Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

Beekeeping Development

Beekeeping is no new craft, for up to a comparatively short time ago sugar was unknown, honey was the only sweetening agent that was used. Even in the very early ages honey was recognized as being one of the most wholesome foods of mankind, and many years before, Christ we read of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” There are very few people to-day who say that they do not like honey, yet there are tons of nectar wasted in this country every year just from lack of bees to gather it and make it into honey, and what is even more surprising, we import tons of honey from all parts of the world, Which compares most unfavourably in flavour and quality with our own. There is no country on the face of the globe that can produce better honey than the British Isles. Up to a short time ago bees were kept only in straw skeps, and picturesque as these may be in an old-world garden, as beekeepers we have to glad to see them fast disappearing. Of course they have there uses in swarm collection. Their use meant that every year a number of bee colonies were suffocated with sulphur fumes, so that the honeycombs could be removed. This was not only a brutal practice but was far from hygienic, for the consumer ate combs, honey, eggs, pollen, propolis and grubs, which were all pulped together. Now we have the movable comb hive, which not only simplifies beekeeping considerably, but enables the honey to be removed without destroying any bees at all, and by their use the beekeeper is able to ascertain the exact condition of the colony as regards stores, health, etc. We also have extractors and many other useful appliances which assist us In getting the most out of our bees

Obtaining Bees

The beginner can start beekeeping with a stock, a swarm or a nucleus.

A stock is a full or nearly full-sized colony already on combs with a laying queen, brood of all ages, and stores. It is an expensive way to start and a beginner lacks the experience to carry out the necessary swarm-control procedures, so it is not advisable.

A swarm is a variable number of adult bees which have left a hive with a queen but without combs and brood. A prime swarm may consist of thirty thousand bees and will have a laying queen at least one year old. Smaller swarms, which leave the parent colony after the prime swarm, are called casts and contain virgin queens.
Swarms may be available without payment but there is always some risk in taking in a stray swarm. If a prime swarm is available from known bees, this is a good way to start.
The bees are ready to begin wax making and if put on to frames of foundation they will soon draw out combs. In a good season an early swarm might give a little surplus honey the first year but it cannot be expected.

A Nucleus is a small colony of bees on three, four or five frames with a young laying queen, brood and stores. This is a good starting point because a beginner will more easily learn to spot the queen and to examine frames in a small colony, which will develop as his experience does. It will build up to a full-sized stock by the winter, ready to store surplus honey the next season.
Whoever supplies your bees may, if he be local, help you install them in your hive; if not, an experienced beekeeper may lend a hand. The beginner’s first experience of handling bees alone should not be the transfer of a nucleus or the hiving of a swarm.

The Bees ( General )

The Queen Bee

The Queen Bee

The Queen Bee is the most important Bee in the colony. She has a larger body which allows her to lay over 2,000 eggs a day. Her main job is to lay the eggs from which all the other Bees of the hive develop.

The Queen is different from the workers. She never collects food and depends on the workers to feed & groom her.

In each Bee colony or hive there is one Queen Bee – the Queen Bee is the mother of the colony. She lays all of the eggs which develop into worker Bees and drones or new Queens. There are two types of female in a Bee colony – the worker Bees and the Queen Bee. Both types start out as fertilized eggs – the difference in their diet and the cell that the egg is laid in are the factors that determine whether they will emerge as a Queen or a worker. In ordinary circumstances the Quuen Bee is the only reproductive female in the colony.

A Queen Bee can be identified because she is larger than the worker Bees, roughly twice their size. She is longer in the body than the worker Bees with a smaller head.

When a new Queen emerges from her cell she is a virgin. About 10 to 20 days after the Queen has emerged from the Queen cell she will leave the hive on a mating flight. Her mating flight and when she swarms are the only times she will leave the hive. For the rest of her life she will live in the brood frames at the bottom of the hives and lay eggs.

As she moves around the frame the worker Bees will turn towards her – this is called a retinue. The retinue is ever changing – the workers in the retinue will groom and feed the Queen. When grooming the Queen the workers will obtains substances from her called pheromones and these substances control some of the behaviour in the colony.

The temprament of the Bees in the colony will rely largley on the Queen as she is mother to all of the colony. It can be noted that within a few months of changing a Queen the temprament of the colony can change entirley. The size of the colony is also depandant on the Queen – if she is a good strong Queen, and lays the correct eggs in the appropriate cells then the colong will be large in number, strong and healthy.

The egg laying cycle starts in early spring time. At the height of summer the Queen will be laying anywhere between 1,500 to 3000 eggs per day. Once the egg is laid it will then be the job of the worker Bees to rear it

Worker Bee

Worker Bee

She is the other Female , but the smallest bee in the colony – only about half the size of the drone or the Queen.

