Confessions of a Bad Bee Keeper

I have not been a good bee keeper this year.  I failed to prioritize enough time during the main part of the season to keep my bees healthy, happy and productive.  My sorry excuses for not finding time to take care of my bees are immaterial – they did Not benefit from benign neglect – I lost several hives, and failed to meet my previously set  goals for this year.

Nonetheless, despite my slacking, lessons were learned.

Honey Bees require care in our area/climate – they simply are not self sufficient wild creatures that can care for their selves for long periods of time any more.  At least not in any way that is going to be profitable (or even respectable) for a beekeeper.

Since I did lose hives this year I’m glad that I had extras, but if I had started with fewer I could have given them better care within the limited time that I had.  Note to self – try not to bite off more than you can chew.

Number One cause of Failed hives – Queenlessness – most often because a swamed hive failed to requeen.  #2 cause – Malnutrition/stress due to robbing during the summer dearth. Both preventable.

Big strong hives will rob their weaker neighbors to death if you let them – Survival of the fittest might be a good long term strategy, but in the short term it will make your apiary grow backwards.  The (very small)  up side is that it aggregates all of the honey in fewer hives at harvest time.

Speaking of harvest time…  Even though you can put it off, there are good reasons to harvest honey in June/July instead of later:

  • You can’t feed until after you harvest or feed will end up in your honey.
  • The same thing goes for medication.
  • If a hive melts down for any reason (queenlessness, hive beetles, etc…)  it hurts your feelings even more  if it’s full of honey.
  • Late summer/fall honey may have it’s own charms, but some people might not like it.
  • Your customers might get tired of waiting, and buy their honey elsewhere – btw I still have honey for sale.

Small Entrances are good (in my opinion) – One of my most productive hives worked all season (producing 3 medium supers of surplus honey) through the 3″ slot on an entrance reducer – on a solid bottom board.  This was an experiment – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Smaller hives with small entrances seemed to be more resistant to robbing. However it isn’t universal – small entrances alone are not a magic bullet.

Queen excluders are worth trying – This is the first time I have really used excluders on honey production hives, and I liked the results well enough that I will probably plan to put them on all production hives next year.  The bees don’t prefer to go through them, but once the brood nest is full of brood and stores they will go through them – then when you harvest your (mostly) brood free honey supers the remaining colony has plenty of stores left to work with.  However you probably should not put undrawn foundation above an excluder unless you are ready to take extensive actions to prevent swarming.

Interestingly, at harvest time it appeared that one of the 5 hives that I used excluders on seemed to have queens both above and below the excluder – I don’t know for sure because I didn’t realize it until I found brood in the supers while extracting. This particular hive had both upper and lower entrances.

I used Fischer’s Bee Quick and fume boards to (mostly) clear bees from supers at harvest time.  This really sped up the process a lot.  FYI – Bee Quick actually smells good, but it is probably less effective than Bee Go which I think is made from extract of vomitus.

Opinion – This experience has reinforced my notion that providing nutrition may be one of  the most important things that we can do as bee keepers to keep our bees productive.  Hungry bees are less able to defend their selves from robbing, hive beetles, wax moths, or disease – and are more likely to go queenless.

I will try to do better in the future.

What did you learn this year?