Week Two Class Notes


We received our hive assignments this week, and we’ll be doing our first inspection as a team, discussing what our objectives are for the hive in question, and how we are going to set up the girls for success. These small hives do have time to build up to an overwintering size and with a winter-worthy pantry, but they won’t get there without help. We are going to feed them, monitor mite levels, ensure that HRH is fulfilling her royal duties (laying lots of eggs), and all while defending the hives from the increasingly aggressive robbers, both wasps and honey bees.

One advantage of stripping hives out to make nucs is that the main hive is then rendered queenless while it raises a new queen, and gets a brood break. A 30 day brood break…which has some effect on at least halting the mite expansion in the hive. There were very high hopes a couple of years ago that brood breaks would eliminate mite populations in the hive, as adult, fertile female mites only live 4-11 days in hives with brood. It seemed an elegant, organic treatment option…but it didn’t work out well. Why? Alas, researchers looking into the question found that the fertile mites radically alter their life plan in the absence of bee brood, and can live in a broodless hive for up to 6 months. Months. Sigh.

What to do? One promising idea, not yet confirmed by research, is to apply a mite control measure while the hive is broodless. By day 21 after removing the queen, all worker brood will have hatched out, ditto for drone brood by day 24. So if you apply a mite remedy on day 25, all the mites in the hive will be phoretic (on the bodies of bees, not inside capped cells) and will be vulnerable to a treatment. A sugar dusting at this point, perhaps boosted by thyme oil, would be one approach…keeping in mind that a virgin queen/newly mated queen is in there and vulnerable to harsher measures.

Part of our student beekeeping will be evaluating the new queens bought locally, and assessing the performance of all the queens we have raised ourselves in this season. It is time to start thinking about which queens we’ll breed from in 2016. The best honey-maker of 2015, hands down, was the hive “Miss Honey”. So I will make daughters from her and keep them in the apiary. But right now, we are searching for queens whose worker force can effectively forage in our late summer and drought conditions.

We are also adding a watering station to the apiary. I am not a fan of communal feeders or water stations as they can easily act as robber magnets and disease transfer stations. But the robbing screens are going on all hives shortly (a few have them already) and that precludes the use of Boardman feeders as water reservoirs. We water our bees to keep them out of the local ditches, which are filled with runoff from sprayed fields. The bees will do what they want to do, but at least we have done our best to give them clean, pesticide/herbicide/fungicide/fertilizer free water…a precious commodity in agricultural areas, alas.

from Linda's Bees
from Linda’s Bees

Providing the bees their own water supply also (I hope) means they do not have to waste a lot of valuable foraging time to roam the countryside searching for possibly rare and distant water sources…and may save them drowning in troughs and buckets.

We began our class this week with a field trip to see Vivian’s nearby Warré hive. Vivian populated her Warré using a melding board (a board with a nuc shaped cutout) and a bottomless nuc box. The bees filled the nuc box with brood, then migrated down into the Warré to build comb and new brood space. After two rounds of brood had hatched in the nuc, they backfilled all the cells with nectar/honey, allowing Vivian a chance to take the nuc off and put her proper Warré quilt box and roof on the hive. She will process the frames and feed the uncured honey back to the bees: almost none was capped yet.

In choosing a non-standard hive, Vivian found herself having to figure out how to solve some basic problems. And this is at the heart of the beekeeping experience…every time you open a hive, you can never be sure what you will find. Very often, you do not find what you expect to. And that leads you into an instant problem-solving exercise. Unless the situation is dire, you can take a good look, take notes, and take time to think. Give yourself a day or two to decide on the best strategy possible…consult with beekeeping friends, post for advice on a bee forum, google the issue. Considering all your options increases the chance you will make a good decision, and gives you a great opportunity for learning.

We discussed the pros and cons of the various hive types.

Your beekeeping objectives will frame your equipment decision. There are many reasons to keep bees. You may want to produce honey, even sell the honey. Ditto the wax, or the bees themselves. You may want to make your bees available for pollination; as native bees are starved out by our disruption of the landscape, and until we do what we should (plant more for all pollinators) honey bees are becoming increasingly critical to successful agriculture.

You may just want to beekeep for pleasure…there is a zen quality to observing and caring for honey bees…and relaxation. Or you may just enjoy the natural science of social insects. Perhaps you just want to keep a colony healthy and thriving in an increasingly honey bee unfriendly world.

