Beekeeping Basics

December 10, 2020

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Installing a queen into a hive split

So you’ve done a hive split, and now you need a queen—

Once you have split your hive, you have the option to:

  1. Take the old queen with you to the new hive split (though the original hive will still need a new queen),
  2. Rear your own queen,
  3. or Introduce a queen.

As with most beekeeping practices, this comes down to personal preference – we recommend doing some background research to decide which option best suits your situation.

Why do you introduce a new queen?

If you want to get good genetics from a queen breeder, if your colony is very aggressive (and are not Africanized bees), or if your hive split has not yet successfully raise a new queen. Read more about this here.

How do I install the new queen?

Disclaimer. There is no “right way” to install a new queen to a hive split – as with all beekeeping, there are many methods.

 

Step 1: As per Hilary Kearney's how to split a hive blog, first prepare your new hive split.

1. Take 4-5 frames full of brood with healthy brood pattern from a healthy, prolific hive, and install into a new brood box – 4 brood frames if your hive is an 8 frame Langstroth hive (which is also our Flow Hive Classic 6 frame, Flow Hive 2, or Flow Hive Hybrid 3 frame), and 5 brood frames if your hive is a 10 frame Langstroth hive (which is our Flow Hive Classic 7 frame).

2. Make sure to keep the 4 frames pushed tightly into the middle of the brood box, with the new, undrawn-comb frames on either side; this helps keep the brood space intact, maintains a stable temperature, and also encourages the bees to continue drawing straight comb.

Beekeeper’s tips:

  • Move the original hive slightly, and place the new split next to the old hive – returning foragers will go to both hives; meaning there should be a healthy amount of bees in both hives.
  • Some beekeepers also choose to shake a few frames of worker bees into the split – just make sure that the queen isn’t on a frame you shake in!
  • Be sure to do the split on a warm, windless day, as a drop in temperature can damage unhatched brood – ideally, you want the external temperature to be above 17-20°C/64-68°F (unless you work really quickly – but even so, you need the temperature to be above 15°C/60°F).
  • Also, if it is still consistently cold—with further drops in temperature overnight—and there are not yet many bees in the new colony, it can be difficult for the bees to maintain the required temperature for the brood to survive.

3. Make sure the original queen is in ONE hive. Whether this is the split, or the original hive from which you took the split, this doesn’t matter – just make sure it is not the hive you plan on introducing the new queen into. The worker bees will kill the new queen if the old queen is present 😞

Beekeeper’s tip:

  • Organise the hive split about a day—or a bit longer—before you install the queen. This encourages the new split to more likely accept the new queen.

Step 2: (Wear protective equipment.) Smoke the queenless hive a little before opening up.

Keep a look out for the old queen – just in case. Check the lid – sometimes she likes to hide here.

What is a queen in a cage?

Queen in a cage is a queen bee (either mated or not – you will need to check with your Queen Breeder regarding this) with a couple of escort bees (they are worker bees, also known as attendants). The escort bees feed the queen and chew the candy from the inside of the cage.

Once installed (and the cap on the candy has been removed), the worker bees will chew the candy from the other side; this means the hive can first get used to the pheromones of the new queen before she is let free.

Correct placement of the new queen

Some beekeepers place the cage on the floor of the hive—if you do this, be careful to ensure that there is no cold weather forecasted, as she can die without the colony to keep her warm.

OR

You can install the queen cage between the top bars of the brood frames – CAREFUL of placement (e.g. if placed into a section of the frame with honey, the queen may drown) and orientation of the cage.

Orientation of the cage: If a worker dies & the cage is placed vertically, this could cause a problem. The cage should be placed horizontally.

Place the cage between the top bars of brood frames.

A hive won’t always accept a new queen

It’s a waiting game to see whether the hive accept the new queen. Let the new queen settle in, and the hive become adjusted to her. If the queen is still stuck in the cage, after one week, you can go ahead and release her.

Check for brood laying pattern to see if you’ve been successful in introducing the new queen.

The head-of-pin sized egg should be in the centre of the brood cell.

