We’ve all been there!

You have a fascination with bees, have felt the call of beekeeping and decided to take the plunge – and then the confusion starts!
  • What hive should I purchase?
  • Where should I install it?
  • What feeder is best?
  • When should I check the queen is out of her cage?
Of course, that’s a tiny selection of many, many questions you will have. PerfectBee is proud to offer a wide range of articles and blog posts that will help you answer these questions.But, as a “newbee” (beginner beekeeper” you will have more? And so we decided to create this unique series as way to walk in the shoes of said newbee! Here’s how we do that…

One Newbee + One Expert = One Series

This series captures the real-world, actual questions of a new beekeeper as he obtains his bees, installs them and starts out as a beekeeper. We include the type of questions you won’t always find asked else where – like “When I bring my package bees home, will they make a mess in my car?!”.Through a Q&A style, we hope you will find this series both fun and educational?

Who Is the Newbee and Who Is the Expert?

So we needed a newbee and we needed an expert. Enter… Mark and Ron.
  • Mark Williams is the founder of PerfectBee. He launched PerfectBee in November 2015 and by working with expert beekeeper contributors helped introduce many new beekeepers to this fascinating hobby. Mark took the plunge and has recently installed his first beehive. He’s excited about where this leads – and has some questions. Lots of them! Mark…. is our resident newbee.
  • Ron Lane has years of experience as a beekeeper and regularly teaches beekeeping classes. With a light, enjoyable but thorough style, Ron responds to Mark’s questions using common sense and real-world experience of the issues facing new beekeepers. Ron…is our beekeeping expert.
We do hope you enjoy this series.

22 thoughts on ““Newbee Questions, Expert Answers” Column”

  1. Hi Ron,
    Years ago we had a few hives in Central Michigan and were relatively successful without alot of fuss. We garden organic and use organic methods on our property. We have since moved to Southern California and my husband has mentioned being interested in starting up again. I have been warned that it is a very different experience in warmer climates. How would you recommend we get started here?
    The bee keeper associations that I found are all several hours north of us.
    Thank you,

    1. Susie, you are correct, it will certainly be a different world keeping bees in southern Cal. However, the principles all remain the same and honeybee biology will remain the same. Just as you became familiar with the climate and the seasons in Michigan, you will learn the same thing about the area you are currently in. One thing that comes to mind that may be a little different for you is a dearth. (The lack of forage (pollen and nectar) during a hot and dry period) The bees will remain active though and will need food stores and a water source.

      All beekeeping is local. You will learn your micro-climate, the potential chemicals and pests in your area and the seasons. You will likely have to pay even greater attention to the mite issue since the season or time period in which they can breed will be much greater. Fortunately there are good mite treatments available that are not made up of synthetic chemicals. Attached is a link for the honeybee health coalition. It makes a very good reference. Its free and updated annually.


      I have no doubt that you will be able to be successful with your bees in Southern Cal. You may experience a set back or two as you take on a new learning curve, but taken in stride I’m sure you will find your way to success. Best of luck.

  2. Hi, I just witnessed a strange occurrence in a natural hive outside my office. I thought the hive was swarming, but I’ve only watched a swarm come in to land, I’ve never witnessed one leave a place before, so I don’t know what it looks like. The hive is located in the “Y” of a large oak tree. I walked up to notice thousands of bees buzzing around the tree, many thousands, not just several hundred. There was a definite group of them that slowly moved away, but in a very directionless, open pattern. The group that was moving away was more protective and kept telling me in no uncertain terms where my boundaries were. The thousand or two that remained close to the tree were also buzzing about in a rather broad open pattern, but clearly remained near the tree and didn’t seem as concerned with my presence. In the span of about 40 minutes, it was as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t even quite tell where the “swarm” – if it was one – was headed (and they didn’t seem to want me to follow, either.
    When I recently had the privilege of watching a swarm land in a tree on my property, there was pretty clear direction to the group, and in 10 minutes they were clumped in the tree.
    I guess my question is – does it look so disjointed and chaotic when they take flight into a swarm? Does it upset the bees that are left behind – or maybe they just needed to get out of the hive to get out of the way while the group left? I’d love to know more. I am a 2nd year beekeeper who had her initial hive abscond last year right after a great harvest (my Brother In Law was a commercial beekeeper in the 80’s so I’ve had some pretty great guidance). It was heartbreaking, but we got back to it this year with 2 new hives, which I am thoroughly enjoying, and we have the best, most docile, hardworking species one could imagine (both years). They are so kind to us rookies! Thank you for your great blog.

