Average Joe's Weekly Tips/Hints
Each Week we’ll provide An Average Joe Beekeeper Tip / Hint for Better Beekeeping!
Check back weekly to increase your beekeeping knowledge and efficiency. We’ll display as many Beekeeping Tips and Hints as we can but as the list becomes bigger they may be moved to our Bee-Engaged Blog page or our archives.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-18: Balancing Frames for Extraction [027/abf2126]
Once a newer beekeeper produces an excess of honey (usually in the second year), they’ll be extracting honey from the hive. Although honey harvest may seem a way off, various methods exist to harvest honey. Beekeepers mainly use a hand or motor driven extractor (or centrifuge) to harvest their honey (medium) supers to be more efficient in their collection efforts.
More expensive extractors can automatically balance the weight of honey frames allowing for a smoother operating experience. Until you “graduate” to very “high” end equipment, a simple kitchen scale can be used to weigh each frame. By recording the weight of each frame, you can facilitate balancing the load which is easier on your arms (as you crank by hand) or easier on the motor (if a motorized extractor is available).
REMEMBER: A honey harvest in your 1st year is a bonus!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-17: Extinguishing Your Smoker [026/abf2125]
When your inspections are complete, if you were using a Smoker and it was properly fueled, lit and cared for, it will probably still be smoking. To avoid inadvertently starting a larger fire, the smoker contents should be extinguished and the contents properly disposed of, preferably in a non-combustible container.
A fire extinguisher should be on hand in the apiary for emergency use and if necessary, you can use it to smother the embers as needed. A more economical means of extinguishing the smoker is a simple spray bottle with water which can also serve multiple purposes in the apiary. Besides cleaning up honey and use in other cleanup tasks, that spray bottle of water can be used to douse the embers in your smoker. This may preclude reuse of the fuel but it usually results in little to no possibly of the smoker restarting.
Alternatively, although taking a little more time, the smoldering fire in the smoker can be smothered by placing a ball of excess wax into the smoker spout. This will allow possible reuse of the fuel during future beekeeping sessions.
WARNING: When using a smoker, always exercise caution with handling and use of the smoldering embers. As with all fire, smoke and combustible materials, please be safe and be careful during use, especially in dry climates and times of drought.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-16: Frame Rest/Frame Holder for Inspecting [025/abf2124]
Similar to using an extra box to place frames into as they are inspected (Hint 21-12: An Extra Deep for Easier Inspecting [021/abf2120]), a frame rest or frame holder can provide the same utility with the bonus of not having to bend over to place the removed frames or when retrieving them for replacement in the hive. Usually made of welded metal (various models and types can be found), these simple devices make it easier to manipulate frames while inspecting.
NOTE: When using a frame rest at the top of your bottom deep, don’t forget to remove it prior to placing upper boxes back on top!
BONUS: You might try a simple adjustable “towel bar” that is available at some of the “dollar” stores in several nationwide chains. Hang it upside down on the hive side and place your frame there. Be advised that it may not be as stable as a frame rest/holder as shown above but it is inexpensive if budget is a concern and can serve the same purpose with proper care and use.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-15: Feeders on the Inner Cover [024/abf2123]
Whether we like it or not, at times it is necessary to feed sugar syrup to a colony. Multiple feeder types are available, each with pros and cons.
Feeding may be justified during initial colony buildup after installing a package or nuc, especially when comb needs to be built out.
One method of feeding uses a jar or pail on top of the inner cover. An un-used hive body is used as a “surround” to help avoid robbing behavior by other colonies. In the Spring and Fall, this method may also provide protection from colder weather and can use the rising heat from the bees inside to raise the syrup temperature above the ambient outside temperatures.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-14: Collecting Wax and Propolis [023/abf2122]
During your weekly inspections you may come across stray beeswax (bridge and burr comb) and various quantities of sticky propolis on your frames and other hive components.
Many beekeepers just throw away both wax and propolis around the hive.
Not only can those discarded hive products attract insects, rodents and other “varmints” but also you’re throwing away valuable assets.