As Hilary says – “you also need to check for supersedure cells. Worker bees will often try to overthrow their new queen and make a queen of their own genetics to replace her. If you do not find and destroy all the queen cells, the worker bees will kill the queen you installed once they have raised their own. For this reason, it is also important that you do not wait too long after installing the queen to check the hive. If you wait longer than it takes to raise a new queen, it will be too late.”


"Ask two beekeepers one question, get three answers."

At Flow, we love to hear from all kinds of beekeepers using all types of methods, but their views are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by Flow. We advise reading widely, connecting with your local beekeeping association and finding a mentor as you delve into this fascinating hobby.

November 27, 2020

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How to tell if your hive is queenless

A queenless hive is a sad story indeed, and one that’s not uncommon for new beekeepers. It can be difficult to diagnose as the effects of queenlessness on your bee colony are—at first—quite subtle. Hilary Kearney has been through it and offers advice on how you can avoid the mistakes she made when she was starting out.

The image below shows a small piece of comb with one egg per cell from a queenright hive. This is what your comb should look like.

 

My first mistake as a new beekeeper was not recognising that my colony had lost its queen. To my untrained eyes, everything looked like it was going well. The bees were flying in and out. They were building pristine, white combs. I spent hours watching them from the outside, peeking in through the window at them. Then one day, it seemed like the traffic in and out of the hive was slower. They had stopped building new comb and the small cluster of bees inside seemed like it was shrinking. Without the queen there to lay eggs, there were no young worker bees to replace the ones dying of old age. I looked at the comb and found only honey and drone larvae. I had been watching this colony slowly collapse for weeks, but I didn’t know it. There are some telltale signs though, and once you know them, you’ll be able to recognise queenlessness before it becomes too much of an issue.

Lack of brood and eggs

The queen bee is the only bee in the hive which can lay fertilized worker bee eggs. So, when the queen is absent, eggs will be the first thing to go missing. For this reason, beekeepers should always check for eggs during inspections to confirm the presence of a queen. A colony that has been queenless for longer will also lack larvae or capped brood. If you catch a queenless colony early, you can get them queenright before too much damage is done to the population. Remember that every day a colony is without a queen to lay eggs, worker bees are dying of old age and not being replaced.

The image below shows a frame that previously had a centre patch of brood now being filled with nectar, possibly because of queenlessness

An increase in honey and pollen

In a queenless hive, worker bees who were previously occupied with the task of caring for brood will be out of the job. Without a queen there to lay eggs, there will be no more brood for them to care for. This creates a job imbalance in the hive and may result in increased foraging and food stores. If you see plenty of honey and pollen, but no brood, you may have a queenless colony on your hands.

Queen cells and queen cups

A queenless colony will usually attempt to make a replacement queen. Just seeing a queen cell or cup does not necessarily mean that your colony is queenless because bees will make queen cells for many different reasons, but when you see a queen cell paired with a lack of brood, that is a strong indication that your hive might be queenless. When you see a queen cell, check to see what stage it is in. Is there a larva in it? Is it capped? Did it hatch or is it just an empty queen cup? The answers to these questions will give insight into whether or not your colony is hopelessly queenless or just raising a new queen.

The image below shows hatched queen cells. A colony that has recently made a new queen may appear queenless because it goes through a period of bloodlessness while raising a new queen.

 

Temperament and population

Beyond what you will find in the combs, there are other symptoms of queenlessness that may catch your attention. Bees who are queenless are often cranky and listless. They may make a high pitched whine when you open the hive. The population will also start to fall. First you will see less nurse bees, but eventually foragers will decrease in number as well.

Laying workers

When a queen and her brood are absent from the hive for too long, worker bees will begin to lay eggs. Once this starts, it is very difficult to get the colony queenright again. A hive with laying workers typically kills any queen you might try to install. Many beekeepers don’t even bother trying to right a laying worker colony and consider it a loss. Symptoms of a colony with laying workers includes multiple eggs per cell, a lack of worker brood and an increase of drone brood.

