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How to Maintain and Care for a Beehive

Updated on August 26, 2017
Jan Saints profile image

Januaris is a part-time gardener and author of farming guides. He loves to write about crops, pest control, fish farming, and beekeeping.

From my own experience, maintaining a beehive is more challenging than installing it. When I had finally installed my hive and introduced the bees, I thought I could just sit back and wait to harvest honey after a few months. I was wrong! I didn't know that there was a lot of regular maintenance and care work that I needed to carry out before I could start thinking of getting honey from the hive.

Beehive care and maintenance is supposed to start immediately after the installation work is completed. This is one of the most important things I came to learn later. The process is a great way to create favorable conditions for the honey bees. It helps keep the apiary structure strong and homey. It also helps prevent the insects from absconding.

a beehive that needs maintenance
a beehive that needs maintenance | Source

If you have been keeping bees for a while, you can agree with me that beehive care and maintenance varies greatly, depending on the season and the type of the hive. According to my own experience, the management work is more for the top bar hives. Concerning the season, the work is more intensive in spring.

In this article, I will discuss how to maintain and care for a beehive. Read on to learn how to manage your apiary structure and see some important practices that you need to implement to create favorable conditions for your bees.

In Brief, How to Maintain and Care for a Beehive

  1. Repair or replace damaged parts.
  2. Install entrance blocks.
  3. Install excluders and supers.
  4. Replace any lost beeswax.
  5. Install a rain cover and shade structure.
  6. Provide adequate ventilation.
  7. Provide a windbreak.
  8. Control woodlice and termites.
  9. Protect it from bears, raccoons, skunks, and mice.

1. Repair or Replace Damaged Beehive Parts

Like other structures, beehives wear out with time, lowering their usefulness. Weather is the main threat to these apiary structures, and it can cause damages such as warping, cracking, rotting, and rusting. Other things that can damage hives are insects and large animals.

If you identify some damaged parts on your structure, you need to repair them immediately. If these parts have been damaged beyond repair, you need to replace them.

Repairing and replacing the damaged parts strengthens the entire hive and makes it more resistant to weather, animals, and other destructive agents. It also keeps your structure in a good shape which adds some attractiveness to your garden.

2. Install Entrance Blocks in Winter

As the name suggests, entrance blocks are used to narrow the hive openings. They prevent heat loss in winter, while allowing adequate ventilation. They also prevent strange bees and other insects from accessing the hive interior.

One way to install the blocks is to fix pieces of wood at the entrance, spacing them narrowly. Another way is to use a perforated material with holes that can allow bees in and out of the structure.

3. Install Excluders and Supers

In case you didn't know, excluders prevent the queen from laying eggs on the honeycombs. Supers, on the other hand, provide additional space for the bees to store honey and are installed when honeycombs or broodcombs start to fill up which is common in summer.

If your hive lacks queen excluders, I would advise you to get some as soon as possible before the queen finds her way and lays eggs in the combs that are made to hold honey. According to my own experience, the best excluder is the Mann Lake Frame Plastic!

This excluder is designed to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the honey super (hive section with honeycombs). It has small holes to allow young worker bees pass through into the honey super. It is made of smooth plastic and has no sharp edges that can harm your bees. In addition, it suits 10 frame langstroth and other hives.

To install the excluders, you need first to locate the queen bee. This type of a bee is usually surrounded by other bees. After locating it, fix the excluders at the right place to keep it off from the honey combs.

When it comes to the supers, you can install them on the top part of the compartment to increase space. You can then remove them in winter or after harvesting honey.

4. Replace any Lost Beeswax

Beeswax is quite important in a hive. It is used by the bees to make the combs. It also used by the insects to line the structure interior, making it more comfortable. In addition, it strengthens the whole structure when it hardens in the joints.

Beeswax can be lost when harvesting honey or maintaining the hive, so be careful not to interfere with it when handling the structure. If you accidentally detach the wax from the surfaces, you need to place it back.

If the wax is lost from the hive, you need to replace it. You can get replacement wax from another hive with excess wax or buy from the shop. When buying replacement wax, you should ensure that you get the natural one.

5. Install a Rain Cover and Shade Structure

As mentioned above, weather is the main destructive agent in apiaries. Rainwater can damage wooden hives and kill the insects. The sun's heat can also damage hives and, in addition, cause the absconding problem.

