Beekeeping Basics - Honey Bee
This is the companion page to our
Beekeeping Basics Group Class with
"hands on" training
Welcome to the fascinating world of
Whether you are a new beekeeper in your first year
with your first colony of bees or perhaps considering getting into beekeeping and
simply looking for more
information, we are here to help. Hopefully you will find the information here useful
and practical. We'll start with the basics and also provide options for
continuing your education beyond the scope of this "basics" page.
Feel free to use the tools and resources below as a basic guide for this
There a few basic, yet very important things for keeping
healthy bees and strong colonies.
We want to make
sure, by checking our hives about every two weeks in the warm months to
make sure that the hive has a healthy
and vigorously laying queen in the colony. Replacing the queens as needed.
We feed our bees when
there is little to no forage available and / or when the
colony is young and just getting starting. (i.e. a Nuc, short for Nucleus - which
in the bee world is likened to the "puppy stage")
Treat for Varroa
mites 2 - 3 times a year, whether you see mites on bees or not. We use an
alcohol wash (instead of a
sugar roll) method to check the mite loads of the colony. (some like to use
the sugar roll test or bottom drawer sticky board method to check the mite
count) Then treat with an approved mite treatment as needed.
It's a good idea to
alternate treatment methods to minimize mites become resistant to the products.
Many beekeepers use Oxalic Acid Vapor (OAV)
when the amount of brood in the hive is low and one of the other approved products
when the brood productivity is high. (view mite control options here
- Last but not least,
we want to be mindful about "robber bee" activity. A young starter colony
is especially susceptible to being robbed by other bees when there is not
a lot of resources available in the field. There are robber prevention
devices available commercially, but they are not difficult or expensive to
Doing these things will help you become a successful beekeeper. If we ignore any one of these
things, we run the risk losing the entire colony of bees.
We are part of the
Beekeeper Program (TMBP) and encourage anyone with a desire to learn more about
bees and share their knowledge with the general public to join this program.
The TMBP website
has all the information and study guides you need to become a Master
Because of the overwhelming amount of information
available online and how it can be difficult to know what to believe and
what to avoid, we suggest sticking with trusted sources such as universities
and the well established sites.
We are often asked about finding a mentor to help beginning beekeepers and
those that are still undecided if beekeeping is even in their future. We
realize this is a big decision for many and to assist, we have created a
Beekeepers Mentor Network. We sponsor a Facebook group designed to bring
potential Mentors and Apprentices together.
Follow this link to view and/or join the group:
Download and Print our
Bee Health Certificate here (PDF format)
Frequently Asked Questions (about the basics)
- How often should I inspect my hive and
what am I looking for?
- In the warmer months, every two to
is ideal. Review the Hive Inspection Checklist (found in the
Downloadable Files linked below) A
quick check to see if the hive has food (pollen, nectar and honey) and
brood (eggs and developing stages of larvae and capped pupae), when these are present,
this is often all that is
needed. If any of the above is not present, or has an unusual odor,
color or appearance, further investigation is needed.
- What do I feed my bees?
- Pollen Subs: There are a number of
Pollen Substitute options ranging from low to high protein content it
can be in the form of a dry power to "wet" patties (about the
consistency of peanut butter). Caution should be used when using patties
due to Small Hive Beetle issues in our area. Think bacon strips vs
hamburger patties and roll out the patties into thinner servings. Check
for beetles and remove as needed.
- Nectar Subs: In South Texas we feed "1 to 1 sugar syrup"
which is a 1:1 ratio of regular granulated sugar mixed with water. One cup
of sugar per one cup of water. Bring water to a boil to eliminate
impurities (when using metro city water sources) and help the sugar
dissolve easier. Allow to cool of course before feeding.
- How and when do I treat for Varroa Mites?
- Most experts agree that the Varroa
mites are the biggest challenge beekeepers face today. There are many
treatment methods available. Some considered to be more effective than
others based on several variables, such as the time of the year and
status of the hive. There are several synthetic miticide options
available, like Apivar and Apistan etc. and others that are considered
organic or "natural", like Oxalic and Formic Acids for example.
- Synthetic miticides are often used as
a last resort in an integrated pest management (IPM) system and should
always be used according to the label.