Carry a couple of containers to collect both wax and propolis. Melt down and render your accumulated wax to use in candles, lotions and salves. Propolis can be used to produce tinctures that many who practice holistic “cures” will gladly buy.
BONUS: Various entities will pay for both wax and propolis in bulk – a great source of extra income to support your Beekeeping!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-13: Cork Your Smoker [022/abf2121]
If you let your smoker continue to burn, it will eventually extinguish itself as whatever fuel you’re using will burn itself out.
But why waste your fuel? Frugality can be a virtue!
A wine bottle cork, trimmed to fit your smoker’s opening, will extinguish the smoker by robbing the smoldering embers of oxygen.
If you’re a wine drinker, you have a ready source of used corks and if you are a teetotaler, you probably know a wine drinker or two. Find a few corks and carry them with you to smother and extinguish your smoker.
If you place a screw in the end of your cork and tie it to your smoker it’s always available…
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-12: An Extra Deep for Easier Inspecting [021/abf2120]
Some beekeepers don’t have the strength to lift a 10 frame second deep off their hive stack.
Work smarter not harder!
Bring along an extra Deep box for your inspection. As you look at a frame put it in the third box (which you’ve placed on top of your overturned top cover). Soon the 2nd box will be nearly empty, and you can lift if off to get a better look at your bottom box.
BONUS: The extra room provided by removing frames makes it less likely that you will “roll” your Queen while taking out or putting back your frames
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-11: Spraying Plastic Foundation with Sugar Syrup [020/abf2119]
When using plastic foundation (or sometimes complete plastic frames) a light coat of beeswax is usually applied by the manufacturer. Even with this wax coating, the bees may not be enticed to draw comb on this template.
Spraying a light coat of 1:1 sugar syrup on the foundation may make it more acceptable to the bees.
If that doesn’t help, try rubbing a block of beeswax across the foundation to build up the wax base even further. It may result in better acceptance by the bees.
NOTE: Some bees may not build comb on plastic frames or foundation no matter what you do to the frames. In this case you may need to use either wax foundation or perhaps try going foundationless.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-10: Leverage with a Hive Tool [019/abf2118]
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-09: Sugar Syrup – 1:1 versus 2:1 [018/abf2117]
With Package and Nuc Colony installations starting soon, newer beekeepers ask about feeding sugar syrup to their colonies. The big question is “Which concentration of sugar to water should be used?”
In the spring, when colony buildup occurs and in new colonies needs to build comb, a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water simulates nectar which is a basic building block for making wax and providing energy.
During the fall, when bees are creating winter carbohydrate stores, a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water is easier for the bees to convert to a honey-like substance. This can assist in sustaining the colony over winter if honey stores are lower than desired.
The properties of water and sugar are such that one can mix equal volumes or equal weights of each ingredient to result in a 1:1 ratio for a simple syrup. Since water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon, 1 gallon of water mixed with 8 pounds of sugar will provide a 1:1 ratio also. But beware – a gallon of water mixed with 8 pounds of sugar will take up more than 1 gallon of volume in your mixing vessel so make sure your bowl, bucket or pail can hold at least 1 1/2 gallons of liquid! By the way, either Cane or Beet Sugar can be used for your syrup.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-08: Egg & Larval Age (for potential Queen Rearing [017/abf2116]
As you inspect your hive, you should note the “age” of the uncapped brood (which includes both eggs and larvae).
A bee egg usually stands parallel with the cell wall on the day it is laid (Day 1). The long Queen abdomen allows the egg to “attach” to the cell “bottom”. By Day 3 the egg is flat on the cell floor (see photo) and the egg hatches into a larva. The larval stage lasts around 5 to 6 days with the larva gaining size daily (sometimes being fed every 45 seconds) and covering the cell bottom by Day 8 (or 9 i.e. Larval Days 5-6).
If you would like your bees to have the ability to a create a new queen (for a split), you want to have a frame that has eggs and larvae that are 2-3 days old (5-6 days after the egg was laid). The more eggs and young larvae that are on the frames in the hive, the greater the chance for the colony to create a new Queen if she has been removed in a split. Understanding and using this “bee math” is the start of becoming a sustainable and potentially self-sufficient beekeeper.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-07: First Pollen! 