The various hive types each bring their own impact to those disparate goals.

Finally, we quickly discussed ethical beekeeping. As beekeepers, we have an ethical duty to the bees, who have not asked to be domesticated and managed. We have an ethical duty to our fellow beekeepers, particularly those in our flight range, who are impacted by our apiary and our management practices (or lack thereof!). We have a duty to our communities, where bees are feared but required for food production. And we have an ethical duty to the wild and native pollinators, who cannot forage as effectively as honey bees, and are therefore pushed to the edge in human-altered, forage-poor, degraded habitats.

It is increasingly fashionable to diss the honey bee in favour of the native pollinators. There has been a lot of media chatter that honey bees are responsible for the decline of native bees. While it is true honey bees can fly further than most native bees in pursuit of nectars and pollens, the real threat to native pollinators is habitat loss and degradation.

Even if we removed honey bees from the picture, forage areas are so disrupted the native bees would still starve.

But happily, what is good for one is good for the other, and we need them all. Planting pollinator corridors and keeping in mind the short flight ranges of native bees a la the stellar, successful work of the Bumblebee Conservancy, would remedy our landscapes.

And do good things for all bees and pollinators.

bb conservation

We did not have time to pull out our beekeeper note books: we will open our Week Three class with that exercise.



Week One Class Notes

Week One

Inspection Technique

The most important thing to remember is to move like a Tai Chi Master…gentle, unhurried movements. Bees hate vibrations, so cause as as few as possible: wedge out frames gently and lift up and out without tilting the frames, or bumping them against the hive body and crushing the bees. If the bees get upset, stop. Give them a gentle puff of smoke and give them a few seconds to settle down. The pitch of their buzzing is your guide…it gets higher and louder when the bees are upset.

Smoke the entrance, the top entrance, under the cover and any other hole in the hive gently before you open the hive up. Give the bees a minute or two to go fill up on honey before cracking the inner cover. Move quietly and do not bang equipment around. Wedge the inner cover open (it will be stuck down) without big cracking noises ie. slowly. Give the top of the hive a bit of smoke as the cover comes off. Work through the hive quietly. If you need to put hive bodies on the ground, do so on top of the upside down outer cover…lay it on the ground first. That way a queen running for cover will not end up on the bare ground or grass and be lost. About one inspection in 20 you will find the queen on the cover when you go to put it back on. Put her gently back in the hive first.

As you inspect, make a mental note of how much honey and pollen is in the hive, and where. How much brood is in the hive, especially the rough amount of cells with eggs…the size of your palm? Two palms worth? Tracking egg amounts tells you something about the queen…if the rate is up, why? And if the rate is down, why?

Is the larval brood pure white and glistening, wet looking? Are there any discoloured larvae?

Older larvae, and how they should look!
Older larvae, and how they should look!
Yellow, distorted larvae: they should NOT look this way!!
Yellow, distorted larvae: they should NOT look this way!!

Are the capped brood cappings solid or do some have ragged holes in them (suggesting foulbrood)? Are the sheets of capped brood solid, or riddled with missed or empty cells (shot brood, shotgun pattern)?

If you see the queen, is she marked? And is she looking good?

Are there any damaged, odd-looking or obviously sick workers? Are there any drones around?

Does the queen need more laying room? Another box?

As you inspect, use all your senses!

See the bees: are they calmly moving about the frames, or scurrying wildly? Note things that are odd or worrying. Smell the bees: is there a sweet, musky honey scent, or can you smell something sour or rotten?

Hear the bees: is there a low, contented hummmmm, or is the pitch sharper and full of anxiety?

Touch…keep your movements gentle and slow, vibrations to an absolute minimum.

And taste! As you break apart frames you will often open up some honey cells in the bridge comb. Enjoy the savoury-sweet wild honey flavour!

Bee Biology

Bees come in three sex divisions: queen, worker and drone.

The queen is the sexually mature, reproductive female. She has 32 chromosomes, and stores the sperm gathered on her mating flight(s) in a special organ, her spermatheca. Remarkably, the queen can choose, when laying any given egg, to fertilize the egg (which then yields a worker bee, who also has 32 chromosomes but does not develop into a queen, and never goes on a mating flight…in special situations a worker will lay eggs, and they will develop, but they will always be unfertilized, and so grow up to be drone bees)…or not fertilize the egg, which yields a 16 chromosome drone. Drones then, are said to have only a mother, no father.

