Average Joe Beekeeper's Tips/Hints

Check-out these Average Joe Beekeeper Tips & Hints for Better Beekeeping!

Check back regularly to increase your beekeeping knowledge and efficiency with Tips and Hints that nobody told you when you started Beekeeping. 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 22-15: Incoming Pollen – Queen – Right? [077/abf2226]

When I first started beekeeping, I was told that when foragers are returning to the hive with bulging pollen baskets (corbiculae) the colony is raising brood. So, your hive is Queen-right.


Well, MAYBE…

We know that when raising brood in the lifecycle from egg to larva (uncapped stages) to pupa (capped stage) to fully developed emerged bee, pollen figures prominently in larval development.

The nurse bees eat pollen or “bee bread” as a protein “source” that is then turned into brood food by the hypopharyngeal gland. This larval food is “fed” to both the worker (and Queen) larvae over the five to six-day larval stage during an estimated 1,300 daily visits to each larva by nurse bees (Nelson et al. 1924). But these same glandular secretions are fed to drones for their seven to eight-day larval stage, so this calls the “incoming Pollen = Queen Right” equation into question.

If the colony is Queen-less but has developed a laying worker (or more often multiple laying workers), pollen is still needed for developing drones. Therefore, when any type of brood is being reared, there should be pollen coming into the hive.

This points out the need for regular hive inspections. Using only one clue like incoming pollen to determine the health and vitality of your colony can provide incomplete or even wrong conclusions. So, if the conditions are right, get into your hive and marvel at the beauty of Mother Nature and the diverse wonderful activities of the colony in your hive!

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-14: Plants for Bees [076/abf2225]

Once family, friends and associates find out that you are a Beekeeper, they invariably ask “What should I plant to help the bees?” – some examples are shown in the image at the right: .

In North America there are numerous Planting or Climate Zones and what grows in one location make not grow elsewhere because, as we know, “Beekeeping is Local” [refer to Hint/Tip 21-37 (046/abf2144)]. Having information about the plants in your area can assist you in coming up with an answer for those who want to plant for the bees. But it can also help the beekeeper determine if a nectar flow is about to occur or should already be occurring.

The document listed at the end of this post was found online at the Pollinator Partnership website. The electronic document is divided by “Ecoregions”. The website allows you to enter your zip code and determine your specific region.

An example is Ecoregion 313 (where Average Joe Beekeeper resides see image on the left) which is called the “Great Plains Palouse Dry Step Province”. The ecozone stretches throughout parts of 12 states from a portion of North Texas all the way up through Montana and encompasses the Denver Metro area and the Colorado-Wyoming Front Range.

There are numerous books, articles, and online sources for more information on plants for both bees and other pollinators. Other sources will be highlighted in future Hints/Tips but for now this is a great reference to start with for not only beekeepers but also for those wanting to exercise their green thumb! Check out www.pollinator.org and look under “Resources” then “Planting Guides” for your specific area in the U.S.!

Bonus – For the Colorado Front Range go directly to: https://www.pollinator.org/…/Great.Plains.Palouse.Dry…

#plantsforpollinators #plantsforbees #ABF #ABFhint #ABFtip #avgjoebeekeeper #avgjoebeekeeperhint #avgjoebeekeepertip #averagejoebeekeeper #averagejoebeekeeperhint #averagejoebeekeepertip beekeepinghint beekeepingtip

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-13: Super Size [075/abf2224]

In many parts of North America, a fall honey harvest will soon be underway as the Fall “Flows” begin. For a “standard” Langstroth hive setup, a mixture of Deep and Medium boxes are normally used with the Deep as the Brood Box (or boxes) and the Medium as a Honey Super.

But why is the honey box referred to as a “Super” and what is the correct “Super Size”?

In general, the brood chamber is considered the foundation of a hive stack. It is utilized by the bees to raise young bees (also known as the “brood” consisting of eggs, larvae and capped pupae) and to store honey for their overwintering food stores. As the bees fill the boxes (one or two deeps) that make up their nest, the beekeeper can add additional boxes to the top of the hive stack to collect excess honey for their own use. This addition is a superstructure on the nest (hive stack) thus it is referred to as a “super’.

Standard Supers, generally called Medium or Illinois Supers and are 6 5/8 inches (168 mm) in height (middle right in photo). They can store approximately three and a half pounds of honey when fully capped. Other super sizes also exist, and they are usually used in specialized cases.

According to Wikipedia, a Comb Super is usually 4 ¾ inches (121 mm) high and is sized for specialized equipment like Ross Rounds that produce Comb Honey. A Shallow Super (center right) is 5 ¾ inches high (146 mm) while a Large Depth Super is 7 5/8 inches (193 mm) tall. Of course, some beekeepers may use the Deep frame Top right) which is 9 5/8 inches (244 mm) tall for both brood and excess honey. A Deep frame holds about nine pounds of honey when fully filled with capped honey and potentially makes the 10-frame deep box weigh over 100 pounds. There are also specialized frames specifically designed for

When gathering honey, small scale beekeepers with only a few frames of honey may use the “crush and strain” harvest method. For beekeepers who want to collect honey while preserving the honey comb on their frames, an extractor for mechanical honey gathering is often used. Modern honey extractors are usually sized to spin honey out of either medium or deep sized frames, so beekeepers tend to use sizes for their honey production.

Each Super frame size has its benefits and drawbacks, you as the beekeeper get to decide which is right for you!

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-12: Spray Bottles in the Apiary [074/abf2223]

Simple tools can sometimes be better than the most expensive, complex equipment. One overlooked tool is the simple spray bottle. Available in grocery, hardware, and big box stores, they range in price from around a dollar (at some of the dollar-oriented chain stores) to several dollars, but usually less than a “fin”, fiver or half of a “sawbuck”.
Spray bottles have many uses for the beekeeper – some of which have been described in previous Hints like 21-11abf2119: Spraying Plastic Foundation with Sugar Syrup [020/abf2119], 21-23: Sugar Water/Syrup Spray as a Diversion [032/abf213], 21-34: Liquid Smoke [043/abf2141] and 21-40: Sugar Water Combine [049/abf2148].
They can also be used to simply hold fresh, clear water. Great for cleanup in the apiary and, in the heat of the day, as a cooler by misting yourself through your veil. The spray bottle can be a distinct advantage in many situations.
If you place about a quarter ounce of dishwashing soap topped off with water in a spray bottle use it to mask pheromones from a landed swarm. When most bees have been collected from a branch where a swarm has landed, spray down that branch with the soapy water solution to deter bees from reassembling in the same location. Many structural removers/bee extractors will spray down the removal area with a similar solution after scraping the comb and removing the honey to clean-up as they finish their job.
One final hint – make sure you label the bottle with the contents or better yet, obtain different colored bottles for different purposes such as red for soap water (see photo).