Depending on where you are located, sometime after the Winter Solstice, tree buds will begin to provide pollen, usually long before plants and nectar sources are apparent.
In the Denver, CO area, weather permitting, the Silver Maple buds usually provide pollen around the second week in February.
Around that time, the Colorado Swarm Hotline will start to get calls when temperatures exceed 50 degrees F. The public and even tree trimmers will call indicating that hundreds (or even thousands) of bees are buzzing the trees and need to be rescued. As beekeepers we know that the bees are not swarming but rather looking for the protein that will jumpstart the spring buildup.
As Beekeeping is Local, first pollen may occur before or after Denver’s pollen appearance but by understanding your local conditions, you can plan your beekeeping activities accordingly. Your local Bee Clubs and Associations are great resources to learn more about specific beekeeping conditions and factors that will affect your bees – Consider joining a Club/Association!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-06: Propane “Torch” as a Smoker Lighter [015/abf2115]
Various methods exist to light a fire in your smoker. Matches and lighters are normally used but sometimes don’t burn long enough to get the smoke going. A quick and easy method is a propane “torch” especially when fitted with a “self-igniter” like the well-used model shown in the photo.
Propane bottles come in several shapes and sizes, but the long slim type is easier to get deep into your smoker. If you are a chef (amateur or professional) and you have a benzene cooking “torch” often used for caramelizing the top of Crème Brule, you might be able to get double duty from that device by also using it to light your smoker.
CAUTION: As with all activities involving fire, smoke and combustible materials, please be safe and exercise extreme caution when lighting and using a smoker in the bee yard. Please follow local rules, regulations and ordinances concerning use of open flames especially in areas prone to drought and burn bans. Always have a working fire extinguisher with you when using a smoker, just in case.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-05: Outer Cover Behind the Hive While Inspecting [014/abf2114]
As you start your hive inspection, consider placing your outer cover on the ground directly behind your hive. As you remove boxes from your hive stack, restack them staggered on the outer cover. The stagger minimizes contact points which may limit the number of bees that are vulnerable to crushing.
Bees that fall off frames will be collected on the inside of the outer cover making it much easier to get them back into the hive as everything is reassembled.
As you reassemble your hive stack, consider placing the next box on a stagger and then sliding that box in place once again limiting crushed bees.
NOTE: When inspecting a frame, hold it over your hive, if your Queen falls off the frame she’ll fall into the hive, not on the ground providing protection from inadvertently being stepped on.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-04: Metal Pail for Smoker Transport [013/abf2113]
If you are travelling between apiaries, you may not want to extinguish your smoker. But transporting a lit smoker inside your vehicle, especially while still smoldering can be dangerous. Consider obtaining a small metal can with lid from a general store, hardware store or garden center that you can place your smoker into while travelling between locations. Some bee supply stores offer a Smoker container specifically for this purpose.
Depending on how long your “commute” is, the pail may contain enough oxygen to continue allow your smoker to continue smoldering. Even if the smoker is extinguished, it will most likely remain warm and will usually readily relight making it much easier to be ready when you need it at your next location.
NOTE: As with all fire, smoke and combustible materials, please be safe and exercise extreme caution when transporting a smoker in your vehicle. Ensure that adequate ventilation is available and you have a working fire extinguisher with you, just in case.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-03: Twine and Burlap as Smoker Fuel [012/abf2112]
Many newer beekeepers ask “What does one use to create great smoke from their smoker”?
Numerous materials can be used but what works for one may not work for another…
Popular materials include bailing twine and burlap. If either are used, they should be natural, i.e. not treated with chemicals.
You can wind about 15-20 turns of bailing twine around your hand to create a twine bundle. Add this bundle to the smoker with some other fuel such as sawdust, wood shavings, newspaper or even wood pellets and you may have the perfect fuel for cool, white billowing smoke.