Queens are the egg layers. Worker bees do all the other tasks (making and cleaning cells, feeding and cleaning queen and brood, storing pollen and nectar, curing nectar into honey, capping the honey, gathering pollen and nectar, cleaning the hive, and guarding the hive). Drones fly to drone congregation areas to await virgin queens, mate with those queens, and also regulate temperature in the brood nest.

Because bees feed one another and the queen, disease can rapidly disseminate throughout a hive.

Genetic Diversity in the Hive

While the workers in any given hive share a single mother, the queen, they have (if the queen found lots of dates at the drone congregation area on her mating flight(s)) different fathers. Queens can be mated succcessfully by one to over 20 drones. Recent research confirms that the more drone fathers there are in the colony, the healthier and more vigourous it is. Thus, there is, in a well mated queen, a wealth of genetic diversity in the hive. Not only does the queen pass to her daughters a random 16 chromosome sub-set of her own 32 chromosomes, she passes a subset of 16 from the drone whose sperm is used to fertilize the worker egg. Many drone fathers = many different paternal subsets in the colony workers. Workers who share a drone father, called “supersisters”, will differ slightly based on which subset of their parents’ genes they inherit. Thus workers are genetically diverse, meaning they have differing abilities and susceptibilities to disease or pests. In the best case scenario, that diversity endows the hive with a population in which at least some of the worker bees will excel at any given task or challenge. One well known limitation in commercial queen breeding is the tendency to inseminate the queen with closely related, non-genetically diverse, drone semen…often the product of very targeted breeding programs ie. disease resistance, or propensity to forage aggressively.

Colony Development Through the Year

As of Midwinter Eve, December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, the colony senses the lengthening of the days and the queen begins laying more eggs. Her egg production will rise throughout the early months of the year and peak around Midsummer’s Day, will rise when there is lots of nectar and pollen coming in, and will fall when food sources dwindle. Thus, the colony expands in the early part of the year, and contracts in the latter half. Beekeepers generally focus on having the hive at full strength to meet the dominant area nectar flow (if honey harvesting is their main objective). Given that the youngest forager is 42 days old from the egg (21 days to hatch, and 21 days to mature into a bee capable of foraging), and given that the life of a forager is only two to three weeks at most, the hive must be at peak population just before the nectar flow (in order to meet the flow with the maximum amount of foragers). Pollination services want to meet the early agricultural bloom with peak populations, so will force their colonies in late winter/early spring by feeding lavishly.

Organization of the Colony

Driven by an array of chemical feedback loops (via pheromone production), everything that needs to be done in a colony is done by castes of bees. Castes are roughly age based, with bees using the following progression:

Age castesIt is a very busy life! Queens hatch, mature, go on their mating flight(s), and return to lay eggs in the hive for the rest of their life. They will be replaced if for some reason their pheromone levels drop (indicating lowered fertility), or if they do not lay an optimal amount of brood (brood pheromone levels drop), or if they are sick or injured. Drones exist to mate with queens from other hives (queens prefer to fly well outside the flight range of their local drones, increasing their chances of mating with unrelated drones), and to regulate the temperature of the brood nest.

Age Polyethism of Honey Bees
Age Polyethism of Honey Bees

Sting Basics

Read the Sting Basics section (pgs. 11-16) of Randy Oliver’s Beginning Beekeeping Workshop. Upon being stung, calmly scrape the stinger and venom sac out of your skin, as quickly as possible. Work with smoke, and protective gear either on or at hand. Work gracefully, quietly and with minimal vibration. If the bees become upset, cover them and quietly walk away. Do not hesitate to end an inspection and return on a better day! Carry an epipen, a charged cell phone, and a bottle of Benadryl for bee inspections. If you feel a sting is serious, and you are experiencing the symptoms of anaphylaxis, use your Epipen and seek immediate transport to Emergency for medical care. Remember as you work that as few as 100 stings can kill a child, and the adult lethal dose (in the absence of severe allergy) is 300-500 stings. Given that a good sized colony can easily contain 30,000 to 60,000 bees, it is essential to work in a way that does not upset the bees, particularly in an urban or community garden setting.

Note that if you are allergic to wasps (yellowjackets/hornets), they predate bee hives and so are regular and short tempered visitors to the beeyard. If you have a wasp allergy, be extremely cautious, particularly in late summer when wasp numbers explode and they become even more likely to sting.