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-11: Fight the Mite! [073/abf2222]

The Honey Bee Health Coalition has released the 8th Edition of the Tools for Varroa Management Guide.
This new Edition includes extensive revisions, treatment table updates and other important information on dealing with mites including monitoring methods, controls and treatments.
The full guide is offered free of charge at the Honey Bee Health Coalition website at: https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/ under Resources >> Varroa Management >> Free Varroa Resources >> 01. Varroa Management Guide.
Download and print it – It is the Average Joe Beekeeper’s “Best Friend” when it comes to the fight against the mite!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-10: A Swarm Bucket [072/abf2221]

Depending on what part of the country/world you are in, swarm season may be winding down or something to contemplate soon. Swarm season or not, it is always good to plan for the inevitable.

When it comes to getting a swarm out of a bush or the branches of a tree, the “bounce” technique can be a very effective means of rescuing a swarm. A primary swarm can contain thousands, if not ten or more thousand, bees. When the bees are resting (bivouacking) as the scouts look for a suitable cavity to serve as the new nest, the swarming bees cling tightly together. Many times, a simple bounce of the branch that the bees have alighted upon will loosen their grip and a gravity assist can direct the bees right into a hive, nuc or a simple cardboard “banker” box placed directly below the cluster.

When the bees are on a higher branch, a “swarm bucket” can be used to both bounce and recover the bees. I regularly find 5-gallon plastic water bottles at garage sales or online for free (or sometimes a dollar or two). I remove the bottom or the jug, insert and secure the end of a threaded paint roller into the neck and then attach an adjustable pole to the jug to create a variable length/height swarm bucket. For lower swarms, the bucket without the pole can be handled to bounce the bees directly into the jug and then transferred to a beehive.

When a swarm is about ten feet about the ground, I can easily place the bucket on the pole under the cluster and with a swift upward motion, bounce the bees right into the bucket. I can then empty the bucket into a waiting box or hive body and the bees have been rescued. If the Queen was in the cluster, the bees will usually be drawn to the box and will congregate there making recovering most of the remaining bees just a matter of time as released Nasanov pheromone attracts the “stragglers”. Sometimes it may take several bounces to rescue the maximum number of bees from the branch.

For higher rescues, a longer adjustable pole can be utilized. I have used a 25-foot pole to recover higher swarms although the increased length and weight of a pole with a bucket on the end, especially once a swarm of 3–5 pounds is inside the bucket, can get a bit tricky. Instead of a longer pole, some swarm rescuers will opt for an A-frame ladder and use the bucket on a shorter pole. Caution should be exercised when working on ladders or with a pole and the attached bucket as you work overhead, as your balance can be compromised, and a fall can result in serious injuries.

I recently saw a video of a second beekeeper with a hook on the end of an adjustable pole use that tool to bounce the branch letting the bees fall in the swarm bucket held by another beek. That works as well! A swarm bucket can be a great tool to have in your swarm kit if you are going to rescue swarms to obtain free bees!

Disclaimer: If you are going to rescue swarms, please exercise caution and take proper precautions to protect yourself as you recover the bees. Only undertake rescues and recoveries that you capable and qualified to perform.

#abf #ABFtip #abfhint #avgjoebeekeeper #avgjoebeekeepertip #avgjoebeekeeperhint

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-09: Hive Tools [071/abf2220]

On the surface, a hive tool is very simple in concept. But it can actually become complex as the “lowly” hive tool comes in many sizes, shapes, forms, and even specialized uses that the newer “beek” will quickly discover.
Essentially it is a tool used as a scraper to remove wax or to provide leverage to separate hive components like the inner cover from a hive box or two hive boxes that have been propolized together. It can be as simple as a metal spatula used by painters. As a scraper, it works well to remove burr or cross comb from frames or the inner walls of the hive box. But as a, lever, a spatula sometimes needs more “heft” then a standard painter’s scraper.
Most hobbyist beekeeping “starter” kits include what is referred to as an “L” scraper (a flat blade with a 90-degree bend – 2nd & 3rd from left in photo) or the hook or “J-Bar” (3rd from right in photo). Both the scraper and hook usually have a tapered, sharpened end that can be used to scrape wax and propolis from hive components. Hint/Tip Hint 20-52: Hive Tools: Sharp Side Down [008/abf2108] covered the “proper” orientation for minimal damage from scraping with a sharp tool edge. On the L scraper, the bend can be used to “lever” adjacent frames that are propolized together on the end frames “ears” while the curved “J” can be used to slip under the frame where it meets the hive box rabbet. Both shapes provide leverage to remove frames out of the hive box especially when they have been pushed together to maintain “proper” bee-space.
Other tool features may include a small slot that can be used as a nail puller, various other bends for providing leverage (“Z” shape) and variations on the size and angles of the basic J to provide different access for leverage. There are also specialized tools designed and sized specifically for clearing wax out of the nooks and crannies of frames. These various tools can be seen in the bottom photo.
Recently, several manufacturers have offered tool belts or magnetic clasps to keep hive tools close at hand. I personally palm my hive tool in my dominant hand and manipulate hive components with the palmed tool. It takes a little time to develop this ability, but I always know where my hive tool is. I recommend that new beekeepers walk around the house performing everyday tasks with a palmed hive tool until carrying it becomes “second nature’. Once it’s use is mastered, the simple hive tool will be so much more!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-08: Bees minus Splits equal Swarms, Oh My! [070/abf2219]

Successfully overwintered colonies have one goal in mind: Reproduction! That reproductive urge is manifested via swarming and in most years when winter colony loss is high, the number of swarms would be expected to be low. Of course, when losses are minimal, the number of swarms may not only be higher than normal, but they can also overwhelm the bee rescue and recovery systems that many localities have in place.

