Your bees are in their new hive and everything is humming along. So what’s next? While you may want to sit back and wait for honey, the work’s not over yet. Beehive plans should have the flexibility to address any challenges that arise, and the best way to do that is to read up on potential pitfalls before they manifest.
Proper bee farm maintenance helps create a strong and healthy hive. Here are a few common issues to look out for.
Don’t Be a Pest
It’s so tempting for new beekeepers to check their hives every day. However, experts recommend visiting no more than once per week, as frequent intrusion can disrupt the bees.
When you do inspect the hive, choose a time when the foragers are out working. Avoid late afternoon, rainy, or cool days. Before you open the hive, develop a plan so you’re in the hive for only a few minutes. At the onset, weekly monitoring will help familiarize you with the colony’s regular activity.
Long Live The Queen
A queen is central to hive health. Track the progress of eggs and larvae by using your phone to snap a picture each time you visit. Over time, you can compare the images to spot trends. If you see eggs and larvae, continue checking on them about once a month. A healthy queen will reliably lay viable eggs.
If you don’t see eggs or larvae, check weekly to ensure your queen is still active. If you see signs that your queen isn’t performing for the hive, take steps to replace her promptly.
Too Much of a Good Thing
If your hive gets too big, you may start to have issues with swarming; one common sign of swarming is the appearance of additional queen cells. Bees will also swarm if they’re running out of room for honey in the hive.
Good bee farm maintenance requires monitoring your hive for these signs and taking preventative measures.
Your beehive plans must also include checking your colony for diseases and parasites. Varroa mites are one of the most common and most serious threats to your hive. According to the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, mite-infested colonies have a high probability of dying and can affect other colonies within a one mile radius. The mites spread a virus throughout the hives that can be fatal to bees.
Additional dangers include hive beetles, foulbrood, and Nosema. To determine what exactly is going on with your buzzing friends, jot down the symptoms and visit the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium’s page on “Parasites, Pests, Predators and Disease” to compare your notes with expert observations. Once you’ve determined the cause, the site can also supply you an action plan for treatment.
And remember, not all dangers to your hive come from nature. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, insecticides can build up in hives and cause harm to eggs, larvae, and adult bees.
Signs of pesticide toxicity include aggressiveness, paralysis, or wobbly movements. You can help prevent these ailments by ensuring your bees have access to fresh, clean water and using natural pest management options for your own yard.
The Worst-Case Scenario
Even the most experienced beekeepers will lose a whole beehive. In fact, some beekeeping enthusiasts even consider a failed colony a rite of passage. If this does happen, check your hive box and deceased bees to determine the cause. That way, when you try again, you’ll know how to prevent another mishap.
In some cases, such as with American foulbrood, you’ll need to burn the hive box to destroy a bacterial infection. In other cases, you’ll be able to salvage the hive box and start new. Whatever the trouble, it’s important to stay positive. Consider yourself more educated and capable, but keep reading, asking questions, and encouraging other novices until you’re ready to try again.
As you develop your hive, you can find continued support through your local beekeepers’ association, and it will likely prove helpful to tap into this expert knowledge. Backyard beekeeping is a hobby many enjoy and find sweetly rewarding—especially when shared with others. Please check out Parts One and Two of this series for more information.
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The only thing better than starting your own beekeeping operation is successfully identifying and treating problems before they become serious. Employing these tips and tricks will give you the confidence you need to continue your backyard beekeeping journey, something that feels so good and tastes so sweet!