Bee Kit Contents

Whatever else you have in there, always be sure you are packing a charged and working cell phone (to call for medical help), an Epipen (in case of anaphylaxis) and a bottle of Benadryl (helps suppress sting reactions, buying you extra time for the ambulance to arrive!).

Beeyard Notebook

Using a binder or clipboard, devise a way to track the life of your colony and document the findings of your inspections. Set up this tool such that you have a way to plan your future inspections and goals. Sample log sheet.

hive inspection log sheet

Week Two

Week Two Class Notes

On to Week Three

Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun November 1889, Vincent Van Gogh
Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun
November 1889, Vincent Van Gogh

We are setting up the student apiary this week: and expecting record temperatures in this endless, dry, hot summer.

Before delving into Week Two’s planned topics, I want to repeat one critical bit of information from Week One (yes, it is that important!), so bear with me:

***Critical Tip and Trick***

If you are starting with a package or nuc, keep an eye on the rate at which brood is being laid and capped. In every inspection, look for eggs, larvae and capped brood. A healthy hive will expand steadily through the spring until late June, and every time you look inside, should be taking up more and more frames to live on. If you do not see expansion, if they stay the same size as when you bought them, or suddenly stall out, reach out for help. ALL spring/early summer colonies should grow visibly between inspections! Most colony failures can be fixed if you catch the lack of expansion early.

With every inspection, you grow your sense of what a healthy, normal colony looks like. But at first it will all seem confusing. Persevere! Soon you will have a feel for whether what you are seeing is expected….and if you find the unexpected, you will reach out to bee mentors and advisors for help interpreting what you have seen.

Two thing happen after Midsummer’s Eve (June 21 in our hemisphere), one is universal, one local. The universal is that the bees, sensing the dying of the light and the approach of winter, begin to restrict their rate of lay. From here on in, the hive will be shrinking, not expanding as it has been all spring. And locally, our blackberries fall out of bloom and set fruit: this is the end of our main nectar flow. While in most years we can count on a trickle from the fields and forests, and more than a trickle if we are near large neighbourhoods with irrigated flower gardens (we hates low maintenance shrubberies, we does!!), this year is so dry, there is really nothing out there for the bees. And with little rain in the long range forecast, that means we are going to have to feed them a bit to get them up to winter weight, to get them to raise the winter bees, and to keep the queen laying at a meaningful rate.

This creates stress in the hives, and that can make the bees vulnerable to disease, in particular the foulbroods. And in late summer, the mite life cycle means mite levels are going to increase, so we’ll be keeping an eye on the mite levels, in anticipation of the usual late summer mite treatment. It is best to apply mite treatment before the winter bees are being raised, but in this unseasonably hot weather, that makes my favourite late summer treatment, formic acid, tricky to use. It is safest to use when temperatures will not go above 20C/68F…something that is not going to happen here any time soon.

The week’s topics for Week Two are:

1. beekeeping equipment basics and history (have a look at Beverly’s Bees equipment page for Langstroths, as that is the setup we’ll be using in class). Note that legally we are required to use hives with movable frames.

2. alternative hive types (Warré and top bar). Just a note on Warré: they are not constructed to be inspect-able…this means you cannot check for budding disease or queen-rightness problems, a fatal drawback particularly in bee-dense/disease-dense areas. Also check out Slovenian hives!

3. beekeeping objectives…some beekeepers run for honey, some for making new colonies, some for pollination and some just for pleasure. Your objectives will frame your beekeeping strategies.

4. ethical beekeeping…what is good husbandry, and how do you place bees ethically in bee dense, agriculturally dense, and human dense environments? What can you do as a beekeeper to give your bees a good life, and a chance to avoid extinction?

5. Just a heads up, we’ll open our class this week by reviewing our brand new beekeeping notebooks…have a name for your hive (so we can readily identify it in conversation…note it will be put on the front of your hive), and be ready to meet your own hive this week.

14may26_santropol_bees_02Week Two Class Notes

On to Week Three


The Beekeeper’s Kit Bag

Soft sided tool tote.
Soft sided tool tote.

Wherever I go beekeeping, I take along my beekeeper tool tote, affectionately known as “My Little Bag of Tricks”.

