Brushy Mountain Bee Farm's Resources for Beekeeping, Candle Making, and Soap Making

Bee-ginner's Guide


    Back to the Basics

    Welcome to the Back to Basics Blog where we go over some of the basic steps a beekeeper should take in getting the most out of their hives.

    Depending upon your location, honey bees will have only a few weeks left of flying temperatures. These may be your final days to inspect your hive before closing up for winter. Check their honey stores, inspect for fresh eggs, gauge the strength of the colony, and be prepared to rearrange if needed. A strong colony in the summer can dwindle through fall and not make it during winter without the support of the beekeeper.

    Colonies can easily starve during winter without their surplus honey stores. Beekeepers do not want to come back in the winter to find their bees scrapping the bottom of the cells for food. Top off their stores with sugar syrup, corn syrup, fondant, or a candy board. It is recommended to have at least 50 to 60 pounds of honey per hive.

    Do not be suspicious if you are unable to find eggs. The queen will reduce or cease laying leading up to the winter months. The brood break relieves the queen of her constant laying and preserves her pheromone for the coming spring season. Beekeepers will still observe 3 or 4 frames of a good brood pattern.

    To gauge the strength of the colony you need to assess the number of adult bees. Count the space between the frames that include bees. A colony that has the potential to make it through winter will have 10 or more frames of bees. Consider the time of day in which you count your bees as a portion of the bees will be out foraging throughout the day.

    What steps need to be taken for weak colonies?

    Once a colony becomes weak it can become overrun with disease and pests. These issues need to be addressed before any action can be taken in order to help your colony survive winter. The colony may not have the population to fend off Small hive beetles or Wax Moths hiding in nooks and crannies. Reduce the size of the hive to something more manageable for your bees and apply traps to thwart off hive beetles. An Overland NUC Wintering Board or Resource Hive will permit you to reduce two colonies to NUCs and winter them side by side. This will in turn help both populations maintain hive temperatures.

    Weaker colonies do not have the number of bees to address the issue of disease in the hive. These additional bees would clean out cells, dispose of infected larvae and deliver nutrition to the younger bees. Beekeepers need to provide feed with a nutritional feed supplement to increase colony health. Administering mite treatments in early fall will allow some diseases to run their course through infected population and no evidence of symptoms should be in current population. Other diseases are more devastating and require the hive be torched (literally burn the hive). For more information on pests and diseases please visit our Pests and Disease page.

    If your colony does not seem to be improving in strength you can combine it with a strong colony to help the bees survive through winter. Ensure that the weaker colony is not diseased or infested with pests or you may weaken the strong colony when combining. Remove the queen from the weaker colony (a very important step) and lay newspaper over the colony you wish to combine it with. Stack the weaker supers above the newspaper. The bees become acclimated with each other as they eat through the newspaper.

    There is no point in nursing a weak colony along in hopes that it will gain in strength. It will continue attracting pests and disease. Combining colonies in the fall can lead to strong splits in the spring.