Some “Beeks” use burlap scraps from bags obtained from urban coffee roasters. As these are for coffee beans, they usually are not chemically treated. You may want to use burlap in moderation though as some recent research indicates that too much burlap smoke can cause bees to raise “their guard” rather than calm them.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-02: 3500 Bees on a Deep Frame [011/abf2111]
Once again addressing “Bee Math”, the honey bee ranges in size from about 5 to 15 mm with the mid-point being approximately 10 mm or about ½ inch. Since we know that an average size cell is around 5 mm (see prior Tip/Hint #20-51 “7000 Cells…”), one bee covers about the same area of the opening of side by side cells.
Simple division indicates that about 3500 bees will reside on both sides of a deep frame when completely covered by bees. Knowing this can help in estimating the total number of bees in your hive!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-01: Corner “Knockout” on Plastic Foundation [010/abf2110]
Have you ever wondered why plastic foundation has “dots” on two corners of the sheet?
Bees sometime produce “communications” channels or passageways in their natural comb. If you have ever gone foundationless you’ll see that bees will leave open spaces near the bottom corners of the frame.
When using plastic foundation you may have perforations on two corners. The perforation makes it easy to break off the tab but should it be oriented to the top or bottom. I take my clue from what I’ve observed in nature by breaking off the tabs and then orienting the open space in the bottom corners of the frame. This simulates the pathway with in a frame that bees naturally build in the wild.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-53: The Imirie Shim [009/abf2109]
A frame made from 3/4″ x 3/4″ wood with the outside dimensions of a 10 or 8 frame hive can be used with your Langstroth hives in a variety of ways. Its design is credited to the late George Imirie (thus the name), a well known beekeeper in the late 1900s/early 2000s from the Northeast United States. Although simple in design, it has numerous uses.
In the late summer or early fall, it can be placed on top of the frames of your top brood box providing a space for placing tray based mite treatments that need top access. The inner cover is placed on top of the shim and the bees can access the treatment for removal thus dispersing the treatment.
In the winter and spring it can be placed in the same configuration but winter patties or pollen patties (dependent on season) can be placed on top of the frames for access by the bees below. It can double as a spacer for sugar syrup baggie feeding. If you are using formic acid pads for mite treatment you may decide to place the shim between the brood boxes for more space for the mite treatment pads.
It can additionally be placed between the bottom board and the brood box in the spring or summer to add a little “air” space. similar to a “slat board” but not as tall. Alternatively, it could be placed between brood boxes especially in the spring in an effort to build drone comb within the brace or burr comb in this void that can than be culled as a means of mite control (if practiced using strict timing methods).
There are probably numerous other uses as beekeepers seem to echo the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”. This versatile shim has been modified to add an entrance (or escape) hole (photo above) or is sometimes notched like some inner covers (photo on right). If you haven’t used the “simple” Imirie Shim you may want to consider it during your next beekeeping season!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-52: Hive Tools: Sharp Side Down [008/abf2108]
Whether your hive tool is dull or sharp, when scraping wax (bridge comb or burr comb) off of frame tops or even the inner sides of your hive boxes, keep the hive tool edge angle (or bevel) down.
Bevel down (photo on right) is much less likely to dig into the wood than in the bevel up orientation (photo on left).
BONUS: Sharpen/hone your hive tool on a regular basis using a sharpening stone or whetstone wheel. But be careful — a sharp hive tool can easily cut you!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-51: 7000 Cells per Deep Brood Frame [007/abf2107]
“Ask 3 Beekeepers a question and you’ll get 5 answers…”
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-50: Gloves [006/abf2106]
Traditionally, Beekeeping Starter kits come with cowhide or goatskin gloves (photo on right). Once they get covered with honey, wax and propolis they are sometimes hard to soften and even continue to use. Many consider these gloves to be cumbersome and too thick to provide a good tactile feel – but that is something only you can decide.
Alternatives do exist – You can choose to go gloveless or you may consider gardening gloves (one type pictured on the left), nitrile gloves or even dishwashing gloves. You’ll have to determine what is right for you…
Don’t be surprised if you occasionally get stung through any of the gloves mentioned. It can and does happen. If it does, the stinger may penetrate to your skin but usually it doesn’t stay embedded as the barb is not long enough to embed in your skin. After an inspection you may find multiple singers embedded in your gloves!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-49: 2 “Deeps” = 3 “Mediums” [005/abf2105]
Since a medium box is 6 5/8’ tall and a deep box is 9 5/8” tall, 3 mediums are roughly equivalent to 2 deeps (19 7/8” compared to 19 1/4″).