Given the unpredictable nature of beekeeping, you learn quickly what to put in the tote. Here is a quick summary of the essentials:

1. Epipen: you may not (yet) be allergic to honeybees, but it pays to have this with you at all times. I have read enough stories about beekeepers who, after enjoying years of beekeeping and the invevitable stings with no trouble, suddenly went into anaphylaxis without warning when stung. You will also need an epipen if for some reason you get scores of stings, or if someone close by is stung and goes into anaphylaxis.

2. Charged cell phone: In case of medical emergency, above. Because once you need the epipen, you must secure immediate transport to Emergency for further medical care. Great for taking quick photos too!

3. A bottle of benadryl: in case you just swell up a lot from bee stings.

4. A hive tool, unless you leave it tucked under the outer cover of the hive.

5. Queen marking cup and marking pen. For the day you discover an unmarked queen in your hive!

6. Small plastic bags/ziploks and toothpicks: for taking foulbrood or diseased bee samples. Note you can also carry foulbrood test kits.

7. Duct tape: you can put a piece onto the outer cover with notes to self flagging a situation of interest ie. “queen cells in hive, hatching July 9th”

8. Squeeze bottle of food grade mineral oil: lay a bead of mineral oil across the top bars of the top super every time you close up the hive…acts as tracheal and Varroa mite control.

9. Not strictly something that fits in the kit, but consider using cover cloths.

10. Water mister/spray bottle. A mist of water moves the bees down and out of your way.

10. Random useful items: scissors, permanent marker(s), queen cages, collecting jar, pieces of foam to use as quick entrance blocks, extra pen/pencil, paper for notes.



What you need to start beekeeping:

At a minimum, you need a good beesuit, a veil, beekeeping gloves (fit them carefully), a smoker and fuel, a lighter (I use a butane canister fitted with a créme brulée torch head), a hive tool. You will be glad if you have a complete extra hive setup ready to go at a moment’s notice, or at least extra painted supers (bee boxes) and frames. You will be very glad if you have a painted nuc box or two in case you have to do some quick splits or manipulations.

Dans woodworking nuc box

I know the expense is daunting…sequence your purchase of backup equipment over a few months, but having that ready to go is going to pay off, if not this season then next!

Note that painting your plastic foundation with a thick layer of purchased beeswax will really speed the bees along on drawing out those first frames. Until you have a stock of drawn comb stored in totes, waxing foundation can really help your colonies grow quickly.



Week One: Beginning Beekeeping Basics

On to Week Two

Week One Class Notes

Plain near Auvers - Van Gogh
Plain near Auvers – Van Gogh

We are beginning our journey in late summer, mid July in the Pacific Northwest. It has been a dry, long, incredibly warm spring and summer, so the bees are really into their late summer housekeeping. The nectar flow is nearly over, and is (with the early and dry bloom of blackberries now done) vastly reduced. This will mean increasing crankiness on the part of the bees, who are hungry, and defensive of their hard-won honey stores. Robbing, both from neighbouring colonies and wasp species, is a clear and present danger, adding some excitement to what is normally a quiet time in the beekeeping year.

I will present the week’s information topics in outline form, and will add a summary our group discussions at the end of the post once that discussion has taken place. Helpful comments and advice from advanced beekeepers are welcome!

Week One:

Recommended Reading for the week is Randy Oliver’s “Rules for Successful Beekeeping”. Randy says it all best, but I can add that there are two important learning curves to beekeeping: book learning and practical application. You can read all about bees and beekeeping, all the research, all the online forums, and amass a very helpful and valuable hoarde of information in a very short time.

And you should.

But the practical learning curve is much longer and steeper. As a new-bee, you open up your hive and have simply no idea what you are seeing. You can’t really sit there with a book in one hand and figure it out because once you open the hive you are on borrowed time: the bees will tolerate you hovering over them and shifting things around, but not for long.

So in each inspection you are amassing experience. And in each inspection, you will not see all that can be seen over the course of the life of a hive. You may or may not see effects of a disease, or pest. You may or may not see the signs that the colony is in reproductive (swarming) mode, or hungry, or crowded, or upset by some outside agent. But in time, over the course of years, and especially if you end up seeing lots of colonies, you will see a wide range of things, and gain an understanding of the arc of the colony year.

So new-bees, inspect your colony/colonies every week to 10 days if possible (warm, sunny days…which don’t arrive on order, so use Accuweather to look ahead and plan your inspection opportunities), and take notes on what you see. There is a big anti-inspection movement in the bee world right now, and you may hear or read comments that say “I leave my bees alone and they are better for it”.