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) runs an annual Colony Loss survey and if more beekeepers chose to participate, we might be able to estimate the number of swarms expected in a particular area. If the swarm expectations are high, local Beekeeping Associations and Clubs can prepare for a potential swarm “onslaught”. The public does not understand swarming and when faced with a basketball-sized ball of bees in a backyard bush,  tree or fence, they tend to be afraid based on a misunderstanding of natural phenomena. This can change their thoughts from “Save the Bees” to protecting their own by any means possible.

Instead of being reactive to emerging swarms, beekeeping organizations, mentors and instructors need to proactively teach colony splitting indicators, techniques & timing. This can potentially lessen the number of swarms and possible bad publicity for beekeeping. We know that the bees do not read our books and that they will do what the bees want to do but by being vigilant, perhaps we can maintain good beekeeping public relations. So learn about splitting but be prepared to help rescue & recover swarms to account for those “beeks” who don’t become enlightened by colony division techniques!

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-07: Double Screen/Snelgrove Board [069/abf2218]

In the spring, quick colony build-up usually triggers that natural urge to swarm. If a beekeeper isn’t vigilant, perhaps not performing splits or divides at the correct time, the colony may start swarm preparation. Without quick reaction, the beekeeper may lose half their colony to the trees. As with all beekeeping, various methods (and opinions) exist on reacting to swarms and swarm prevention. One of these methods includes using a double screen board also known as a Snelgrove Board.

A Snelgrove Board simply stated is like an inner cover but rather than a solid panel, it has two screens separated by a ¼ inch or greater shim. This separation does not allow bees on one side of the screens to touch the bees on the other side. This denies trophallaxis of Queen pheromone from the bottom of the stack to the top. But what makes this piece of equipment unique from a basic single screened inner cover is a set of top and bottom entrance/exit “gates” on three (or four sides). By opening and closing these gates, the beekeeper can direct bees to various parts of the hive as outlined in Swarming – Its Control and Prevention published in 1934 by Leonard E. Snelgrove. As stated in an article by Wally Shaw titled The Many Uses of a Snelgrove Board, “…Snelgrove’s book…is not very user friendly.

Shaw describes pre-emptive swarm prevention, swarm control, splits/queen rearing and “other” uses in his article in more basic terms but the details of these first three techniques are far beyond the scope of this hint/tip. The fourth use or category called “other” uses is wide open for interpretation. This Average Joe Beekeeper has used the Double Screen/Snelgrove Board as 1.) a temporary screened bottom board for transporting rescued swarms, 2.) a screened inner cover for enhanced ventilation on hot days or during transport, 3.) a hive separator for two hives on the same hive stand (a double-decker hive) in a single hive footprint, and 4.) a heat share for a weak hive placed above a strong hive to increase the weak hive’s overwintering chances.

Adding these four uses to the 3 basic Snelgrove techniques plus Shaw’s two “other” procedures makes this double screened device a versatile tool for the informed beekeeper.

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-06: Bee Space [068/abf2217]

In Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-01: Langstroth Hives: 10 Frames versus 8 [063/abf2212) Bee Space was mentioned but not explained – so what is Bee Space?

In Human Ergonomic terms there are definitions for people “space” such as counter heights, chair height, stair tread length and rise, minimum workspace around equipment, etc. Likewise, in biological terms there are various “standards” that scientists/biologists have identified such as the size of the hexagon in bee comb and passageways in the hive i.e., bee space.

Bee space is generally considered to be between one-quarter inch to three-eighths inch open space. Anything less is normally filled in with propolis by the bees. This includes small gaps between hive boxes or in naturally occurring tree cavities, the cracks and fissures that could allow windy drafts into the nest (thus upsetting the climatic control the bees try to maintain).

In the case of larger spaces, the bees will build bridge comb. Also referred to by some as burr comb, this excess comb can be troublesome when pulling frames for an inspection. Therefore the Avg. Joe Beekeeper tries to scrape wax off of the wooden frame surfaces when looking examining frames in the hives (BONUS – I save all those wax scraps for use in candles and other products).

When a frame is pulled while inspecting, it is not uncommon to see bees forming chains between adjacent frames in an action referred to as festooning which is the bees measuring the gap and perhaps making plans for immediate construction action (see photo which will be posted soon). When reinstalling removed frames after an inspection, I always try to push the frames together so that all the frame “spacers” touch. This accomplishes two functions: 1.) reduces the space between frames to limit frame-to-frame propolis lay down and 2.) it leaves the open space at the box sides.

Anyone who has left too much space between frames will quickly see the bees building comb to bridge the gap. This knowledge can be useful in honey supers as many “beeks” will place 9 drawn combs in a 10-frame honey super to have the bees build out the comb for greater cell storage capacity along with easy de-capping operations. If the space between frames is too great, bees will sometimes build full sheets of comb between the frames making inspections “messy”. This can also be demonstrated by putting a medium frame in a deep box – the bees will fill the empty space below the frame bottom bar to maintain bee space (see photo to be posted soon).

All in all, the bees’ ability to construction with wax is amazing and the fact that they can maintain bee space without tape measures, levels and laser range finders makes their skills even more impressive!

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-05: Rocks, Blocks, Bricks or Straps? [067/abf2216]

As colonies grow and the nectar flow occurs, the hive stack can quickly grow in height. To ensure that the top remains in place in windy weather, beekeepers have traditionally placed Rocks, Bricks or Blocks on the top of the stack. This extra weight can help hold down the outer cover, whether it be a migratory or telescoping cover, on those gusty days.

But which object is the best? Well ask 3 Beekeepers and get 5 answers. Each method has its merits and drawbacks.

Many “old-timers” have talked about placing a brick on top of their hive cover to hold it down. Depending on the placement and orientation of that brick, the beekeeper can signal various hive conditions such as “all is well” (flat on the cover, length pointing to front), Queenless (flat on the cover, length pointing to sides), needs food/syrup (standing upright), etc.

This communication method is an added benefit to keeping the top on. Of course, if the area is rocky, a couple of larger rocks will also keep the top down.

On the Colorado Front Range, it is not uncommon to see wind gusts of 40 mph or more on a regular basis. In the spring, especially during April, it is not uncommon to have gusts exceeding 85 mph. Those types of winds can cause havoc with hive stacks as seen in the photo of my toppled hives at the Denver Broncos Training Center a few years ago. The winds that day were so extreme that even the 13-pound concrete blocks were more than 15 feet from the hives when they fell like dominos.

