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 21-38: Check back Later Today! [047/abf2145]


Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-37: TBD – Beekeeping is Local [046/abf2144]

Sometimes we need to make decisions in the management of our colonies. This decision-making capability differentiates Beekeepers from Bee-Havers.

Too many newer beekeepers are looking for an easy way to keep bees. They want to know what to and when to do it – but beekeeping is not a checklist process – it is based on local conditions.

Beekeepers need to understand why they are doing what they do and not just blindly follow a calendar.

The first step in beekeeping decision making comes with learning about the bees. Understanding bee biology and “bee-havior” allow the beekeeper to make decisions based on numerous variables. Local conditions like climate, moisture, pollen availability, nectar flow and other factors should direct the beekeeper’s decision-making process.

During the spring, regular inspections will indicate when the conditions are right for splitting to help reduce the potential for swarming. Colony growth will tell the beekeeper when to add honey supers. In the summer, identifying a nectar dearth will signal that it is time to consider supplemental feeding. Regular mite monitoring provides the impetus to treat for mites and fall usually brings the need to increase winter stores and potentially combine hives for strength for overwintering.

Social Media and YouTube can provide numerous ideas about bee care and management, but they usually don’t consider your local conditions. Remember that “Beekeeping is Local” and trying to keep bees via a checklist, especially if developed for a different location, may not result in the success you are looking for.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-36: The Inner Cover [045/abf2143]

As its name implies, an inner cover is just that, a cover on the inside of a hive stack. Traditionally used as a means of limiting the bees’ ability to “glue” the outer (or telescoping) cover to the top of the stack using propolis, the inner cover can perform other functions.

Up to six Boardman Feeders can be placed on top of the inner cover and surrounded with another hive box to provide in-hive feeding of 1 ½ gallons of syrup using quart jars. Likewise, up to five paint can feeders supplying five gallons of syrup can be placed on the inner cover, especially useful for trying to quickly build up winter stores in the fall. For winter, pollen patties, fondant or granulated sugar can be placed on the inner cover for solid feeding during extended winter cold spells.

With some modifications, the inner cover panel can be replaced with a piece of Plexiglas or clear acrylic to provide an insight into the cluster’s location in late winter. In the early spring the beekeeper can see if the colony is “boiling over” the top box’s frames in a two deep overwinter configuration. Replacing the wooden panel with standard window screening or number eight hardware cloth provides ventilation for warmer climates. This same screened inner cover can be used when transferring hives as air circulation may be enhanced when used alone or in conjunction with a screened bottom board.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-35: The Paper Combine [044/abf2142]

The Paper Combine is usually cited as the best technique to combine bees from one hive into another.

Whether the combine is desired to save the bees from a Queenless hive or to strengthen a weaker hive by adding extra bees to create a larger workforce, this technique is a useful management tool.

The process is simple. Remove both the telescoping (top) and inner covers from the hive where the combine will occur. Place a piece of newspaper on top of the top deep’s frames. Cut a few slits in the newspaper (to assist the bees on both sides to start chewing through the paper) and place the deep with the bees being combined on top of the receiving hive. Add the inner and outer covers and the combine has started.

The newspaper allows pheromones to be shared between both sides of the combine and tends to facilitate acceptance between the two colonies to make it one. In a few days, check back to see if the bees have opened the slits to provide free access between the two deeps. If so, the combine is done!

NOTE: make sure there is only one Queen between the two hives that are being combined. If not, there could be contention and if the Queens fight for supremacy, one or both could be lost.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-34: Liquid Smoke [043/abf2141]

Beekeepers have definite views on the use of smoke during inspections. It has been said that smoke can “set-back” a hive. Some say smoke blocks defense pheromone reception. Others say the smoke is indicative of a forest fire and the bees begin preparation to leave the hive as the fire approaches.

