This post is intended to give new beekeepers an insight into common mistakes that many new beekeepers make.
We feel it is important to learn from other peoples errors.
It is hoped that by sharing this information with you, we can help you avoid learning these lessons the hard way like we did, because sometimes we suck at things.
1. Adding a super too early
Many beekeepers make the mistake of adding a honey super to their hive too early.
Bees won’t magically make any extra honey just because there is extra room for them to move around in. In fact, if you add a super before the bees are ready for one, then all you have done is given them extra space that they then have to try and maintain.
This amounts to extra air space that they need to keep warm for their brood to survive, as well as more area for pests to hide and take hold in. Ever suffered from that empty echoing feel when you move into a new place with no furniture? That’s what the bees feel like if you double the size of their crib before they have enough cushions and bowls of fake fruit to fill up the empty spaces.
As a guide, you’ll only want to add a honey super once your beehive has filled their brood box. How do you know when that is? When you open the lid, bees should almost immediately flow out the top and down the outside of the box. It should be quite crowded with all the frames having had comb built on them, and becoming almost full of their resources, being honey, pollen and brood. It is okay to add a super when the outside frames are not quite full so long as the bees are on a nectar flow.
In effect, you only want to add a super when the bees really need it. Another good sign of them being ready for a super is when they start building comb in the roof space of the hive. Be patient and they’ll reward you for it in the long run.
2. Opening the hive too often
On the topic of patience, try not to open the hive up too often. As new beekeepers, it can be very tempting to spark up the smoker and get stuck into a hive inspection. While this may help you build confidence and experience with your beekeeping, or to show off to your Tinder dates when you manage to convince them to come over, it can significantly set your hive back. Stick to disappointing one lady, not thousands of them.
Also of note here is the effect the smoke has on the bees. While the smoke helps you out while working with them, it does cause stress to the bees. If done regularly, it can also detract from their capacity to build up their hive. Kind of like how those hourly durry-breaks at work are the reason you’ll never get promoted, the more you smoke the bees, the less productive they will be. While smoking may be a temporary fix for you, the stress it causes bees makes them unhappy, and no one wants that.
3. Poor hive positioning
While bees do a pretty good job of managing the temperature within their hive themselves, they can be assisted or hindered by us in this. In most climates bee colonies can get by just fine if placed randomly in fields, and left to sort themselves out. There are times though that, beekeepers have significantly disadvantaged their bees by placing them in unfavourable conditions, to the extent that the condition of the bees has suffered quite badly. Poor placement in Winter can lead to cold and wet bees that die out, while poor placement in Summer can lead to melted honeycomb that can destroy a colony.
In theory, you want to place beehives in a position that is well ventilated yet protected from prevailing weather. Bees appreciate being out of windy areas, but also require ventilation. For a lot of regions in Australia, the amount of direct sunlight hives receive should be regulated if possible, season to season.
For Summer, hives should be positioned so that they have shade from about mid-morning onward, and particularly during the middle of the day and early afternoon when temperatures are at their peak.
A bit of sunlight in the morning can help them warm the hive up early and get them out and active, but they will appreciate protection later in the day. Ideally, trees can be used to provide adequate shade, but if not available, look at placing some kind of a shade structure over hives to aid them in regulating their temperature. Understanding and catering for their needs for a water source can help them a lot too.
As for Winter, you should try to get as much sun on the hives as possible. Positioning them so they can get early morning sunlight will greatly assist them in getting their hive up to temp after long winter nights. Full sunlight during the day can also help them dry the hive out if they have suffered from any water ingress, or just to help counter the increased humidity of the wetter days.
Facing their entrance away from the prevailing wind and rain direction helps them out too. Avoid having your hives sitting on moist soil, instead raise them up off the ground.
4. Harvesting too much honey
While other insects are off enjoying the treasure troves of nectar and bug life in general, bees are hiding all the good stuff away for personal use later on. Perhaps it’s for their daughter’s Bat mitzva? Who really knows.
