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Mistakes always provide an opportunity to learn. As a beekeeping teacher, I often see the same kinds of failures over and over again, and of course I went through a lot of them as a beginner too.
I hope this list prevents some of the new beekeepers from taking advantage of the experience and not making the same mistakes.
1. Assess the health of the colonies based solely on the level of "bee traffic per runway"
I encourage beekeepers to observe their hives from the outside, as often as they can, so that they can check if their bees are bringing pollen (presence inside brood spawn) or stop an invasion of ants or wasps. It is also a good idea to become familiar with what is "normal" for your bees, in terms of traffic (the number of bees that move in and out of the hive), and also in terms of the number of dead bees near the hive. hive. In this way, any changes can be recognized, as long as they are produced differentially, comparing them with another hive.
Despite these possibilities, observation from the outside is not a substitute for internal reality, which is why opening the hive and examining the inner combs is essential. Often times, if a problem is noticeable from outside the hive, it has progressed inside too much to be remedied. Inspecting the inside of the hive, when done correctly, will allow you to correct problems in time, before the damage escalates, and that action will also provide a great opportunity to learn.
For this reason, I recommend that new beekeepers check their hives once every two to three weeks, but no more often than that, so as not to cause undue stress on the bees and to avoid the typical crush or peck deaths. The process of opening the hive is stressful on the bees and disturbs the atmospheric conditions carefully controlled by them within the hive, which is why many experienced beekeepers make few openings in the older and stronger colonies. I strongly believe that new beekeepers should regularly check their hives for learning purposes, and because their colonies are likely to be new and less strong as well.
Note: It depends on the time we have, the number of hives we have, how close the apiary is to our residence, the purpose of our hives ...
2. Not acknowledging the loss of a queen.
A hive cannot survive without its queen, but it is a misconception that colonies that have lost theirs are going to alter their behavior, in such a dramatic or obvious way as indicating that something is wrong. There may be good bee traffic at the entrance, and upon inspection, you will find plenty of honey and bees inside. But if you look more closely, you will understand what really happens when a colony loses its queen. Little by little, the population of your hive will decrease.
The first sign will be a lack of eggs, then a lack of young larvae, and eventually the colony will have no brood at all. It might seem counterintuitive, but you will normally see an increase in honey and pollen, since, without any larvae to care for, the bees are completely focused on the search for nutrients, in the pecoreo. If your colony is without a queen for too long, it will reach a point of no return.
So what should the novice beekeeper do to control the queen's presence? Find Eggs. Finding the eggs, and we are not talking about the larvae or capped pupae (crowns of cells sealed with wax), but only about the eggs. If there is egg laying, it means that the queen has been active laying young for at least three days, which is the most important of her functions. I encourage you to check for eggs every time a hive is checked, and to do so by shading them, preventing the sun's rays from directly affecting them.
3. Leave spaces where there should not be them.
Bees can build a honeycomb in any empty space we leave them. The hive boxes and their pictures are designed with this idea, everything fits so that the bees only build combs in the places that suit us. If you use fewer frames than corresponds to the type of box (Langstroth, Dadant, Warré, etc.) or use an inappropriate cover, you will find yourself with a problem, honeycombs where there shouldn't be any, and now what do we do with them?
There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule: Some beekeepers may prefer to use one less frame or frame on their brood chamber boxes (9 instead of 10) or honey risers, to allow more room to work during checks . As long as the space occupied by the paintings is distributed equally and respecting the “bee step”, this is fine. Although I prefer to remove one of the boxes at the ends and then review the rest with more space, returning the removed box to its place before closing the hive.
In addition, a feeding technique involves placing a feeder inside. But these managements must be temporary and corrected before the hive runs out of enough “natural” space for storing honey for the winter.
4. Collecting honey too early or too much.
As a general rule, honey should not be harvested (taken, removed) from a hive in its first year. Often times, as the bees are not yet sufficient to produce and store the excess amount that allows them to overcome the periods without flowering, and they need every drop they have to do during a dry winter or summer. If your colony is strong and has abundant honeycombs, throw a party, everything has gone well for them, but the honey will only be for you when it is stored in a honeysuckle (a Langstroth or a Dadant, misnamed half-rise ). It is devastating to lose a hive that started in the year after exceeding the honey harvest, if you want to have bees you have to be conservative, if you want more honey you can buy it from a beekeeper friend. Seek advice from local beekeepers on how much honey should be left to bees in your region.
5. Not properly feeding new swarms.
I believe that some beekeepers feed their bees with water and sugar too easily, often to the detriment of their bees and causing weakness in their immune systems against diseases.
But in this there is also an exception: When you buy or reproduce a pack of bees or swarm in the spring, it is essential to feed. The small new swarms of bees are confused, weak, and do not have enough honey. It takes a minimum of a month of consistent feeding to try to strengthen the colony. If this is not done, the incipient hive is likely to die in the fall, unless the apiary is in an area especially rich in nectar during spring and summer (something strange in the summer period).