No matter the reason behind using smoke, at times, especially due to fire danger, a smoker cannot be used. In cases like this, consider using Liquid “Smoke”. Found in the Condiments/Spice sections of many larger grocery stores, several manufacturers sell a liquid smoke that can be used in cooking.

Adding about an ounce of liquid smoke to a quart of water in a spray bottle creates a solution that can be misted into the hive. This mist has a slight “smoky” smell or odor to it and may block pheromone reception just like real smoke with the fire of burning embers that accompany smoke in an actual smoker. It can also be sprayed around the cuffs of a bee suit or even on the screen of a veil to distract bees from gathering in those areas.

Much like Average Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-23 “Sugar Water/Syrup Spray as a Diversion” [032/abf2131], Liquid Smoke provides an alternative to actual smoke that beekeepers can try as an additional tool in their beekeeping “bag of tricks”.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-33: Entrance Reducers [042/abf2140]

One of the simplest accessories most beekeepers can identify is the Entrance Reducer. It is used to reduce the area of the hive opening which can be helpful in reducing the amount of space the colony needs to guard. They are commonly used with the introduction of bees into a new hive or to help a weak hive protect its honey stores from robbers.

It is normally a simple ¾” x ¾” square wooden “stick” approximately 14.75 inches long that can be placed in the entrance of the hive. It has one or two notched openings with one being about 3/8” high by ¾” wide on one side and then on another side it has a notch that is 3/8” high and anywhere from 1 ½’ to 3” wide (plus or minus). With the smaller notch described, 0.28 square inches of opening is provided, and the wider notch provides between 0.56 to 1.13 square inches of clear space. By orienting the reducer to use neither opening, the reducer can be used to lock-in your bees. Likewise, it can lock-out rival bees and other pests such as wasps, yellow jackets, and even wax moths.

Dr. Tom Seeley, in his book Honeybee Democracy, notes that the optimal opening size for a hive is about 15 cm2. For those of us using a non-metric measurement system, that equates to about 2.33 square inches. If we look back to the prior paragraph, you will note that with the “standard” entrance reducer, the largest opening is about half the optimal opening size.

In nature, hollow tree cavities will have openings of various sizes and Mother Nature does not always provide optimal conditions. The bees will choose a cavity for many reasons but when we provide the hive, we can “determine’ the entrance size. A sub-optimal or excessively sized entrance could cause the colony to abscond to find a more suitable home. Not using a reducer can result in an entrance size of between 6 and 12 square inches depending on the type of bottom board in use.

Most beekeepers do not recognize that some bottom boards provide a ¾” high opening while others have a 3/8” opening. With the taller opening, the entrance reducer will slip under the front edge of the bottom box while with the smaller height opening, the reducer butts up against the front wall of the bottom box.

No matter which type of bottom board you are using, if you want to provide an optimal entrance, you may need to consider opening one of the reducer’s entrances to about 6 inches wide. During strong honey flows with heavy traffic, you may want to remove the entrance reducer completely. For the rest of the year, you may consider leaving your entrance reducer in place. As an aside, using an entrance reducer may lessen the need to use a mouse guard in areas where mice invasions are a consideration.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-32: Krud Kutter? [041/abf2139]

At times you come across a product that everyone should know about. An Average Joe Beekeeper thinks Krud Kutter is one of them!

Several of the big Bee Product Suppliers carry Krud Kutter on their websites and in their catalogs, that’s how I found out about it. It is also available at many “Big Box” brick and mortar stores along with grocery chain locations.

Krud Kutter literally “melts” propolis, wax and honey on contact. With a quick spray you can usually see propolis and wax dissolving. The product is advertised as safe and biodegradable. It should be considered by every beekeeper for those tough beekeeping clean-ups.

NOTE: I personally use Krud Kutter as it works for me. I do not represent the manufacturer or distributers of Krud Kutter, and I am not being compensated for my personal endorsement of this product.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-31: Adding Room in the Fall [040/abf2138]

Too many times folks say adding a super provides room – room for what? Room for excess bees – perhaps, room for the Queen to lay – no.

