Hive Care and Maintenance
After the first brood box is 70% combed then a second brood box should be prepared and placed on top of the first. These brood boxes act as the primary brooding area for the queen to lay eggs. Within the brood boxes the brood cells will be converted into honey storage for the winter. These boxes are typically not inspected as much as the supers, however; these boxes do we require a check for pests and maintenance of frames for alignment of comb and excessive comb removal. Replacing some of frames with new frames helps direct bee attention to the brood boxes for self-maintenance.
The supers are boxes that are placed on top of brood boxes for honey production and used for extraction. Supers come in different depths; shallow, medium, and deep. The use of the sizes is mainly dependant on preference. Shallow supers are filled faster than the others, but of course do not hold as much honey. Shallow supers hold approximately 25 lbs. of honey, mediums 40 lbs., and deeps about 60 lbs.
The number of supers placed on the hive is solely dependant on how productive the bees are during the season. Boxes should be added one at a time to a hive instead of all at once. Bees will naturally go to the most superior part of the hive to store honey. Waiting to add another box until the current box is at 70% full will not only make sure that each box is full before the bees move to the next box, but also helps prevent swarming due to lack of space.
Queen excluders are arguably the most controversial item in the beekeeping world, followed closely by feeding sugar-water. The queen excluder is a thin mesh barrier, placed between the uppermost brood box and the first super, designed to prevent the queen from entering the supers and laying eggs in the supers. The argument against the queen excluder is that bees don't travel places in the hive were the queen can't, leading to the alternative name for the queen excluder as "honey excluder". This argument is only partially true, some bees do travel with the queen, however; most bees perform their work no matter where the queen is. There is a special set of bees that guard the queen and will even chase her around the hive prior to her mating flight to help her drop weight so she can fly and maintain flight for the duration.
When temperatures outside are in the high 80's and above (depending on the type of hive), the hive temperature also increase proportionally. The bees will still perform their jobs during the day but at night, when all of the bees are normally in the hive, the temperature climbs higher and the bees spend the night out on the landing platform and surrounding the entrance. Bearding can be confused for swarming behavior. Starting swarms have hundreds of bees flying around the core of the swarm and a buzzing sound is loud and noticeable. Bearding bees do not fly or buzz noticeably, they are docile and hang off one another in a group.
Fanning accomplishes two different tasks. First, fanning is seen when the bees are bearding and surrounding the entrance, leaving the entrance open and accessible. Bees will stand just outside the entrance and face the entrance beating their wings hard "venting" the hive, pulling warm air out of the hive. Second, fanning occurs at night, in the same method as described, and the bees release a chemical that signals the foragers they should return to the hive for the night.
Ventilation is required year-round. For the warmer months the vents are required for cooling the hive. During the winter months the vents allow heat to escape, sounds bad, but prevents the moisture in the air from condensing and dripping on the bees causing them to die from freezing nights.
Many hive designs have built in vents in the top cover and the base entrance. The Apimaye Thermo Hive has vents in each box, surrounding the top cover, at the entrance, and in the base. There are many products sold to add vents to existing wooden hives. Vents need to allow air to flow easily without permitting pests from passing through. Both wireless and wired thermometers are available for monitoring internal hive temperature. If environmental temperatures are a concern then investing in a monitor may be worth the cost.
Humidity is not just important to bee health but, also to honey quality. If the humidity in the hive increases too much the temperature in the hive could drop too low at night and threaten the bees. If the humidity isn't controlled then the water concentration in the honey increases. If the moisture level of the honey is above 18% the honey doesn't store well but ferments instead. You can use a refractometer to test the moisture concentration.
After extracting honey from a super it can be removed from hive for the year. If multiple boxes are being extracted as the same time putting one empty super back on may be needed to accommodate the bees need for space. Most extraction occurs at the end of summer or beginning fall, depending on local climate. The time of extraction can be opportune to start winterization for the hive. During the winter the bees will group together and vibrate their bodies to generate heat, by removing super boxes that are empty allows the bees to conserve heat to the main brood boxes.
Protecting the hive from winds and low temperatures over the winter is vital if the colony will survive until the spring. By surrounding the hive with bushels of hay or insulation boards more of the heat generated by the colony will be kept inside the hive. The Apimaye Thermo Hive has insulation built inside the walls of the hive boxes.
As discussed in Starting a Hive feeding changes during the fall and winter based on the local climate. During the fall while starting winterization the syrup feed is richer as a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. If the temperature during winter stays above 50 fahrenheit the rich syrup will be accepted by the bees all winter. If winters are cold then candy should be fed to the bees instead of syrup. The candy is sugar water boiled until a firm-ball candy stage. The resulting candy can be poured into a wired frame or just on a baking tray, cooled and broken into pieces.
Bee Caste System
There is only one queen per hive. She is treated different from the time she was a larva. All bee larvae are feed some degree of royal jelly, but Queen larvae are only feed royal jelly. The queen is responsible for laying eggs to continue the colony. Her communication throughout the hive isn't completely understood. Bees perform their tasks without micromanagement from the queen. The queen is heavily protected not for the current bees but for the continuation of the colony. Her attendants groom the queen so often that the hairs on the queen's thorax are rubbed off and she is left bald.