If the new beekeeper is reluctant to feed, I recommend letting the nucleus-swarm rest for a week and then inspecting to see if they are building combs and introducing pollen. If not, you need to feed.
But ... Here comes the important thing ... feeding a hive well, in a healthy way, means giving it honey, pollen and propolis, everything else (sugar water) only generates false excitement of expectations in bees, with dire consequences of weakness in the face of diseases . A good and inexpensive food should contain 2 parts of honey for each part of water, 10% pollen and 5% propolis. For this, it is good that the new beekeeper collects pollen and clean propolis from his strongest hives, in small quantities, or as we have already recommended before, ask his nearby beekeeper.
6. Place hives in a problem spot.
When placing a hive, you have to take into account fundamental things ... and logical. It must comply with the guidelines of national or regional regulations regarding protection distances from inhabited, livestock, leisure or transit areas. Also the radius of exclusion between beekeepers. It is not a good idea to work hard and sweat to leave an apiary to your liking and that you have to lift everything you have before a complaint. In addition, only people who have registered as breeders should have hives, and as the novice beekeeper must remember, he will have signed a veterinary report in which he swears to comply with the laws, health and animal welfare.
Another important issue, perhaps the first, is that the apiary must be in front of abundant sources of food, with flowering in various seasons of the year and with guaranteed water every day.
7. Not protecting yourself properly.
New beekeepers tend to have an idealized concept of what beekeeping is all about. They may have started by watching videos of experienced beekeepers from countries with other, more peaceful bee sub-species, who manage their hives without a protective suit, and thus come to believe that they can do the same. Trust me, all professional beekeepers get stings, but sometimes we manage to keep bees calm and we know what to do if they misbehave.
Do not accept the experience you had the day you checked your hive and the bees were calm, do not think that the next day you can go without protection. Bees are influenced by many factors, irritation, lack of foraging activity, bad weather, the super moon, a neighbor that bothered them (it could be a mouse or a wasp attack). You always have to exceed the protection, before opening the hive, recheck the zippers and weak points of the equipment, which gives us so much heat but must be carried. And use the smoker.
If the novice ignores this lesson he could seriously jeopardize his health and we can all prematurely lose a new beekeeper.
8. Failure to use your smoker.
Beekeepers use smoke to distract the bees: It makes the bees believe that a forest fire is near and pushes them to gorge themselves on honey in case they have to flee, but fear not, you will not lose all the honey stock. The smoke also blocks the chemical signals that the bees send to each other, preventing them from organizing a defensive attack against you, as you are a vile usurper. Make sure the smoke smells like something other than smoke, that it has scents of nearby plants.
To a new beekeeper this may all sound quite stressful, so you might choose not to use the smoke at all. And this is a mistake, it is not recommended. If you do not use your smoker, the bees will react defensively almost always, and in the end there will be more damage to them, because they will not stop still and will be crushed during handling and many others will die after leaving their stingers in the gloves or the suit of the beekeeper. In addition, your neighbors, those who do sports, those who go to the mountains on foot or by bike may suffer unexpected attacks during the following hours if they approach the apiary, even if the experience of other days told them that your bees are peaceful.
9. Start with few hives.
If you read this from a country where urban beekeeping is allowed or you just want self-consumption ... you can start with a minimum of two hives, and rely on a nearby beekeeper.
I recommend that you start with at least four hives, which are not very labor intensive and have several advantages. In the first place, when you have four hives you learn very quickly, it is enough to compare how one and the other go. You can also test the specific theories that each one hatches, in one of them. But if you have two or a hive ... how will your experience be nurtured, do you think you will end the year with them alive?
Second, having four or more hives will help you manage them. Perhaps one is weak, while another is very strong. You can then transfer some brood from the strong colony to help build up the weak colony. Or, you could lose a queen in a hive and you can organize a more intelligent reproduction than multiplication, division, blind hive or those things that many beekeepers do who do not know the biology of bees. Having four hives is the best option to keep them alive in their first year.
10. Settle for a limited knowledge of beekeeping.
I have met many beekeepers who "know how to do things", what we call ‘handling’, but do not understand what they are seeing when they are in front of their hives. Their only goal is to castrate them, break them (different ugly names for the work of harvesting honey), and it is enough for them to know that there are many bees inside a box.
Learning and expanding your knowledge about bees is the best part of beekeeping! They are fascinating creatures; the more I learn, the more I like to know. When I have a question, I look for an answer. If you are a beekeeper and you see something inside your hive that you do not understand, take a photo, try to investigate first in books and then, if anything, share your information, with the essential photo, with whom I teach you about beekeeping or in a forum that do not dedicate yourself to insulting those who start. There are many resources available: courses, tutors, books, documentaries and serious videos! Search, and don't stop learning.
Translation and adaptation by Jesús Manzano, based on an original article by Hilary Kearney,Girl Next Door Honey’s blog