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Apiculture :: Care and Management of bee keeping


The pre-requisites which are considered must to start beekeeping are as follows

  • Knowledge and training on bee keeping
  • Knowledge on local bee flora
  • Sufficient local bee flora
  • Knowledge of migratory bee keeping

Apiary site requirements

  • The site should be dry without dampness. High RH will affect bee flight and ripening of nectar.
  • Water: Natural or artificial source of water should be provided.
  • Wind breaks: Trees serve as wind belts in cool areas.
  • Shade: Hives can be kept under shade of trees. Artificial structures can also be constructed to provide shade.
  • Bee pasturage and florage: Plants that yield pollen and nectar to bees are called bee pasturage and florage. Such plants should be plenty around the apiary site.

General apiary management practices
1. Hive inspection: Open the hive at least twice a week and inspect for following details. Hive record also is to be maintained for each hive.    

    • Presence of queen
    • Presence of eggs and brood.
    • Honey and pollen storage
    • Presence of bee enemies like wax moth, mite, disease

2. Expanding brood net: It is done by providing comb foundation sheet in empty frame during honey flow period.

3. Supering (Addition of frames in super chamber): This is done when brood chamber is filled with bees and all frames are covered. Comb foundation sheet or constructed comb is provided in super chamber

4. During breeding season
During honey flow season there is considerable increase in the foraging activity of the workers and in the rate of egg laying by the queen. Necessary additional space has to be provided for all these and this is done through supply of new, clean, yellow combs or comb foundation sheets.
In the case of weak stocks, the population can be increased, taking advantage of the favourable environmental conditions, by giving brood combs from strong colonies or by simply changing its position to that of a strong colony in a bright morning when the bees are busy.   The bees of the strong colony after their foraging trip return to the weak hive now located in the site of their original home and thus the weak colony becomes strong.  This should be done in a prosperous season and at a time when bees are busy.  

5. Swarm control
The strength of colonies gets denoted as a result of Swarming. Swarming can be prevented by clipping off special queen brood cells as they are constructed,  since a colony  does not send out a swarm unless a new queen is ready to take the place of the reigning queen.

There are a few other methods of swarm control in which the natural instincts of the bees for dispersal and perpetuation of species are not curbed but aim at relieving the spatial congestion and readjustment of different castes and categories of population (a) Primary swarm is allowed to take  place but trapped in a swarm trap and hived as a separate colony.  The after-swarms are prevented by destroying the remaining queen brood cells (b) One or two brood combs in the strong colonies which are inclined to issue swarms are removed and given to weak colonies.   (c) A brood comb with the reigning queen and a few workers taken out and put in a separate hive and thus the colony is divided, (d) Inter-change of positions between a strong and weak colony.

6. Artificial feeding
Bees do not visit each and every flower. They visit only flowers having ample pollen and nectar (non-toxic to them) and it should be within their reach. Therefore, the bee flora of a particular region is most important for the bee industry. Whenever there is a dearth of nectar and pollen in nature and the stock of these materials is not in the hive, then artificial feeding becomes imperative. The dearth periods vary from region to region in this country. If the bees are not fed artificially during dearth period, they start starving and dwindling, develop wander lust and ultimately abscond. White sugar syrup is a cheap substitute of honey but no pollen substitutes have been tried in this country although different pollen substitutes have been found useful elsewhere. Attempts to replace sugar syrup by cheap cane jaggery to the colonies resulted in the absconding of bee colonies because in most of the cases they did not accept it and suffered from starvation; in some cases if they accepted it they suffered from dysentery.

Preparation of artificial feed. Sugar syrup is prepared by dissolving 100 g of sugar in 150-200 ml of hot water, boiled and cooled. It is offered in 400 ml glass-bottle or cigarette tins with their mouth covered with a mark in cloth held tightly with rubber band or thread. The syrup bottle is placed upside down in the super with or without inner cover. The colonies should be fed on alternate days in the evening.

Effect of artificial feeding: The bee colonies should be fed well during dearth period, especially in winter season. In such cases swarming is induced earlier and this helps a beekeeper in making the bee colonies strong before honey-flow season starts.

7. Provision of Drinking Water
A source of fresh water within a short distance of an apiary is essential. Water is required to blend with the food and to lower the temperature of the hives during hot weather. Water can be supplied in a tank or an earthen pot set up so as to permit the water to drip. The water can be given in a glass bottle inside the hive also.

8. Uniting bee colonies
The question of uniting stock of bees arises only when the colony becomes weak or queen less and all attempts of requeening fail. It is then necessary that weak colonies should be united. As each colony has its own peculiar odour, it is necessary either to blend the odours of the two colonies slowly or suppress both by a stronger one. If this is not done the bees of the two colonies fight. The colonies to be united should be brought near each other by moving them closer, 0.5 to 1.0 m each day, so that incoming bees may not drift back to old site when the colonies are sufficiently close. Two other methods described below can also be used for uniting the colonies.

Newspaper method: Bring colonies side by side by moving 30 cm/day

  • Remove queen from week colony
  • Keep a newspaper on top of brood chamber of queen known as right colony
  • Make holes on the paper
  • Keep queen less colony on top of right colony. 
  • Close hive entrance so that the smell of bees get mixed in both the colony
  • Unite bees to the brood chamber and make it one colony.

