Working with a Bee Colony

Bee Health March 19, 2010 Print Friendly and PDF

Before entering the apiary, suit up in appropriate attire. If not wearing a bee suit (Beekeeping Protective Gear), dress in light-colored, cotton or rip-stop nylon clothing. Always wear a veil. Wrap the bottoms of your pants’ legs around the top of your boots and secure them in place with a rubber band or tape. Bees drop from handled frames to the ground and may crawl up your legs as you work around the hive. Gloves are optional. Beginners should wear gloves until they feel confident without them.

Light your smoker and fill the chamber with fuel.

Approach the colony from the rear or the side. Always work the colony from the rear or the side. Apply two gentle puffs of smoke into the entrance. Pry the outer cover up 2 to 3 inches along one side. Lightly puff under the outer space and replace it. Wait about 30 seconds before removing the outer and inner covers.

Gently remove the outer cover and place it on the ground, upside down, near the colony. It can be used as a base for stacking supers or brood chambers that you remove as you inspect the colony. Gently remove the inner cover and lean it near the entrance so that clinging bees can reenter the hive. Do not block the entrance with the inner cover.

When removing and handling frames, work with slow, steady movements. Avoid bumping or shaking motions that may shake bees off the frame. Lightly smoke bees to manipulate their movement, such as when you need to examine frames for eggs. Before replacing a frame, smoke the bees out of the way to avoid crushing them.

Do not leave colonies open for too long. Bees may get overly defensive and an open hive may initiate robbing behavior. Before closing the hive, use smoke to move bees back onto the frames from the edge and outside walls of hive bodies.

Open a colony when the temperature is 55 degrees F or warmer, the sun is shining, the bees are flying and the wind is calm. Open and inspect colonies once a week during spring build-up and honey production. Colonies should be opened and inspected one or more times each month from February through November.


Items you should bring to the apiary or that you should keep on hand:

• Extra hive tool or tools, gloves, veil, bee suit and smoker.

• Matches or lighter.

• Dry smoker fuel.

• Extra frames with drawn comb or new foundation, and extra hive bodies.

• Container to collect wax scrapings or propolis.

• Jars or sealable bags to collect bees for mite testing or comb for disease identification.

• Queen excluders.

• Entrance reducers.

• Heavy fabric, such as burlap, or extra inner or outer covers to protect uncovered colonies or supers from robbing bees.

• Newspaper for uniting colonies.

• Permanent marking pen or pencil.

• Extra queen cages and queen marking paint.

• A sting kit for those allergic to bees (Epipen™), first aid kit and other medications for the beekeeper.


Source: Skinner, Parkman, Studer, and Williams. 2004. Beekeeping in Tennessee. University of Tennessee Extension PB1745. 43p.