Depending on location, in the late summer/early fall you probably want the Queen to be creating brood, but you don’t want her to become nectar or honey bound.

In most double deep Langstroth hive stacks you should be seeing 2 – 4 frames with brood in both deep boxes and the brood nest in the top box is beginning to become backfilled with nectar as the bees begin to create their winter stores above the brood nest in the bottom deep.

If you don’t want to do a late season split, it is probably better to add an additional deep. If there is wax in the deep, the Queen has a place to lay, if there is no comb, and conditions are right, the bees may still build up comb for future use. The extra deep will provide space that is usable by the bees and the Queen.

If you don’t want to add an additional deep, consider a late season split. The split can always be combined in early fall and the extra Queen (either created by the bees or purchased) can be overwintered as a late season nuc.

By the way – if mites aren’t kept in check, all this is probably useless information. That means that mite levels now should be down below local thresholds to ensure all the bees being created will be healthy for raising the winter bees or are healthy winter bees themselves.

With most things in beekeeping, there are multiple courses of action that one can choose – understanding bee biology and “Bee-havior” helps to make management decisions…

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-30: Recording Apiary Data [039/abf2137]

If you have a hive, recording relevant data from your inspections will assist your decision-making abilities when it comes to hive/colony management. And as your number of colonies grow through good beekeeping practices the value of record keeping becomes apparent.

Some beekeepers will use the inside of their outer (or telescoping) cover to make notes in permanent markers.  Others write on the outside of the cover with a permanent pen. Some use bricks on the cover in various configurations (flat, upright, following long axis, etc.) to not only hold down the cover but also indicate colony status (e.g. Queen-right, excess honey quantities, seams of bees, etc.) based on the positioning.

A journal/composition notebook provides ample opportunity to record observations and can be kept for each hive. Information such as the source of bees (i.e., package, nuc, split, swarm, combine, etc.), the age and source of the Queen, the number of frames of brood and bees plus weather conditions are all useful data. Some folks will even take pictures, print them and place in their book.

As smart phones evolve, they are quickly being found more often in the apiary (see Hint 21-24: Smart Phone Use in the Apiary [033/abf2132]). This data can be converted to spreadsheets or electronic documents that can be accessed by multiple devices in multiple ways. Recorded information, whether hardcopy or electronic can turn occasional chaos into organized information and data which may contribute to your beekeeping success.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-29: Dishwashing Liquid Soap/Detergent for Mite Washes [038/abf2136]

Most beekeepers practice some type of mite control but before performing those controls it is a good idea to perform mite monitoring to determine if a control is needed.

The alcohol wash is considered by many to be the “Gold Standard” for mite monitoring but during the spring of 2020 at the start of the global COVID pandemic, alcohol for alcohol washes was in short supply. A novel approach was investigated and reported upon by Randy Oliver on his website. He reports that a “gentle hand dishwashing liquid” was as effective as alcohol in releasing mites from the bees for a mite count. You might want to do further research on the concentration of soap to water for best results – this information can be found in a series of articles published last year in ABJ or on Randy’s website. Of course, just like the alcohol wash, the Dishwashing Liquid Soap method will kill all the sampled bees so be sure that your Queen is not in your bee sample.

Bonus Uses: A gentle hand dishwashing liquid soap mixed in a spray bottle with water can be 1.) sprayed on a swarm’s landing point after a swarm recovery to “mask” the Queen/Colony pheromones/scent to help dissuade any bees left behind from the rescue to continue to congregate on the swarm’s bivouac location, 2.) if you are not using gloves (or if your gloves get messy) you can spray some of the solution on your hands (gloves) for a quick clean up, 3.) you might spray some of the solution on your cuffs of your bee suit/jacket if the bees congregate there while you are inspecting, 4.) spray a mist on your veil and let it dry to possibly deter bees from gathering in front pf your face with honey and 5.) spray on a wasp or hornet nest that is a nuisance in your apiary – the soap solution will form a soap film on the exoskeleton that may limit wasp/hornet breathing & may also “breakdown” the paper nest…

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-28: Solar Wax Melter [037/abf2135]

As you collect wax (see Hint/Tip 21-14 [023/abf2122]) you may want to clean it for other uses by removing dead bees, honey, propolis and other hive debris.