While it can be okay to tax the bees of some of their gold, if too much is taken from them then they can really suffer, particularly the weaker hives. We must be mindful of the distribution of wealth between the hive and their ruling class, us the beekeepers.
As for how much honey your particular hive will need, we cannot advise that precisely. However, what we can say as a guide is that for us in the south-west of Western Australia, we like to leave 4 frames of honey for a single brood box, or about 6 to 8 frames of honey for a double boxed beehive over winter. For the doubles, we remove the queen excluder so the queen can move around with the colony up into the upper box if needed.
You could get away with less honey than this for them, but we believe it is better to leave them too much, rather than not enough honey. Essentially, you should avoid the urge to harvest every single frame of honey from a hive at any one time, unless you are certain the bees are on a heavy nectar flow at the time.
There can also be times over Summer or Autumn that the bees go through periods of ‘dearth’ where limited nectar comes in. For a large hive built up during Spring, with a lot of mouths to feed, they can also starve if they have been robbed of all their honey. Just ensure you take consideration of the bees need for honey as well when deciding to extract, and if in doubt, leave the honey in the hive. They’ll either use it because they need it, or it will be there for you next harvest anyway.
5. Only having one hive
While you can get by fine with only one hive, it is very beneficial to have two hives. This allows the hives to be mutually supportive of each other, and for new beekeepers to learn from the comparisons that can be drawn from side-by-side hives. Further explanation of this can be read here. In summary, we see that a lot of the problems that new beekeepers have when managing their hives could be resolved easily with the assistance of a donor hive right next door.
6. Buying a Flow Hive
Joking, kinda, but seriously. We believe they can lure people into a false sense of ‘beekeeping is easy’. Don’t get us wrong, we acknowledge the great influence the Flow Hive campaign has had on raising awareness of bees and their importance. However, we feel as though many of these hives have been sold under the marketing guise of being an easy alternative to conventional beekeeping. This is really not the case.
What the Flow Hive does is simplify the extraction process. That is all. You may interfere with the bees less when it comes to extractions, however, we feel as though the disadvantages of the Flow Hive outweigh the advantages. While it could be a post of its own, just briefly we’ll knock some out now:
Yep, turn a tap, the honey flows out. Cool in theory, and yeah it seems to work that way in practice. While they do require a little ingenuity in getting the honey into a container without the bees investigating and getting stuck in it, typically extraction is easy. Not as much mess to clean up, and you can be on the Instagram at the same time, posting awesome pics of your honey just oozing out. Then it’s straight onto Gumtree for $10/kg or a dollar less than what anyone else in your ‘hood is selling for. Gotta cover that purchase cost real quick right?!
Looks snazzy, eh?
They have a distinctly refined image that is sure to fit in well in any eco-conscious suburban yard. Place it in a nice shady spot protected from the elements, or just plop it right in the middle of your 12sqm alfresco area for maximum enviro-aesthetics. Seriously though, they are a nice looking hive, especially if the owner has had enough cash left over to afford some nice wood treatments. When highlighted properly, the wood grain looks mint. You work hard for your money, treat yo’ self right?!
$$$ Bling $$$
We may have already touched on this, but the cost is a lot more than regular hives. Can we really put a price on saving the environment? No, we certainly cannot, but when you could buy two conventional hives for half the price of one Flow Hive, and effectively double the amount of furry little pollinators buzzing around your vegie-patch, we really think your money could be spent more wisely. What’s that, you managed to buy a Flow Hive on Ebay for less than half the price? No you didn’t. You bought a patent-infringing-hunk-of-junk from China. Good luck even assembling it properly, and then enjoy watching the timber split apart during its first season. There are no cutting corners here. If you want an actual Flow Hive and the attributed appeal that they have, not to mention turn-key functionality that actually works, then you pay through the nose for it.