  3. I’m receiving six – 10 frame deep, hive boxes this weekend. The person I purchased the hives from said each deep hive box will have 8 to 10 frames. My questions are:
    – Do I add a new 10 frame hive box with a syrup feeder and a few new frames to each new colony to give them food and a place to expand day one so I reduce my risk of swarming?
    – Should I also add some protein to tied them over until foragers find new food sources in the area? Maybe two weeks of protein.
    – Should I use a reducer for a week or two to help them get established? I’m thinking no because of the colony size.
    I live in Texas and will be picking up the bees the first week of May. Temperatures are in the 70’s to the 90’s.
    Any guidance would be appreciated.
    Thank you.

    1. Congratulations! That’s a bunch of bees and a lot of fun too!
      With regards to the number of frames I can’t help but wonder if the supplier didn’t mean 8 to 10 frames of bees? Sometimes they speak in terms of what comes inside the hive box. So bottom line, if they do not have 10 frames you should add enough frames to fill the box unless you use a frame feeder.

      Next – Definitely add a hive box on top of the box the bees come in. The bees will quickly fill the box they come in and want to swarm if not given room.

      Feeding is always helpful for a new colony getting established in a new location. However, it may not be necessary. You would only need to pull a frame or two on one side of the hive box to see if they have pollen and honey/nectar stored. If they do I would not feed. Feeding will fill up the available space very quickly, giving the bees plenty of incentive to swarm. Lack of room and idle nurse bees cause a colony to swarm. Also, no need to use the reducer. Plenty of bees there to protect themselves and ventilation is also important in preventing swarming.

      Summary – based on what you have described, I would add frames to the hive box the bees come in if needed and immediately add another hive box to give them room. Take a peak at a couple frames on the outside of the hive box to see what the stores look like but I don’t think feeding will be necessary.

      I wish you and your bees the best.

  4. Katie, its interesting that bees have returned to this site and apparently the poison is not having much of an effect just yet. That will bear watching. I think at this point its yet to be determined if enough of the poison spray remains for it to be a problem. You are correct in watching for trembling, shaky or disoriented bees. One more sign of poisoning is the bees die with their tongues sticking out. So if you find a dead bee that is something you can look for.

    Bees, for some reason, seem to prefer dirty water. Thus the attraction to hot tubs and kiddie pools (my dogs drool drenched water bowl seems to be a favorite as well). I wouldn’t be too concerned about the chlorinated water being an issue. Providing water is always good and a good way to do it is to use anything that drips even the tiniest amount. Bees will drown in just 1/4 inch of water.

    For now I think you can simply wait to see how the bees do. If you find dead bees with their tongues sticking out, then you might look to remove vegetation and anything else you think might be contaminated with the poison. Other than that I would simply enjoy them. Hopefully all goes well.

  5. We live in Las Vegas, NV and moved from a different house in summer, 2017. There was a bee hive in a concrete wall that had opened and cracked, and this is located around the yard. My husband insisted that we get rid of the hive around June, 2017 so that landscapers could trim a palm tree that was a couple of feet away — they were afraid of the bees. One of the pest companies sprayed a huge amount of poison. They did this twice. Bees disappeared. Palm trees were trimmed. Yesterday (2-10-18), there was a swarm of bees flying in a circular pattern over the wall, and bees apparently returned to this hive (or emerged from the hive). Now we have many bees, and they leave the nest in the morning and return at dusk. It has been slightly warm (for the area) in the daytime — up to 77 degrees. I am assuming we have a hive, but am concerned that there could still be poison in/around it. I found one dead bee dead in water in the pool (which is treated with chlorine) and did not revive when removed. No others appear sick, shaky, trembling, or ill — no problems with them. They appear to be doing what bees do. Is there something I should do to ensure the bees’ health? Ensure a source of clean, not chlorinated water at least 10 feet from the hive? What does chlorine in a pool do to bees? Remove plants that still have poison marks and also may retain these poisons? Can I just leave the bees alone? The house also has many mature roses, and I have no problems with bees, and hope they enjoy the roses, which were never touched with this poison.