- Formic Acid has a high efficacy rate,
but is temperature sensitive and must not be used when the daytime high
will reach or exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the treatment process
- typically 7 days with one version. The other offers two treatment
Option One: 2 strips for 14 days.
Option Two: 1st strip for 10 days remove and replace with 2nd strip for
an additional 10 days.
- Oxalic Acid offers a few different
application methods that have been proven to be successful mite
treatments. The first was the "dribble" or drench method, then came what
is termed vaporizing, or more accurately called sublimation of the
powdery acid into a fog or vapor.
Vaporization of the acid with a heat source is the
approved method. Always use a 99% pure form of Oxalic Acid, aka wood bleach, which can be purchased at
many small hardware and paint stores or ordered online. Use an
Oxalic Acid Vaporizer
to sublimate (The process of changing from a
solid to a gas without passing through an intermediate liquid phase.)
the acid inside the hive.
The vaporizing of acid as well as many of the other treatment methods require
treating two to three times a year using a three week treatment
regiment. Meaning, treat every four to five days for three to four
treatments. First in
early spring before the nectar flow, again in the late summer after the
nectar flow, after honey supers are removed and again late fall to
prevent over wintering bees from housing heavy mite loads.
(More about Varroa Mites below)
These are the topics we cover in our Basic
Beekeeping group class.
Please note: Prior to Covid-19, the class was approximately four hours in length (including
breaks) with the lecture part being held in the fellowship hall of our local church.
However, with the threat of COVID-19
still lurking, we are using a recorded version of the lecture sessions and have made the
recordings available online via YouTube in a private video series.
Once we receive a payment for the class, we will provide a link to a 5 part
mini series and instructions along with the address for the final part of
We still have the 1 hour hands-on session, over an active open
hive, in person at our location on the listed pick up / class dates, but now
Here's what we'll discuss:
- Hive Setup
- Component Arrangement and Placement
- Hive Maintenance
- How often and what to look for
- Life Cycle of the Honey Bee
- What, Where, How, When and Why
- Pests and Diseases of the Hive
- Identification, Prevention &
- Varroa & Tracheal Mites
- Swarm Prevention
- What is all the buzz about
- Harvesting Honey
Below are several images that
show the various components from inside a hive. (click to enlarge)
|Queen with Green Mark
||Deep Frame of Bees
||Brood w/Nurse Bees
||Frame of Capped Honey
||Brood, Nectar & Pollen
||5 Frame Nuc - After Installation
|Active Queen Cell
||Active Queen Cell - Exposed
||Developing Larvae - Brood Nest
||Worker Bee Eggs - Close Up
|"Laying Room" with Queen
||Nectar in the Nest
||Pollen around the Brood
||Swarm Cells - Frame Bottom
Below are a few images from around the web that you
may find useful,
informative and interesting.
(click to enlarge)
||Bee Family Life Cycle
||Worker Bee Life Cycle
||Pollen Delivery System
||Sting Pain Index
||Common Bee Forage Plants
||The Queen Bee And Jupiter
Much of the information available online and even in the
books about beekeeping (see
Recommended Reading List below) is written by
folks in a colder climate than we have here in South Texas. Therefore,
we like to share two simple and basic, yet very informative PDF files
written by Mr. Freeman, an old school southern beekeeper. The adjustments
needed to match our climate are minimized with Mr. Freeman's information.
These files and the information within compliment our
basic beekeeping classes. Scroll down for additional links and resource references
that offer more comprehensive
information for further studying for the beginner and novice alike.
Advanced beekeeping information
( courtesy of Mr. Freeman -
Feel free to download and print these files. As with any other beekeeping material, the
information is mainly intended as a general guide more so than a "how to" for
everyone. Since each person's goals and circumstances are different, each person
will adopt the things that work best for their individual purposes.
Remember, when it comes to nature, nothing is written in stone.
More about the Varroa Mites:
This image shows a pull out drawer from under a hive
after a treatment using the above mentioned OAV method.
Click the image to see the full size version.
"Varroa destructor (Varroa mite) is an external parasitic mite
that attacks the honey bees Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. The disease caused
by the mites is called varroosis." ...
