When to move bees?

If you must move your bees there are times to do this, and definitely times to not do this.

First when to NOT move bees. This one is pretty easy, but not always obvious you should not move bees in the day during good weather. Seems sort of counter-intiutive at first glance.The whole idea of moving bees (if you have to move them) is that it should be like our current US education motto “no child left behind”. That is true with moving bees. If you move a beehive while there are bees out foraging when they return if you have not moved them yet they will either be mad you are messing with their home, or they will be left behind. If you were to move the bees and were to look back later at where the hive used to be what you would find is a bunch of bees flying where their hive used to be, confused and now homeless. These bees would then either die eventually or if there is a hive close and they have honey in their stomach they may be allowed into that hive. The most likely outcome, though, is that they would be seen as intruders if they still had their home queen pheromones on them and a fight would ensue-bummer.

So when is the BEST time/situation to move the bees? The absolute ideal time for the bees and not the beekeeper is at night. This is when it is the coolest and there will be no bees out foraging so all the bees will be moved and no one left behind. You of course have to then deal with the fact that there is no light (not the best for the beekeeper). So the best compromise is during the early morning or early evening (while it’s still cool and fairly dark) so there will be no bees foraging yet.

The first thing to do is to cover up the entrance so if it does light up or warm up they will still be all in the hive. You can either use screen or painters plastic (the cheapest) which is taped down with either painter’s tape or masking tape. What I used to use is screen cut to fit (so it is reusable) and painters tape so it comes off quickly when they are moved over the hive entrance. This also allows for ventilation in the hive so it does not overheat. Another option is to purchase an expensive hive net (yet if you don’t move them much it is an expensive overkill). The option that I have recently decided is best since I do move hives and start splitting hives is to get an entrance cover made for either robbing or moving. I use this and hold it in place with bungee cords. It has the pros of being reusable, easy to set up, pretty fail-safe, and quick. All good things when moving hives. The last option is to simply cover the entrance in painters tape. The downside to this is that some bees may get stuck when they try and leave or investigate what is happening.

There are a couple of must do’s when moving a hive. Make sure that all of the holes are covered with tape so you don’t get any unexpected bees coming out. And be absolutely sure to strap down the hive tight so it can be moved easily and does not fall/break and cause an extremely bad situation with bees everywhere. What I like to use are adjustable ratcheting straps to keep everything tight and together. I use 1 strap per hive wrapped around the sides of the hive in the middle so it doesn’t tip front or back. I make sure the ratchet is on top so it is easy to get to and release when needed and this makes a nice handle to actually pick up the hive.

Hives strapped with ratchets on top for easy access.

Hives strapped with ratchets on top for easy access.

Once you have covered the entrance, taped all openings, ratcheted down the hive so it doesn’t come apart; you are ready to move your bees. I am so confident in this method that I usually load my hives right into the back of my car. This makes their trip less bumpy than using a trailer and also saves on gas (something I am committed to).

Some final tips and things to think about that make it easy to move is:

-cool weather is better than hot

-threatening rain will keep the bees in the hive, so if it is after dawn you may still be able to move in this weather

-I only move if the hive is still just one deep (can be moved with hive top feeder, but make sure it is empty or near empty)

-any moves with the hive over 1 deep will take 2 people and becomes very heavy and clumsy and I do not recommend

-finally, if you must move a hive make sure to move them at least 1/2 mile away. If you plan on moving them just a short distance say 100 feet or so; it is best to do this in 10 foot increments as a lot of the foragers will just return to where the hive used to be and get confused.

-Once they have been moved let them settle down before you open the hive up and add a few new items (these can be just briefly) such as a few branches in the way of the opening so the bees move out of the hive and see something has changed with their home. This will cause them to reorient.

So if you must move a hive; the bees will make orientation flights when they are moved and be adjusted in a couple days to their new location.

strapped (7)

Who is my neighbor?

Jesus was asked this question with a much different purpose than the reason I ask. What I am referring to here is how do you find out who has those bees next to you? Have you ever wondered who owns those hives in the field you pass every day? Or are you a farmer worried about what your spray will do to the hives near you? If these are some questions you have asked please read on.

I came across this a couple of years ago and forgot the link to where it was. Well, it was right under my nose all along I just had to look a little. My words of caution in using this site is that like some ‘products’ we get from the government, although they usually have good intentions in mind they may not always be the quickest to be updated and/or accurate. Well, this is no exception as there are errors on my (and probably others) placement and information. But the intention is completely awesome. It was started in Indiana as a way for people that have crops (bees, vegetables, fruits, etc) to be known by the people who spray crops (nasty pesticides and herbicides) to help give a heads up to those that don’t want that stuff to ‘drift’ near them. The idea caught on and is now being used in some midwest states. Hopefully it will catch on and eventually be a great tool to keep our bees/crops away from the ‘nasties’.

