You’ve completed your first task as a beekeeper: the packages are in their new hives. The queen, in her cage, is surrounded by workers who are rapidly eating the candy stopper that keeps her confined. Once she is free, she’ll start laying eggs, hundreds each day, as the colony grows. The workers will take orientation flights, build comb, store pollen and nectar, and care for the larva as they hatch.
Everyone in the hive knows what their job is. The bees follow their instincts perfectly. But what do you do, as the beekeeper? If only your job were as obvious!
While there is no set of guidelines that can possibly cover every situation, a few general principles apply.
First, don’t over-check the bees. They are fascinating to watch, but whenever you open the colony you disturb their routine. Since their survival depends on their ability to build up a strong force of workers, minimizing disturbances is important.
Second, feed, feed, feed. Give your bees as much sugar syrup as they will consume. Just keep their feeder full. If they stop eating it, that means that they have ample nectar sources, which they prefer. In that case, you can stop feeding. A division feeder is one of the best ways of feeding. To refill it with minimal disturbances, simply place the feeder on the outer edge of the hive and slide the inner cover over to expose the feeder. When you have refilled it, push the cover back in place.
Third, check that the queen has been released from her cage and is laying. This is usually done a week after the package is installed. Using smoke, open the hive and remove one or two outer frames. Separate the frames that have the queen cage between them and remove the cage. the candy and the queen should be gone, but it’s common for there to be one or two workers in the cage. Remove the cage and discard. Gently remove one of the middle frames and look for eggs and larvae. The eggs look like miniscule grains of rice and the larvae look a bit like small maggots. If there are many, the queen is laying well. Gently replace the frames and close the hive. Be careful! If you don’t know where the queen is, you must put things back slowly, allowing the bees to move out of the way as they realize the frames are being replaced. If you’re not careful, the bee you accidentally crush may be the queen.
Fourth, get your equipment ready. When the lower hive body is nearly full, add the upper hive body. Place an empty frame in the lower box in the place of the feeder and move the feeder to the upper one. If they’re still consuming syrup, keep feeding!
If you really need to do something bee-related in between the times you open the hive, here are a few things I’d suggest:
- Practice lighting your smoker and keeping it lit. Until you get the hang of it, it’s not as easy as you’d think.
- Read as much as you can about beekeeping.
- Find an experienced beekeeper and ask if you can shadow him/her in the bee yard.
- Ask questions. (The Beeblog is a good place to do that!)
- Don’t panic out over every little thing you see in the hive. Most problems are solvable. And if they’re not, well, what’s done is done.
That’s all I can think of at the moment. If you can think of anything else, post a comment below!