I bought an active bee colony last September from some lovely people who were moving out of the country. I always thought about getting into bees, but I knew there was a lot I needed to know before I did. When the opportunity presented itself via a Facebook ad I weighed my pros and cons, decided fall was as safe a time to start as any, and jumped in feet first.
Over the winter the I did a lot of reading, watched a ton of Youtube videos, and signed up for the online provincial beekeeping course. By the time spring hit I was as prepared as I ever would be to take a look inside that hive. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t terrified; I w as just prepared and terrified all at once.
There were a few things I did take away from the online beekeeping course, and they would be really helpful for beginner beekeepers who are cracking the lid of that hive for the first time. These are just simple ways to get your feet wet when you’re a beginner beekeeper.
Reverse your two brood boxes
According to honeybeesuite, an amazing online resource, and my instructor for the beginner beekeepers course, rotating your two main brood boxes might be a good idea. I say might because my instructor online said yes, and honeybeesuite said she no longer does it.
One argument for reversing is that it forces the bees into the bottom box. According to Rusty at honeybeesuite, her bees will move down into the bottom box all on their own anyway.
Like everything with beekeeping, you have to take all of the advice thrown at you and make your own call. I reversed my boxes this year, but I might not next year.
Find your Queen
I’ll testify to the fact that this is incredibly difficult. I searched through all of the frames and I didn’t see her. I know she must be there because there was capped and uncapped brood all over the place, but I didn’t actually spot her when I was searching. In my defense I was pretty freaked out by all of the bees flying around, and I did end up getting stung twice.
I will be searching for her again the next time the sun comes out. If you get stung, my mom recommends rubbing the sting with a raw onion. I thought she was crazy, but it really does work.
Don’t pull honey
If you left all of your honey in the hive so your bees would have food for the winter, don’t feel as though any leftovers are fair game yet. Early spring is too early to pull honey, especially if your trees and flowers aren’t blooming yet.
Wait until you know there is nectar for your bees and you won’t feel guilty for being a honey robber.
I’m definitely one of the many beginner beekeepers just finding their way this spring, so if you have tips you’d like to share, feel free to share them here.
I kept honeybees as a hobby and a business for many years. Do not bother looking for the queen! Going through all those frames, killing and maiming workers and possibly even the queen is not worth the risk for idle curiosity. Unless there is a real reason for finding the queen such as replacing or whatever. If the brood pattern looks good, you don’t need to bother the colony looking around for the queen.
Great comments, thank you! Bee keeping is something that’s a constant learning process, and I don’t think there’s ever an end to what I can learn about them. I follow Rusty on Honeybeesuite, so that’s where I’ve picked up quite a bit after I finished the course.
I never check for the queen anymore. I limit my interference with the colony as much as I can, only going out there to do small checks, treat for Varroa, and pull honey at set times.
Rusty was the reason I reversed the brood boxes last year. She had tried it too, although I haven’t heard the results. I did a through check for how healthy the frames were before I swapped it, but I don’t think it made a difference anyway.
I lost one colony to wasps at the end of September, so that was really upsetting. I’m setting up several more this spring in the orchard and my first goal is to get wasps under control before they build their population.
Anytime you want to send advice, I’m all ears! There’s so much to learn.
Also, reversing the brood boxes puts a usually very gross bottom box with mouldy pollen and dead bees on top of a hopefully healthy second box. If it is a very strong colony it can work but if less than optimum, it really sets the colony back and can make them prone to chalkbrood, EFB and other afflictions. Putting a nice box of drawn combs on top is excellent however provided the colony is large enough to keep the cluster warm enough with the addition.