After that experience, I started using ratcheting tie downs. Since I use a wooden stand with a built-in frame rest, the straps easily hook to the stand and keep the stack together. Since I already had concrete blocks, I still use them on top for added weight. Opening and closing the hives takes more effort and time but I find it to be time well spent for my own peace of mind. If need be, I can anchor the stands to the ground and I have a stable stack that has held up to the extreme winds gusts my apiaries experience.

Not everyone will want or need to use a Rocks, Bricks, Blocks or Straps to hold down their hives but they are there if you want to try them!  

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-04: Reverse, Add Space or Split Early? [066/abf2215]

After overwintering, a colony that is growing quickly may need the beekeeper to try to curb the natural urge to swarm. Common beekeeping practices to suppress swarming include reversing, adding space, or splitting. All three of these techniques have their place in swarm “control” but the chosen method is highly dependent on the beekeeper’s preferences which will be governed by their goals & objectives. If a colony is determined to swarm, even these tactics may only delay the final outcome but by “buying some time” the colony may change it’s course.
Reversing is usually practiced in in colder climates that overwinter the bees in a two deep (brood box) configuration. As winter progresses, the cluster of bees normally move from the bottom box to the upper box where the bulk of the winter honey stores are kept. Once in the top box, it is not uncommon for the brood nest to become congested even though the entire bottom box is clear of bees, brood, and honey. In this situation, the beekeeper can swap the boxes to provide plenty of space for the Queen to move upward as she continues to lay.
If the brood nest is split between the two deeps, a reverse should not be contemplated. Dividing the brood area via the reverse could cause the loss of precious resources to chill brood. Instead of reversing, adding an additional deep, especially if there is drawn comb for that box, relieves congestion through the addition of space. Sometimes novice beekeepers will try to add space by adding a queen excluder and honey super over their deeps. Adding a super may add space, but it does not relieve congestion as it does not provide more space for the Queen to lay.
Ultimately splitting may be the best option to avoid a swarm (although nothing is guaranteed). Some contend that splitting is a form of artificial swarming. Although it doesn’t come with the physiological changes of swarm preparation, a split may preclude a swarm. If spring nights are still too cold, the weather is rainy or drone production is low, the beekeeper may to hold off on splitting until conditions are more favorable. In that case, either reversing or adding laying space can delay swarming.
Which method is the best? An Average Joe Beekeeper’s Answer is “It depends!” And that is the beauty of beekeeping, you get to make your own decisions based on your expertise, experience, knowledge and personal preferences. That is what distinguishes a Beekeeper from a Bee-haver…

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-03: Temperatures – Bees don’t Read our Books! [065/abf2214]

One of the earliest Beekeeping “rules” that I learned was Beekeepers don’t open a hive to inspect below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. But then someone told me it is okay to go into the hive at 60 degrees F or maybe lower.

If you do an internet search, you’ll find various sources that tell a beekeeper when the bees will take certain actions dependent on the ambient temperature. I have found that “… bees begin to cluster at 57 degrees F” and they are “…hard clustered at 47 degrees F”. I needed to release a Queen in the early spring a few years ago but temperatures were low. Because I was going away for 10 days, I went into the hive at 43 degrees F and was amazed to see the bees were not clustered. In fact, they were walking around distributed throughout both deeps!

It just went to prove that “Bees don’t Read our Books!”  Remember, Beekeeping is local [see Hint/Tip 21-37 (046/abf2144)] and depending on your location, the “standard” temperature charts may not apply.

My hives are located on the Colorado Front range at altitudes between 5600 to 6000 feet in the arid, high plains. I have found that I need to adjust the temperature charts down by about 10 degrees F to apply the temperature-based activities to my bees. I don’t know if it is the extremely low humidity, the thin air due to our altitude or the intensity of the sun (due to the thin air?) but my bees don’t conform to activity temperatures published in the books.

Perhaps you’ll find differences in your bee’s activities due to high humidity, lower altitudes, prevailing winds, or other climatic phenomena associated with your area. In beekeeping many things are variable and what works in one place may not work elsewhere because bees don’t read our books (or the internet for that matter!).

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-02: Myth or Truth – Tanging A Swarm… [064/abf2213]

Beekeepers claim there are numerous methods to suppress or avoid swarming even though it is a biological imperative for the bees to reproduce as it is with every other living organism on this planet. Dividing via swarming ensures that a colony’s genetic makeup is expanded into the environment for continuation of that line. Splitting, reversing and adding space to a hive are all methods to potentially avoid swarming but even the best beekeepers sometime lose their bees to the trees despite their best efforts.

When a swarm lands on a small bush or a low tree branch, recovery of that swarm can be as simple as bouncing the bees into a cardboard box. But when a swarm lands in a tree at thirty or forty feet, most recovery methods short of a bucket lift usually will not aid in the rescue attempts and even then, a lift may not suffice.

In this case, many old timers indicate that you should resort to tanging.

Tanging consists of banging a metal pots or pans with its cover to make a loud clanging noise. The noise, much louder than could be created by beating wooden objects together, was once used to signal a beekeeper’s claim to a swarm being chased.

In medieval times, the law stated that once you hived a swarm, it was your property no matter where it emanated from. To establish a claim to an in-flight swarm, the pursuing beekeeper would tang to signal that they were claiming the swarm.

Sometime the swarm would slow down and alight in a location where they could easily be collected. Some reports indicate that swarms would fly directly into a waiting hive. Unfortunately, there isn’t solid evidence to indicate that these activities occurred.

Today, with the internet, there are many instances of modern-day tanging with claims that a swarm was “lured” into a hive from their treetop perch because of it. But there are just as many claims that tanging didn’t help.

So, does tanging work? Is it a truth or myth? I guess you’ll have to make the call!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-01: Langstroth Hives: 10 Frames versus 8 [063/abf2212]

The Langstroth Hive is the most widely used hive type in the US according to numerous sources. Most of us have been told that the Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth discovered bee “space” and “invented” the moveable frame in 1851 setting the stage many of the beekeeping practices followed to this day.