Testing for queenlessness

A queenless colony will usually have more than one of the above signs present. If you see just one, you may want to test to see if your colony really is queenless. A simple way to do this is to take a frame of young brood from another colony and put it in the hive. If the bees begin to build queen cells on it, there is a good chance your colony is queenless. You can monitor them closely and let them finish making their own queen or you can destroy the queen cells and purchase a queen to install instead.


Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her home town of San Diego, California. Her business Girl Next Door Honey educates hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She is the author of the Beekeeping Like A Girl blog and maintains popular Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her 60 colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.

 

November 27, 2020

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Choosing where to get your bees

Now that you’ve got your Flow Hive built and ready for bees, you might be wondering how best to populate it. Acquiring your first bee colony is exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. So, what factors should you consider before choosing where and how to get your first colony?

Where to get bees

Many new beekeepers buy their first colony from a beekeeping business, but you may also be able to get bees from another hobbyist beekeeper. A good place to start your research for where to buy bees is your local bee group.

Ask around and find out where other beekeepers get their bees. Is there a reputable company nearby that sells starter colonies? Or maybe somebody in the group is planning to sell some bees. Be sure to start your research early, you may need to reserve your bees several months before spring even begins.

Package vs a nuc

Apiaries that sell bees often offer two different options. You can either buy a package of bees or you can buy a nucleolus colony (‘nuc’ for short).

A package of bees has no comb. It’s a cluster of worker bees with a caged queen bee... it’s essentially a man-made swarm. Once you install your package of bees into your Flow Hive, they will begin to build comb and establish themselves in their new hive.

In contrast, a nuc is an already established colony with three to four frames of drawn comb already filled with brood, honey and pollen. The frames of a nuc are easily moved into a Flow Hive where the colony will continue to grow.

Most beekeepers prefer to buy nucleolus colonies because they are 2-3 weeks ahead of a package colony in terms of progress, but both are viable options.

Watch our Beginner Beekeeping videos for how to install a nuc or a package.

Local

One of the most important factors to consider when buying bees is where they came from. The survival rate of your colony is closely linked to climate. If you purchase your bees locally, they will already be adapted to survive in your region. This gives you the best chance at success with your bees. If local bees are not available, try to find a beekeeper from a similar climate.

Breed

All honey bees have similar traits, but through breeding, beekeepers have brought out some subtle differences in behavior and categorized them into different breeds or races.

Many beekeepers fixate on the different breeds of bees and will purchase their bees without giving thought to much else. I could go through all the breeds, parsing out their traits and making recommendations, as many articles written before this one have—but in my opinion, too much focus is given to this subject. Even within a certain breed, each colony is truly unique, and the influences of breeding are not significant enough that a new beekeeper would even notice.

There are more important factors to consider when deciding how to populate your Flow Hive that will have a greater bearing on whether you are successful or not with your new bees.

Similar practices

When deciding where to buy bees, many beekeepers forget to consider the practices of the beekeeper selling them.

It’s important to find a beekeeper who keeps bees the way you plan to. This is most relevant to the issue of varroa mites. If you want to attempt treatment-free mite management, you absolutely need to buy your bees from a beekeeper who is successfully doing the same.

If you buy your bees from someone who does regular mite treatments, you should plan on continuing those treatments or your colony will most likely fail. I have seen similar issues with feeding.

If you buy your bees from a beekeeper who heavily feeds, you may find that the bees have grown accustomed to this and will need you to do the same to survive.

When buying bees, talk to the beekeeper selling them and make sure you are on the same page for whatever style of beekeeping you plan to do.

Buying bees vs catching bees

Although most new beekeepers fill their new hives with bees that they purchased from another beekeeper, there’s another option available for those adventurous enough to try it—catching a swarm!

In most places, swarms are active during the spring and summer season. In many ways, swarms are superior to what you can buy from a beekeeper. Not only are they free, but they are the product of a colony that is thriving in your climate! Not all swarms are created equal though.