Check it, or you’ll wreck it
Beehives are like any other livestock. They need tending to. Sure, they can live in trees and hang off cave walls for decades and be fine. Reality is though, a lot of wild hives undergo colony collapse. As far as beekeeping goes we’re in the lucky country down here, so this isn’t even about the pest problems they have elsewhere in the world. Queens can fly off in a swarm, and the bees fail to raise a replacement. Hive entrances can get blocked by grass or debris, and the whole hive suffocates. Fact is, beehives can die out if left unattended. Simply shaking a bunch of bees into the bottom box, then waiting patiently for the honey to start dripping out of the top one, well it just doesn’t work like that. We’re not suggesting all Flow Hivers do this, we just feel that the very nature of how they are marketed induces a certain complacency.
When beekeepers harvest honey from conventional hives, they check each frame has been capped off or is at least very close to being entirely capped off so as to ensure the honey is ready to be harvested. If honey is harvested prematurely it may not yet be at the right moisture content. When taken from the hive like this and placed in storage, then natural yeasts can take hold, multiply and ferment the honey. Great if you’re gonna stash a jar away in your prison cell. Not so cool if you’re selling your honey on Gumtree. The only way you can really tell if the honey is ready to harvest is to lift a frame up and inspect that it is sufficiently capped off. But wait, that involves disturbing the bees by smoking them and lifting the lid. Hmm, might as well just take the frame out and spin it yourself, like the old beekeepers did before beekeeping was cool.
Alright, that’s enough.
We didn’t intend on ranting here. There are several other cons we could punch out against the Flow Hives, but we might save those for another day.
Don’t hate us too much, Flow-crew. We really do hope your colonies all succeed and that you can show us how wrong we are. That said, we still think that new beekeepers are better off getting two conventional hives as opposed to a single Flow Hive, so they still stand as a sin for the purpose of this list.
7. Moving hives during the day
We’ll finish with something we can all agree on. Don’t move your hives around on hot days.
It pains us to admit, but we ourselves have lost hives before.
We’ve all been there. You have to go to your cousin’s best mate’s dog groomer’s hens night in Bali. That means you’re restricted to moving your hives on a particular day, at a particular time, in the worst heatwave your area has seen since the climate records were deleted and restarted again. We get it, we’ve had that problem before too. But mates, don’t do it. Don’t move your hives during the day. You may get away with a small hive moved a small distance on the backseat of your air-conditioned car, but you can very quickly kill an established hive if enclosing them all up and moving them in the heat.
Trust us, we’ve been there. Absolutely terrible feeling. Short of the hives being in imminent danger, do not move them during the day. Despite your best intentions, your car will overheat leaving you stranded on the side of the road; you’ll get a puncture on your trailer and not have a spare; your missus will have to swing by and pick up a ‘bargain’ on Gumtree because you’re driving past Ellenbrook and everything she wants is always for sale all up the way up there; all ultimately delaying your ‘quick’ trip and killing your bees.
Any beekeeper who has experienced a dead-out will know how disgusting it is to clean up. It feels worse though when you know you caused it yourself. Additionally, ensure your hives have access to water as soon as you set them down in their new location. This aids in them readjusting their hive temperature, as well as orientating them to their new home and establishing their watering location early on, avoiding other potential water-related problems later on.
We hope by sharing this sin of ours, we can help prevent someone else doing it in the future.
Time for confession
Well, that wraps up the seven deadly sins of beekeeping, from the world of beekeeping according to us. Forgive us our sins oh followers, as we have made every one of the mistakes listed above. Yep, even the goddamn Ebay crime.
Hopefully, you’ve got something out of this other than just a laugh at our expense.
Comment below with any sins you may have committed, or that are common mistakes you are aware of. If you want to just call us out for being haters or crap beekeepers, we’ll take that too. Either way, we’re keen to hear what you’ve got to say. Also, free free to pass this onto any newbs that may benefit from this article.