Although there are other types of hives like the Slovenian Hive, the Layens Hive and the British National which all contain moveable frames or the top bar hives including the Warre and the Kenyan Top Bar (KTB), for newer beekeepers, starting with a Langstroth hive seems prudent as most of the readily available hive components are based on Langstroth’s discoveries and original patents.

In practice, Langstroth hives contain 10 frames but there are backyard hobbyists who opt for a smaller eight frame footprint that are said to be easier to manipulate during inspections due to lighter weight. A ten frame deep box can weigh up to 100 lbs. or more when fully loaded with honey while an equivalent eight frame box may “only” weigh 80 pounds. This difference is often cited as the “advantage” of using an 8 frame setup. Less weight can be a determining factor for the beekeeper who doesn’t want as much of a physical workout while beekeeping but the weight issue can be mitigated by using a spare deep box or an unused Nuc container as outlined in Hint/Tip 20-45 (001/abf2101) and 21-12 (021/abf2120).

The biggest “disadvantage” of the 8 frame setup may best be demonstrated during the spring buildup and the swarm season. When using an eight frame system, both congestion and crowding, which are predecessors to swarming, will occur 20% sooner due to space limitations of the smaller boxes. Thus the beekeeper may need to be extra diligent with spring inspections to ensure swarm preparation isn’t underway a week or two prior to their 10 frame counterparts. Adding a third deep box may buy the 8 frame beekeeper extra time before swarm conditions appear but the extra vigilance on the part of the newer “beek” may not overcome the weight  difference. The 10 frame versus eight frame discussion is worth considering as your decide on your equipment decisions.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-52: Propolis – Amazing “Stuff” [062/abf2211]

If you’ve ever gone into a beehive, especially in warmer weather, you may invariably find a gooey, glue-like brown-grey-tan substance on the frame ends and on the frame rests, in cracks & crevices or where ever the bees have decided to place it. For the uninitiated, this is propolis or “bee glue”. During colder temperatures, propolis may be compared to concrete as it seems to be a rock-like matrix.

Propolis is actually a mixture made primarily of resin collected from plants, usually from Poplar trees but also from Birch, Aspen, Conifers, Beech & Chestnut trees plus to a lesser extent some other plants. It is mixed with wax, pollen, some plant debris and enzymes that are produced by bees to give it some interesting properties.

The resin provides the sticky, glue-like effect while the enzymes, pollen and wax add essential oils and other compounds that contain a wide variety of plant derived chemicals including organic acids, phytosterols, terpenoids, and flavonoids, . These ingredients have been shown to provide antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antihistamine, antioxidant and anti-allergenic properties. Long before we knew the science behind these substances, various cultures in Europe, Asia and the Middle East used propolis as part of their folk medicine regimen. Some consider it a herbal “medicine” similar to other resin-based substances such as Myrrh, Guggul and Boswellia.

Within the hive, bees utilize propolis to sterilize and sanitize against bacteria, viruses and fungi. They can seal cracks and openings with propolis to control drafts and airflow (see photo on left) while strengthening, stabilizing and repairing comb. When an intruder, such as a mouse, enters the hive and is dispatched by the bees, the bees will seal or embalm the remains of the interloper with propolis since they cannot remove it (see partially propolized mouse photo on the right). This reduces or eliminates the potential for the spread of bacteria and disease.


All-in-all, propolis is an amazing product within the hive!

Note that this posting is not intended to make any medical claim or provide any medical advice. Much of the background for this piece is based on a publication titled “User’s Guide to Propolis, Royal Jelly, Honey, and Bee Pollen” by C. Leigh Broadhurst, PhD.as part of the Basic Health Publications User Guide Series.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-51: Can YOU stop a Swarm? [061/abf2210]

Different types of bees build-up differently in the spring based on incoming resources including pollen and nectar. As this buildup progresses, crowding and congestion contribute to the potential to swarm. Some beekeepers prefer different breeds, types, sub-species or hybrids of Apis mellifera in order to lessen the “urge” to swarm.

Swarming is a biological imperative to spread the genetics of a colony throughout it’s environment. This can occur via the production of drones, which happens throughout the spring into summer along with the division of the colony via a swarm when the “mother” Queen departs the nest (or hive) with about half of the bee population.

So, if reproduction of the colony is a natural step in the “Circle of Life”, can we really Stop a Swarm?

Beekeeping centers around the monitoring of and interacting with your colony to maintain a healthy balance of natural behavior with management to achieve your desired goals and objectives. As spring buildup occurs, some beekeepers will reverse hive bodies in a two brood box set-up to relieve congestion. Likewise, others may add an additional brood box whether running a a one or two brood box configuration to achieve the relief while adding space to alleviate crowding. If growth is exceeding the beekeeper’s expectations, splitting is the next step in process of swarm prevention.

It is said that a split is an artificial swarm and although in simplistic terms this is true, swarming is accompanied by physiological changes to the Queen that do not occur in a split. Depending on timing, splits can be a useful tool in swarm reduction but nothing is guaranteed. If a split is performed during swarm preparation, especially if queen cells are being made, the mother or daughter hive may still swarm no matter what actions are taken. Some experts suggest that 20% of colonies will still swarm even if the beekeeper is vigilant in splitting. No matter what, if you are not actively involved as a beekeeper you may not be able to ascertain the status of your bees and you may lose them to Mother Nature’s natural progression.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-51: Beekeeping by the Calendar [060/abf2209]

I continue to see postings on the internet in both blogs and YouTubes while being published in club emails and newsletters that indicate what actions a beekeeper should be taking in the upcoming month.

To me it seems that these posts and directions miss a key factor – Beekeeping is local (See Hint 21-37: Beekeeping is Local {046/abf2144]) and trying to distill beekeeping into a monthly checklist of “To Do” items misses the entire point of beekeeping. It does raise a point though – Is Beekeeping Art or Science? I contend it is both. The techniques and frequency that beekeepers use for inspections, the steps they take to suppress or prevent swarming such as splitting and reversing and even the methods to raise Queens can be described as Science. But when to perform these actions can be considered Art.

I’ve included a diagram that envisions colony size to time of year for a cold weather location. But what constitutes a “cold weather” location – where is it? It may be correct for a particular location but without knowing the exact site it may not depict useful information. You have to be able to extrapolate and interpret.

