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Opening The Hive

Before approaching the hive, make sure your smoker will not go out just when you need it. Move quietly: any bumping or jarring (dropping a hive-tool or smoker on the roof, perhaps) is communicated to the bees as vibrations through their feet, causing instant alarm. Puff a little smoke in the entrance, wait a minute, then standing behind or beside the hive, carefully lift off the roof. The roof is usually placed upside down nearby to act as a container for parts removed later. Loosen the inner cover with your hive-tool, lift one corner or slew it a little and puff some smoke in the gaps. The smoke causes bees to run into the open cells and start gorging themselves with honey, making them less aggressive. You must gain control of the bees straightaway and maintain it with a gentle reminder from time to time. Once a cloud of bees has roared into the air, it is too late. Knowing when and where to smoke is learnt by experience and by watching an experienced beekeeper or perhaps painful mistakes The cover / crown board / inner roof is removed and stood askew on the upside down roof, which avoids hurting bees on its underside. If there is a super on the hive, it and the inner cover could be removed together. Make a gap between it and the queen excluder, puff in some smoke, and lift off. Puff smoke across the excluder to drive the bees down, lever it off, shake off the bees over the brood box, and put it aside. To shake off the bees, hold the excluder firmly with one hand and bit that wrist a sharp blow with the other hand. There is always a little spare space in a brood box, so the next step, if you have the Hoffman frames, is to lever the whole block of frames to the far side of the box with the hive-tool, so allowing as much room as possible for withdrawing the first frame. Loosen the ends of the first frame in turn, put the hive-tool somewhere handy (later you will be able to hold it as well), grasp the frame lugs with thumb and forefinger and lift it slowly up, trying to avoid rolling bees against the next comb or the hive-wall. Once it is clear, adjust your grip with your palms against the side bars. You can now study the side of the comb nearest you. Brood combs must never be held flat; when they are warm and heavy with brood and stores the whole comb could drop out of the frame, and honey drips everywhere. To turn the frame round, a series of movements is used which keeps the comb vertical at all times. See Frame examination Outside combs seldom contain brood. This being so, you can shake all the bees off the first frame and prop it against the side or front of the hive where you will not kick it. This gives much more room for removing and replacing other frames without damage to the bees. Each frame is examined in turn and replaced in its former position so that the exact formation of the brood nest is maintained. The frame being handled should always be held over the brood box. A laying queen is heavy and unwieldy, and if she fell from the frame into the grass she would seldom regain her hive. Also, workers will clear up any honey which drips on to the frame tops, but any dripped outside the hive attracts wasps and robbing bees. A queen is particularly liable to damage if she is on the wooden frame, rather than the comb, when it is being replaced, so check this. A beginner examines the combs to familiarise himself with the normal appearance and development of brood, and to learn to recognise the different castes of bee, pollen, and honey. t may seem impossible to pick out a queen among so many bees but, once you have seen one, a queen is unmistakable, and facility in spotting her comes with experience. She is most easily found when the colony is small in spring, and usually on the central combs. If there is a laying queen there will be eggs, looking like tiny white dashes in the bottom of the cells. Light reflection can mislead, so tilt the comb a little each way as you search for them. Learn to distinguish capped brood and capped honey: brood will occupy the centers of the combs, honey the top outside corners. Between the two will be a ring of cells filled with pollen which may be green, yellow, orange, brick red, and even black, according to source. Drone cells with distinctive domed cappings tend to be in the lower corners of the outermost combs. Later, when the novice has a full-sized stock, this will be examined comb by comb in the same way for signs of swarming. Even a nucleus may have to raise a new queen if its own is injured. Queen cells are not always as obvious as might be thought, because workers often cluster thickly over them and they are often cunningly sited just inside the frame bars. At a certain stage in swarm control, when every cell must be found, the bees must be shaken from each comb in turn to allow a thorough search to be made. When all combs have been examined, replace the first frame if it was left out, the same way round as before, lever the whole block to one side to push them close together, and then centre it to leave an equal space each end. Puff smoke over the top, and replace the excluder, checking that it is the right way up if there is a difference. Put back the super and inner cover, and the roof, checking that they are exactly straight to avoid gaps. Collect the smoker, hive-tool and so on before leaving. It is worth making a box to carry your tools, including the smoker after it is cool, also spare fuel, a notebook and pencil, and later on such things as drawing pins and queen cages. Beginners can usefully make more comprehensive notes of anything seen during examination, rather than the word or two an experienced beekeeper puts on his record card. Something not understood at the time often becomes clear later, in the light of other developments. One can work out at leisure what has happened or will happen and look for the confirmation next time.

