These questions are from the Master Beekeeper Program for the Virginia State Beekeepers Association (VSBA). The program provides an Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master level. More information can be found at https://www.virginiabeekeepers.org/master-beekeeper
Note that these answers are mine, and I make no claims that they are completely correct. They are answered to the best of my ability at the time. If you have an addition or correction for an answer here, please let me know.
The sections and questions are from the study guide. I added the numbers to the questions for easier reference. My answers are in italics. Of course, there is probably more information here than you actually need to know for the exam, and I provide no guarantees that the answers reflect what is expected by the program.
I. Honey Bee Biology
A. Occupants of the Hive
101. What three types of individuals are found in the honey bee colony? How can they be distinguished? How many of each type might you expect to find in a colony? Do the numbers change during the year.
- The three types of honey bees in a colony are workers, drones, and the queen.
- A worker bee is lighter than the queen or drone, with pollen baskets on its legs, wax glands on its abdomen, and a barbed stinger.
- A drone is heavier than the queen or drone, with no pollen or wax glands. It has large eyes with a blunt abdomen and no stinger.
- A queen has an elongated body, with no pollen sacs and a pointed abdomen. Her stinger is more curved and less barbed than a workers, allowing her to sting repeatedly.
- In a hive there is typically a single queen, occasionally there are two queens: a mother and her daughter. Drones are few, anywhere from zero in winter to a thousand or so in summer. Workers form the bulk of the hive, from a few thousand in winter to 60,000 or more in summer.
- The numbers do change during the year, depending on the season and conditions.
102. What are the two castes found in the colony and what are their major roles (functions). What is the development cycle of each (stages and times) and how do the conditions under which they are reared differ?
- The worker and the queen are the two castes, both female. The worker bee does the labor within the hive, from nursing eggs and larvae to foraging for nectar and pollen. The queen’s role is to lay eggs and release pheromones to keep the hive intact.
- Both castes go through the egg, larva, pupae, bee stages.
- For the worker, the egg stage is three days, the larva stage is 6-7 days, the pupa stage is 11-12 days, with the worker bee emerging around day 21 (generally 18-22 days).
- For the queen, the egg stage is three days, the larva stage 5-6 days, the pupa stage 7-8 days, with the queen emerging around day 16.
- Both castes are fed royal jelly initially. The queen larva receives only royal jelly throughout her development, while worker larvae transition to a diet of bee bread (honey and pollen) on the third day (day 6 of their development).
103. What is the function of males and what are their development stages and times?
- The drones mate with queens from other hives. They will occasionally assist in a bee chain of workers during comb creation. Generally, their only function is to mate with queens.
- The drone egg stage is three days, the larva stage 6-7 days, the pupa stage 14 days, with the drone bee emerging around day 24.
How to remember bee development times: 3-5-8-5-3
All bees have 3 days as an egg, another 5+ for the larva (6-7 for worker and drone), another 8 days before a queen is born (16 days), another 5 days before a worker is born (21 days), and another 3 days before a drone is born (24 days).
104. How is sex determined in honey bees?
- Based on whether an egg is fertilized
- A fertilized egg becomes a female bee, a worker or a queen.
- An unfertilized egg becomes a male bee, a drone.
- The queen decides whether to fertilize an egg at the time of laying, based on the size of the cell.
B. Anatomy and Physiology
105. What are the three main body sections of the adult bee and how are they specialized in terms of function?
- Bees have a head, thorax, and abdomen.
- The head includes:
- Eyes for seeing, including ultraviolet light.
- Antennae with thousands of tiny sensors that detect smell and feel
- Mandibles (mouth) for feeding larvae, collecting pollen, manipulating wax, and carrying things.
- Proboscis (tongue) used like a straw to extract nectar and exchange nectar with other bees.
- The thorax is the middle section and includes:
- Wings for flight. There are four wings that attach during flight and detach when at rest.
- The wing muscles are used to generate heat when necessary.
- Legs for walking, three pairs all different, each with six flexible segments and taste receptors on the ends.
- The front legs are used for cleaning, especially the antennae.
- The middle legs help with balance and are used to pack the pollen baskets in the hind legs.