    I work part time in s. WA in the Kelso area, fly into Portland about every month or so, and hope to visit your business some time.

    The information you provide is very helpful and well written. Thank you!

  6. Ron,
    Thank you very much for the clarification on the mineral/salt question. Looking forward to the new journey and will continue to visit the site.

    Happy New Year!

  7. Walt,
    Very good question. Bees obtain essentially all the minerals, amino acids and proteins they need from pollen. Pollen varies widely in its protein make up and some pollens are better nutritionally than others, so a variety of pollen resources are what is best. I would caution you about adding salt to your water or sugar water you feed your new colony. As little as 0.125% salt added to sugar water (or water) results in a reduction in longevity. Until you know for sure the bees are not getting the salt they need I would not be adding it to the water you provide them. In the fall I will often add ground up pollen (ground fine in a coffee grinder) to my hives to assure they are getting all the nutrients they need. Just be sure you know the source of your pollen and that its clean or you could very well be introducing disease into your colonies.

    One more point about your water resource. Be sure to set it up more than 10 feet away from your hives. Closer than that and the bees have difficulty communicating the location of the water source to the other foragers in the hive. Certainly bees will find the water, but it is largely by accident and not because other forages have been able to direct them to it.

    Your question brings to light a very good lesson that can be applied on a broader scale and for the benefit of others and I would like to use it as a teaching point for other beginners. Some times beekeepers can be their own worst enemy. Every action you take should be thoughtfully considered and researched before trying it out on your bees. All of us are guilty of acting before fully considering or understanding the impact of our actions and the sooner a beekeeper learns this lesson the better off they and their bees will be. I’m not speaking about experimenting here. All of us like to try things. I’m speaking to what is often referred to as “loving your bees to death”. So do your best to help the bees you purchase to become established, but if they have the resources they need they should do just fine on their own. Well, that is until the mite count gets high. But that’s another matter for another time.

    Best of luck with your bees this coming spring!

  8. Great online resource and online course. I will be setting up my first hive in the spring of 2018. I live in North East. My question relates to water sources. I have to provide for this and was wondering if I should add a mineral or salt lick for my bees.


  9. I live in Australia and read your comments ,very interesting never to old to learn ,keep the good work up. ron from new south wales Australia . [ hobby bee keeper ] .if I can be of help any time let me know .

  10. George,
    Honeybees are much like other wild creatures that spend the summer months preparing, in one way or another, for the coming winter. Honeybees spend the summer months collecting nectar which they store in the colony as honey. When the honey is used up in one area the entire cluster of bees moves to a new area of stored honey. They feed on the honey throughout the winter to stay alive. In my area in Oregon the bees need approximately 70 pounds of honey to see them through the winter. Other parts of the country with longer winters require more.

    Over the course of the winter the bees cluster together in a tight ball to stay warm. If they have brood (young) in the colony they will maintain a temperature of approximately 93 or more degrees to keep the brood alive. They do this by shivering their wing muscles. If there is no brood (a broodless period of about 6 weeks is normal) they will often maintain a temperature within the cluster in the low 80’s. This is the temperature in the very core of the cluster. The bees on the outside edges of the cluster sometimes become so cold they cannot move until there is a sun break and a warm enough day for them to move. This happens at about 45 to 50 degrees outside on a windless day.

    In late winter the bees begin to raise increasing amounts of new young bees. These new bees feed on pollen stored within the hive. Pollen is a source of protein and honey is a source of carbohydrates. The bees that maintained the colony through the cold winter months will live just long enough to bring a new generation of worker bees into the colony before dying.

    Honeybee colonies should not be disturbed in the winter and one of the things that helps them through the winter is for the hive be protected from wind.

    Thank you for the question and I hope this helps with your understanding about winter bees.

