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How to Maintain and Care for a Beehive

Updated on April 26, 2017
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris is a part-time gardener and author of farming guides. He loves to write about crops, pest control, fish farming and beekeeping.

When I finally installed my hive and introduced the bees, I thought the hard work was over and I could just sit back and relax as I wait to harvet a large amount of honey in a few months time. I was wrong! I didn't know that a good amount of honey was to become available only if the hive was properly managed, maintained and taken care of through the months to the harvest day.

Beehive care and maintenance is a great way to create favorable conditions for the honey bees. It helps keep the apiary structure strong & homey and prevent the pollinators from swarming. People who manage their apiaries well are guaranteed honey throughout the year.

modern hive
modern hive | Source

Hives house different types of bees. They are home to workers, drones and the queen. They also accommodate young bees which are pretty sensitive to unfavorable conditions. In order to create comfortable conditions for every bee, you should take proper care of the hive and maintain it regularly.

Maintenance tasks for hives are not the same for all seasons of the year. Some seasons present you with a lot of maintenance work than others, and it is therefore important to know the tasks needed in each season in order to implement them properly. From my own experience, spring beehive maintenance is the most intensive, in terms of the amount of work.

In addition to seasons, beehive care and maintenance depends on the type of the structure. There are some structures that require a lot of care and others little care. For example, the top bar type requires more care than the Langstroth type

This guide is all about beehive management through the seasons. Keep reading to know how to take care of your hive for increased honey production.

In brief, how to maintain and take care of your beehive

1. Install a rain cover/shade over it.

2. Provide adequate ventilation.

3. Install excluders and supers.

4. Provide a windbreak.

5. Control tracheal and varroa mites.

6. Protect it from bears, raccoons, skunks and mice.

7. Replace the wax combs.

8. Install entrance blocks.

9. Repair or replace damaged parts.

1. Install a Rain Cover/Shade over the Beehive- Great Way to Take Care of the Structure

Rain water damages hives and also kills the insects. The damage is worse if the structure is made of non-waterproof materials such as wood. The summer heat also has negative effects on both the pollinators and the structure.

Install a rain cover to prevent rain drops from falling directly on the structure. This is one of the most common spring beehive maintenance practices. The cover can affect ventilation, so use it only on a sunny day or when you are sure it will rain. If some water accidentally enters inside, tilt or incline the structure to allow it flow out.

2. Provide Adequate Ventilation for Your Beehive

If your structure is poorly ventilated, it may undergo condensation in winter. Ice may form inside & on the entrance and kill the insects. Interior temperatures can also be unbearable to the insects in summer if the house is poorly ventilated.

You can know the hive is heating up when you see bees staying outside. Add ventilation holes to improve air circulation in the interior. Your bees will not only enjoy optimum temperature but also fresh air when there is proper ventilation.

Cover the structure with a black tar paper to control freezing, but be careful not to cover the ventilation holes. A black tar paper absorbs heat and stores it for a longer period. Clean snow and any dead bees from the entrance to avoid them blocking it.

3. Install Excluders and Supers on Your Apiary Structure

This is one of the best management practices for hives through the seasons. Excluders prevent the queen from laying eggs on the honeycombs. On the other hand, supers provide additional space for the pollinators to store honey. They are installed when honey or brood combs start to fill up, i.e. in summer.

If your hives lack queen excluders, I would advise you to get some as soon as possible before the queen finds her way and lays eggs in the combs that are made for honey. According to my own experience, the best excluder is the Mann Lake Frame Plastic!

This excluder is designed to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey super (hive section with honeycombs). It has small holes to allow young worker bees pass through into the honey super. It is made of smooth plastic and has no sharp edges that can harm your bees. In addition, it suits 10 frame langstroth and other hives.

Locate the queen bee in order to install the excluders in the right place. This type of a bee is usually surrounded by other bees, and the aim is to keep it off from the honey combs. When it comes to the supers, install them on the top part to increase space. This will provide ample room and discourage the insects from swarming. Remove these accessories in winter or after harvesting honey.

4. Provide a Windbreak

Strong wind swings 'hanged' hive, causing disturbance which hinders bees from providing maximum performance. Wind also brings cold air inside affecting the insects negatively and lowering their performance.

Install a windbreak to block wind. Use fence posts and sheets of materials to install a temporary windbreak around the apiary. Trees & shrubs can also block wind, and therefore it is a good idea to install the hive in a place with plants.

apiary within trees
apiary within trees | Source

5. Control Tracheal and Varroa Mites

These mites are common in the fall season and are a threat to your apiculture business. Because of their small size, they can easily find their way inside your structure. While inside, they can feed on the honey and bite the bees.