Smoke method: Both colonies should be smoked heavily and then dumped into one hive. More smoke should be blown into the common hive.

9. Handling the Queen
The queen is the most important and indispensable individual in the bee colony, and should be handled properly and carefully.

10. Finding the queen
The presence of an active queen in the colony can be judged by the presence of worker eggs. If, however, it is essential to spot her or to catch her, then she must be searched properly. In a strong colony sometimes it may be difficult to spot the queen at the first look.

Test for the absence of queen. It is often necessary to be sure that a colony is really queen less before introducing a new queen. The bees of a queen less colony always develop nervousness. They do not sit properly in the comb. There will be no egg-laying or worker egg laying without uniformity in combs (more than one egg in cells).

11. Introduction of the queen
Of several methods of introducing the queen, some are direct and others indirect. For safe introduction, first it should be made sure that the colony into which it is to be introduced is really queen less and further that no queen cell is present in the brood combs. The queen should be put into a queen-introducing cage, with the exit plugged with queen candy, and then placed in the centre of the brood nest. The queen can be kept in a small specimen tube, the mouth of which is closed with a muslin cloth having a small hole to permit it to escape eventually.

12. Increasing the Number of Colonies
It is very important for beekeeper to increase his bee colony every year and this can be done by dividing the existing colonies into 2 or 3 sub-colonies with fresh queens.

(i) A bee colony can be established by purchasing it from a private or a government organization. Only those colonies should be selected or purchased which have at least 5-6 brood frames covered with bees and a healthy active queen.

(ii) The number of colonies can be increased by dividing the existing colonies during swarming season, when the queen cells are constructed. It is done by keeping 50 per cent brood combs with old queen in an empty hive. The hive should be removed at least 0-8 km away from its original site. The other half of the colony with queen cells should be kept in the original site.

(iii) Another method is to let the colony swarm, and the swarms arc captured and transferred to empty hives by giving brood comb from another colony. The swarms can be kept in the same vicinity.

(iv) Bee colonies can be captured from natural sources. Before bagging the colony, smoke should be applied. The combs are cut and placed in frames with wire to which they are firmly secured. The frames are transferred to a hive along with the bees.

Seasonal management: Pollen and nectar are available only during certain period. When surplus food source are available it is known as honey flow season. In contrast during dearth period there will be scarcity of food. During extremes in climate like summer, winter and monsoon certain specific management tactics are required.

13. Honey flow season management
This season coincides with spring. During this season,

  • Provide more space for honey storage by giving comb foundation sheet or built combs
  • Confine queen to brood chamber using queen excluder
  • Prevent swarming as explained in swarm management
  • Prior to honey flow, provide sugar syrup and build sufficient population
  • Divide strong colonies into 2-3 new colonies, if colony muitiplication is needed
  • Queen rearing technique may be followed to produce new queens for new colonies

14. Summer management
Bees have to survive intense heat and dearth period by following means.

  • Provide sufficient shade, under trees or artificial structure
  • Increase RH and reduce heat by Sprinkling water twice a day on gunny bag or rice straw put on hive
  • Increase ventilation by introducing a splinter between brood and super chamber
  • Provide sugar syrup, pollen supplement, substitute and water

15. Winter management
It includes the following

  • Maintain strong and disease free colonies
  • Provide new queen to the hives
  • Provide winter packing in cooler areas hilly regions

16. Management during dearth period

  • Remove empty combs and store in air tight container.
  • Use dummy division board to confine bees to small area
  • Unite weak colonies
  • Provide sugar syrup, pollen supplement and substitute

17. Rainy season and monsoon management

  • Avoid dampness in apiary site. Provide proper drainage
  • In rain when bees are confined to the hive, provide sugar syrup feeding

18. Bee pasturage or bee forage
Plants that yield pollen and nectar are collectively called bee pasturage or bee forage. Plants which are good source of nectar are tamarind, moringa, neem, Prosopis juliflora, Soapnut tree, Glyricidia maculata, eucalyptus, Tribulus terrestris and pungam. Plants which are good source of pollen are sorghum, sweet potato, maize, tobacco, millets like cumbu, tenai, varagu, ragi, coconut, roses, castor, pomegranate and date palm. Plants which are good source of both pollen and nectar are banana, peach, citrus, guava, apple, Sunflower, berries,  safflower, pear, mango and plum.

Foraging: This refers to collection of nectar and pollen by bees.

Nectar foragers: These collect nectar from flowers using lapping tongue and pass the nectar to hive bees. Hive bees repeatedly pass the nectar between pre oral cavity and tongue to ripen the honey. Later they drop the ripened honey into cells.

Pollen foragers: They collect pollen by passing through different flowers. Pollen sticking to the body is removed by using pollen comb. Then it is packed using pollen press into corbicula or pollen basket. A single bee carries 10 to 30 mg of pollen which is 25 per cent of bee's weight. Then the pollen is dislodged by middle leg into cells. Pollen is mixed with honey and stored.

Pollen foraging


Floral fidelity: A bee visits same species of plant for pollen and nectar collection until the source is exhausted. This is known as floral fidelity. Bees travel 2 to 3 km distance to collect pollen and nectar.


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