During spring, summer and fall you can use the sun’s rays to heat and melt the wax using a simple Solar Melter comprised of a box, a plate of glass (or clear plastic) and a simple screen sieve and/or paper towel filter with a catch basin.

As the wax melts, it flows through the sieve/filter into the catch basin and it usually separates into layers of wax, debris & honey providing an initial rendering. Depending on your set-up it may be usable for candles or other products right out of the melter.

Numerous plans can be found for Solar Wax Melters on the internet. They range from using readily available boxes such as a used ice chest or modified deep body boxes to custom built designs offering various “bells and whistles”. If you are “handy”, you can build a Melter of your own design that is simple or complex, the choice is yours. Several bee product producers sell fully assembled Solar Wax Melters that are ready to use as soon as it arrives.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-27: Cleaning Queen Excluders [036/abf2134]

For those using Queen Excluders, especially during a heavy nectar flow, bees will lay down both burr and bridge comb on the excluder that can reduce access to the honey supers.

You can simply scrape excessive amounts of wax with your hive tool but if you have to clean in an out-yard, carrying a screen cleaning tool will allow you to quickly remove most of the wax. If you forget your tool (or don’t have one) you can use the torch that you light your smoker with (see Hint/Tip 21-06 [015/abf2115]). It can serve double duty by not only lighting your smoker but also heating the wax to melt it off your excluder.

Likewise, if you have a heat “gun” and an electrical source, you can carefully heat up and melt the wax to clear the excluder. If you perform the melt over pieces of newspaper, once hardened the wax impregnated paper and be ripped into shreds and used as smoker fuel.

CAUTION: If you use a torch or heat gun to melt the wax on your excluder, do so carefully as beeswax can easily ignite.  Ensure you have a fire extinguisher nearby and ready to use in case the beeswax ignites.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-26: Moving Hives 3 inches or 3 Miles – An Alternative View [035]

There is an old adage that you can either move a hive 3 inches or 3 miles otherwise the bees will go back to the old location…

Many beekeepers claim that by placing grass or branches in front of the hive opening, one can “force” the bees to reorient to the new location. But many folks report that this does not seem to work consistently. My suspicion or theory is that although it would appear to us that the grass and branches are blocking the bee’s front view from the landing board, the small spaces we cannot discern still provide a bee’s eye view of the familiar landmarks in front of the hive.

If the bees can see their landmarks, they have no need to reorient. If the hive is moved, the bees will still navigate to what they perceive to be their hive’s location which is the old location.

To overcome the possibility of seeing through the grass & branches, I simply create a “view block” out of a scrap piece of cardboard. I cut the cardboard to a rectangle of about 24 inches by 5 inches and fold the ends creating a flap on each side about 4 inches long leaving a front “wall” about 16 inches wide. A couple of pieces of duct tape secure the flaps to the hive side (see the photo on right). When the bees are “locked” into their hive with an entrance reducer the night before a move I add the cardboard view block. Upon moving the hive and removing the entrance reducer, the bees coming out of the hive cannot see anything but the cardboard wall. Without familiar landmarks in front of them they will reorient thus locking in their current location.

I have performed moves of inches, feet, yards or even ¼ to ½ mile distances numerous times (20+) every season for several years now and the bees always seem to reorient to the new location with none of the bees congregating at the previous hive location… Others who have tried this method report similar hive movement success so try it, it might assist you in moving hives!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-25: Laying Workers? [034/abf2133]

If your hive is not growing and flourishing and there is little to no evidence of capped brood, your colony may be Queenless which can lead to Laying Workers..

