feast is something else again. Go figure.

So that’s where I am on the project. I have no results to report, no findings to share. But I do feel better having backup food on the hives, especially since our hot and dry summer produced very little in the way of nectar. I will keep you posted.

Honey Bee Suite

I just ran nails through the plastic queen excluder and into the wooden feeder.
Nail-pattern into feeder
I spaced out the nails in what seemed like a logical pattern. If the nails don’t hold, I will replace them with screws.
I placed a sheet of plastic wrap on the table and then placed the candy board on top.
The pollen substitute-sugar-water mix looks dry, but once kneaded, it formed a nice cohesive ball.
If you must keep the pollen patties for a while before use, just wrap in plastic.
Sugar-and-water like wet sand
The sugar and water mixture feels like wet sand. Ignore the spatula and just use your hands to mix.
Pollen-patties-buried in-sugar
First I put in the wooden board, followed by part of the sugar and the pollen patties.
Then I covered the patties with the rest of the sugar, and patted it down firmly.
The next morning, the sugar was hard and I was able to remove the wooden board. This hole gives damp air a way to travel up to the moisture quilt.
Pollen-peeking-through the sugar
You can see the pollen patty peeking out through the sugar. This is free choice feeding: they can eat the pollen or not, depending on what they want and need.
Imirie-shim with entrance hole
An Imirie shim goes under the candy board. Besides giving the bees an upper entrance, the shim provides extra room in case the candy board sags in the center.


Ten beekeeping crimes you should not commit

What are beekeeping crimes? A beekeeping crime is a skipped step, a missed opportunity, or an unfortunate assumption about either honey bees, beekeeping, or the environment we live in. They are crimes because they often result in the death of bees, the spread of disease, or unhappy neighbors. I’ve limited my list to ten, but you certainly know of others.

The order of these beekeeping crimes is unimportant, except for the first one.


Skipping the basics: Nearly every beekeeper I know started by reading a book about beekeeping. It’s fine to read a book about beekeeping, but only after you’ve read about honey bees themselves—how they work, what they do, how they’re built—in other words, basic bee biology.

It’s hard to manage something if you don’t understand the something you are trying to manage. Beekeeping is the art of managing honey bees, so all the beekeeping books make a heck of a lot more sense after you know something about bees. Trust me on this.

My favorites include The Buzz about Bees: Biology of a Superorganism by Jürgen Tautz and Honey-Maker: How the Honey Bee Worker Does What She Does by Rosanna Mattingly. If you realize that beekeeping practices are designed around honey bee biology, you will realize how much sense it makes to start at the beginning.


Not feeding soon enough or long enough: New beekeepers do not realize how disadvantaged a package of bees really is. You dump them in an empty hive and expect them to perform, but they have no home set up, they have no comb for a nursery or for food stores, and they have no food. To build comb and collect what they need—and to raise new generations of offspring—requires a ton of energy. As a beekeeper, that’s where your job begins. Feed those bees.

Folks argue that they don’t want to feed because they want “natural bees.” But in fact, nothing about that bunch of bees is natural. Those bees are most probably unrelated to each other, they never met their queen, they are far from home, and the move wasn’t their idea—not the time, not the place, not the method. You’ve done everything possible to make it hard for them, so the least you can do is give them a meal.

Natural beekeeping is something you grow into with time and experience. Natural bees don’t come out of package that was just shipped halfway across the country on the back of a truck. With a brand new colony in a brand new hive, do not be surprised if you have to feed all summer.


Ignoring Varroa mites: If you ignore Varroa mites or pretend they don’t exist, you are offing your bees. In North America, Varroa remains the number one problem that honey bees face. It is easy to blame other things for colony loss: neonics, Nosema, CCD, and yellowjackets are common fall guys when, in fact, it is most often Varroa mites that destroy the colony.

Here again, people argue against treatments because they want “treatment-free” bees. I applaud those dedicated bee breeders who are working toward treatment-free bees. But what they are doing is hard, expensive, exacting, and time-consuming work based on sound scientific principles and lots of experience. Ordering bees from large producers and letting them die every year from Varroasis is not treatment-free beekeeping. In fact, it’s not beekeeping at all—it’s the negligent and unconscionable act of a neophyte.

Furthermore, those who practice the “live-and-let-die” method are hurting those that are trying to breed true treatment-free stock. That is because a Varroa infested colony that collapses is a “mite bomb” or a ”mite factory” that releases scores of Varroa into the environment for other beekeepers to deal with. The mites are transmitted by robbers or absconding bees and can infect other colonies for miles around. Even the carefully-bred treatment-free bees can fail in the face of a massive influx of mites from a careless beekeeper.