The worker Bee is produced from a fertilised egg – unlike her brother the drone who is produced from an unfertilised egg.

The honey Bee egg will hatch in about three days and emerge as a small white larva. At this stage one of the worker Bees who is acting as a nurse will fill the cell in which the larva is resting with a substance called Bee milk. On the eighth day the cell will be capped with wax. The worker Bee will emerge from her cell 21 days later. She is then ready to her duties in the hive. In the summer time a worker Bee will live for just over a month – about 36 days. During the winter she will live for about 6 months.

When the worker Bee emerges from her cell she still has a little more maturing to do – during these few days she will be doing cleaning duties around the hive. After a few days she will take her first flight around the hive.

There are various roles within the colony that the worker Bee will perform – usually they will all progress from one role to the next but are able to perform any job at any time. The roles include nursing & cleaning, as mentioned earlier, also wax production, honey processing and guard duties. These roles are all ‘in-door’ duties and after about 20 days she will become a forager.

When the worker Bee is in this stage of her life her role is to find and collect pollen, nectar, water and propolis. These substances are required by the hive to live. The pollen is used by the Bees as a source of protein and vitamins. It is collected from flowers and carried back to the hive on the Bees hind legs. Nectar is stored in the honey comb, transported back to the hive is a specially designed honey stomach. Nectar, gathered from flowers is primarily sugar and water. Polpolis is a sticky substance gathered from plant buds, again carried to the hive on the Bees legs and is used for maintaining the hive.

A small number of the foragers will become what are known as scouts. The scouts explore the area around the hive for the best flowers from which to gather nectar. When they find a particular flower with a high sugar content they will return to the hive and ‘dance’ for the other Bees. The dance is a way of communicating to the other Bees the best forage available and the direction to go in order to find it.

A worker Bee has a life span of about 36 days. When a colony is at full strength in the peak summer months there may be as many as 50 – 60 thousand adult Bees and approaching 40 thousand Bees developing in the brood frames.

A Worker bee is any female eusocial bee that lacks the full reproductive capacity of the colony’s queen bee; under most circumstances, this is correlated to an increase in certain non-reproductive activities relative to a queen, as well. Worker bees occur in many bee species other than honey bees, but this is by far the most familiar colloquial use of the term.

Honey bee workers keep the hive temperature uniform in the critical brood area (where new bees are raised). Workers gather pollen into the pollen baskets on their back legs, to carry back to the hive where it is used as food for the developing brood. Pollen carried on their bodies may be carried to another flower where a small portion can rub off onto the pistil, resulting in cross pollination. Almost all of civilization’s food supply (maize is a noteworthy exception) depends greatly on crop pollination by honey bees, whether directly eaten or used as forage crops for animals that produce milk and meat. Nectar is sucked up through the proboscis, mixed with enzymes in the stomach, and carried back to the hive, where it is stored in wax cells and evaporated into honey.

Workers must maintain the hive’s brood chamber at 34.4 degrees C to incubate the eggs. If it is too hot, they collect water and deposit it around the hive, then fan air through with their wings causing cooling by evaporation. If it is too cold, they cluster together to generate body heat. The life of all honey bees starts as an egg, which is laid by the queen in the bottom of a wax cell in the brood area of a hive. A worker egg hatches after three days into a larva. Nurse bees feed it royal jelly at first, then pollen and honey for six days. It then becomes an inactive pupa. Honeycombs have hexagonal cells on both sides of a vertical central wall. As shown in the photo, these cells are inclined upward, primarily to retain liquid nectar and honey. During its 14 days as a pupa, sealed in a capped cell, it grows into a worker (female) bee, emerging on the 20th day. In most species of honey bees, workers do everything but lay eggs and mate, though Cape honey bee workers can lay eggs. They build the comb from wax extruded from glands under their abdomen. They clean, defend, and repair the hive. They feed the larva, the queen, and the drones. They gather nectar, pollen, water, and propolis. They ventilate, cool and heat the hive.

When a colony absconds (all bees leave the colony) or divides and so creates a swarm and then establishes a new colony, the bees must regress in their behavior in order to establish the first generation in the new home. The most urgent task will be the creation of new beeswax for comb. Beekeepers take advantage of this by introducing swarms into new or existing colonies where they will draw comb. Comb is much more difficult to come by than honey and requires about six times the energy to create. A newly hived swarm on bar bars (top bar hive) or empty foundation (Langstroth box hive) will often be fed sugar water, which they can then rapidly consume to create wax for new comb (Mature hives cannot be so fed as they will store it in place of nectar, although a wintering hive may have to be fed if insufficient honey was left by the beekeeper.)