So without further adieu here is the link to find out Who is my Neighbor???


So check it out and enjoy!

Stingproof vs. sting resistant

This topic doesn’t come up a lot, but it is one that should be discussed. I would have to say that any bee suit, gloves, or veil that claims to be sting proof is not telling you the whole truth.

Gloves– I use the thickest gloves you can buy and still be able to bend the fingers, and these are still not sting proof. Don’t get me wrong the leather hand part as long as there are no tears will keep your hands from getting stung. The problem with these is that most have a long sleeve that runs up your arm in an effort to keep your forearms from being stung. The Achilles Heel of these is the part that has the elastic which makes it so the bees can’t climb into your glove. These of course keep the bees out , but it also pushes your suit right next to your arms. If you wear short sleeves and at some point get your bees mad you will get stung through the suit. If you’re like me and are ‘most sensitive’ on your bony parts (fingers, ankles, head, neck, elbows, etc) you will also not want to pull the glove bands all the way up to your elbows as that is where you will get stung.

Suit- I also use a ‘one piece’ bee suit with the suit attached to the veil, and would suggest this to any beekeeper. It also is not sting proof by any means. If you wear shorts or short sleeve shirts under your bee suit you are most likely to get stung at some point. You are also the most likely to not pass out from the heat if you stay in your suit for long periods of time, so its a give and take. The suit like most cloth is tightly woven, but it will not keep the stingers from contacting you in all cases. These suits along with the wearing of shorts or short sleeves are also most vulnerable when you sweat a lot and bend over as this is when the suit is tightest against your body (kind of like the saying that your clothes are sticking to you when you sweat).

Regular clothes– These are also far from sting proof. I have been stung even through fire resistant clothes (read that as thick) and jeans.

Now, do not let me scare you from keeping bees; that is most definitely not what I’m trying to do. In fact, I am just trying to help equip you with tools to keep you from being stung. Here’s the bottom line- if you get the bees mad they are more likely to sting you. The key to that is taking your time and using a smoker. It is also not banging the hive and when you do open it up make sure to not just ‘crack’ the top, but hold it while you pry it up the dampen the loud cracking noise. The last defense is if you do have a gentle hive breed only those bees and not the other hives.

There are people out there that do not wear any protective gear. I have seen some even keep bees with their shirts off. This to me, although it may save you a little time, is completely nuts. Yes, you are going to sweat more, and it is going to take you a little more time to suit up properly, but believe me it’s worth it.

I used to suit up and not wear straps around the cuffs of my suit and boots a couple of years ago. And yes, each time I did this it saved me 30 whole seconds, but after the third time of being stung in my ankles I had had enough. Sting me once shame on you, sting me twice shame on me, sting me three times and here comes the extremely swollen ankles. So all being said, here is what you need to know to avoid being stung

-take your time

-approach the hive from the side or back (never the front)

-smoke the bees before you open the hive

-when ‘cracking’ apart the hive pieces try to dampen the loud sound by putting one hand on the piece when you pry

-don’t be in a hurry

-wear your gear correctly

-take the time to check your gear

-wear boot straps and long sleeves and pants under your gear

-breed only the most gentle of your bees

-realize when you sweat and bend that part or your suit closest to your skin is vulnerable so keep that away from the bees

– if your bees get aggressive smoke the hive and air and back away from the hive until they settle down

-don’t wear red or smell/eat bananas before you go near the hive

-if you smell bananas it is the bees alarm pheromone and they are not happy

-if you look inside the hive and all the bees are looking back at you in many rows it’s time to smoke them again

-and most importantly as you gain experience you will know when the bees are least likely to sting

-the bees most aggressive time of the year is late fall when the flow is starting to stop and they are tryng their hardest to stock up for winter

-the bees least aggressive time (besides when it is very cold) is when there is a very good honey flow on

So save yourself some stings!

How do I get home???