- The hind legs include special combs for pollen collection, a pollen press, and pollen baskets. These collect and pack pollen for transport to the hive.
- Wings for flight. There are four wings that attach during flight and detach when at rest.
- Spiracles for breathing. These are tiny holes along the thorax and abdomen.
- The abdomen includes:
- Digestive and reproductive organs
- Wax glands (8 of them) for producing wax flakes
- Nasonov glands for producing nosema
106. What are the major sensory structures of the adult bee and where are they found? What organs are used for smell, taste, and touch? What visual organs do honey bees have? Are they all capable of seeing images? Can honey bees hear sound?
- The eyes, antennae, legs, and body hair. The eyes and antennae are on the head, while the legs are attached to the thorax.
- Honey bees smell with antennae, which have roughly 170 odor receptors. These are so sensitive that a worker bee can detect a scent during flight.
- Honey bees sense of taste is in their tongues, legs, and antennae. They rely on their sense of smell more than taste, though they can differentiate between sweet, salty, sour and bitter.
- Honey bees feel touch with the hairs on their body. They can sense wind flow and feel vibrations from around them. They can judge distances using their antennae, for example to judge the width of a honeycomb cell.
- Honey bees have two systems for sight: two large compound eyes and three ocelli:
- The compound eyes have thousands of facets that each take in a part of an image, which is then reconstructed. Honey bees see in the green-yellow, blue, and ultraviolet spectrum, and thus cannot see the color red. They also see polarized light, which is used for navigation.
- The ocelli help with navigation and stability, and can judge light intensity and see ultraviolet light from flowers.
- Honey bees sense sounds by detecting vibrations using a Johnston’s organ in its antennae (whatever that is).
107. What do bees eat and what food do they collect?
- They collect nectar and pollen.
- All larvae eat royal jelly for their first three days of life.
- Young larva (worker and drone) eat bee bread (made from pollen) as their protein source.
- Adult bees eat nectar and honey, except for the queen.
- Queen bees eat royal jelly for their entire life, as both a larva and an adult.
108. How do honey bees carry nectar and water?
- In their honey stomach, also called a crop or a honey sack.
- The crop expands as it fills, so does not take up much space when empty.
109. How are honey bees specialized for the collection and transport of pollen?
- The hind legs have a pollen basket for holding pollen, and a pollen press for pushing pollen down into this basket.
- There are specialized combs on the hind legs for combing the pollen into the basket.
110. How do they carry propolis?
- They carry propolis in their pollen sacks.
111. Where are the wax glands located?
- A worker bee has eight wax-producing glands underneath her abdomen.
- Each gland emits a small glob of wax which quickly dries. The bee grabs the wax flakes with their legs and works it with their mandibles to build comb in the hive.
112. How do honey bees produce brood food?
- Bees secrete royal jelly from glands in their head, which is fed to all larvae for the first three days of their life, and the only diet for queens.
- Pollen brought to the hive is stored in cells. Workers mix this with honey and digestive fluids to form bee bread. This is stored in the comb and sealed with a drop of honey.
- Worker and drone larva more than three days old are fed bee bread and nectar/honey.
113. What is the basic structure and function of the sting? What happens when a bee stings?
- The stinger has three hollow sharply pointed structures: the left and right lancets, which are barbed, and the central dorsal stylet. There is a bulb at the top that holds the venom and is part of the stinger.
- The stinger sits within the abdomen, and when the muscles around it contract the abdomen bends downward and drives the stinger perpendicular into the target. The bulb, or venom sac, stays attached and continues to pump venom into the target.
- The barbs help the stinger stay in the wound, and pulls part of the abdomen and digestive tract from the bee as well. The bee dies as a result.
114. How long does a bee live?
- A worker bee lives 6 to 8 weeks in the summer, essentially working herself to death.
- In the winter a worker will live 4 to 6 months, until spring.
- Drone bees live about the same as worker bees.
- A queen lives up to 5 years, although most queens (in the United States) live only 2 or 3 years.
115. Why are queens larger than workers and why does queen size change during the year?
- Queens are larger because they have fully developed ovaries, and they store sperm from the mated drones in their spermatheca
- Queen size may change due to mating, swarm preparation and egg production.