If a colony is Queenless for too long a time, laying workers can develop as Queen Pheromone no longer suppresses egg laying by non-fertile workers. So how do you know if you have a laying worker, or in many instances, laying workers?

One clue is that multiple eggs may be strewn around a brood cell, often being attached to the cell sides or not centered on the cell “floor”.

Attentive nurse/worker bees may actually remove the laying workers’ eggs in the early stages of queenlessness. At the start of a laying worker situation it may appear that only single eggs are in the cells. This could provide a false sense of “security” for many beekeepers.

If you have laying workers and are not paying close attention in your regular hive inspections, you may eventually see evidence like the attached photo that leaves little doubt as to the situation in your hive…

Identifying the problem is the first step toward a solution (which will be the subject of a future Hint/Tip).

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-24: Smart Phone Use in the Apiary [033/abf2132] 

A Smart Phone can be an asset in the apiary for taking photos, recording data and making notes. When inspecting a hive, take pictures of your Queen, brood patterns and other items of interest. Most smartphones will annotate the date and time of photos plus provide the location where taken (assuming locating capabilities are enabled).

You can take notes and create reminders in the standard applications (apps) that come with most phones.  You can also buy programs designed specifically for bee management. A good case and screen protector will assist in cleaning up wax, honey & propolis.

BONUS: The touch screen aspect of most smartphones will usually still react if you are using Nitrile gloves.  If it doesn’t, or you are using a different type of glove, you can use a touch screen stylus to interact with your phone.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-23: Sugar Water/Syrup Spray as a Diversion [032/abf2131] 

When installing a package, beekeepers are often instructed to spray a light mist of sugar syrup/sugar water on the bees in order to “calm” them. It is hypothesized that the sugar syrup drenching the bees provides a diversion as they lick the nectar-like substance off their sisters.

This “beehavior” can be useful at other times such as an inspection. If you are adverse to using smoke during an inspection, try a syrup spray. The diversion may suppress guard flights and cause the bees to be more tranquil. If you are in an area where drought is causing increased fire danger, the sugar spray method may assist you as you work without a smoker. Try it sometime, you might find it is an effective tool to add to your beekeeping kit.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-22: Pinecones and Pine needles in the Smoker [031/abf2130] 

A frugal beekeeper may use items that are readily available to make beekeeping just a little easier.  Technology can provide wonderful tools but at times the simple things can make a big impact.If you happen to have pine trees in your area, collecting pinecones and pine needles, whether long or short, can make great smoker fuel.

Other combustibles like twine and sawdust can be mixed with pine debris to provide your own unique smoker fuel recipe.  Experiment!  You may discover your perfect fuel combination for cool, white, billowing smoke.

BONUS: If you use paper towels to “filter” beeswax in a Solar Wax Melter (the subject of an upcoming Hint/Tip) you can use the beeswax impregnated paper towel torn into strips as a potential ingredient in your smoker fuel.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-21: Follower Boards [030/abf2129] 

With a new hive that has blank foundation in the frames (or with foundationless frames), the “rule of thumb” is to add an additional box when 70 – 80% of the frames in the initial or prior box are “built out” with drawn wax comb.

Comb building usually occurs during a nectar flow (or when supplemental sugar syrup is being fed). If a second box is not completely built out prior to fall/winter (in areas where overwintering in two boxes is practiced), “empty” frames can become a “liability” as they won’t provide food stores or insulation on the outer sides of the hive.

Replacing a few empty frames with Follower Boards (of wood or foam) can add to the insulation R-value of your hive’s walls which may be beneficial in colder climates.

Follower Boards may also be used to divide a box into smaller sections such that you can turn create the equivalent of three 3-frame nucs in a ten frame box!

