Module 7: Management of Honey Bees

Mr. Richard Matthias, Master Beekeeper Cornell University and President, Iyanola Apiculture Collective.

Table of Contents

Management of honey bees

Honey bees lived just fine until man came along and began to capture them. This is called keeping bees and managing them. In the wild they are just wild feral bees.

Where a hive/ hives should be located.

Some general rules: 

  • Your honey bees should not become a nuisances to your neighbors!   If they do, you will face problems with their complaints.
  • It is often recommended that a hive of bees face toward the sun and away from prevailing winds.
  • It should be located within a short flying distance to a water source.
  • It should be protected from the afternoon sun.  However, deep shade is not necessary.
  • Easy access to the hives.

Good Beekeeper Neighbor Guidelines

  1. Place your colonies of bees away from lot lines and occupied buildings.  If near buildings, place colonies away from used entrances and lines of traffic.  Colonies should be in full sun if possible.
  2. If your colonies are near a boundry line, erect a six foot barricade between the bees and the boundry line.  Use anything bees will not pass through: dense shrubs, fencing, etc.   An alternate solution may be to place the hives on a roof.  Anytime bees are flying close to the ground and across the property line of a neighbor, there are potential problems.

Best practices when inspecting a hive.

  • First, make sure all is ready. Do you have your hive tool? Is the smoker going? What about neighbors? Children?
  • Approach the hive from the side if possible. Do not stand in front of the entrance. If you do, you will notice a crowd of bees in a holding pattern behind you. 
  • Use your hive tool to remove the top cover. I like to lay the top cover on the ground next to the hive with the bottom side up. Blow a little smoke toward the entrance. Notice that I said a little smoke. You don’t need a lot.
  • Next remove the inner cover. Bee have a tendency to glue this down to the inner side of the hive with propolis, so you may have to pry the inner cover off. Keep your smoker handy.
  • Once the inner cover is off the top bars of the frames in the top box (super) are exposed. Bees will start to migrate toward the disturbance and you will notice them coming up between the top bars. You can apply a little smoke to calm them down. A few may become air borne and fly about you. Ignore them.

What will you see:

  • When the hive is opened the bees will investigate and begin coming to the top of the frames
  • If the hive is very strong, the entire top will be covered with bees. Stay calm!!!!
  • This is the time to use a gentle blast of smoke directly to where the bees are coming up.

Using a Smoker

  • Smoke is a great help in controlling honey bees.  However, don’t use too much.
  • Good fuel to use in your smoker is wood shavings and dry banana leaves

Working the colony.

  • Work your hive from the side or back. Not the front of the hive, as you block the bees flight path.
  • A few puffs at the entrance and a little on the top bars is enough.
  • Too much smoke will cause the bees to begin to run out of the hive.
  • Move slowly when working the bees. Fast rapid movement causes the bees to react to your actions.
  • If the hive becomes uncontrollable, close the hive and wait for a better time of day.
  • Work bees in good weather.
  • Your hive tool is used to pry off the top cover, inner cover and separate the hive bodies.  It is used most often to get frames out of hive bodies.
  • The hive tool is held in the hand ready for use.

Learning the sight and sound of a hive.

  • What should we be looking for when we begin to work the hive?
  • First, a beekeeper’s job is to do the least amount of damage to the bees.
  • It is not necessary to find the queen each time we open the hive!
  • We can tell that she is present if you can see eggs in cells.
  • A hive should not be open any longer than necessary to do an inspection.
  • An inspection consist of looking for things that are not normal within a hive of bees.  As you gain experience, this will become easier.  Hold the frame so that the sun is reaching the frame from over your shoulder.

What is a good population of bees?

  • If the bees are covering the brood areas of the hive in spring, this is a good sign.
  • Later in the season, you will expect to find bees in all parts of the hive.
  • At times they may even cluster on the front of the hive.
  • If you see a large population of bees in your hive, you should be looking for queen cells which indicate your hive may be about to swarm.
  • A large swarm like this will reduce the number of bees in your hive.  Would you rather have bees hanging in a tree or gathering honey?
  • What to do if the population is large?
  • Add honey supers and check for swarm queen cells!

Honey and Pollen

A hive needs food to survive during all times during the year.  It is critical during times of brood rearing.

If you have managed your hive well and they gathered some honey for you fine.  But leave enough for the bees to survive the rainy season!

What you should not be seeing!

What happens if you see no eggs, larva, and some capped brood!  You do see what looks like queen cells that have hatched. You most likely have a hive with a virgin queen.

What do you do?

Nothing, just wait until almost all the brood has emerged.  About that time the virgin queen will be mated and start laying eggs. Look for eggs and signs the hive has a new queen.

If all brood emerges and you find no evidence of any egg laying in the hive.

  • Order a new queen. Install her in the hive. This hive should have a strong population of bees but with no brood, it may develop a laying worker and eventually die out.
  • If you see a frame like this, then you can say, I have a new queen or my new queen was accepted.

Queen Cells in a hive...

  • The bees are raising queens. These cells are located near the bottom bar of frames. They are most likely swarm cells.
  • Cells located on the face of the comb higher up. Brood on the comb is spotty, are supercede queen cells.

If you see this then you have some management issues to deal with.

  • Grass, leaves, or other such things in the hive.
  • A patch of bare ground in front of the entrance to the hive.
  • Toads
  • Wax moths
  • Varroa mites
  • Ants

More Good Neighbor Guidelines

  • Bees may be annoying at their water source.  
  • If you do not live within 500 feet of a natural water source, or if you live near a swimming pool, place a tub of water in your apiary with wood floats in it. 
  • This is to allow the bees to drink without drowning.  Change the water weekly to prevent stagnation and mosquito breeding.
  • Minimize robbing by bees, since those which are being robbed become very aggressive.  To accomplish this, work your bees early in the morning or late afternoon, keep exposed honey to a minimum, and use entrance reducers on weak colonies.
  • Try to prevent swarming.  Though gentle, swarms are a nuisance.
  • Do not work your beehives when close neighbors are in their yards.
  • If you have a mean colony that may bother neighbors when you are working it, re-queen it.
  • A pound or two of free honey each year to neighbors bordering on your property often makes bees much more acceptable to them.
  • Please remember:  the successful beekeepers’ bees are not a nuisance to his neighbors.