In my definition, Beekeeping is marrying both Science and Art and then factoring in your location’s climate and flora with your bees, their characteristics and your capabilities. Although many people try to oversimply beekeeping, sometime it isn’t as simple as some would say. Like any journey or endeavor, what you get out of it is linked to what you put in. Success is based on many factors and is never guaranteed but the more you know, the better your results may be!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-50: Mixing Hive Bodies [059/abf2208]

Traditionally, a Langstroth hive stack consists of deep boxes for brood and medium boxes for honey supers.

In a previous hint/tip (Hint 20-49 [005/abf2105]), it was shown that 3 medium boxes were about the same height as 2 Deep hive boxes and in that hint it was pointed out that a beekeeper could potentially standardize on the medium box for both brood boxes and honey supers to lessen the weight of the boxes.

Likewise, a beekeeper could standardize on all deeps and then have honey supers using the same frame size as the brood box that create and store more honey but are definitely heavier to move.

There is another alternative to these options which combines a deep and a medium for the brood chamber. This option can be said to combine the best of both worlds. In some parts of the country, overwintering can safely be done in one deep box and in more colder areas the rule of thumb is two deeps. For that area in between, a deep and medium may be the compromise that suits a large segment of the beekeeping population’s operation.

As with most beekeeping practices, a mixed set of brood boxes has advantages and disadvantages. Only you, the beekeeper, can weigh the relative utility of pros and cons of this practice but it provides another option to consider for the beekeeper’s tool kit.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-49: Myth or Truth – Smoke… [058/abf2207] Feb 13, 2022

According to “The Hive and the Honey Bee”, the smoker was “invented” in 1771 in Slovenia (once known as the Carniolan Province or Region of Austria). Many beekeepers use smoke during their hive inspections as it is said to “calm” the bees thus making them less defensive or aggressive. Smoke can sometimes be used to drive the bees back down into the hive when a large number are on the frame top bars. But why do bees react to smoke?
Many beginners are told that smoke makes the bees think a forest fire is coming and the bees may have to flee their tree cavity nest. “Knowing” that they will have to build a new home, they fill their honey crop with honey. If they abscond, they have the basic resources to build wax comb in a nest new location.
Those who caution against the use of smoke cite this behavior as a reason against it. Smoke sets the hive back by removing capped honey from storage but full honey stomachs make the bees calm and docile, much like humans after a large Thanksgiving Day Dinner.
Others say the smoke works as a means of communication disruption. When the hive top is opened, alarm pheromones are released and the smoke may block the bee’s ability to discern the alarm. The lack of alarm perception makes the colony less defensive thus the calmer demeanor.
So the question is: does smoke simply block communications or are the bees preparing to abscond to avoid a forest fire?
#beekeepinghint #beekeepingtip #averagejoebeekeeper #avgjoebeekeeper #abf #abfHint #abftip



Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-48: Queen Cell Locations [057/abf2206]

As spring buildup approaches, queen cells and their location on the comb can provide indications of what your colony is planning…although we always need to remember that “The bees don’t read our books!”.

In Hint 21-42/abf2151/051) Queen Cups & Queen Cells the structures were discussed but now let’s go into a little more detail.

After the bees have overwintered, spring buildup can quickly result in the urge to swarm. Newer beekeepers, seeing Queen Cups or Emergency Cells (see photo on right) will sometime worry that swarming is imminent. One, two or even a few Queen Cups may not mean anything at all as it is said that Queen Cups are “for practice”. To create wax via the bee’s wax glands, not only must resources (nectar) be available but also you must have the right age bees. As swarm season approaches, especially if swarming may occur, the number of Queen cups may expand to 10, 20 or even more. This may be cause for concern and the prudent beekeeper may want to inspect more vigilantly and perhaps even plan for an upcoming split.

Most say that a Queen Cup or Queen Cell on the field of the comb indicates that the colony is looking to supersede the Queen. For some reason, perhaps due to diminishing amount of stored sperm in the spermatheca or perhaps sickness, disease or injury, the colony may start preparation for replacing the Queen by building a Queen Cup. After the workers corral the Queen into laying an egg in one of more Queen Cups, they will proceed to raise a Queen by elongating the cup to a cell and feeding royal jelly past the 2nd or third day of larval stage.

When Queen cups are elongated into Queen Cells at the bottom of a frame or multiple frames, those cells are said to be Swarm Cells. When swarm preparation is underway, numerous Swarm cells can be found on the bottom of frames – usually in the bottom deep. But, Queen Cells on the bottom of the frames in a top deep can also indicate swarm preparation. The bees can also throw us a “curve ball — Queen cells on the field of a frame, especially at the end of built out comb on the frame i.e., bare foundation, may actually indicate a swarm cell rather than a supersedure cell.

The bottom line is that the Bees will do what the Bees will do – as an older local beekeeper used to say “Beezildoo”…

#beekeepinghint #beekeepingtip #averagejoebeekeeper #avgjoebeekeeper #abf #abfHint #abftip

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-47: Mouse Guards [056/abf2205]

Note: This hint is being written by the Average Joe Beekeeper in the middle of the winter at his location, the use of this particular hive accessory may be a little late if needed.

During the winter, field mice are looking for a dry, sheltered location to spend their time during the snow and cold. Beehives can provide the perfect venue for these little critters especially when the bees are clustered and are not able to defend their entrance. Depending on the type of hive equipment you use, your height of your entrance may be the perfect size for mice to walk right in. Thus, an unknown but enterprising individual created the Mouse “Guard”.

It is said that the common field mouse found in most of North America only needs an opening about the size of the US dime to enter a structure like a hive. Many beekeepers don’t realize that most solid bottom boards have two sides – one contains a 3/8″ entrance when the deep box is placed on top while the other side has a 3/4″ opening. As the dime has a diameter of .75 inches (19.05 mm) a mouse can easily find it’s way into an undefended hive with the larger entrance in use. To combat the potential invasion, a Mouse Guard made of 1/4 inch screen cloth or a metal angle with holes (see photo) can reduce the entrance to an opening too small for most mice. If the Bottom Board is used with the 3/8″ opening, a mouse guard may not be needed. Some beekeepers will just use am entrance reducer but a determined mouse can actually gnaw through the wood to create an opening large enough to provide egress into the hive.

