Tip 4: Don't open your hive too much
Often when beekeepers start out, they are very understandably excited but have a tendency to check, fiddle and open their hives far too often.
The most easily explainable problem with opening the hive too often, is that in colder weather eg anything below 14 degrees Celsius, or the unstable weather of early Spring the brood may get chilled which can result in undue stress. A more subtle issue just as important but harder to quantify is that there is an optimum environment that the bees create within their hive, which involves ambient warmth but also optimum humidity, pheromones, nest scent, food stores, pollen and propolis. A famous German beekeeper from the 19th century Johannes Mehring, described this ‘nest scent’ and the unseen environmental factors as ‘Bien’ he describes that a disturbance in this ‘Bien’ causes stress, an increase of food consumption and an increase of disease taking hold, such as Nosema. He seems to suggest that the honeybee scented, warm air within the nest has anti pathogen qualities. Ceri believes the most important aspect is the disruption to their usual communication pathways.
Fun fact: Johannes Mehring was also the inventor of the first beeswax foundation.
Bees eating stores
The colony is also described as a Super organism “The whole consists of separable parts but functionally integrated,” a bee on its own cannot survive without the rest of the colony. When comparing the superorganism’s homeostasis with that of a human body system or a biome, it makes sense that any alteration in the delicate balance can result in detrimental outcomes and an unfortunate risk of a highly stressed colony is that they may kill their queen. We use smoke to open and inspect the hive, it subdues the bees by tricking them into thinking that the hive is in jeopardy, this causes increased food consumption along with the disturbance in the ‘Nest scent’ there is a twofold effect disrupting the harmony.
So when should you open the hive?
Immediately on receiving your first Nuc, package or swarm and hiving them in their new hive, they should be given a feed to help them settle in, but then left for a minimum of 5 to 6 days before checking to see if the queen has started or continued to lay eggs. Once its been ascertained that the queen is laying in her new home, the bees don’t need further disturbing other than to top up their feeder to help them draw out their new home and get established. Then a fair rule of thumb is to not open the hive during late Autumn or Winter, then perhaps once early spring to check stores then weekly when Spring bee activity starts, always remembering that each disturbance may set them back.
There are alternative methods for checking on your bees, much can be worked out by observing the comings and goings at the hive entrance or by hefting the hive to check the weight. Even in ideal conditions it is best to plan your approach for the least disturbance and try to be as efficient and quick as possible. The bees will usually tell you if you have been too long for their comfort, you will notice guard bees taking more of an interest in you.
Bees fanning at entrance of the hive
In Ted Hooper’s classic ‘A Guide to bees and honey’ He says “every time you open the colony you should ask 5 questions 1. Has the colony sufficient room? 2. is the queen present and laying the expected quantity of eggs? 3a (early in season) is the colony building up in size as fast as other colonies in the apiary b(mid season) are there any queen cells present in the colony? 4. Are there any signs of disease of abnormality? 5. Has the colony got sufficient stores until the next inspection? “(Hooper, 1998)
We will cover these point in our next tips.
Avoid opening hives when expecting a thunderstorm
Other times to avoid opening a hive is before or during a thunderstorm or other very extreme weather conditions they seem to sense weather pressure changes and are more prone to bad temper. Another reason not to open your hive is if you hear people or riders close by, wait unit they are a safe distance away for obvious reasons.
Hooper, T. (1998). Guide to Bees and Honey (4th ed.). Gardners Books.