The Honey Bee Colony

A colony of honeybees in early summer consists of a queen, thousands of workers and a few hundred drones living together as a community upon double-sided combs containing brood and stores of honey and pollen. The queen alone lays the eggs from which the other members of the colony develop, the workers from fertilized eggs and the drones from unfertilized eggs laid in slightly larger cells. The combs are made of wax secreted by the workers. In colonies living ‘wild’ in hollow trees or in cavities in walls the workers construct the combs unaided, but in modern moveable-comb hives the beekeeper provides thin, flat sheets of beeswax, embossed with a regular hexagonal pattern and enclosed by hanging wooden frames, for the bees to use as a foundation upon which to build the rows of cells on either side. The fertilized eggs laid by the queen in worker cells take three days to hatch. The tiny grubs, or larvae, are fed by nurse bees and grow rapidly to reach their full size five days later. Their cells are then sealed over with porous cappings of wax and the larvae turn into pupae from which the young workers emerge in another 12 -14 days, when they chew their way through the cappings to join the older workers on -the combs. Drones take a few days longer to develop. By midsummer the colony will have reached its greatest strength, with up to fifty thousand or more bees if all goes well. Thereafter, the population of workers will decline, and by early autumn all the drones will have died, leaving the queen and a reduced number of workers to survive the winter. Breeding starts again early in the year, (January or February) , slowly at first, but with gradually increasing numbers of young workers emerging to replace the old, over-wintered bees until the peak of egg-laying by the queen is reached about four months later. The cycle of colony growth and decline might, however, be interrupted by the issue of a swarm, usually sometime in May, June or July. The causes of swarming are not fully understood, though it is known that overcrowding of the hive is one of the predisposing factors. Whatever the cause, the effect is that a large proportion of the workers, together with the queen, pours out of the hive during the heat of a fine day and flies around before settling in a tight cluster on a nearby bush or other convenient support. If the swarm is not taken by the beekeeper, the bees and the queen will eventually fly off to establish a new colony in a new home, discovered for them by scout bees, usually some distance away from the hive from which they issued. The rest of the bees will remain behind in the hive, with the brood. On the brood combs will be some queen cells large, acorn-shaped cells which hang mouth downwards and contain larvae hatched from normal fertilized eggs but fed on a special diet of ‘royal jelly’ produced by die nurse bees. In these cells queens will develop, one of which, after mating in the air with several drones in succession, will become the new laying queen of the swarm’s ‘parent / original’ colony. The issue of a swarm brings about a sudden depopulation of the hive, and a consequent decrease in the foraging capacity of the colony, at a time of year when nectar is likely to be readily available. It is, therefore, important for the beekeeper to take steps to avoid his bees to swarm, by using methods to be discussed later, if he in the maximum amount of honey possible.

Hive Tool

The hive-tool is a multipurpose instrument made of steel. It usually has a flat blade at one end, the other being bent at right-angles to form a scraper. It is specially designed for prizing hive units apart, for scraping wax from the top-bars of frames, for separating frames from one another preparatory to lifting them out for examination and for other jobs where a stout lever or scraper is needed. This most useful tool should be as much a part of the basic outfit of bee appliances as the veil or smoker

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!