Some beekeepers contend that a mouse guard hinders the ability of the colony to remove dead bees during the winter but perhaps that is a small price to pay to keeps a mouse nest out of your hive.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-46: Brood [055/abf2204]

As noted in Hint 21-41: The Language of Beekeeping! [050/abf2154], beekeeping terms may be used incorrectly as in “My hive died”. In other cases the same term can have multiple meanings. Take the word “Brood” for example. Some dictionary definitions refer to brood as a “…family of young animals” or “…the young of an animal or a family of young” and “…produce by or as if by incubation”. All of these can refer to bees and the practice of beekeeping but you have to understand how the receiver of your communication interprets the word.

When I report that “my hive has brood” I use it in general terms i.e. it has either eggs, larvae in uncapped cells or capped cells (containing pupae). It could be a combination of some or all of those cases. Of course, if I’m not more specific, my wife, who is my beekeeping partner, will ask “Did you see any eggs?”. Thus I’ve learned to indicate “I saw eggs and brood”. But then the question becomes “Was the brood capped or uncapped?

When reporting the status of our hives I’ve tried to learn to specify that I saw eggs, larvae and capped brood. But then I am accused of taking too much time to describe the situation or I’m being “too precise”. In other words, understand who you’re talking to when discussing bees as their definition may be somewhat different then your definition of the same term(s)! One you understand the receiver of your information it may be easier to communicate.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 22-45: Robbing Screens [054/abf2203]

Bees, like many other insects including those in the Wasp family, can be opportunistic when a favorable food source presents itself and will take advantage of that circumstance especially when it comes to stored food in a hive or nest.

Mostly in the fall, but also in the spring, robbing of weak colonies can become a death sentence for that colony. Robbing usually occurs when there is a lack of nectar sources commonly referred to as a dearth and the scent of honey, nectar, or other sweet sources (syrup) is coming from a hive. As foragers are out searching for non-existent nectar from flowers, they may come across a weak, poorly defended hive and take advantage of the poor defense by stealing resources from the hive. This is one of the reason many beekeepers cite for not using entrance feeders in the fall and spring as it may attract robbers. As robbing foragers return to their home, their waggle dance directs their cohorts to this new food source. A large band of robbers from one or more hives along with local Wasp families can quickly reduce a hive’s honey storage to nothing. As the robbing occurs there may be ongoing fights killing both robbers and defenders. The net result of the encounter can further reduce a colony’s numbers to the point that it cannot survive.

One means of limiting robbing is via the use of an entrance reducer (see Hint 21-33: Entrance Reducers [042/abf2140] or Hint abf2140 [042/21-33]. By reducing the hive entrance, guard bees have less area to defend and may be better able to fend off robbing attacks. But when the hive is too weak, or the attack is too great, the beekeeper may need to resort to the use a “Robbing Screen”.

In its simplest form the Robbing Screen may be nothing more than an enclosure created by folding #8 wire cloth to fit around the landing board and front entrance with an opening in a place that marauding bees and wasps will not easily find. The foragers leaving the hive will find the exit hole in the screen and be able to regain access through the same opening upon their return. Foreign insects, not knowing where the exit/entrance is, will not be able to readily identify that access point and will usually be deterred from entering. In more complex forms, the robbing screen is made of wood and screen with metal “baffles” and or manufactured from plastic as shown in the photos. If you are experiencing robbing behaviors you might consider the use of some form of robbing screen.    

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Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-44: Attracting Bees to Water [053/abf2202]

As mentioned in Hint abf2153/048/21-39, in some parts of the country, a certain amount of water in the hive is important during the winter. On warmer winter days in colder climates when cleansing flights are possible, if the bees need/want more water, they may also be out foraging for it. As it is winter and water can be frozen, the bees may turn to sources that humans would rather not share.

In urban/suburban bee settings, bees may find hot tubs or water features as their cold weather watering holes.

Even as warmer weather arrives and other water sources become available, the bees may still choose to visit your neighbors. There’s an old saying that goes “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” and from a highly acclaimed movie we know that if we “build it they will come”.

So even if you provide alternate water sources, the bees will not always come. To attract them you can try placing some salt and other minerals in the water. Likewise, a low concentration of bleach, vinegar or even a little sugar may attract the bees. Once you’ve got the bees attention and they are visiting your source, make sure you continue to keep your source replenished otherwise they may revert to prior sources.

This same course of action may help in the summer if bees decide to visit neighboring water gardens and swimming pools. Nothing is guaranteed but if the bees are bothersome this simple tip might help.

#beekeepinghint #beekeepingtip #averagejoebeekeeper #avgjoebeekeeper

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-43: Join a Beekeeping Association, Club or Federation [052/abf2201]

There are numerous ways to learn about beekeeping.
In the past, perhaps one went to a library and checked out beekeeping books. Or one subscribed to a magazine or periodical and read about bees to learn about the “trade”. Then came the Internet and the World Wide Web and Social media like Facebook. Video cassettes, podcasts and DVDs along with YouTube all have added to the font of available beekeeping knowledge over the years. There’s even Hints & Tips from an Average Joe Beekeeper…
No matter what source of knowledge you’ve utilized, the one consistent, constant source of information has been the Local, State & National Beekeeping Associations, Clubs & Federations. Much of beekeeping is learned via interaction with others. At the local, state and national levels there are numerous opportunities to network and socialize with other beekeepers via bee related organizations.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, the interactions with other beekeepers can teach you more than you would ever expect.
Consider joining your local, regional, state and national organizations – the investment is well worth it!
BTW, this message is coming from Las Vegas, NV, USA – the site of this year’s American Beekeeping Federation’s 2022 Conference and Trade Show. Perhaps this Average Joe Beekeeper will see you there. If not, maybe you’ll make plans to interact with other Beekeepers in January 2023 in at the ABF Conference & Trade Show in Jacksonville, FL, USA!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-42: Queen Cups & Queen Cells [051/abf2151]

In the spring and summer, it is common to find numerous Queen Cups on the frames within the brood area in your brood box. Newer beekeepers may be concerned that their colony is preparing to swarm but this normally is not the case.

Queen Cups, also referred to as Emergency or Practice Cells, resemble small marbles with an opening facing downward (see photo on left). Most experts believe these spherical objects are created “just in case”. By having these cups readily available, the bees can direct and corral the Queen to lay an egg there and can start the process of creating a new queen. This could occur as part of the supersedure process. As long as the cups are “dry”, the cup is harmless.