NOTE: For newer colonies as described above, whether started from a nucleus colonies (“nucs”) or packages, beekeepers should feed as much sugar syrup as the bees will take to facilitate drawing out/building comb so that follower boards may not be needed. Once there is sufficient nectar the bees will usually defer to the natural sources and ignore Sugar Syrup. 

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-20: Magnifying Glasses for Inspections [029/abf2128] 

At times, some Beekeepers cannot see the tiny white eggs at the bottom of a comb cell even if they are using black plastic foundation (see Hint 20-48: Using Black Plastic Foundation [004/abf2104]). It is not practical to carry a large magnifying glass in one hand while trying to manipulate frames with the other hand during an inspection.

Several manufacturers produce non-prescription “reader” glasses that provide various levels of magnification that can be useful for seeing fine detail in the hive. Many of the National “Dollar” stores carry a variety of magnification levels for only a dollar! A different take on magnifying glasses is produced by SportClic. Another beekeeper pointed out these glasses to us many years ago. The glasses come with a built-in neck strap and they split apart at the nose bridge being held together at the bridge by a magnet. They work well inside a bee veil and the magnet clasp on the bridge allows manipulation even while wearing gloves.

NOTE: This is not a solicitation and I do not represent the manufacturer of SportClic. The Average Joe Beekeeper is not being compensated for mentioning this product.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-19: Installing a Package without a “Bounce” – A Gentler Method [028/abf2127] 

Traditionally, when installing a package of bees, you remove the syrup can and Queen cage then bounce the box (package) on the ground to cause the bees to drop from the “roof” of the box to the bottom (floor). After bouncing the box, the bees are shaken out of the package.

These actions tend to make the bees “testy” especially after a day or two of cross-country transport.

Instead of bouncing/shaking, just remove several frames from the deep, remove the syrup can and Queen cage from the package, place the cage in the “void” created by removing the frames your installation is complete! The bees will usually exit the package box within a day in a kinder, gentler manner. If you have new foundation, you may want to spray sugar water on the frames left in the hive to “entice” the bees to come out of the package to investigate the added sweetness (see Hint 21-11: Spraying Plastic Foundation with Sugar Syrup [020/abf2119]).

NOTE: Don’t forget to remove the box within a day or two otherwise the bees may build comb in the package box.

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 (photo on left) and place your frame there (photo on right). 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 as shown on the right. An un-used hive body or two unused supers is/are used as a “surround” to help avoid robbing behavior by other colonies. It is possible to get up to five 1 gallon “cans” on top of the inner cover. 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]

Too many Beekeepers don’t use Science (in this case physics) to their advantage!
When trying to move a propolis “glued” frame, you can use the principle of leverage to increase your strength to more easily break the propolis seal.
Try a horizontal approach (photo on left) as opposed to a vertical approach (photo on right). Of course depending on your type of hive tool, of which there are many, the horizontal approach can cause bending if the metal tool is made of a thinner gauge material. In any case, work smarter when you can and and let science work for you!
NOTE: Refer back to Hint 20-52 [008/abf2108] for an earlier tip on Hive Tool use.. 🙂

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! [016]

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…”

When it comes to honeycomb cell size, there are many differing opinions on cell size.  In general, biology books tell us that cell size ranges from 4.6 to 5.1 mm which puts the middle value around 4.85 mm or around 1/5 inch (0.20″) per cell.
Given that the frame “opening” on a deep Langstroth frame is almost 9” tall by 17” long. There are about 5 cells per inch (or 25 cells per square inch) as measured in my hive so there are around 3500 cells or more per frame side.  Doubling that number gives about 7000 cells per deep frame! The photo shows about 75% capped brood on one frame’s side thus there will be about 2600 new bees emerging within 21 days on that one frame side alone!
BONUS: “Bee Math”, like the number of cells per frame, can be used to determine various aspects of your colony and hive. Knowing “Bee Math” can make you a better Beekeeper by giving you insights into the number of bees in your colony.
#beekeepingtip #avgjoebeekeeper

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