Hive management - Part II

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Using the Langstroth frame
How to unite bees
Robbing and its prevention
Feeding bees


Using the Langstroth frame

The Langstroth frame hive is the most popular and extensively used hive in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and northern and southern Africa. Frames imported from these parts of the world cannot be successfully used in tropical Africa because honeybees found in temperate and sub-tropical regions are larger in size than the African bee and therefore require a larger bee space, and this leads to a different set of frame dimensions. Langstroth hives used in Tanzania and by some Ghanaian beekeepers have been modified to suit the Apis mellifera adansonii (scutelata). The African frame hive may have 10-13 frames; the number of supers to be stacked on the brood chamber depends on the strength of the colony.

The queen excluder in this hive enables the beekeeper to harvest only clean honey unadulterated by pollen and brood; moreover, easy handling of combs facilitates quick manipulation.


Baits and some of the baiting methods discussed on pp. 55-56 may apply, but the following points should be noted:

1. Frames must be wired and the comb foundation fixed. Where comb foundation cannot be obtained, mosquito nylon mesh or 1-2 cm nylon net can be used to help the bees build a foundation comb. Usually one such frame is needed in each hive. The bees will build other combs, hanging them at the appropriate positions in the other frames if the frame dimensions are correct.

2. Frame hives should not be hung, but should be placed on special stands about 30 cm high. Hive stands must be protected against ants and weeds.

3. Only the brood chamber should be installed on the first day. The super is stacked on the brood chamber only when the colony needs more space to build more combs.

4. A queen excluder may be inserted on top of the brood chamber or between the super and the brood chamber.

5. A swarm of bees can be hived as set out on pp. 61-63, except that the swarm can be passed through the top of the hive, between the frames, before the lid is replaced.

6. When bees and their combs are removed for the new hive, honey and empty combs should be placed side by side next to the brood combs to provide the needed warmth for brood-rearing.


How to unite bees

The beekeeper may find it necessary to unite two swarms, two colonies or a swarm and a colony when he is short of beehives or when he wants to strengthen the colony. Before uniting bees, he should judge the performance of the two colonies being united and eliminate the one which performs poorly. If a colony loses its queen, he may decide to unite it with a colony that has a good queen (a "queen-right" colony) instead of waiting for it to produce its own. If he raises queens, he may take a limited number of bees from each of his hives to form the nucleus of a colony.

After swarming, some colony populations may be so reduced that the brood may be left uncovered. If this occurs, more bees must be added to clothe the brood combs left inside the hive. If this is not done, the exposed brood is quickly cooled and will die of cold. In this case, bees from any source, but preferably from a strong colony, should be collected and united to the weakened colony.

When colonies or swarms are united, one of them must be queenless, because two queens cannot live in the same colony. If the two queens are left together, they will fight until one of them is killed, and the other may be severely injured during the combat. To prevent this, the beekeeper must remove or kill one of the queens, 24 hours before carrying out the operation. The decision as to which queen to eliminate rests with the beekeeper, but he should always try to keep the better of the two. (See p. 74.)

Another step in preparing for unification is to place some fragrant material (oil of lemon, lavender, camphor, etc.) in both hives, so that the bees are familiar with one another's smell. This will make them less aggressive to each other.

The best time to unite bees is in the evening, after they have stopped flying. This prevents robbing and makes unification easier. In uniting a swarm and a colony, the beekeeper carries the swarm to the colony; in uniting two colonies or two swarms, he always carries the weaker to the stronger; in uniting a queenless to a queen-right colony, he carries the queenless to the queen-right. In this way, he disturbs the stronger group less than the other, and interferes less with their production.

Before uniting the two groups, the beekeeper should smoke them both, in order to calm them and make them more receptive. After uniting them, he should puff some smoke on them to make sure they have a homogeneous smell so that fighting among workers will not occur.

The next day, he should check whether there are dead bees at the entrance of the hive. If there are no casualties, then they have accepted each other peacefully.

In uniting a queenless to a queen-right colony, or in forming a nucleus, it is advisable to carry the new colony three kilometres away, so that the bees added cannot find their way to rejoin the parent nest. If the hives were originally next to each other, the new colony does not have to be moved, but the empty hive must be taken away after the exercise.