Do you have a landmark you use to remember where your house is? Or possibly you do, but just don’t even think about it anymore. Well, bees use landmarks and various other methods to remember where their home is. It is pretty much in their little bodies, but we can do things that help make their trip back home easier. When bees are moved or have found a new home (from a swarm) they make what is called an orientation flight (or flights). If you watch the entrance to the hive what you will notice is quite amazing. You will see bees flying up and down and left and right over and over and in large numbers. If there are a lot of bees in the hive it will be quite a sight to see. They are getting their ‘coordinates’ kind of like a GPS and remembering where they live. It is pretty amazing to think that they can fly for up to 2 miles away and remember exactly where they live and be able to tell another bee exactly where a single flower is. Pretty amazing feat if you ask me.

So this brings us to the topic of what can the beekeeper do to make sure the bees make it back to their own home, and more importantly not someone else’s home (this is called drift). If you have more than 1 hive in your yard and they are fairly close together there are a couple of things you can do to make it easier for the bees to find their home. You can:

1. paint each hive a different color. This is not really practical if you just have a few hives to paint as it will waste a lot of paint. But, if you have the paint this will make a big difference. If you don’t have a bunch of paint you can opt for the next suggestion

2. paint different symbols on each side of the hive. You can paint different symbols on the sides of the hive so the bees can differentiate their hive form their neighbor’s hive. Common symbols are triangles, circles, squares, lines, wavy lines, etc. These can also be in different colors which helps out just a little bit more.

3. Move the hive entrances facing different ways. The ideal orientation of the hive entrance is either south or south-east to get the early morning sun to shine on the hive and get the bees off to an earlier start. But, this can not be done in all cases if there are things in the way. So, if you have one hive facing south and the other hive facing 90 degrees away at east this will help the bees to find their own home.

4. Spread the hives apart. This last tip is not always practical for the beekeeper as it makes for more area that the bees fly and does not help with quick and easy inspections. But, if you have the luxury of time and space this will be the best at making sure the bees head back to their own home. This reduces drift greatly and is great at making sure disease does not spread from hive to hive.

One hive with a traingle to help.

One hive with a traingle to help.

So help your bees find their home, and paint them a pretty picture:)

My absolute best tip for beekeepers is…

I was thinking about this one a while ago after talking to some beekeepers soon to be getting started, and it came to me that in each of the dozens of people I have gotten/helped get started in beekeeping I have not given all of them my number one tip. I can talk for hours on end on what to do and what not to do and what I would suggest, but I have taken for granted the #1 tip for successful and growing beekeeping year after year. So without further stalling and hopefully so that anyone can learn about this (it applies to many other hobbies as well) the #1 tip in beekeeping is keeping a journal/log of what you did, what you see, what you need to do etc. To me this comes as second nature, and I may have taken for granted that people just do this, or have me to ask questions on or give friendly reminders. But it is absolutely essential to keep a log. It can take just a few moments after you are done, or can be as in detail as you like, but there are some things that I think are essential to keep track of and some things that are nice to keep track of. At the end I will tell you what I write down and track and how I do it (but keep in mind I am in the business side so there are other things that I need to keep track of above and beyond the norm)

First, the things that you must keep track of:

Prelude- First, you must write down a list of what you want to keep track of. This will help you decide the format you will use for your log. It can be a notebook with just paragraphs, pages of blank copies of the things you checked for and track in a set format, excel spreadsheets on a computer, a phone app, or any other method that works for you to be able to go back and see when it happened and what was happening. These last 2 points are the key.

1. Date and time

2. Brief description of what you saw in the hive. There are important clues you need to follow to make sure the hive is coming along normally and growing as it should. This may be a comparison to your last visit, last year, or your other hives.

3. What you need to do next time/when you need to do this by and what you need to bring if it is not always brought each time

4. Eggs/brood present this tells you the queen is alive (or was alive at least within 3 days)

So, you can see that the things you must keep track of are very minimal, but that list will only get you a working hive, and not be one that you are able to learn from. Here are the other things that you probably want to track

1. Any queen cells present (swarm or supercedure)

2. Brood pattern (tight or loose)

3. Temperature outside

4. What do you see blooming that the bees are visiting

5. What do you see ending their bloom

6. What are the bees bringing in (pollen or nectar)

7. Abnormalities you notice (aggressive hive, ants, wasps, mice, etc)

8. Anything you applied (things for ant control, mite control, small hive beetle control, etc) It will also be helpful to write when it needs to be checked again or removed.

9. Did you feed (how much)

10. Were there lots of mites you saw or small hive beetles (these are 2 big problems for hives)

11. What changes have you made  (splits, supered, added queen excluder, added hive body, etc)

You will find that the bees are on a pretty set schedule as far as build up, brood, swarming, etc. This will change from year to year based on what is blooming, the temperature, and some other factors, but if you write down when it happened this year, and the temperature, you will be able to anticipate when it should happen next year and be ready. You will also be able to predict and stop some things from happening that you want to stop (ex: swarm cells start forming usually early May). This will allow you to be better next year, or learn from your mistakes (i.e. I won’t do that again).