Mating flights are taken by the queen usually once in their life at roughly 5 days old. If the queen is too large her attendants will chase her around the hive to "slim down" so a mating flights duration will be long enough for her to reach the drone congregation areas, mate in-flight, and return to the hive with full oviducts. When a queen reign is almost over the architects will create many queen cells hanging off of the normal comb. Inside each queen cell the current queen will lay an egg that will be cared for until a new queen emerges. The first queen to emerge finds the other queen cells and kills her competition by stinging them. Her stinger isn't barbed so she can kill over and over without damage to herself. She also uses the sting as an ovipositor to deposit eggs into cells throughout her life. Queens can lay eggs for both male, drone, and female, worker, bees.
Worker bees are female non-queen bees. They have various jobs to perform in the depending on their age. Outside of laying worker eggs and impregnating the queen, workers do everything else. Worker bees in the absence of a queen can lay drone eggs, but that doesn't help in the continuation of the hive unless an outside queen is introduced to the hive. Following is the order of jobs worker bees progress through, throughout their 6-7 week lives. The job roles discussed below are not completely agreed upon in the beekeeper community, much is left unknown.
Housekeeper - Hive Cleaner, Bee Cleaner
Housekeeper bees have two functions hive cleaner and bee cleaner. The first role for a bee freshly hatched out of their cell is a hive cleaner. Hive cleaners clean out comb cells and make them ready for new eggs or honey. Queens inspect a cell before laying an egg and if she doesn't approve the hive cleaners must clean the cell again.
Bee cleaners are less understood. Workers may become bee cleaners later in life but, no matter when they become a bee cleaner there role is still the same, clean bees. After foragers come back to the hive bee cleaners, clean them to ensure overall hive health and safety. When bees become coated in syrup, honey, water, or any other substance the bee cleaners free the trapped bee while preserving any resource for the betterment of the hive.
Just before becoming a week old worker bees become nurses to unhatched bees and larvae. When they first become nurses they care for the older larvae then after a few days they transition over to caring for the younger larvae. It has been recorded that some larvae are visited over 10,000 times before they hatch out of their cells, that's a couple times a minute they are checked on.
Architect - Comb builder, capping, and repair
Again it is not understood whether all architects are the same or if there are subdivisions among the colony. There are three architect roles comb building, capping, and hive repair. When workers are young their wax glands are mature and they secrete beeswax from the underside of their abdomens. Architects use this wax secretion to build the cells required for brood and honey. The same wax secretions are used to create the thin cappings for sealing honey and protecting brood.
Hive repair is different entirely. Instead of using wax to build comb, hive repair uses propolis to seal the hive for protection. Propolis is tree sap collected by propolis foragers and used as glue in the hive. Frames are glued to the boxes and the boxes are glued together. If there are any unwanted openings in the hive the hive repair bees will seal the opening with propolis. Hive repair bees do not gather propolis they receive the propolis from the propolis foragers after they return to the hive.
The queen's attendants surround the queen no matter where she travels in the hive. Not all workers make a rotation as an attendant. Attendants are overzealous cleaning the queen and as a result rubs her thorax bald. They are also responsible for getting the queen ready for her mating flight and for protecting her when threatened.
Organizer - Nectar Ripening, Pollen Packing, Water Distribution
The organizers are probably the most ambiguous category of worker bees. These are three different classes of workers and their names are not consistent across the beekeeping world. The nectar ripeners are also known as honey makers, they receive the nectar the nectar and pollen foragers collected. That nectar is past from bee to bee until the moisture content in the nectar is around 15-20%, then that nectar is stored in the comb and sealed as honey.
Pollen packing bees receive pollen from the nectar and pollen foragers. Pollen is used for essential vitamins and proteins the bees need to survive. The breakdown of the pollen is incorporated into the nectar as it's being passed from bee to bee.
Water is needed as a nutrient and cooling of the hive. Outside of other foragers one subclass of foragers gather only water and bring it back to the hive. Water is used to dilute the honey to feed the larvae.
Middle aged workers transition into new roles are guard bees stand at the hive entrance and prevent entry to the hive from anything that shouldn't enter, this includes honey bees from other colonies. Guards often lose their life in defence of the hive. Defending against larger robbers like mice will claim many bee lives.
Only healthy and strong hives have the workers to spare as undertakers. Weak hives will have hundreds of dead bees inside the hive on the bottom screen board. Undertakers will take dead and dying bees out of the hive. They will try and fly them far enough from the hive to prevent opportunistic invaders. The bee corpus will attract varied insects for consumption. If the undertaker is flying a dead bee it may place/drop it 20-30 feet from the hive, if it's flying a dying bee who is putting up a struggle then they might not fly as far. If the weather is poor for optimal bee activity, rainy, cold they normally will push or drag the bees right outside the entrance on the landing platform and leave them for a better day.
Forager - Nectar and pollen collector, Propolis collector, Water collector
There are three classes of foragers. Nectar and Pollen Collectors gather pollen on their back legs in what is called pollen baskets and gather nectar in a pre-stomach structure. Bees can carry nearly half their body weight in pollen. These foragers can carry both pollen and nectar, but mostly carry just one or the other per trip. Once these foragers enter the hive they pass their spoils onto an organizer near the entrance, then turn and do it again.
Propolis Collectors gather tree sap for the repair architects to use in sealing and securing the hive. The Water Collectors gather water and pass it off in the hive for feeding the young and for cooling the hive during hot weather.
Drones are the only male bees of the hive. Their only job is to impregnate the queen, then they are only drains on the resources of the hive. Drones are larger than the workers but still smaller than the queen. Drones lack stingers because stingers are ovipositors use for laying eggs. Males lack the ability to lay eggs and therefore lack an ovipositor or stinger.