You can control tracheal and varroa mites with menthol crystals, sugar & grease patties, essential oils, formic acid or thymol. Most of these substances control the population of the mites, and you can place them at the structure entrances and exits.

6. Protect Your Hive from Bears, Raccoons, Skunks and Mice

Larger animals can cause devastating effects on your apiary. Bears can destroy the structure and eat all the honey. Install a strong fence around your apiary to keep them away.

Raccoons are not disastrous as bears, but can lead to the loss of honey. They are well known to access the structure interior from the top side. Place a rock on the top cover to deal with them.

Skunks eat bees. They cause disturbance, causing the insects to come out and then feed on them. Place your hive on a higher stand to prevent them from accessing it.

Mice are a threat in the early autumn. They build nests on the structures and can destroy honey combs when they get inside. Use a long stick to destroy the nests and install a mouse guard at the entrance to keep them away.

Mice were a major problem in my apiary, but when I discovered mouse guards, and especially the Mann Lake 10 Frame Mouse Guard, I have never been disappointed from that time!

Mann Lake 10 is a well designed mouse guard. It fits firmly on the entrance or any other major opening of hive, creating a strong resistance to mice. And as shown, it has enough holes to provide ample exit and entrance for the bees.

If you are using other mouse guards and you are still experiencing mouse attacks, I would advise you not to think twice to buy the Mann Lake 10. Personally, I have installed them on all my 13 hives, and the result is hassle-free apiculture and increased honey production.

7. Replace the Wax Combs, If It's Lost

Wax combs can be lost when extracting honey or repairing the frames. Some insects such as wax moths can also lead to the loss of wax. Wax combs can last for years if they are not detached from the interior surfaces.

Do not remove the wax combs from the frames when harvesting. If you are not using a movable frame hive, cut the combs carefully to avoid damaging the wax. Try repairing the combs if they get detached from the surfaces.

8. Install Entrance Blocks in Winter

As the name suggests, entrance blocks are used to narrow the openings. They prevent heat loss in winter while allowing for adequate ventilation. They also prevent strange bees and other insects that come to rob honey in the fall.

Fix blocks of wood at the entrance, spacing them narrowly. Alternatively, use a perforated material. Entrance blocks are recommended in winter when bees have limited movement.

9. Repair or Replace Damaged Beehive Parts- One of Best Management Practices

Beehives wear out with time, and from my own experience, weather is the main threat to apiaries. Some defects caused by weather conditions include: warping, cracking, rotting and rusting. Large animals are also a threat.

Repair damaged parts or those with malfunctions. You may have to replace parts that have been damaged beyond repair. This will strengthen the entire structure and make is more resistant to weather and animals.

some parts of the hive
some parts of the hive | Source

If you have accessories, such as boxes and observation beehive, repair or replace them immediately after they are damaged. Keeping the structure in a good shape is not only good for the pollinators but also for your garden. It adds to the splendor of your garden.

In Conclusion…

As you have read, it is not that difficult to manage a beehive. In fact, you don’t need an apiculture professional to manage it for you. Use this guide to maintain and take proper care of your structure. Carry out the maintenance tasks for every season and you will definitely see success in your apiculture business.

Improve the performance of your honey bees by creating the best conditions for them. Get quality honey or wax with the proper beehive management, and let your garden look good with a well maintained apiary.

Note: Wear protective clothing when maintaining your hive to avoid being stung.

References

  • Ellis J.D. "Honey Bee Hive Maintenance During the Summer Months.". leon.ifas.ufl.edu. Panhandle Agriculture. University of Florida. (2012).
  • Delaplane K.S. "Honey Bees and Beekeeping: A Year in the Life of an Apiary.". extension.uga.edu. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. (1993).
  • Morse, R.A., Hooper T. "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Beekeeping.". E. P. Dutton Inc (Book). New York. (1985).
  • Dadant C., Camille P. "The Hive and the Honey Bee.". dadant.com. Dadant & Sons, Inc. (Rev. 1992).
  • Moneen M.J., Nabors R.A., Flernoy J. "Beekeeping Tips for Beginners.". extension.missouri.edu. MU Extension. Unversity of Missouri. (Rev. 2016).

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores

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    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 20 months ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      This is a great read - very informative and seems to cover all the bases.

    • Jan Saints profile image
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      Januaris Saint Fores 20 months ago from the Midwest

      Thanks RJ Schwartz for your comment.

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