The downside of catching a swarm is that you never quite know what you are getting. Some swarms are small and weak, some are without a queen, some have been poisoned already by the time you find them. If you live in an area with Africanized bees, swarms may become overly defensive after they establish themselves. You could also wait all season to catch a swarm and never hear of one to catch.

The safest bet is to start with two hives. Then you can order one colony from an apiary and still hope to catch a swarm for your second without the risk of ending up with no bees at all.

You may also want to check out Beginner Beekeeping Ep 2 for tips on where to situate your Flow Hive.


Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her hometown of San Diego, California. Her business Girl Next Door Honey educates hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She is the author of the Beekeeping Like A Girl blog and maintains popular Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her 60 colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.

November 27, 2020

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Beginner beekeeping with a Flow Hive

It's not all about the honey

There’s much more to beekeeping than just harvesting honey. Flow Hive beekeeper Hilary Kearney looks at what newbees should do when their Flow Hive arrives.

Once word gets out that you are keeping bees, everyone you know will begin to pester you about honey. This is because of the misconception that a beehive is made entirely of honeycomb.

Outsiders envisage a shining palace of honey from which honey flows effortlessly. Of course, with the advent of the Flow Hive, this particular function is now possible! However, it’s important to understand how much work goes into the production of honey prior to it being in sufficient amounts and ready to harvest.

Before the bees can make honey, they must build comb, raise young and visit a whole lot of flowers! As beekeepers, it’s our job to foster and monitor their progress.

In beekeeping, like with any animal husbandry, there’s a lot of learning to do but here's some of the basics to help you get started.

Composition of a beehive

A beehive is made up of more than honey. The bees build hexagonal beeswax structures called combs and they are used to house both honey and developing bees (brood).

Building new combs requires tremendous energy and is fuelled by pollen and honey consumption.

There’s a lot of variation depending on where the hive is situated, but for many, tapping pounds and pounds of honey right away is not a realistic expectation. In their first year, bees will spend a significant amount of their honey on drawing out combs and these combs will make up their brood nest.

The brood nest

Bees build their brood nest in the bottom box of a Flow Hive or other Langstroth set-up. The brood is critical for the survival and health of your colony. Without constant regeneration, the hive will falter and fail as its population ages.

brood nest opening

The brood nest is the very first thing your bees create. Even before the worker bees finish building their first piece of comb, the queen will begin to lay eggs in it. In most places, flowers are only available during a short window of time. The bees must build up their infrastructure and workforce quickly if they wish to capitalise on this fleeting resource. Only after they have established their brood nest will they begin to store honey in large amounts.

It is common for there to be a strip of capped honey at the top of each frame in the brood nest and sometimes a full frame of honey on either end. The honey is stored this way because the bees are using it to insulate their brood nest. Any honey you find in your brood nest should be left alone for this reason.

Equipment

Since bees will need time to establish their brood nest and they cannot begin to store harvestable honey until they do this, you should install your new bees in just a single box.

For Flow Hive beekeepers, this means you should leave your Flow Super in the garage until your bees have filled their brood box. Bees like to stay a warm and cozy 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) inside their cluster. When you give them more space than necessary they have to work much harder to maintain these conditions and the energy they expend doing so may result in less honey stores — not to mention stressed out bees!

Newly established colonies must fill their brood box before adding a honey super.

After your bees have filled their first box with brood, you have the choice of adding another brood box or adding your Flow Super. Although you may be eager to see your Flow Super in action, adding a second brood box will make for a stronger and more stable colony. The second brood box often contains more honey than brood, but will fluctuate based on your colony’s needs. It gives your bees the flexibility to expand and contract their population as needed and this may result in better honey yields in the long term.

Installing nucs and packages If you are installing a nucleus ‘nuc’ colony, make sure you transfer the frames in the original order. It doesn’t matter whether you put them in the middle of the box or to one side as long as you do not interrupt the sequence with empty frames. The drawn frames must be next to each other in order for the bees to cluster and maintain their core temperature.

