Category Archives: How to Keep Bees

How to keep bees: tips and techniques to get started or to keep bees better

Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control – Treatment Recommendations 2012

You’ll find a lot of conflicting information about “best practices” for treating your honey bees to prevent disease and control mites in the hives, so it can be hard to know what recommendations to follow as conditions change over time and new knowledge is acquired through apiculture research and testing.

One of the most reliable sources you’re likely to come across is the 2012 Ontario Treatment Recommendations for Honey Bee Disease and Mite Control from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs of the Province of Ontario, Canada.

This information sheet is of course especially useful for Canadian beekeepers, but the treatment recommendations are often just as applicable in similar climates such as the northernmost United States.

Where to Buy Honey Bees in New Brunswick, Canada

If you’re a New Brunswick beekeeper – or planning to get into beekeeping this year – be advised that Country Fields Beekeeping Supplies Ltd. (Upper Coverdale) has just posted their 2012 prices for nucs and queens.

Nucs (nucleus colonies) are $150.00 each with a $5 discount for payment by cash or cheque. A deposit of $30 is required. A nuc includes 2 frames of bees and brood, a laying queen, a frame of honey and pollen, and an empty frame for the queen to build on.

Queen bees are priced according to where they come from. This year, the Wheatleys will be bringing in queens from Hawaii (Kona only, not Big Island), California, and Australia. Local queens from Nova Scotia are expected to be available in early June.

Supplies of honeybees are limited, of course, so you’ll want to get your order in right away. Find more information on their website at

Country Fields Beekeeping Supplies

So You Want an Observation Hive?

Constructing an Observation Bee Hive is written by Malcom T. Sanford, Professor Emeritus, University of Florida. It includes simple plans for building an observation hive, and tips on maintaining a hive if you plan to keep bees in it for longer terms, rather than simply for a display.

(You may recognize Dr. Sanford’s name as the entomologist who updated a classic beekeeping book by Richard E. Bonney for the Storey Publishing company’s Down-to-Earth Guides series in Fall, 2010.)

Constructing an Observation Bee Hive

If for some reason the FullScreen and Download buttons at the top of the embedded document aren’t working for you — those darned computers! — you can download a printable PDF version of this document at directly. That way, you’ll be able to see the measurements and instructions on the observation hive plans included.

Build or Buy an Observation Hive

If you’re looking for an alternative style, plans for building a 3-Frame Observation Hive are available free at Bee Source. Also, a fellow on the Beemaster’s International beekeeping forums has posted step-by-step photographs and description of building an observation hive.

Long-time Central Beekeeepers’ Alliance member Earl Gilbey has a four-frame observation hive that may interest and inspire you, too — see Inside An Observation Hive to read about it.

If you’re not into woodworking, you can still enjoy bee-watching as a hobby. you’ll find a remarkably wide range of observation hives for sale at Draper Bee — some of which are quite showy, more like livingroom furniture! — or visit Dadant to see a nice simple 2-frame observation hive priced at just under $100 US (plus shipping, of course).

Will Your Bees Have Food for Winter?

August is a tricky month for beginning beekeepers. With many fall flowers in bloom, the field bees are still out collecting nectar and pollen and winter seems a long way off. But the last few weeks of true summer are deceptive. The nights are starting to chill down here in New Brunswick. In a healthy colony with a good queen, drone brood production will be noticeably down. You may even start to see a few drones kicked out of the hive, as the season starts to wind down.

Starvation is a major cause of winter bee losses.

The past few years here in New Brunswick, Canada, we’ve been seeing an unusual thaw in mid-December, even getting heavy rain and spring-like flooding in much of the province in December 2010. When the weather acts up like that, it fools the bees. That’s when many colonies break their cluster and the bees become more active, moving about the hive and consuming more of the stored honey than they normally would.

The result is too often that the colony runs out of easily accessible food before spring, when snow melts and temperatures rise enough for beekeepers to get in to start spring feeding.