On the other hand, if the cell is elongated downward, with a texture that resembles a peanut shell, the bees are actively creating a new queen, most likely in anticipation of swarming. In the photo at the right, you can see a thick white substance, royal jelly, that is bathing the larva within the cell. When this situation exists, in just a few days the cell will be capped and eight days later a virgin queen will be emerging. If the colony is going to swarm, it will take flight a day or two prior to the new virgin queen’s emergence. To avoid swarming, quick actions will be required and even then, the colony may still swarm but that is a topic for another Hint and Tip…

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-41: The Language of Beekeeping! [050/abf2150]

Most undertakings, activities or hobbies have their own “language” and Beekeeping is no exception. Others have written lengthy articles on the Language of Beekeeping, but it is always a good reminder to point out a few terms that are commonly used in various manners with perhaps different meanings.

It is common to hear a Beekeeper talking about the loss of their hive over the winter. But in most cases, that “hive” is still in there. Rather the beekeeper has really “lost” their colony, i.e., their bees died.

A hive is usually described as an “enclosed structure in which some honey bee species of the subgenus Apis live and raise their young.” Although a hollow tree is an enclosed cavity and therefore could be described as a structure, in scientific circles that cavity would normally be described as a nest so it wouldn’t be called a hive. A nest is normally referred to as natural cavity or exposed hanging comb, but some professional documentation would indicate that an artificial cavity such as a colony in a building wall would be called a nest. Hmmm, that nest is in a structure yet it’s not a hive…

When we refer to hives, we sometimes talk about different types like Langstroths, Longs, Layens, Top Bar, Warre and even “The” Flow [hive]. Of course, a flow, to some “Beeks”, means that there is available nectar coming from the flowers in the area. But some people will call that a Nectar Flow, yet others say it is a Honey Flow, but no Honey is flowing from the flowers…

The bottom line is that language can be confusing, even more so when a practitioner is new to the practice. Try to think about the Beekeeping language when you’re describing this strange endeavor to others!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-40: Sugar Water Combine [049/abf2148]

Although many beekeepers cite the Paper Combine as the best technique to combine colonies, another method for a “combine” is the Sugar Water Combine.

If you are moving a few frames of bees from a small colony to a larger one, spraying the bees on each incoming frame with a sugar syrup solution may cause the receiving bees to be distracted by the syrup drenched bees that are being introduced. They will usually try to lap up the syrup from the new bees and this will speed the acceptance process.

Some beekeepers will add lemon grass oil or vanilla extract to the sugar water to add a scent to the solution – possibly masking the scent of the incoming colony and making acceptance quicker.

Comments on prior published hints and tips on combines would indicate that some beekeepers don’t bother with any type of process for combining bees. They just combine the bees and let them figure things out on their own. If you’ve never tried a combine, you might want to try the sugar water method if you have your own doubts on the ability for your bees to peacefully merge…

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-39: Winter Water [048/abf2146]

Both plants and animals, including insects, need water to survive. Water is essential in the various chemical processes that occur in living entities and our bees are no exception. As a universal solvent, water is a basic compound used by the bees not only for maintaining hive temperatures using evaporative cooling but also to dilute honey for easier consumption.

As winter approaches, cooling the hive is less of a concern but the need to thin or dissolve honey, especially when it has crystallized and becomes too thick for immediate use, is important to winter survival. Honey provides the energy bees need to shiver their muscles creating warmth to heat the winter cluster. Without access to their stored carbohydrate-rich honey, the bees can freeze. Freezing and starvation within the hive are inexorably linked but water can lessen that connection.

It is said that cold bees can survive winter, but cold wet bees can be a colony’s death sentence. While local climate may render normal water sources unavailable, the metabolic processes within the bees themselves can provide a fair amount of water through respiration and its’ associated condensation in the hive. In more humid climates, especially during winter, beekeepers may use methods such as quilt boards, sugar cakes and even fiber based insulating wall board (known by the trade name “Homasote”) to try to strike a balance between keeping bees dry while providing an internal water source.

As beekeeping is local, it is best to confer with fellow beekeepers to determine what types of moisture control are appropriate for your area. No matter how you maintain your hives for the various seasons, providing a readily available water source is always a good idea.

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-38: The Entrance Feeder [047/abf2145]

Often referred to as a Boardman Feeder, the Entrance Feeder’s development is attributed H. C. Boardman of East Townsend, OH during the 1880s.
It is a simple design that consists of a jar with a perforated top that sits in a holder. It uses the scientific principles of surface tension and vacuum to provide an on-demand supply of liquid, whether it is sugar syrup or water, to the bees.
Though simple, the arguments for and against it can become complex. Supporters point out that by seeing the liquid level, the beekeeper can easily tell when it is time for a refill. Unlike in-hive feeders, a refill can be accomplished without opening the hive and with minimal disturbance to the bees. Having an almost constant source of feed can also help the colony conserve their honey stores for times when they are confined to the hive.
Detractors state that the device promotes robbing and cannot be used during winter especially where temperatures become frigid. But that is the beauty of beekeeping, you, as the beekeeper, get to determine what methods, techniques, and equipment you’ll use.
In my part of the country (just outside of Denver, CO, USA) we have a semi-arid high desert climate. During the winter we can have cold spells below zero and then have mid-50s the next week. These temperature swings allow the bees to break cluster on a regular basis throughout my winters.
When using 2:1 Sugar Syrup, unlike water which freezes at 32 degrees F, the syrup doesn’t freeze until about 17 degrees F. If the jar is only ¾ filled, even when the syrup freezes, I’ve rarely, if ever, had a jar break after numerous winters.
Once temperatures rise, if it is warm enough for cleansing flights it is also warm enough for the bees to take the syrup. An added benefit of the entrance feeder is that when using two or three (depending on the feeder’s base dimensions) they can alleviate the need for an entrance reducer.
In the fall, when robbing is likely to occur, I remove them from the entrance, and I will place them inside my hive stack on top of the inner cover surrounded by an extra deep body.
Based on my local conditions, I find I can use the entrance feeder to my advantage. Depending on your locale, you may find the same!

Avg. Joe Beekeeper Hint 21-37: 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 (photo on right) 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 (see photo on left) 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/abf2147]

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. 

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