My reply is “how would you know?”

Without inspections you can only surmise, not know, what is happening in the hive. And without doing regular inspections as a new beekeeper, you will not progress along that practical learning curve. So inspect!

Hive components
This is how all the bits go together! Your setup may be slightly different, no worries.

As I have said, we are beginning after midsummer. Each student is being assigned a small hive (small because they have been repeatedly harvested for nuc production) that they will care for until the end of the summer, which here is about 6 weeks away. If possible these students will take the hives through to winter wrap-up…depends upon return to post secondary etc.

However, that makes our first lesson Inspection Technique.

Note how Paul Kelly, beekeeper extraordinaire, moves his hands and frames quietly, gently, and with no bumps or vibrations! This is the key to a peaceful, helpful inspection.


Paul  puts his first frame to one side as he works…and this is standard practice in big beeyards. My beeyard is small and I have time, so I use a frame rest to hold the extra frames…it holds up to three, which is plenty:


Paul cages his queens when he finds them and then can work the hive worry free. You can also put the entire frame on which you find the queen into a nuc box while you work. That way you KNOW where she is and that she is safe. It is surprisingly easy to lose or kill your queen.

Pre-inspection, think about what your inspection is meant to accomplish, keeping in mind that depending on what we find in the colony, objectives may change. That can make the notes from your last inspection(s) invaluable as a guide to your next inspection. So, refer to notes if you have them, and prepare.

We are assuming you have chosen proper inspection weather: it will be warm, at least over 15C/59F, little or no wind, and if you inspect in the afternoon the foragers will all be out foraging and out of your way…much easier to see brood and queen. Bees hate being disturbed in cold, windy, or wet weather. They also become increasingly fractious in the nectar dearth that is late summer…by September they are upset easily, and defensive of their winter stores.

Check your bee kit: the first items of importance are your charged and working cell phone, your epipen, your bottle of Benadryl. I am not allergic to honey bees but I carry an epipen ALWAYS. In quantity, bee stings are lethal, and the epipen can save your life. Do not beekeep without an epipen, and a charged phone with which you can call for medical help. You will also need at least a good bee tool and smoker. And an escape plan in case things go wrong…more on that below.

Light the smoker: I make my own smoker packets from burlap rolled up with fine wood chips and dried catmint: they smoke for a long time. The wood pellets sold for fueling pellet stoves are also great smoker fuel, and are inexpensive bought in hardware stores. Wood stove pellets  make great, inexpensive smoker fuel!

Wood Pellets, Pellet Stoves | The Stove Depot - Vermont inside Wood Stove Pellets For Sale K8L1

You don’t want to have the smoker go out at a critical moment, particularly in an urban or community garden setting. I light the smoker with a butane torch, which is speedy and reliable. Canisters of butane are available in hardware stores for around $6 and will last a few years. The torch end can be ordered online or got at a cooking supply retailer. I found mine at Russell Food Equipment in Vancouver, also available from Amazon.

Have a water mister on hand: once the initial smoking is done (and wait TWO minutes after smoking to allow bees to gorge on honey), you can use a fine water mist to clear bees out of your way. If the water mist stops working, go back to smoke, and if that stops working, and the bees are cranky (as they are in late summer/fall), close up the hive and try again another day.

Put up your hair (ponytails are the first rule of the beeyard) so any guard bees who get snarky do not get tangled up with your “do”. Bees are covered in tiny hairs, making them instant velcro in your hair. They will then panic, shoot off alarm pheromone (which smells like cheap banana flavouring) and more guards will race to the defense while the first one stings you in the head. So tie back your hair, put on a hat or kerchief if you can, and when the guard bees go for your face, put on your veil. Tip: if a bee gets tangled in your hair and starts that high, keen buzzing, squash it. I know that sounds cruel, but if you don’t kill the bee, and manage to free it without it stinging your fingers, 9 times out of 10 it will immediately fly at you and sting your closest part…usually your face. Up to you, but now when I have a serious entanglement I usually sacrifice the bee. I do say “sorry, sweetie”!

From Etsy shop TrendyApparelShop

Suit up. I know, it’s hot! But it is important to be relaxed as you bee-keep, and in your first year(s) of beekeeping, you are going to be uncomfortable surrounded by all those stinging insects. You are also going to be refining your technique such that bees do not become aroused…that takes time and practice. Be relaxed and feel safe in your suit and veil while you work.