Uniting bees with white paper is the best method of all but can only be applied when the Langstroth frame hive is used. Smoke both colonies, open the top cover of the hive, and spread a white paper with two or three holes punched in it above the combs. Add another super and pour or shake the bees onto the paper. The bees under and above the paper will start to chew the paper and will merge gradually without fighting. If both colonies are in Langstroth hives, put just one box (without bottom) on the paper above the other hive.

How to judge a queen bee

Good queens are always judged by their ability to lay. A rapid increase of population before the main honey-flow season will produce a good crop. The size of the queen should be observed regularly, because when it dwindles, this suggests that something adverse is happening. Her wings or legs can be clipped (not by the beekeeper), thereby causing her to limp and affecting her ability to lay. The age of the queen is also important. Normally, colonies with young queens swarm less and produce about 30% more honey than those with queens two years old. But some young queens do poorly, while some older queens produce eggs rapidly.

Another thing to watch is the progeny. Some colonies are more aggressive than others. Some swarm more rapidly, wasting resources to the detriment of the beekeeper -- all must be taken into consideration. When choosing to divide in order to multiply his colonies, the beekeeper should consider dividing the very good colonies, which of course suggests that the queens are good.

In temperate climates, the queen is controlled. The beekeeper marks and puts her into the hive. When he feels he has to change her, he does so. However, due to the nature of the tropical bee, African beekeepers do not disturb their colonies much to find the queen, remove and replace her. Requeening therefore has not been a common practice. The tropical beekeeper relies much on swarming, and nature does the requeening for him.


Robbing and its prevention

The honeybee has a strong instinct of acquisition which leads her to collect sweet juices and store them for use during the rainy and cold seasons when she remains indoors. The instinct to collect and store is so strong that whenever she locates any sweet juice, she regards it as her own property. Colonies have no respect for others when it comes to the possession of honey. They will rob other colonies at the least opportunity, especially when there is little nectar in the field. Strong colonies with the largest stores are the most aggressive and prey upon the weak ones. When robbing goes on in the same apiary, it might seem that there is no cause for alarm, but the owner has cause to be concerned: if one colony continuously robs another, the victimized colony cannot grow to be strong. A colony of 30 000 bees cannot provide half as much as a colony of 60 000, because, unlike a strong colony, a weak colony cannot send out enough workers to obtain the quantity of honey it needs to provide for its security, let alone to build up a reserve.

Some robbing can be carried out so secretly that the beekeeper hardly notices it. The robbers do not enter in large numbers and no confrontation is detected. They slip through the entrance and cracks, bypassing the guards. After taking their fill of honey, they quickly slip out with their booty. The beekeeper can however detect that robbing is taking place when he sees a number of bees flying about hunting in all corners and cracks of the hive. Robber bees are always nervous and guilty, and fly away quickly when the hive is opened by the beekeeper. Sometimes they cannot alight boldly on the platform at the entrance, and when the guards catch them, they pull away.

There are several means of preventing -- or at least minimizing -- robbing:

i) During brood-nest control and harvesting, always work speedily and never leave combs exposed. Avoid spilling honey near the hive, as this will attract passing bees and other troublesome hive predators.

ii) Design the entrance so that it can be reduced at will. This will afford the bees an easy opportunity to protect a weak colony.

iii) Use repellents such as petrol or carbolic acid in cracks. This will discourage robbers from approaching the hive.

iv) During bad weather, feed bees in the mornings and evenings. The food must be placed in the hive.


Feeding bees

It is necessary to feed bees during the rainy and dry seasons, as well as in the early stages of a young colony, as mentioned on p. 69.

There are two rainy seasons in the forest and transitional forest regions. The heaviest rains generally occur in June and July, and less severe ones from September to November. The June-July rains are so continuous in some areas that the honeybee has to stop foraging for some time. It is this period that beekeepers in these areas can describe as a time of famine in their apiaries. At the peak of the rainy season, it can rain continuously for more than three days with only a few short breaks. There is no sun, and the atmosphere is always misty, bleak and cloudy. Bees never go out. The nectar in the fields is diluted so much that the bees cannot recognize it. Pollen is washed away, and flowers generally stop blooming. Plants produce leaves instead of flowers. Bee food becomes scarce, as honey and pollen stores in the hive are also depleted.