If you want to segue into treatment-free beekeeping, you can. But you need knowledge, resources, and a plan. You can’t just install a package from California and watch it die.


Opening a hive without a plan: Each time you open a hive you are committing a home invasion; you are going in there and screwing things up. Granted, beekeepers need to manage, and to manage you need to know what’s going on. But excessive muddling through the hive is counterproductive. Temperature readings in hives skyrocket after beekeeper intrusion, and much energy is spent trying to get their lives back in order.

My rule of thumb is simple: have a plan. Know exactly why you are opening the hive and what you hope to learn. Once you have discovered what you need to know, get out.

The most frequent objection to this advice is, “But new beekeepers have to open the hive to learn. If they never open it, they never learn.” So? Why can’t learning be a plan?

If your new beekeeper plan is “to learn to distinguish worker brood from drone brood” then go for it. Find what you’re looking for, take photos if you want, but once you’ve accomplished your goal, get out. Is that so hard to understand?


Assuming where the queen won’t be: This is an extension of Murphy’s law. If you assume you know where the queen won’t be, you will be wrong. I can tell you from personal experience that I have assumed the queen wouldn’t be in burr comb before I scraped it away. Wrong. I assumed the queen wouldn’t be in the empty super I threw in the grass. Wrong. I assumed the queen wouldn’t be on the outside of the end frame. Wrong. I assumed the queen wouldn’t be on the inside of the telescoping cover. Wrong. And most impressively, I assumed the queen wouldn’t be strolling across my bee-suited stomach. Wrong.

Please, please do not ever assume you know where the queen won’t be.


Following advice that doesn’t come with a reason: If a friend or mentor tells you to do something and they can’t give you a reason, don’t do it. Why anyone would do something to a beehive without a reason is beyond comprehension. Now, maybe it turns out to be perfectly good advice, but if there is no reason behind it, how will you learn anything? How will you know why you are doing it or if you should ever do it again? Or when? “Why?” should always be your first question.

Remember, too, that not all mentors are created equal. Some are a wealth of knowledge, some not so much. If your mentor tells you he does it that way because his father did it that way, you need a new mentor.


Cutting all queen cells: Nothing perplexes me more than the idea that if you see a queen cell anywhere, anytime, any season, you should dispatch it with vigor and malice aforethought. Why?

Queen cells are not virulent, they don’t cause death and destruction, they are not dangerous, dirty, lethal, poisonous, pathogenic or vulgar. And where are all the right-to-lifers hiding during this discussion?

How many times have I heard a new beekeeper say he destroyed all the queen cells, but can’t understand why his colony failed to raise a new queen? Really? Or “I killed all the queen cells then realized the hive already swarmed.”

This goes back to ignoring the basics and following advice without a reason. There are times to cut queen cells and times to cherish them. The beekeeper’s job is to know the difference.


Failing to recognize a nectar dearth: If you fail to recognize a nectar dearth, bad things can happen. Your colony may starve. Your colony may be robbed by bees from your own apiary or one miles away. Your hive may be invaded by wasps. Your bees may decide to up and leave.

These outcomes can be avoided by good management. You can protect your surplus honey by removing it from the hive; you can protect your bees by reducing their entrances or closing extra entrances, you can feed your bees, you can trap and kill wasps. The list of options goes on and on, but if you fail to recognize the dearth in the first place, you can lose your honey, your colony, or both in a matter of days.


Harvesting honey too soon: Of all the beekeeping crimes, this is probably the most common and it comes from beekeeper impatience. You’ve gone your whole life without homegrown honey, but now you need it immediately.

Remember, depending on how you started your hive (full hive, nuc, package) you may or may not get a harvestable crop the first year. Don’t rush it. If you do things properly and learn as much as you can, you will soon be drowning in honey. If you take honey too soon, your bees may starve and you will be starting over again.

In the meantime, I advise people who absolutely cannot wait to taste their own honey to go ahead and carve a small chunk from one of the frames. You don’t need to harvest gallons in order to have a taste. If you cut a few square inches from a frame, you can have that long awaited treat without compromising the health of the colony. Besides, nothing compares to a spoonful of honey still warm from the heat of the hive. Taste it and wait.


Attempting too much too soon: Mastering the art of beekeeping is a process. Don’t try to go treatment free, raise queens, try out six kinds of hives, sell nucs, harvest pollen, extract honey, capture propolis, and expand to fifty colonies all in your first year. There will be time enough to do those things and more, but take it slowly. There is an incredible amount to learn and you will never know it all. If you learn how to do one thing well before you add another, all of it will come out better in the end.

Honey Bee Suite

Two honey bees crawl out from behind the robbing screen. © Rusty Burlew.

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