To stay cool on hot days, you can wear a wet tee shirt under the bee suit and/or wrap a wet bandanna around your neck. I keep a flat of water in the bee bench….beekeeping is thirsty work!

NOTE: the veil, suit and gloves are essential when you are doing (and you will be) something that upsets the bees. Sometimes we have to do a really invasive inspection (ie. looking for a queen to sell, finding disease, treating for pests or disease, moving a colony) and then you must, must, must put on your protective gear. Bee stings in quantity can be lethal regardless of your allergy status. So have that gear on or at hand, and have an escape plan in case things go sideways!!! And someday, they will go sideways…a box is dropped or a hive is knocked over. My escape plan is to run to my truck, which is left with the windows UP, just in case. At home I can run into the house and shut the door. Once I am in a place where the guard bees can’t get to me, I deal with the bees still stinging me, and figure out what to do next.

But as soon as possible, ditch the beekeeping gloves. You will need them when we have to do invasive things to the bees, as when you are turning out sick bees onto fresh equipment, or on a day when they are in a bad mood, etc. So buy the gloves. But as far as is possible, work without them. It teaches you to have quiet hands, to move without bumping the frames or crushing bees, and improves your dexterity. Bees once upset are far more focused on going for your face than your hands. So ditch the gloves and retain the veil!

Get the wash bucket prepped. To prevent spread of disease, each hive has its own tool, and we wash our hands in soapy, bleachy water between hives.

Smoke the hive to be inspected gently…first at the door, then the upper entrance if there is one, then a bit under the outer cover. Wait a minute or two for the ladies to fill up on honey, then crack the inner cover and puff in a few puffs there too. Moving slowly and causing minimal vibration, inspect.

Stand beside, not in front of or behind, the hive. This gives you the optimal position for working the frames, and keeps you out of the foragers’ flight path.

Where there are multiple supers on the hive, put the lid upside down on the ground or a short, stable surface, and take all the supers off but the last one, and cover the top super in the stack taken off with a cover cloth.

cover clothThe cover cloth keeps the bees quiet and off the top edges of the super while we inspect another super (box).

Do your inspection, reassembling the hive as you go, and make your notes on what you have seen once the hive is back together. We will discuss what we have found, and what that means, with reference to where we are in the beekeeping year.

The major points to cover in any inspection are:

  1. Is the brood healthy? larvae that are white, wet, and glistening.
  2. Is the brood healthy? Yes, Virginia, it is that important!
  3. Are there eggs in the hive? (usually in the centre of the broodnest, where most of the bee activity will be)
  4. Do the bees look healthy, normal, active?
  5. How are they doing for stores of nectar/honey and pollen?

Try to get a feel for what a normal colony looks like…the frames next to the sides of the box are usually full of stores (honey and pollen). As you get toward the middle frames, where you will likely see most of the bees, you will find brood and eggs (and usually the queen is in the middle of the crowd).


***Critical Tip and Trick***

If you are starting with a package or nuc, keep an eye on the rate at which brood is being laid and capped. In every inspection, look for eggs, larvae and capped brood. A healthy hive will expand steadily through the spring until late June, and every time you look inside, should be taking up more and more frames to live on. If you do not see expansion, if they stay the same size as when you bought them, or suddenly stall out, reach out for help. ALL spring/early summer colonies should grow visibly between inspections! Most colony failures can be fixed if you catch the lack of expansion early.

With every inspection, you grow your sense of what a healthy, normal colony looks like. But at first it will all seem confusing. Persevere! Soon you will have a feel for whether what you are seeing is expected….and if you find the unexpected, you will reach out to bee mentors and advisors for help interpreting what you have seen.

We’ll discuss all that more in the Week One Notes.

Other topics we’ll cover this week:

1. Bee biology…queen, drone, worker. Additional reference here.

2. Genetic diversity in the hive…how to get it and why it is important.

3. The arc of development of a typical colony over the course of the beekeeping year (.pdf link)

4. Organization of the colony within the hive, and how that changes with the seasons.

5. What to do when stung (beginning with immediate removal of the stinger, and staying calm)

6. What to put in your bee kit (first items of importance: an epi-pen and charged cell phone!).

7. Setting up your beeyard notebook.

Too complex for me, but a good summary of what needs to be tracked!
Too complex for me, but a good summary of what needs to be tracked! I use a binder with a numbered tab for each hive, and take notes diary style.