If there is a concern about being able to lift the weight of a fully loaded deep, switching from 2 deeps to 3 mediums as your “brood” boxes can reduce weight by about one third per box.
A bonus is that you can standardize on one size of box as honey supers are traditionally medium sized boxes.
A detractor is that you cannot directly integrate deep frames from a Nucleus Colony (“Nuc”) into a set of two medium boxes without providing open space under the deep frames. The bees will potentially build bridge comb from the bottom of those deep frames to either the top of the frames in the third/bottom medium box or the bottom board itself.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-48: Using Black Plastic Foundation [004/abf2104]
If you have the choice of color for plastic foundation for your brood frames (also known as deep frames), choose black if possible. White eggs and larvae will stand out on the black background and make it easier to see! In the photo you can see 2 – 3 day old eggs on the left with young larvae (about two days old or five days since being laid) on the right.
Even if you don’t see the Queen, eggs are usually a good indicator that the Queen has been on that particular frame within the last 2 – 3 days!
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-47: Why Start with 2 Hives? [003/abf2103]
For a new beekeeper (“NewBee”), the mysteries of the hive can be daunting to understand and learn. If your resources permit, it is best to start with at least two colonies to begin your beekeeping endeavors.
Having two hives allows comparison between the two colonies. If one is weak and the other is strong, you will see and experience the differences as you perform your weekly inspections. As necessary you can move frames of brood between hives to build up a weaker hive and even create a new Queen from outside resources as required.
More hives provide a greater diversity of situations to learn about your bees.
NOTE: A Colony of bees inhabit the “hive” which is the physical structure that the bees live in.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-46: Winter Patties versus Pollen Patties (Spring) [002/abf2102]
Occasionally, due to natural conditions, the Beekeeper may want to perform supplemental pollen/pollen substitute feeding. Several premade products are available, but you need to use the proper mixture at the proper time.
For winter feeding, a low protein patty with 5 – 7 % protein (pollen or pollen substitute) is recommended, especially in northern climates where bees will have minimal opportunity to perform cleansing flights. See an exampl picture on the right.
In the spring, to assist in colony buildup, a patty consisting of 15 – 20 % protein will help trigger the spring expansion. An example is on the left. Note that you may not be able to tell the difference between Winter Patties and Spring patties by color or shape. Many times Winter Patties are a darker brown with Spring Patties being a tan or light yellow but this is not always the case. Refer to the ingredients on the Patty package label to differentiate between the two if they are similar looking.
A simple recipe for your own winter patties is 4.5 lbs. sugar to .5 lbs. of protein plus about 8 oz. water (90% Sugar + 10% Pollen). Spring patties use a 70% to 30% ratio or 3.5 lbs. sugar to 1.5 lbs. protein. This homemade mixture can be placed in a zip lock bag with some wood “shims” to keep the bag from collapsing. A “window” is cut out of the bag & placed directly on the frames for access to access from below.
Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 20-45: Use a Nuc Box to Segregate Your Queen during Inspections [001/abf2101]
If you bought a Nuc (short for Nucleus, pronounced “newk”) to start a hive, don’t discard that box – Save it!
Bring it out to your hive and place it alongside when you’re inspecting. When you find the frame with your queen, place that frame in the nuc. You can now complete your inspection without worrying about your “Royal Highness” being injured as you manipulate frames. You can shake off bees from the frames left in your hive for an alcohol wash or sugar shake to monitor mite levels without worrying about your Queen. Once your inspection is complete just place the frame back in the hive and you know your Queen is safely back inside.
As you progress as a Beekeeper & you perform a springtime split you can use that Nuc box to provide a Nuc to someone else from your Apiary!
NOTE: Some Nuc suppliers charge a deposit for the box but usually the deposit charge is much less than buying a Nuc box in the future.
Average Joe Beekeeper Blogs: Bee-Engaged