If you are installing a package of bees your colony will not have comb, so you don’t have to worry about how to order it. Just hang your queen cage from the centre frame, shake the bees in, put on the roof and leave them alone for one week. If you disturb a newly installed package before they have had adequate time to start their brood nest, they may abscond from your hive. After one week they will have begun to raise larvae. Even if you do annoy them at this point, they won’t want to abandon their young.

Inspections

When the bees begin to use the super, they will fill the centre frames first and expand outward. So, by the time you see honey through the windows, your super is close to full. How full the frames are with capped cells full of honey is the only information you will need to gather in the honey super. The same cannot be said of the brood nest. There is a myriad of vital information to collect from an inspection of your colony’s brood and it cannot be done by peeking through a window.

There are many different approaches to beekeeping which have bearing on when inspections are performed. I recommend that new beekeepers inspect more frequently (once every 2-4 weeks) because it aids the learning process and prevents cross-comb. Once a colony is established and the beekeeper seasoned, it can be beneficial to inspect less often as frequent disruption causes stress. When inspecting the brood some basics you should look for include:

 

  • Eggs to confirm the presence of a laying queen
  • A healthy brood pattern
  • Increasing population
  • Pollen stores
  • Queen cells.

Learning how to properly inspect your hives will take time and effort. If possible, you should seek guidance through local classes, beekeeping groups or by seeking out a mentor.

Next Steps to Get Started with Flow

Watch our Meet The Beekeeper Series to see the stories of people just like you keeping bees with a Flow Hive.

Find the Flow Hive that suits you.

Join the Flow Community to meet and learn from beekeepers around the world.


About the Author

Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her home town of epers each year. Her beekeeping exploits and unique business model have inspired people all around the world. She is the author of the beekeeping blog Beekeeping Like A Girl and maintains a popular Instagram account. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her sixty colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.

Website: www.girlnextdoorhoney.com

Blog: www.beekeepinglikeagirl.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/girlnextdoorhoney/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GirlNextDoorHoney/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GNDHoney

Disclaimer

The views expressed here are the beekeeper’s own and not necessarily endorsed by Flow. Every hive is different. We recommend consulting with local beekeepers, taking courses and reading widely, including this Flow sponsored pamphlet on beekeeping safety.

November 27, 2020

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How to Conduct Brood Inspections

Brood inspections are an incredibly important part of looking after your bees – if not the most important part!

Read on for how to conduct a brood inspection – with information for newbees, or more experienced beekeepers wanting a refresher or different point of view.

How often to conduct a brood inspection?

In spring/summer, it is a good idea to inspect your hive more often – about every 2-3 weeks. We recommend to check in with your local beekeeping club, as the frequency will depend on the local climate and needs of your bees.

As you come to build more of an awareness of your colony, you will be able to also sense whether everything is going okay, whether the hive is bursting at the seams and in need of more room, whether they seem to be a bit weaker, or numbers are declining etc. They will signal when it comes time to do a hive inspection.

When to inspect

Make sure to only conduct inspections on calm, warm days (i.e. not cold, not windy, and not raining) when the outside temperature is above 15°C (59°F).

The ideal time is in the middle of the day when the majority of forager bees are out, and the outside temperature is warmest.

What to prepare

Get a smoker going and ensure there is enough fuel so it doesn’t go out at a crucial time. There is a bit of an art to this – we like to use scrap newspaper and some lightweight lighting material, such as dried leaves and grass, adding a little at a time, whilst puffing the bellows, until there is quite a flame visible. At this stage add extra material, ensuring to pack it down quite a bit. Keep compressing the bellows of the smoker.

Be careful not to burn yourself.

We like to add slightly damp—or fresh—grass clippings on top to make the smoker a bit cooler.

Once lit, give a few puffs of cool smoke in the hive entrance a couple of minutes before opening to allow it to make its way through the hive, masking the pheromones and calming the bees.

Make sure to wear protective gear, and ensure it is thoroughly zipped up before cracking into your hive with your j-hive tool.

Warning... a full super can be heavy! If you have a full super above your brood box, make sure you have a beekeeping buddy available to give you hand to safely remove it.

