How To Monitor A Beehive

Or...especially if you're new to beekeeping

How to Monitor A Beehive .......without upsetting the bees "too much"

On the one hand, the honey bees are tucked away in their hives, hidden from view unless you open up the hive and take a peak.  However, with experience, beekeepers can become better at 'knowing what is going on with their bees' with less interference.  I've heard of confident beekeepers who mostly practice 'listening' to their bees. 

Of course, especially if you are starting beekeeping, you should always wear full protective clothing, however, if you are on a budget it is possible to make some of this gear yourself - see here for further information about getting some of your beekeeping basics such as overalls, on a budget.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts from a beekeeper about why it's a good idea to interfere with bees as little as possible, and some ideas to explore further and practice with, which, if you are new to beekeeping, you may find helpful. 

Give Bees A Break  
By Tel Jensen
Woodland, Washington, USA

It's tempting to open hives frequently to check for problems and progress. But bees carefully manipulate the environment inside their hives, and any disruption to that environment can cause or exacerbate the very problems that a beekeeper is checking for.

One example: some research suggests that small hive beetles are attracted by honey bee alarm pheromones, the same pheromones that bees will produce when a hive is opened by a well-intentioned beekeeper.

There are many other pheromones in a hive that bees use to communicate and determine behavior. Opening the hive will seriously impede this important chemical communication.

Bees also go to fairly great metabolic lengths to maintain the ideal temperatures and humidities inside the hive. Opening a hive and especially moving comb can cause rapid and dramatic shifts in both those variables and cause undue stress for the bees.

So how can we know what's going on inside a hive without opening it? Watching behavior at the entrance, monitoring conditions using a screened bottom board, listening to the hive, using a dental mirror to peek in the entrance, and building windows into hives are all good options.

Tel Jensen received a copy of David Heaf’s book, The Bee Friendly Beekeeper, (courtesy of Northern Bee Books who sponsored a competition) for this excellent api-centric 'beekeeping how to...' tip as part of a competition.

The competition has closed.

For further 'beekeeping how to...' advice, check out:

This excellent tip for creating a bee brush.

These general beekeeping information links.

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