Beekeeping is an inherently local process. What works best for one beekeeper will often fail for another because of even minor differences in climate, forage, or the traits of his sub-race of bees. Also, the needs and goals of the hobbyist beekeeper will be very different from the needs and goals of the commercial beekeeper. Nevertheless, some generally established leading practices for beekeeping exist that have wide relevance.
Explanation of categories
The practices on this page are sorted by "Generally Accepted" vs. "Controversial or Emerging" practices and within those categories by the most likely audience - "All", "Hobbyist" or "Commercial" beekeepers. So far, no leading practices have been identified that are uniquely appropriate to the Sideliner beekeeper.
- Treat for disease only as needed: Over-use or inappropriate use of medications to treat disease or pests will lead to increased resistance to the medication.
- Label honey with place of origin: Honey, like wine, picks up unique flavors from the flowers and nectars in the local environment. Each varietal will have a distinct taste and mouthfeel. Labeling your honey with place of origin can distinguish it from mass-market blended honeys which have lost that unique flavor and aid in determining its composition if you wish to attempt to recreate it.
- Storing pollen: To store pollen for feeding the next spring, freeze it in sealable plastic bags.
- Track Growing Degree Days: Growing degree days can reliably predict the time from last frost to bloom for each of the major nectar sources in the area of your beehives. This can enable more effective supering and, in some cases, better planning for pest control.
- Re-queen annually: There are many benefits to annual re-queening (some of which are still disputed), but the most relevant benefit to the hobbyist beekeeper is that a young queen (<13 months) emits stronger pheromones and therefore hives with young queens rarely swarm. Since hobbyists often keep hives in residential areas with non-beekeeper neighbors, swarm control is a high priority.
- Some beekeepers believe that it is better to requeen in the Fall, for several reasons:
- Purchased queens are more available to amateur beekeepers in the Fall; there is a high demand by commercial beekeepers for Spring pollination tasks and queens may thus not be available until relatively late, perhaps after a first year queen has swarmed, taking away a large portion of the colony.
- If the colony is fed at an appropriate interval before the Spring nectar flow the hive will be strong and ready for production as the young queen will be a better layer of eggs than a queen installed in the previous Spring and far less likely to swarm in the Spring, with appropriate hive management used to reduce the probability of Summer swarming.
- Inspect often: Inspecting your beehive is an important way to learn about bees, bee behavior, etc. Frequent inspections will expose you to more types of behaviors and help you learn more quickly. The trade-off in lost honey production is generally worth the educational value. Note that you should be careful in timing inspection to prevent chilled brood.
- Elevate the hive: Placing the hive on a stand about 45 cm (18 inches) high can significantly reduce back strain. It will also deter some predators such as skunks by forcing them to expose less protected underbellies to the bees' stings. Caution: Do not make the stand so high that you will have difficulty removing the full honey supers from the top of the hive.
- Standardize your equipment: Standardized equipment will make it easier to interchange hive parts, frames, etc. between hives as needed.
- Inspect only when necessary: Inspecting beehives disrupts the bees, kills some, and takes time and labor. It has been estimated that each inspection is the equivalent of reducing the bees' productive time by 3 to 7 days.
Controversial or emerging practices
- Food Grade Mineral Oil as a miticide: Recent research by Dr. Pedro Rodriguez and others has suggested that a Food Grade Mineral Oil (FGMO) vapor fogged into the hive can be an effecitive miticide. The vapor droplets are sized to interfere with the mites' respiration without affecting the respiratory apparatus of the larger bees. Research continues in order to improve the consistency of results and improve the cost-effectiveness of treatment.
- Do not provide honey as a supplemental feed: Many beekeepers provide supplemental feed for bees to get through periods of drought or harsh winter. The optimal solution is to leave enough honey on the hive for the colony to survive the winter. When that is not possible, most beekeepers provide sugar water as a supplement for two reasons:
- Honey contains small levels of material that is indigestible to the bees. During a long winter when the bees are confined to the hive and can not leave to void themselves, this can lead to honeybee dysentery.
- Honey from another hive may be contaminated with American Foulbrood spores. While AFB is harmless to humans and hence may be included with honey, it is an extremely serious disease for honeybees, frequently requiring the whole hive to be torched to prevent the spread of it.
- Start with two hives: By starting with two colonies, the beginning beekeeper can compare bee behavior and more rapidly learn what makes a difference and what is random variation. Two hives also increases the odds that at least one hive will survive the winter and lets you split your hive and repopulate when or if one of the colonies dies.
- Consider top-bar hives: The (old) conventional wisdom discourages top-bar hives for beginners, yet the simplicity, low cost, and ease of use are distinct advantantages when learning beekeeping. An advantage of this type of hive is the ease with which it may be completely inspected with minimal disturbance of the bees.
- Use first-generation Africanized Queens: For pollination beekeepers in areas with africanized bees such as w:Mexico an emerging practice is to locally raise and wild breed queens, but using only a purchased, pre-inseminated non-africanized queen to produce queens. It appears that these first generation africanized queens do not exhibit the extreme and massive defensiveness of subsequent generations.