What you are looking for

Before you go into your hive for a brood inspection, it’s good to have an idea of what you want to be looking for, this will ensure you are working methodically and efficiently.

When inspecting, you may like to consider the commonly used acronym FEDSS

Food
Eggs
Disease
Space
Swarms.

This is what you should be looking for when you are conducting your brood inspection.

Food

You want to make sure the bees have enough capped honey and pollen supplies for the time of year (and the expected nectar flow) – especially for overwinter.

The number of frames of honey that you should leave depends on your climate. Please consult local beekeepers for guidance on how much they leave for their colonies over the winter. Read more about overwintering here.

Pollen

Multi-colour pollen stored in naturally drawn comb:

Honey

Capped honey stored, and some uncapped nectar in the bottom center of the frame – when held up the sunlight, you will see nectar glistening in the cells:

Eggs

3 day old larvae and eggs are also a sign of a recently active queen.

A view down a brood cell with eggs. When the frame is held up to the light, freshly laid eggs are easily seen. A healthy queen will lay her eggs in the centre of the cell:

Check for pattern of brood – should be full and healthy looking.

A frame of very healthy looking capped brood pattern:

Identify whether there is worker brood or drone brood present.

If an excess of drone brood is present (which the photo below does not depict), this could mean your queen is infertile or not present – worker bees can also lay eggs—which are unfertilised and thus become drone brood—in emergency situations when the queen has died.

Drone bees are generally larger overall than worker bees. They have large eyes and a fat thorax, whereas the worker bees have smaller proportioned eyes and body.

Here you can see white grubs, as well capped worker-brood, and worker and drone bees:

You don’t need to find the queen, however if you do, it’s always a moment of real excitement!

Can you spot the queen? She has a long, pointed abdomen – perfect for laying eggs.

You can also assess the presence of your queen by sight of eggs and approximately 3-day old larvae.

Think your hive may be without a queen? Read more about diagnosing whether your hive is queenless here.

Disease

Pest and disease – check for presence. Have a look at our Pest and Disease resource for what these may look like when manifested.

For example, sunk cells or pin-prick in the capped brood can indicate AFB or EFB.

Space

Be aware of any cross-combing as you move through the brood box, especially when using foundationless frames. Read more about foundationless frames and cross comb here.

If end brood frames have brood, it means the colony may require more space, as typically they work from the centre-outwards. Edge frame should have honey in it, as it is part of their thermal-mass stabilisation.

Depending on your local conditions, this may be the time to add either the Flow Super or a second brood box.

Swarm

Check for whether the hive is overcrowded, if there are drones and also queen cells, this could all indicate your hive might be getting ready to swarm.

Queen cells and cups on a brood frame. They are the large protrusions on the surface of the frame:

Watch our beginner beekeeping video about brood inspection below:

 

Or watch our Live Stream Brood Inspection Q&A 

November 27, 2020

Posted in


Could garden sprays be killing your bees?

There is nothing worse than discovering your bees have been poisoned. The entrance, once a busy runway for arriving and departing foragers, now silent with only a few twitching bees in the pile of dead below. The suddenness of a colony lost to pesticide poisoning is shocking. What follows is often heartbreaking, humbling and infuriating. So, how can you tell if your colony has been poisoned, what can you do about it and how do you stop it happening in the first place?

Recognising pesticide poisoning

Since honey bees will fly up to three miles to forage, urban beekeepers find themselves at the mercy of their neighbours when it comes to pesticide usage. Unlike agricultural settings, most urban and suburban homeowners are free to use pesticides without restrictions, licensing or instruction. Improper use of pesticides can devastate nearby beehives. Improper use includes using too much, applying it to plants when they are in bloom, or applying it at the wrong time of day. It’s important to understand that the majority of these incidents happen as a result of ignorance, not malice. Many simply fail to read instructions before using the product they buy and do so without an understanding of the consequences of their actions.

When your colony experiences acute pesticide poisoning, you will see:

  • A sudden drop in foragers
  • A large mat of dead bees in front of your hive
  • Spinning, skipping and disoriented bees on the ground around your hive
  • Bees dropping from the frames when you lift them out
  • Dead bees on the bottom board.