  11. Michael, good question and one the bees would gladly answer for you though you probably would not like how they taught the lesson. Medium frames placed in a deep hive box will almost certainly result in cross comb being built all over the place in the empty space that remains below the bottom of the medium frames. This would make it nearly impossible to remove the frames without destroying comb. One way to avoid the cross comb would be to place a deep frame on each side of the medium frame so the bees are “guided” in building straight comb. Eventually the medium frames will function as deeps because the bees will build the comb down to the depth of the adjacent deep frames.

    Something you may want to consider is moving in the direction of medium hive boxes. They are easier to lift and handle and the bees do fine with them. I have been moving in that direction myself and find it makes life much easier when working my colonies. Since I also have deep hive bodies from when I began beekeeping, I still use them, but I place them on the bottom and then add mediums on top. This has worked very well, with one consideration. Using two size hive boxes can, at times, present issues you must work around because all the equipment is not of one uniform size. I don’t know what part of the country you are in and how your winters are, so maybe deep hive boxes are what you need to use. We have cold winters where I’m at in Oregon but they are not as long as some of the other northern parts of the country. So keep in mind what the demands are of your local climate to make sure your bees are capable of wintering in the home you provide them.

    I hope that helps and thanks for your question.

  12. I purchased a used Langstroth hive, consisting of 2-10 frame deeps and 1-10 frame medium. my question is could I install mediums in the deeps without any issues or is there something else I need to do? My bee guy only sells mediums so I need to know if I need to find someone else.

  13. Liz your analysis is correct. You need to deal with the mites right away. A couple of good organic options are available to you if you want to go that route. Apiguard or Api Life Var are made from the Thyme plant and Thymol is the active ingredient. Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid) are also very effective. I don’t know where you live, but pay very close attention to the directions regarding temperature. Especially the Mite Away Quick Strips. I would not use them in temps above the low 80’s. Pay close attention to the directions for both products,

    After your treatment you will want to do another mite count to determine effectiveness. If you got the mite count knocked down then you should be good to go until fall (Aug/Sept). To have healthy winter bees you want mites under control by late summer or early fall. Try to use two different treatments. You might try the Thymol product now and then use the formic acid in the fall. Different treatments helps keep the mites from becoming resistant.

    Good luck with your bees and keep an eye out for an article here in the weeks to come about how to prepare your hive for winter.

  14. Just checked hives for Varroa Mites using a powder sugar shake (used white sugar milled in a blender to avoid corn starch found in powdered sugar) and found the mite population quite high, 36/300. What would you suggest to knock down the mites. I’m worried if nothing is done until the fall the mites will do huge damage and the hives die.

  15. We left a crocheted afghan on our deck rail and the next day it had a dozen or more of what appeared to be drone honey bees on it?? Why? And what should we do?? I don’t want to interfere with any process

    1. If they are drones they wont be there very long. Drones can only stay out of the hive for about 4 hours. (That is time flying so probably longer if they are not flying.) Then they must return to the hive to feed. Check at night or early morning and all the bees should be gone. It wont hurt to remove the afghan then.

  16. I have a new hive. I got a nuc on April 15 and set up my hive. It has been cold and rainy here so I haven’t had a chance to open the hive and check on the bees. I have been feeding them sugar water and noticed bees coming and going out of the hive. Today, I found 4 dead bees at the entrance of the hive. It has literally rained here everyday this past week and it is cold. Should I be concerned? I don’t want to open the hive in this nasty weather and get the bees chilled. Is there anything I should do?


    1. Suzanne,

      You are wise not open the hive in the cold and wet weather. Unless you saw something abnormal, the dead bees at the entrance is a sign the colony is functioning normally. In other words, the bees are doing their jobs and one of those jobs is to remove dead bees from the hive. So I would not be concerned based upon finding just four dead bees at the entrance.

      When the weather improves and you can look inside the hive for an inspection, be sure there is plenty of room for the queen to lay her eggs. With the cool wet weather the bees may not be drawing out new comb very fast or at all, depending how cold its been. Sometimes when feeding a colony the bees fill the drawn comb with sugar water, leaving little room for the queen to lay. That said, if its as cold as you say, the bees are not likely taking much feed anyway. Hopefully the nuc came with a frame of stores for the bees.

      So for now I believe you are doing the best for the colony by leaving them alone and waiting for better weather. As long as they have enough food in the hive they should be fine.

      Keep up on your mite counts and good luck with your bees this season.

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