A strong colony may require 1.4 kg of honey or syrup a day, and it is therefore important for the commercial honey producer to sacrifice part of his reserves for the bees, or else to feed them on sugar cane or syrup. The beekeeper must remember that the bees intended the honey they produced for their own consumption during the rainy season, and if he has taken it away, then he must provide something else to keep the colony alive and strong. Some honey must therefore be left for the bees during the honey harvest: at least seven to ten combs containing honey and brood. Do not deplete the hive of every drop of honey.

Natural feeding of bees

Many species of trees are good for bee pasture. Many such trees not only provide nectar and pollen for bees but have other uses for man. Some are listed in the Appendix. Where there are large plantations of some of these trees, the beekeeper can take advantage of them by setting up his apiary near them. Another plant which matures quickly and can help the beekeeper is the sunflower. Apart from providing edible oil from the seed and rich nectar and pollen, the sunflower attracts swarms of bees that the beekeeper can hive in the same apiary.

Beekeepers can also take advantage of the game reserves scattered all over the savannah. For example, the Bauchi Plateau game reserve area in Nigeria may be used by beekeepers. The Hole National Park in Ghana is another huge bee centre which should be developed. Indeed, there are many in almost every country. Most of the trees listed in the Appendix are found in the savannah game or forest reserves.

Water for bees

An apiary sited near a regular fresh-water supply can build up quickly during the honey-flow season which coincides with the beginning of the dry season. Water is very important for honeybees. They use large quantities to dilute brood food and to cool the hive by evaporation. The need for water to prepare brood food is so necessary in the harmattan season that bees have been known to harass villagers in the dry zones. Water fetched for household purposes can easily be snatched by bees. They will visit water tanks, standpipes, pools and sometimes even urinals, latrines or garbage dumps. If colonies are not located near any source of water, the beekeeper must provide some.

Water dripping gradually from a standing pipe is ideal for feeding the insect. Any water meant for bees should contain straws or other floating material that the bees can use as landing boards so that they will not drown.



Good records kept by the beekeeper will help him to follow the general progress of his operation. Two records are particularly important: the colony and operational records.

Colony record

The beekeeper must study the geographical or climatic conditions of his locality in association with his colony's progress, since a recorded guide is rarely available. He should study the rainfall and temperature pattern in relation to flowering and the movement of the bees. This will keep him alert as to the swarming season, the best time to split colonies to make them increase or to collect wild bees for hiving, the harvest period, etc. Also to be recorded are the seasonal arrival of pests and seasonal development of diseases, when the wax moth arrives, when Acherontia atropos is found, the seasons for wild ants, beetles, etc.

The beekeeper should keep individual colony records, and always carry a pencil and a notebook. He should record when the hive was colonized, whether the bees moved in voluntarily or if a wild colony was captured. He should weigh the individual hive when it is colonized, and every month (or two weeks) check the weight again to find whether progress has been made. There is no need to buy a scale for this exercise. Lifting the hive to feel the weight is enough. If the weight has gone down, then action must be taken to bring it to the normal condition. The general progress will assist the apiarist to know the condition of the queen. He should record when the bees carry pollen into the hive, observing them at different times and occasionally estimating the number of bees bringing in pollen. If there are many, this means that the bees are rearing brood and the queen is laying more eggs. If the number decreases, the beekeeper must find out why. If there is a decrease in weight, the bees may have swarmed, or the queen is failing and must be replaced.

Crayons can be used to mark individual records on the top cover of the hive, while general records are kept in a notebook.

Operational record

It is very important to keep a notebook recording information on visits to the apiary site, purchases, labour, transport costs, servicing equipment and all other expenses, as well as income. The material that will be required on the next visit should be listed and then prepared. At the end of the year, the success or failure of the operation should be assessed, and how best to reduce costs and maximize profits should be determined.

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