The rooftop apiary of a student of mine was recently poisoned and exhibited all of those symptoms. Her two new colonies were thriving and just beginning to fill their second brood box with comb when disaster struck. Nearly all of the foragers were poisoned. Many of them never made it back to the hives, but several hundred did and unfortunately, they passed on the poison to the house bees. When this happens, you will find dead bees inside the hive and young bees will drop off the frames when you lift them out. At this stage of poisoning, a colony’s chance of survival is minimal. However, luckily, in this case after three weeks her queens are still alive and laying well so we are hopeful that they will recover.

How to help a poisoned hive recover

Sadly, most poisoned hives never recover, but in most cases it is a simple numbers game. The bigger your colony is, the better its chance of survival. Once pesticides knock out the field bees, the population will be drastically reduced. A hive with a low population is now at risk for a number of other problems because it will not have the necessary workforce needed to complete daily tasks.

One big one is cleanliness. A poisoned hive can easily become overwhelmed with the housework or cleaning out dead bees and any poisoned larvae. You can’t do much to help this, but if you notice dead bees on the bottom board, be sure to clear them out of the hive to prevent any secondary bacterial infections from taking hold.

Another big problem is food stores. Without foragers, your bees will be forced to live on what they have. If their stores are low, they can end up dying of starvation! Make sure your bees have enough pollen and honey stores and if they do not you should feed them until they can build up their population again.

It is very common for a poisoned colony to end up queenless and it does not always happen right away. You should take special care not to overlook the symptoms of a colony that has lost its queen. If you notice your bees are making new queens, you should let them or replace her yourself. It is likely that your queen has been damaged or killed by the pesticide exposure.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend you reduce the entrance whenever a colony is weakened to protect them from predators. Be sure to do this when your colony is recovering from a poisoning as well as they will be extremely vulnerable.

Lastly, a colony whose population drops suddenly can also fall victim to mites, moths and beetles. Keep a close eye out for these villains in the weeks following the poisoning and take appropriate action against them if you see any signs. It’s a good idea to head off moths and beetles by removing any abandoned comb. A weakened colony may not have the resources to defend all of the combs they once occupied.

Preventing pesticide poisoning

We cannot control where our bees go to forage, but what we can do is educate our communities about protecting our pollinators with responsible pest management practices. Some strategies for reaching your neighbors include: door-to-door canvassing with educational pamphlets, posting on online community forums, contacting local leaders or news organisations, volunteering to speak to garden groups. Here is some useful information to share when employing these outreach strategies.

  • Pesticides are not always necessary. When a plant is under stress, it’s susceptible to pests and other problems. When you use a pesticide or a fungicide you are really only treating a symptom and not the problem. The problem often lies in the soil. Poor soil health leads to weak plants which leads to pest problems. So, before dousing your plant in pesticides, you might want to investigate whether the soil needs to be amended.
  • Pick your poison carefully. Some pesticides are more harmful to bees than others and even the ones that are less harmful can still do damage when applied incorrectly. If you feel that you need to use a pesticide, research which ones are most appropriate and least harmful to the bees.
  • Application matters. Always read the directions on your pesticide product, but in general to protect pollinators, you should not treat plants that are in bloom. It is also important to apply the pesticide in the evening so that it is less likely the bees will encounter it and you should not apply the pesticide in windy or wet conditions because this can lead to drift.

Hilary Kearney is a full-time beekeeper in her home town of San Diego, California. Her business Girl Next Door Honey educates hundreds of new beekeepers each year. She is the author of the Beekeeping Like A Girl blog and maintains popular Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. When she’s not rescuing bees, teaching about bees, photographing bees or managing one of her 60 colonies, she’s sleeping and dreaming of bees.

November 27, 2020

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Get a BUZZ from a Bee-friendly garden

Beekeeping is a fantastic hobby, but it is a labor of love and not necessarily for everyone. Happily, there are things that everybody can do to help both native bees and European honey bees – such as planting flowering plants, leaving some bare dirt patches around the garden un-mulched, allowing last season’s leftover stalks to lie, and installing pollinator houses.