12. Signs of disease or pests

So here is what I keep track of and how.

I use Microsoft word and start with the date always. I then write paragraphs on what I did, where, things I noticed, and other things I think will be useful to keep track of (these are always what is in bloom and stopped blooming, if I made splits, if I added supers, mouseguards, reducers, queen excluders, etc). Any problems I noticed and how I treated or what I need to do to treat it next time. I also track the amount of hives at each location and where they are example:

2 deeps with 2 supers, or from package 1 deep, or split and # of frames.

That way I can tell if the hive is progressing as it should. Or, if I notice that a hive was ‘full and loaded’ and next week they seem sedate and empty I can deduce that they have swarmed. It is also key to write down if there are swarm cells present. This means that the hive is full and needs to be monitored as they want to swarm and take away about half of my bees and honey. If this is the case they need to be checked every 2 weeks to prevent the queen cells from hatching.

The second thing that I track is in excel format with the following cells

date, location, temperature, drive distance, MPG, gas cost, gas used, sugar used, time spent, sugar amount per hive, misc notes. Some of these are used to track business things, but it is also an easy format to look over quickly to see what I have done and where.

Those 2 are used at the end of the day when I get to the computer to journal. I usually transcribe these from a sheet of paper that I bring with me to each stop that I write on after each stop. The other thing that I use is a phone app called keep which works great for me to see things quickly. On each note I title the location of the hives, the date, and any info that I want to keep track of quickly and easily. That is usually any big events that I see and what I want to or need to do next time. Since I bring my phone with me everywhere as most people do nowadays, I always have the brief journal with me.

It truly is essential to start keeping a log of what is going on with your bees so you can learn both for your good and for the bees. If you can understand how these fasinating creatures work and thrive you can help them live better and also get more honey in the process. You will also need to look into what are the major flowers that the bees visit and what they get from them to anticipate if they have enough coming in or if you need to help them out, bu that is another discussion…

To wrap your hive or not to wrap?

This questions has come up quite often and that is “Should I wrap up my hive for winter or not?” The answer to that question is in my mind usually yes. This is the case if you only have a few hives which would make your hive wrapping fairly quick, and you can always reuse the wrap. One roll of roofing paper will last for years to come even if you don’t reuse it each year. There are commercial wraps out there specific to beekeeping which in my mind are not worth the cost when you can get a perfectly good wrap for about $20 per roll. All I use is some black roofing paper and some painters (or duct) tape to keep it secure. I have in the past tried staples or nails, but who wants to put holes in your hive and the bees do not like the banging that the stapler or hammer will make on their home. Another easy fix is to get a few bungee cords that are the right size and you can reuse these for years too. One last thing to keep in mind is to make sure there is a small hole if you use upper entrances and make sure the wrap goes all the way to the top of the hive. That way the hive is not colder at the top so moisture does not condense at the top and cause problems.

Black wrap on the hives nice and tight

Black wrap on the hives nice and tight

As far as timing goes late fall is probably the best time to do this, but with the weather being so fickle lately, even early January is not too late to add that little bit of a wind block and heat absorbing black color to the hive. So, my answer to this question is that, yes, you should wrap your hive with roofing paper which can be reused to help keep the hives warmer which in turn causes the bees to use less honey, and allows them to build up quicker in the early spring. It doesn’t need to be perfect, although the tighter they are wrapped the better the black paper will help keep in the heat. There are of course other methods to keeping the hives warmer such as moving them, grouping them, surrounding them with hay, or stacking them which in my opinion is not worth the time and effort unless you have a lot of hives and big equipment. Here is a very good article on the subject wrap link


What is a Dink?

A dink in the beekeeping world is used to talk about a small or struggling hive. In most cases when possible dinks either have their queen killed and the remaining bees are added to another hive, or have frames added to their hive to increase their numbers and help them survive. In the case of this little swarm it made up a dink that did not make it.

A closer view of the small swarmade up a dink that unfortunately for me did not make it.

Small swarm approximately 8 by 8 inches

Small swarm approximately 8 by 8 inches

It was also a swarm that was extremely late in the season (late August). My only hope is that most of the bees found another hive as they all came from one of my hives to begin with, and there were not many dead bees found in the hive later.