(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
"The Varroa bee mite (Varroa jacobsoni) was first discovered by
A.C. Oudemans in 1904, as a parasite of the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana. In the
late 1940s, Through movement of the western honey bee, Apis mellifera, colonies
into and out of Asia, Varroa mite became established on honey bees first in
Africa and then in Europe. Quickly, it spread around the world. It was first
detected in the U.S. in 1987; Mexico and Canada quickly closed their borders to
U.S. bees. Varroa has now been in the U.S. for over two decades and a robust
history exists published in two parts" ...
more (source The Apis Information Resource Center website )
Since there introduction into this country, some 30
year ago, beekeepers and scientist have been searching for ways to control and
eliminate this disease spreading pest. After several years of
using chemicals in the hives, which many beekeepers are opposed to for obvious
reason including the limited success, the EPA recently approved the use of the
above mentioned Oxalic Acid Vapor as a safe treatment method. As a side benefit,
the vapor also eliminates another pest called the
Here is an
published on the University of Sussex
website. which discusses the vapor method and their findings.
"The study, to be published tomorrow (Tuesday 5 January 2016) in the Journal of
Apicultural Research, shows that two of the three methods used by beekeepers to
apply the chemical cause harm to bee colonies, resulting in reduced winter
But one method – sublimation, by which the chemical is vapourised inside the
hive using an electrically heated tool – has no negative effect on the bees. In
fact, colonies treated in this way had 20% more bees four months later than
It is also
the easiest to use, the deadliest to the mites - killing 97% with one
application - and is effective at lower doses than the other methods.
it only costs a few pence to treat each hive. ...
We offer a
tool like the one
mentioned in the article and have been using this same system with success on
our own hives since 2015. The image above shows the results (dead mites) after
the first treatment of a hive that appeared to be healthy prior to checking and
treatment. The next follow up treatment a week later revealed significantly less
mite drops, while the third another week later resulted in almost no mites at
Multiple treatment method are used alternately
throughout the year to control mite populations.
Additional Educational Information
Visit Randy Oliver's Website
www.ScientificBeekeeping.com - Beekeeping Through the Eyes of a Biologist
Randy is a research biologist and commercial
beekeeper with a wealth of information from basic to advanced level.
He is also a renowned speaker and writes regularly for the American Bee Journal Magazine.
YouTube Search for Randy Oliver offers a good deal of lectures and tutorials
on various topics, including one of our favorites on the topic of
Honey Bee Biology.
Recommended Reading Material:
Suggested Reading List for Beginner Level
1. Honey Bees and Beekeeping: A Year in the Life of an Apiary, 3rd Edition –
Keith Delaplane (2007)
2. The Beekeeper’s Handbook, 4th Edition – Diana Sammataro, Alphonse Avitabile, Dewey M. Caron (2011)
3. First Lessons in Beekeeping – Keith Delaplane (2007)
4. The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner’s
Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden – Kim Flottum (2010)
5. Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping – Dewey Caron (2013)
1. American Bee Journal
2. Bee Culture
3. Melitto Files Newsletter
Suggested Reading List for Advanced Level (in addition to those listed for the
1. The Hive and the Honey Bee – Dadant and Sons, Inc. (1992)
2. ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture – A.I. Root (2007)
3. Honey Bee Pests, Predators, and Diseases, 3rd Edition – A.I. Root (Morse and Flottum, eds.) (1998)
4. The Biology of the Honey Bee – Mark Winston (1991)
5. Bee Pollination in Agricultural Ecosystems – Rosalind James and Theresa L.
Additional Related Informative Pages:
Different Types of Bees -
what is currently available
About Africanized Bees - what
you should know
Apitherapy - Basic information with
additional resources and links
Ag Exemption - Texas law now allows
the use of honey bees as a way of saving tax dollars
The Texas A & M AgriLife Research - Apiary Inspection
website and the Honeybee Lab
website at A & M both provide a wealth of additional resources.
As mentioned above, we are part of the
Beekeeper Program and encourage anyone with a desire to learn more about
bees and share their knowledge with the general public to join this program. The
TMBP website has
all the information and study guides you need to become a Master Beekeeper!
University of Florida Bee Lab Website
. . . more to come . . .
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