A Drone

A Drone ( Male Bee )

The Male Bees are called drones, they are found in much smaller numbers than the worker Bees. The drones develop from an unfertilised egg and are layed in a drone cell. The drones are bigger than the worker Bees and can be spotted by several distinguishing features – including the size and shape of their eyes and the size of their wings. The drone has the shortest life span, on average living for just 22 days after emerging from his cell.
The only know role of the drone is to mate with the Queen.

The drones will gather outside the hive in a flying cluster, they are attracted by the pheromones that the Queen produces when she emerges from the hive on a mating flight. The act of mating with the Queen is fatal for the drone – as his genitalia becomes detached from his body during mating.

At the end of the summer the worker Bees will evict any drones who remain in the colony.

The drone bee. How do I best explain the brief life of the honey bee male?

I suppose it depends on your perspective on life. On the one hand, they:

  • Spend their time drinking nectar, mating (in the air at that!), and lazing around on flowers.
  • They do little around the home (a hive or, if a feral bee – perhaps a hollow tree or cavity in an old building somewhere).
  • They help themselves to nectar stores, yet they don’t do much to help out with the kids (okay, okay, I’m humanising them a bit – the brood).
  • Heck, they don’t even go out and get food for the family!But….

On the other hand…..

  • Their lives are very brief (- is that unfortunate?).
  • They are only reared when it suits the queen honey bee (- is that exploitation?).
  • They die straight after mating! (- is it worth the sacrifice?).
  • Not all of them even get to mate! (- is that fair?).
  • At the end of the summer, or when the going gets tough, they’re the first to be kicked out of the colony, so as not to drain resources (- is that disrespectful?).

Well, you may say:

“it serves them right”.

Or you may say:

“Well, if my life was short like that, I’d want to enjoy it while I could!”.

On the other hand…….

what about this for a description of the life of a drone bee:

Drones have short lives, but they are there when the colony needs them, to make the ultimate, heroic sacrifice of mating (then promptly dying), all in order to ensure the continuity of the whole colony.

OR, you could simply say:  it’s just nature – which of course, is what it is – it’s the natural way of things for honey bees.


Drone Bees – The Real Information


Okay, enough flippancy. Let’s get on with the real information!

Drones are larger than workers, but smaller than queen honey bees. Their eyes are relatively large, and they develop from unfertilized eggs. (The process of fertilization being controlled by the queen honey bee).

Interestingly, the drone has no father, but he does have a grandfather!

Being from an unfertilised egg, he has only half the chromosomes of a worker bee, however, the queen came from a fertilized egg.

Put another way, the queen who layed the drone eggs, is the offspring of an egg fertilized by a drone (male).  Drones themselves, however, are the offspring of eggs that have not been fertilized by a male!

This scenario is referred to by biologists as ‘parthenogenesis’.

Each colony will produce several hundred drones. Their main contribution to the colony is the act of mating. Mating tactics of drone bees reminds me of blokes congregating at a club, waiting for the women to arrive! In a similar fashion, drones congregate around ‘hot spots’ waiting for the appearance of new queens.

During the course of around 3 nuptial flights the queen honey bee may mate with around 20 drones. Obviously some of the drones will be disappointed then!

……Or not!

As explained before, the drone will die upon mating. This happens because the drone’s reproductive organs are torn away from its body, whilst the queen flies off, with the drones genitalia attached to her.

Drones may live for just a few short weeks, but if they are lucky, they may live up to 4 months. They are thrown out of their colonies by the end of summer, but in any case, by the end of autumn, there will be few or no drone bees around.

Unlike queens and workers, the drone cannot sting. And although the do not forage for food, it is believed by some that they may help to incubate the brood.

In ensuring future generations of honey bees, it sounds like they do a great deal for the colony in a very short space of time!

Artificial Swarm Method

Artificial Swarm Method

Move the original Parent Colony hive with the brood, Bees Queen cell and queen about one metre to one side of it’s original location with the entrance facing the same direction.  