European honey bees pollinate a third of our food crops, making a huge contribution to our food supply chain, our economy and the broader ecosystem, so the more we can help them do their thing, the better off everyone is. European honey bees will feast on a range of flowering plants, but they do have preferences.

Like humans, bees love herbs. And they’re great to plant as they’re handy in the kitchen and around the house too. And there are many beautiful flowering shrubs and trees you can plant which will have nearby bees waggle-dancing with joy.

Bees are also attracted to many food plants. The great thing about planting some citrus, strawberries or a passionfruit vine is the symbiotic benefit. The bees get their pollen and nectar, and the plants produce bigger, healthier, better formed fruit in greater abundance.

The thyme is right

Bees looooove thyme. It’s a one-stop shop for foragers, providing high yields of both pollen and nectar.

Give it good drainage, and it will prosper in most climates. You can even use it on paths and as a lawn plant. It’s also a delicious culinary herb. Popular throughout the Mediterranean because it makes for super-yummy honey, neighbouring beekeepers will love you if you plant this.

Lovely lavender

Bees love blue and violet flowers best, especially the many species of lavender you can grow at home. Like thyme, it produces an abundance of both pollen and nectar.

A beautiful plant to grow, you can use sprigs to scent your home and nothing’s nicer than being downwind from a lavender bush on a sweet, breezy summer day.

Great sage

Sage costs a fortune at the shops, so planting plenty of it in your yard or on your balcony is fantastic for the home cook. It also happens to produce flowers that are among the honey bee’s very favourites.

They go crazy for it! When they find some they will do a dance so the rest of the colony knows where the party is.

Other plants bees love

  • Basil 
  • Borage
  • Chives 
  • Coriander
  • Comfrey
  • Fennel
  • Lemon balm
  • Mustard
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Rosemary

Fruit

  • Apple
  • Apricot
  • Blackberry
  • Currants
  • Blueberry
  • Citrus
  • Plum
  • Strawberries

Vegetables

  • Capsicum
  • Chilli
  • Cucumber
  • Pumpkin

Flowers

  • Alyssum
  • Cornflower
  • Cosmos
  • Echinacea
  • Geranium
  • Roses
  • Sunflowers

Natives

  • Banksia
  • Callistemon
  • Grevillea
  • Eucalyptus
  • Melaleuca


What about native bees?

We have more than 1,500 species of native bees in Australia – ranging from larger bumblebees to smaller native bees. Some live in colonies, while many work and live a solitary life. There are both ground and twig nesting varieties. Not surprisingly, many native bees prefer native plants!

Invite native bees to move in with a pollinator house

Most of the native bees in Australia are solitary and they come in all shapes and sizes. Essentially, a pollinator house is a structure which accommodates solitary nesting native bees by providing cavities in natural materials for them to live in. You can make your own, from a very basic design (drilling some holes into
a block of wood) to as complex and creative as you like.

Materials

  • Timber
  • Bamboo
  • Logs
  • Recycled cupboards, drawers, crates

Tips for building five-star pollinator accommodation

  • Use only natural, solid untreated materials (no chipboard or composites)
  • Go for cavities of various depths, but up to 15cm should be plenty.
  • Create homes of various widths. Australian native bees range in diameter from 2mm to 1cm
  • Place in a warm but sheltered spot between three to seven feet off the ground
  • Ensure the suites in your pollinator house are secure
  • Use a sloped roof to keep the everything dry

Tips for bee-friendly gardening

  • Plant flowering plants in bountiful clumps so bees don’t have to search far for forage and can work more efficiently
  • Avoid pesticides. Companion planting is the way to go if you want to control pests. Pesticides are one of the reasons bee populations are in decline
  • Plant several species to ensure you have forage for every season
  • Maintain multiple water sources around your garden
  • Spread the word among your neighbours, family and friends

Use this free fact sheet to help you start off your very own bee friendly garden.

 

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