To keep your hive safe from rainwater, you need to install a rain cover to prevent rain drops from falling directly on the structure. To shade your structure from direct sun, you need to install a shade structure, but you can also use the rain cover if it can provide shade.

The hive shelters can affect ventilation, so you need to use them only on a sunny day or when you are sure it will rain. If some water accidentally enters the hive, you can incline the structure to allow the water flow out.

a hive with a shelter
a hive with a shelter | Source

6. Provide Adequate Ventilation for Your Beehive

From my own experience, proper ventilation can keep a hive free from the damaging effects of condensation, freezing and high temperatures. Water or ice can form in a poorly ventilated hive, causing damage to the structure and harming the bees. High temperatures can also destroy the structure and harm the insects.

If you notice some signs of poor ventilation, you can add ventilation holes to improve air circulation. In freezing weather, you can cover your hive with a black tar paper which prevents heat loss.

If snow forms in your hive, you need to remove it immediately to stop its damaging effects. You need also to remove any dead bees from the structure to avoid the corrosive substances released by dead insects.

7. Provide a Windbreak

Strong winds can destroy beehives by overturning or dragging and crushing them on other objects. Wind can also introduce moist air to the hive interior, increasing the possibility of a more damaging condensation in cold weather.

To shield your hive from destructive winds, you can install a windbreak in the form of a fence consisting of strong posts and sheets of strong materials. You can also use trees and shrubs as a windbreak, but this may require you to move your hive to a place shielded by plants.

hives protected from winds by trees
hives protected from winds by trees | Source

8. Control Woodlice and Termites

Woodlice and termites feed on wood which means that they can destroy your wooden hive if they are allowed to breed around the structure. They are more destructive in dry seasons and common in old or rotting woods.

When it comes to controlling these organisms, you can employ soil treatment methods, liquid insecticides or baits. You can also control them by removing leaves and other plant debris from the beekeeping zone. Note: It is necessary to use control methods that do not harm your bees.

9. Protect Your Hive from Bears, Raccoons, Skunks, and Mice

These animals are well known to be a big threat to the apiculture business. Bears destroy hives and feed on honeycombs, causing a big loss to the beekeeper. To control bears, you can install a strong fence around your hive.

Raccoons are not as disastrous as bears, but they are still a big problem in beekeeping. They are well known to access the interior of a hive from the top side, so you can deal with them by placing a big stone on the top cover.

Skunks and mice also destroy beehives. They bore holes on these structures, making them unsuitable for keeping bees. Mice, in addition, build nests on the structures, interfering with the bees.

To control skunks, you need to place your hive on an elevated stand. As for the mice, you need to install a mouse guard at the hive entrance and destroy their nests which are common in autumn.

Mice were a major problem in my apiary, but when I discovered mouse guards, and especially the Mann Lake 10 Frame Mouse Guard, I have never been disappointed from that time!

The Mann Lake 10 is a well designed mouse guard. It fits firmly on the entrance or any other major opening of hive, creating a strong resistance to mice. And as shown, it has enough holes to provide ample exit and entrance for the bees.

If you are using other mouse guards and you are still experiencing mouse attacks, I would advise you not to think twice to buy the Mann Lake 10. Personally, I have installed them on all my 13 hives, and the result is hassle-free apiculture and increased honey production.

Conclusion

As you can see, it is a good bit of work to maintain and care for your beehive, but it is quite possible to manage your apiary structure. Using this guide, you can keep your hive in good condition, create favorable conditions for your bees and increase honey production.

References

  • Ellis J.D. "Honey Bee Hive Maintenance During the Summer Months.". leon.ifas.ufl.edu. Panhandle Agriculture. University of Florida. (2012).
  • Delaplane K.S. "Honey Bees and Beekeeping: A Year in the Life of an Apiary.". extension.uga.edu. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. (1993).
  • Morse, R.A., Hooper T. "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Beekeeping.". E. P. Dutton Inc (Book). New York. (1985).
  • Dadant C., Camille P. "The Hive and the Honey Bee.". dadant.com. Dadant & Sons, Inc. (Rev. 1992).
  • Moneen M.J., Nabors R.A., Flernoy J. "Beekeeping Tips for Beginners.". extension.missouri.edu. MU Extension. Unversity of Missouri. (Rev. 2016).

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© 2015 Januaris Saint Fores

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    • Jan Saints profile image
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      Januaris Saint Fores 2 years ago from the Midwest

      Thanks RJ Schwartz for your comment.

    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      This is a great read - very informative and seems to cover all the bases.