Prepare a new hive with frames of drawn comb or foundation, remove three frames leaving a space in the center (you will use these frames later) Then place the new empty spare hive now the Artificial swarm colony hive where the Parent Colony hive WAS. Check the Parent Colony hive ,take the marked frame with the Queen and brood in various stages, along with all the bees on it, ensure there are no queen cells and put it into the middle of the Artificial swarm colony hive , add one of the empty frames of fully-drawn foundation so that the queen has room to continue laying eggs immediately, rather than wait for the workers to draw out cells on the new foundation. Select an additional frame of brood in all stages of development and ample food stores and move this to the Artificial swarm colony hive, Remember this must NOT contain any more queen cells Remember the Artificial swarm colony hive is in the original place of the Parent Colony hive. So you are putting the old queen back in her previous location with food stores and combs of sealed brood and foraging /flying bees Ensure there are food reserves in the combs of the Parent Colony hive and it is never advisable to split existing brood with empty frames , close all the frames together and insert new frames removed from the Artificial swarm colony hive earlier at the outer edges to completely fill the brood box.  

Put the queen excluder, supers, crown board and roof back onto the Artificial swarm colony hive. This procedure has now produced an artificial swarm, giving you another colony and without the loss of honey production.   The Parent Colony hive will behave as if a swarm has just departed as it is now Queenless with nursery bees, Queen cells and some foraging bees, but the forager /flying bees will return to the Artificial swarm colony hive hive thinking it’s the Parent Colony hive. The nursery bees in the Parent Colony hive will act as normal and raise the queen cells until one is hatched or selected. The Artificial swarm colony hive will behave as if it has just swarmed and set up a new colony, consisting of the existing queen, all the flying bees, and plenty of honey to start comb-building and brood-rearing straight away. Do not feed straight away, wait a couple of days. Feeding sugar syrup immediately could cause robbing. For brood promotion use a 50/50 mix. Wait …………for 7 days After exactly seven days, usually one day before the new virgin queen is due to emerge from her cell, we need to move the parent colony hive to a new location.

  Move the Parent Colony hive one metre on the opposite side of the Artificial swarm colony hive. The forager /flying bees from this Parent Colony Hive will return to find their home missing and will go to the nearest hive, which will be the Artificial swarm colony hive and because the new queen has not hatched , they will not have an unfamiliar ‘Queen pheromone ‘ on them – this means that the guard bees at the entrance will freely allow them enter. This will help build up the loss of bees in the Artificial swarm colony hive and will encourage the growth of the colony . This procedure also reduces the risk of flying bees leaving the Parent Colony hive with a new queen, known as a cast swarm, because it leaves fewer flying bees in the Parent Colony hive The Parent Colony hive is a very weak because it has lost all the flying bees (their main defence force). For this reason do not feed them for 2 days, giving them enough time to organise their defences against honey-robbing. Check the Artificial swarm colony hive to see if the old queen has continued to lay and there are no queen cells. Wait at least 14 days and up to 21 days …then check the Parent Colony hive to see if the new queen has been mated and is laying. If the weather has been bad or there is no sign of eggs or larvae be prepared to re-unite the two hives. This can sometimes happen if the queen cannot fly to mate. Once you know the queen is laying in the Parent Colony hive you can either unite the two hives and remove the old queen or increase your number of colonies. Sometimes a virgin queen will swarm as soon as she has hatched, taking all the flying bees and as much honey as they can carry. Now this new queen will have few (if any) flying bees in her colony when she hatches, so this ‘cast’ swarm is almost certainly weak and vulnerable This is probably the most commonly used method of carrying out artificial swarm control. The rule of thumb is to master one method before trying others, do not try to attempt various methods because you could confuse yourself, or at worst even loose your bees

Bait Hives

When a colony of honeybees is making preparations to swarm they start to send out scout bees to find a suitable new home. To start with, several different possibilities will be under consideration. This process starts before the swarm leaves the hive and continues while the swarm is hanging as a cluster close to the home hive. Once a consensus is reached as to the most suitable site, and this may take a few days, the swarm takes to the air and flies to the cavity that will become the new home of the swarm. Experimenters have investigated what constitutes the most suitable cavity. The cavity should be weatherproof, have a volume between 30 and 40 litres, have a small entrance about 10 sq cm in area, have an entrance facing south and the entrance should be near the bottom of the cavity. It is not a coincidence that a brood box and crown board on a hive floor can be ideal, except that the entrance should be small. Situation is very important. By preference the bait hive should be 3m or more above ground level, so that being placed on a flat roof can be ideal. Swarms will not readily go to bait hives within the apiary from which they emerged. Their instinct is to remove themselves several hundred metres (500m on average) from their home apiary. That does not mean that you will not catch a swarm in a bait hive in an apiary – it’s just that it is not likely to be your own. The ideal cavity is further enhanced if it contains wax comb. Foundation is OK but used comb is better. Swarm lure creams may further increase the chances of catching a swarm. By having a brood box full of frames and comb this will make it so much easier to manage a swarm if one is caught.