Finally, our weather reference…in this glorious summer we have not had to worry about rain and limited access to the hives. Inspections can pretty much be done any day, because they have all been warm and sunny. But in a normal year, we are usually looking ahead and planning for sunny days to coincide with our free time. It can be very difficult to get the kind of access we want to the hives, and requires careful planning, particularly if we are on a timeline ie. raising queens.

I have found for our area the best weather forecast tool is Accuweather. I use the monthly forecast option often to plan beeyard activities: this became critical as my bee holdings grew and I had multiple hives and yards to inspect. We will be using the Point Roberts, WA forecast, which seems most accurate for our area, which gets remarkably different weather than nearby Vancouver, BC, Canada.

July 2015
July 2015

On to Week Two

Week One Class Notes






Begin at the Beeginning



Welcome to the beekeeping world! May your career as a beekeeper be long and prosperous, and may these pages help you on your journey.

Scroll down for introductory notes, which follow the quick links, below.

Note: All Yellow text is LINKED text! Please explore these links as many contain invaluable information,


Right up front, my fave beekeeping book, and their info link:

The British Beekeeping Association Guide to Beekeeping

British Beekeeping Association Learning Pages


Advice for New Beekeepers

Should New Beekeepers Go Treatment Free??

How to Help the Bees and Other Pollinators

Suggested Research Topics


Week One: the Basics


Week Two: this ‘n that

Week Three: Fall Management, Diseases and Pests

Week Four: Spring Management

Week Five: Summer Management

Week Six: Winter Prep and Management

*Final Exam Notes*: Everything You Need to Know as a Beekeeper, in a Nutshell!

Resource Page & Equipment Picks

Advice Column


These pages were first written during Summer 2015, and will be edited frequently as new and better information presents.

Thus begins a new adventure for all of us: you as a new beekeeper, and for me as an online advisor.

My best advice to us both is to read, observe, and learn. It is easy (if expensive!) to keep bees, but it is not easy to keep them well.


We live in a highly disrupted world. We have altered the land and the landscape, so much so that we are beginning to alter the climate. We have pulled the honey bee, Apis mellifera, out of her home range, and put her into biozones all over the globe, biozones she was never adapted to or for. We have introduced pests, diseases, and environmental stressors (the beekeeper being one of the most important) to the honey bee, and asked her to perform for us.

Please, we ask, be healthy and productive! But don’t swarm, make incredible amounts of honey, pollinate in the face of industrial farming and industrial agri-spray regimes, don’t bother the neighbours, and get through the winter!

No wonder the bees are on their little bees’ knees.

Week by week we will explore together the canon of knowledge which is Beginning Beekeeping. We will both cover the usual course outline for beginning beeks, and chat about what we are finding in our hives, and in the beeyard, at this time of year (we are beginning in mid July in the Pacific Northwest, in an unprecedentedly dry and sunny summer).

The main focus of our learnings will be giving you tools to prevent colony loss.

Upwards of 80% of new beekeepers quit beekeeping in under three years, likely out of frustration when their bees keep dying. Bees are precious, and expensive. So we will emphasize what it takes to keep bees alive, using lots of web content and resources.


I will present all the options out there but concentrate on the ones that I have found to work here in our bee-dense, berry field rich locale (the Lower Mainland area around Vancouver, BC, Canada…ours is a typical Pacific Northwest climate, cool summer area).

All the pages will be available through the menu button drop down, top right of the page.

And if you have bee questions, I will post them and my best answer on the Advice Column page. If I can’t answer the question, I will consult my personal panel of Bee Wizards, and post their advice.

But for those of you who want to journey solo, here are some links to get you started:

My favourite beginning beekeeping books are:

The British Beekeeping Association Guide to Beekeeping

Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

I have posted a guide to the basic equipment you will need.

A good site packed with information and beginner beekeeping advice is Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping. In particular, read up on first year care for your colony.

A great video set is David Eyre’s DVD’s on basic beekeeping and queen rearing.

Check out the Resource Page for some key info links, winter prep advice, and equipment recommendations.

The most beautiful nature writing is done by Sue Hubbell, who was herself a beekeeper. Her books on bees and other wild creatures are an enchantment.

May you have long and happy careers as beekeepers!

Next: Week One

beekeeper bw