Using Untraditional Techniques for Summering Beehives

By Paul Holowko

Normally I lose one or two beehives per year due to queen genetics (per 25 hives). Over the years beehive starvation has been a major cause for beehives to die. It may appear mites or moths may be to blame for killing a hive, but they come in after the hive has been weakened. A hive is weakened by lack of food or the queen’s genetic make up is not right. I’ve given up 15 years ago using chemicals for controlling pests. There are way too many problems that out weigh the benefits of chemical control.

Pictured below is a Warrey Beehive with a robbing screen installed. This hive is not being attacked; rather the bees are sitting on their front porch trying to cool off from the day’s heat. The ambient temperature is around 100 degrees F.

If this hive is being robbed, a large number of bees would be on the landing pad, while others are searching around the side and back of the super for another opening.

Here are a few techniques I collected over the years to help hives stay strong to combat pests and other hive killing phantoms. (One of the phantom is people).

Over Harvesting Honey in Spring:

I harvest honey from my hives in the middle to late spring and let the bees have the rest for the remaining season. They need the honey to surrive the dry months in California. Depending where the bee hive is located, house irrigation systems keep some flowers watered; hence, nector in the flowers. Plants can have flowers, but no nector because of little water.

I rarely take honey from a hive in the summer and fall. When a hive is over harvested or they run out of flowers for food, they can’t keep the temperature in the brood chamber to 34.1 degrees C. This interupts the bee hive life cycle and weakens the hive. When the hive weakens, other pests can attack and eventually kill the hive. In the East Coast or Europe, honey can be harvested almost through out the entire summer/fall season. There is more water.

Freezing Supers and Hives:

Every frame, super, stand and etc… goes through a freezing process to kill pests. The equipment is stored in a freezer for 48 hours at 0 degrees F. Some people do 72 hours, but if you have the room and time, the longer the better. This prevents eggs, larva and other pests from being transmitted from one hive to another. It’s really hard to scrape off every egg and bug from a frame.

Sometimes a hive is weak because of no food or the queen is weak; honey frames are added to feed the hives. I don’t feed hives during the year (unless they are a late swarm). Only when they are in trouble. I don’t feed sugar water, just (post frozen) honey frames. And I don’t feed during the winter. If they get food in the middle of the winter, it triggers the queen to pre-matualy lay eggs; hence, consuming the nursing bees’ life time. It turns out the bee life cycle is interupted with worn out nursing bees, when the spring flow comes in. There will be a shortage of nuring bees to keep the new eggs going. It’s important to get a hive to surrive the winter. If it’s not strong enough, I let it die.

Saving honey frames for Spring splits

Storing dead bee hive honey. All of these frames and supers have gone through the freezer.

The frames are stored in bags to prevent scout bees from cleaning up. Some frames have pollen too.

Available water supply:

Bees need water all year around. Honey bees need a still place to land and suck water. This can be done with a pan of water with straw or grass clippings thrown on top for the bees to land and drink. They can’t land directly on a pool of water. In the Bay Area there is a long stretch of sunny days through the summer.  There may not be enough water for bees to find. I make water available for them through a small recirculating water fountain in a 5 gallon general purpose bucket. The water is sprinkled into the air and lands on a coarse bio filter used in fish ponds.

Water is not left standing for mosquitoes to breed. Bees land on the green bio filter and drink. This setup is used to feed 6 beehives. The pump is running off solar.

The bucket is automatically replenished with water from the irrigation system. There is a shutoff float to limit the water level. The shutoff float and bio filter can be purchased at any hydroponic store.

Hive Robbing:

When there is very little nectar to collect from plants, trees and flowers, bee hives instinctively start robbing each other. Two hives next to each other can have a massive attack on each other. Wasps and other insects try to rob bee hives. There is a set of guard bees posted at the opening, but that may not be enough to stop a full attack.

One simple solution is to reduce the opening to the hive. Robbing bees fly and hover around the opening, swinging from side to side before quickly landing and darting into the hive. They also fly straight out from the opening with a low altitude increase. They are taking a full payload of honey.

Another way is to put a robbing screen. I issue one per hive. Pictured below are two hives with hive robbing screens. The screens are covering the opening. Bees enter and exit at the top of the screen bar.

How they work:

When robbing bees appear at the entrance of a hive, they are looking for the hole to directly dart in and out. They can see the bee hive hole through the screen but can’t get through the screen. They don’t realize the true entrance is about 4 inches higher between the screen support and super. The bees who live in this hive know the entrance. The robbing bees collect at the bottom of the screen and at times collect enough to completely cover the bee hive stand. Below is a robbing screen.

You can buy screen guards, but they are expensive; especially if you have a lot of hives. It’s possible to make them for less than a $1 each. They can be made simply with a 2X4 of redwood, wood glue, staple gun, scissors and aluminum window screen.

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