The answer is to make sure your bees go into winter with plenty of food — both honey and stored pollen — to see them through to spring.

How much food do bees need for winter?

Unless you are in the semi-tropical or tropical regions of the country your bees should have somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds of honey safely stored away when the first signs of autumn show. The colder and longer your winter and spring, the more they will need.

Kim Flottum, the editor of Bee Culture magazine who lives near Cleveland, Ohio, says that his bees typically use about 60 – 70 pounds of honey and 5 – 7 frames of pollen between the end of October and the beginning of April. Here in New Brunswick, beekeepers often prefer to have more like 85 to 100 pounds on a colony when it gets wrapped for wintering. Obviously, the further south you go, the sooner spring comes, and bees in don’t need as much in the way of winter food stores as they do here in Atlantic Canada.

New beekeepers: do not expect to take much if any honey off your newly established colonies in the first year. That honey belongs to the bees, to help build them up for next season.

If you figure about eight pounds of honey for a deep frame mostly filled on both sides you can estimate how much honey your bees really have. A medium frame like I use holds 4+ pounds if it’s filled completely on both sides. Either way, that’s a bunch of frames of honey that the bees need. And don’t forget the pollen.

There is some controversy in warmer climates, with a longer growing season, about whether or not to feed bees. Up north here, especially if the fall honey flow is weak or we get a dry spell during the late summer and early fall, beekeepers often have no choice about whether to feed. After all, if it’s a choice between bees starving and bees surviving…

One good reason to start feeding as soon as possible after the honey harvest is because bees need time and warm temperatures to convert the sugar syrup to “honey” — this is not the real honey bees make from flower nectar and you would never harvest it for human consumption, of course, but simply the bees converting the sugar-and-water syrup into a form they can use for food.

Pollen is needed for feeding brood in the spring, so it is just as essential as honey stores for the bees. If you don’t see lots of pollen stored in the frames, consider feeding a good quality pollen substitute. And unless you are absolutely sure your bees have enough stores to get them through the winter (and then some extra, in case of a late spring), you’ll want to feed 2:1 sugar syrup as well. This is a good time to medicate against nosema as well, as you can put the medication right into the syrup.

Read more:
Mother Earth News: Getting Your Bees Ready For Winter…Already by Kim Flottum

Starting a New Bee Hive

In this video, Colorado beekeeper Dan explains how he installs a 3-lb package of bees with queen into their new hive, showing the protective clothing, tools and equipment that he uses.

He places his hives on a hivestand (base) with a sloped landing deck on the front, set up on wooden pallets levelled into the ground to keep everything dry. His supers are 10-frame full-depth and the frames are filled with plastic foundation — more durable than wax, “and the bees don’t care,” he says. A thump of the package sends the bees to the bottom, then he sprinkles a little sugar water to distract them before dumping the bees into the new hive.

The process for installing the caged queen is demonstrated: removing the cork from the cage and replacing it with a piece of candy that the bees will eat away in a few days, releasing the queen.

An entrance reducer cuts down on the territory that this small new colony will need to protect. Sugar water (syrup) in a feeding jar with holes in the lid is provided for the bees to find and feed on, as it’s too early for forage plants to be much in bloom. Interestingly, he uses a field feeding system — the feeder is set out near the hive, rather than placed directly in or on top of the hive.

You’ll notice a two-wire electric fence set up around the hives. Dan explains that Colorado has quite a bear problem, and the 9000-volt fence gives enough of a jolt to the nose of any curious bears that they’ll keep away. It’s a “short pulse” current, however, so no real harm will be done to the bears or to any passing pets or children.

Later in the video, three days later, you’ll see that it seems like the queen didn’t make it out, so Dan comes to the rescue. He opens the cage, taking care that the queen won’t fly away, and shakes her gently into the hive between the frames.

If you have any comments or questions about this video, please contact Dan by email at