10 tips for new beekeepers

4. You need some equipment.

You will see many videos of beekeepers casually pouring handfuls of bees into a hive with no glove or veil, or dropping the top of a hive without protection. They just show off. I tried to peek into my beehive without gloves and was promptly chased across the yard by guard bees, the bouncers of the bee world. You need a veil to cover your face because bees tend to attack areas with a lot of carbon dioxide, like your nose, for example. Wear long sleeves and protective gloves when opening your cabinets. (Bees can sting through dust.) A smoker is also essential: smoke calms bees and keeps them from chasing you across the yard when you open the hive.

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5. You should periodically inspect the hive.

The queen bee is the number 1 consideration of the hive, and it should be for you too. While bees will raise a new queen when the old one dies, a hive that is not “queen” will be more aggressive and weakened enough not to survive the winter. You don’t need to inspect often (once or twice a month in good weather is fine), and never when the temperature is below 40 degrees.

The queen is hard to spot: she’s bigger than the average bee, but so are drones, the generally lazy males in the hive. (All other bees are female.) However, you can see the eggs she lays and the larvae that the worker bees breed. Lots of eggs and larvae means there is likely a healthy queen. This is where YouTube videos are particularly useful. Just don’t try it without veil and gloves.

Be especially careful when inspecting the hive: go slowly, be calm and don’t make loud noises. And don’t crush them. Bees have a pheromone that they release when injured or alarmed, causing other bees to buzz to save them. You don’t want that.

6. They have their moods and annoyances.

Just like humans, bees get cranky during long periods of hot, humid, and rainy weather. They are sluggish in cold weather and during warm, sunny days they sometimes gather on the outside of the hive, which can be an alarming sight. They are just cooling down.

Bees are particularly sensitive to scent. They know where their hive is — and who their friends are — because they recognize the scent of the queen’s pheromone, which is basically a molecule with a scent. They don’t like other things with strong odors, such as bears or your T-shirt after mowing the lawn on a hot day. The smell of almonds repels them. They hate the smell of bananas, so put off the banana bread before visiting the hive. And they love the smell of lemons, which can be problematic if you like to drink lemonade on the patio.

7. You have to feed them.

You don’t have to put out 10,000 small honey bowls in the morning. But when you first get your hive, you have to feed them. They will need time to explore their new territory – bees can be up to three miles in length – and, if you buy pack bees, to build new honeycomb. You should also fatten them in the fall so they can survive the winter.

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