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At some point in your journey growing your own food, many people get bees. Why?!? Because bees are another livestock (like chickens) that can be kept no matter where you live, city or country. Bees also help your garden with pollination, helping to boost your garden crop and giving you honey. There are a few common problems that beginner beekeepers will often have. More on advanced problems later.
First when you are considering getting bees, find a local beekeeper group or individual who can help you when needed. Google is helpful, but nothing beats a person in person to help you go through and inspect your hive at least once. They are also invaluable when you do have problems and need to trouble shoot. I have 3 local beekeepers who help me and mentor me as I learn and grow.
The smoker problem. You can’t keep the smoker smoking. Me either honestly. I get distracted with the bees and forget to keep puffing the billow. I don’t’ even take it out to the hives anymore. Here’s my best advice. Go slow and control your breath. Yes, bees sting. Yes, they hurt even through the suit. But by using slow movements, and continuing to breath, the bees remain less aggressive.
By continuing to breathe slowly, you don’t emit as much CO2. Bees pick up on the CO2 and will become more aggressive. Sudden movements (like dropping a frame) startle the bees and they become aggressive to defend their hive. Sometimes hives have a bad day. My #1 hive this past weekend was in a bad mood and very aggressive (not normal for them). I moved slowly, breathed slowly, and they still were out to sting. I opened the hive and walked away for a bit. Usually, they will calm down after this and I can continue inspecting the hive. Not that day. I checked the frames from the top and found one with brood instead of honey. The pattern looked good, and I called the inspection good for the week. I only did this because I had just checked the hive thoroughly the week before and saw the queen along with a good brood pattern and low mite count. If I needed to inspect frame by frame again, I would probably go get the smoker and try to calm them that way.
If this hive continues to be aggressive I will requeen them. Why? Because all bees go back to the queen in the hive. Historically this hive is usually calm and easy to work, so that is not my first step.
Missing queen. As a beginner beekeeper, finding the queen can be difficult. This is where having an experienced beekeeper to go through the hive with you can help. Then mark the queen so she’s easier to find later. When purchasing a queen often they will mark them for you. What do you do when you can’t find the queen in the hive?
First look at the brood. Are there eggs? Are the eggs in the middle of the cells or are there multiple eggs in a cell? How is the pattern? Are the eggs grouped or all over the frames? This is hands down my biggest clue to if the queen is still present for a beginner. If there are eggs and larvae of varying ages, the queen is around somewhere. Keep checking weekly and keep checking the brood pattern.
True story, I took me over a month before I saw and was able to mark the queen in my #11 hive this year. This was a hive that I have had multiple problems with keeping a queen. But I stopped adding brood from the #1 hive when I started noticing eggs in the brood frames. The eggs were in the middle most of the time and only 1 egg per cell. This told me the queen was around, but very good at hiding. If there were multiple eggs per cell or the pattern was off, or eggs not centered, I would have suspected a worker bee laying.
Beekeeping is fun and rewarding. Be sure to tap into resources and continue learning as you raise bees. You can never know it all beforehand. Just jump in and learn on the go.
A few of my favorite online resources
Two Bees in a Podcast by UF/IFAS Honey Bee Lab
Honey Bee Obscura Podcast with Kim Flottum & Tim Tew
Bob Binnie YouTube channel
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