In my experience, most new beekeepers are worry worts. They spend a lot of energy fretting over their bees, but mostly they focus on the wrong things. Read on to find out what you can stop stressing out about!
1. Cooling the Hive
Honey bees like to keep their brood nests between 90-97F (32-25C) degrees. This is one reason why they prefer to live in cavities, it allows for better temperature control and insulation. The bees maintain this temperature by generating heat with their flight muscles both on the surface of the combs and inside the cells. If the bees become too hot, they are perfectly able to cool the colony as long as they have a water source. The bees create air currents in the hive to pull hot air out of the hive. They also employ evaporative cooling by spreading water on the surface of the combs. New beekeepers often fret over temperature and fiddle the the entrances to their hives when it is hot out. However, this usually does more harms than good. If you vent your colony by propping the lid or pull the board out of your screen bottom, you are stressing your bees with these changes. Worse, you are releasing the scent of honey which may draw robber bees. If you want to help your colony with temperature, make sure they have a water source that they are using. If a colony is struggling with heat, you will see them gather in a thick mass on the front of the hive or hanging in a strange clump like in the photo below. This is called bearding. It is nothing to be alarmed about if you see it on a very hot day, but if you see it consistently, it is appropriate to interfere. I recommend shading the colony temporarily with an umbrella instead of venting the hive.
2. Burr Comb
Burr comb is extra chunks of comb that the bees often build between and on top of frames or on the walls of the hive. Basically, they are combs that are built “out of place”. Sometimes if the space is big enough they will fill these small combs with honey or drone brood. Usually, these combs are broken during an inspection. Burr comb is normal and it is not a big deal. If it is in your way, scrape it off with your tool. If it prevents you from closing up the hive properly, remove it. Just know, that the bees will rebuild it. I only remove burr comb if its in my way, otherwise I just leave it alone. If you are not sure if you have burr comb or cross comb, try stabbing downward at it with your hive tool. Burr comb is shallow and you should be able to break through it easily, while cross comb will be deep. Fun fact burr comb usually has a higher ratio of wax. Save the burr comb you remove for wax processing!
Everyone loves the look of freshly made comb, especially if it’s gleaming with honey! But comb grows darker with age. Particularly when the bees use it to raise brood. So, if you buy a starter colony and the combs are dark, it doesn’t mean the bees are unhealthy or that anything is wrong with that comb. It’s just older comb. Some beekeepers like to rotate out old comb by moving it into the honey supers where it can be harvested out of the hive. I only rotate out comb when the bees stop using it because of its age. Some new beekeepers also worry about the coloring of their bees. It’s common for worker bees and drones to have different coloring from each other and also for there to be different coloring among workers. It just means that your queen mated with drones who had differing coloration. Remember, many of the workers in the hive are half-siblings and they will not all look alike. The drones, too, can be different colors. They are all haploids and have only 16 chromosomes from their mother queen. However, the queen has 32 chromosomes and she passes on a random 16 to her sons. Allowing for some variation among her sons.
Beekeepers love to make fun of drones because they do not do all the housework that worker bees do. They are viewed as expendable at best and as a useless drain on resources at worst. Many beekeepers repress drone production in their hives by using foundation. They are not used to seeing a natural level of drones in a colony. I often get comments on social media about how many drones are present in my photos. Beekeepers associate high drone numbers with a weak or absent queen, but if you are allowing your bees to build natural comb it is normal to see lots of drones in the spring. Don’t spend time worrying about exactly how many drones your colony has made. Your bees know what they are doing. As long as you see queens, a strong population of worker bees and a healthy brood pattern, it is not a problem.
5. Wasps, Moths and Beetles
Many beekeepers fret over wasp, moths an beetles because they are easy to see. I often get messages from new beekeepers asking me the best way to kill wasps, beetles or moths. Should I put up a wasp trap, they ask? In my opinion, it’s pointless to try to control the population of wasps (or beetles or moths) in your area. You will never be able to kill them all. These villains of the hive are mostly secondary threats that only impact weak colonies. If your colony is strong, you will not have a problem with any of them. However, if your colony is weakened by something less visible… varroa mites for example, these secondary threats move in and it may appear that they are destroying your hive, when in fact, it is the mites and the viruses they transmit. It is not uncommon to see beetles and moths in a healthy hive, but the bees normally keep them confined to the perimeters of the hive. There is no need to worry about it unless you see actual destruction of the combs. If its moths, you will see a webby mess, if its beetles the combs will appear slimy. The bees should be able to fight off beetles, moths and wasps themselves. However, there are some areas where these pests are more virulent. Check with local beekeepers about how concerned you should be, but mostly you need to focus on keeping your colony strong and healthy. Keep an eye on your brood pattern and test for mites. If you notice beetles or moths in your actual combs, it could be a sign that your colony is declining in health.
So, there you have it! Take these items of your list of worries and try to relax bit! You’ll have more fun.