- A virgin queen is smaller due to the lack of stored sperm in the spermatheca, and becomes larger after she has mated.
- Before a hive swarms the worker bees reduce the amount of food for the queen so she is smaller and more able to fly during swarming.
- When the queen is actively laying, an increased level of production will increase her size.
116. Where are the ovaries located and how do queens store sperm from mating?
- The ovaries are in the abdomen.
- Sperm is stored in the spermatheca, and is released to fertilize an egg.
- Around 20 sperm are released during fertilization. One sperm will fertilize the egg.
117. When does a queen mate and with how many drones?
- A virgin queen takes up to a week to be ready to fly (5-6 days), after which she will make one or more mating flights over the next few days.
- She will mate with 12-20 drones during these flights.
118. Where do queens mate?
- In the air during flight
- In the “wild,” honey bee queens can mate up to 3 or even 5 miles from the hive.
- Based on research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a managed bee yard queens will often mate with drones from the same yard. In this case they have very short mating flights
119. How many eggs does a queen lay in a day? Does the number vary? How does a queen know whether to lay a fertilized or an unfertilized egg?
- A queen can lay up to 2000 eggs per day, perhaps more.
- The number of eggs laid varies with the season, in peak spring and summer a queen may lay at full capacity. In winter the queen lays little or no eggs.
- Worker bees guide the queen where she needs to be and exert control over how many cells she can lay in based on the size of the hive, available stores, and the seasonal objectives.
120. What are the main functions of a queen, other than egg laying?
- The queen primary purpose is to lay eggs.
- The queen’s pheromones help keep the colony intact.
- Workers pick up queen substance as they feed and groom her, and pass this around the hive. This keeps workers from developing ovaries and lets the hive know a queen is present. The strength of this substance can decrease over time, which may factor into when the workers decide to replace a queen via supersedure.
- The queen also leaves pheromone as she walks, which suppresses the construction of queen cells. This also weakens as the queen ages.
- The queen is also critical in swarming, when she leaves with about half the colony to form a new hive.
121. Does a queen ever leave the colony after mating?
- The queen will only leave the hive due to absconding or swarming, and of course through beekeeper error or intervention.
122. Can there be more than one queen in a colony?
- Yes, sometimes a queen and a daughter queen will share a hive for a while, both laying eggs.
- The mother queen eventually leaves with a swarm or dies.
- Occasionally workers will keep multiple virgin queens alive in the hive, either as protection against a mated one returning or to permit a virgin to leave with an after-swarm.
123. Under what conditions are new queens reared?
- For supersedure, when the workers decide to replace the queen. An emergency supersedure occurs when the queen unexpectedly dies, leaves the hive, or is injured.
- Prior to swarming, new queens are reared to take over the colony after the existing queen leaves.
- Of course, during queen rearing by a beekeeper a strong colony with no queen is given eggs or young larva to raise as queens.
124. How does a drone differ from a worker in appearance?
- Drones are larger with a more rounded abdomen, as they have no stinger.
- Their wings are longer than workers’ wings, to provide speedy flight when trying to catch a queen.
- Their eyes are also much larger than workers and on top of their head in order to see the queen during mating flights.
125. Why don’t drones have a stinger?
- The stinger in a worker is a modified ovipositor (for laying eggs). Drones are male, and therefore do not have this organ and no stinger as well.
- The drone uses its reproductive organs in mating.
126. How many days after emergence does a drone reach sexual maturity and initiate mating flights?
- Roughly 7 to 10 days after emergence. Around 9 days is frequently quoted.
127. How many times does a drone mate? Why?
- Once. A drone dies after mating, so can only mate a single time with a queen.
128. What two senses do drones use to locate queens for mating?
- A drone has a special odorant receptor that can detect a queen by her smell from up to 60 meters away.
- It’s large eyes locate the queen by sight.
129. When are drones reared?
- In spring and early summer when the hive is healthy.
C. Colony Organization
130. What are the basic labor activities performed by workers (ie. nurse activities and brood care, attending queen, nest construction, cleaning, guarding, etc.)
- Worker bees are cell cleaners for their first few days.
- They transition to nurse bees after a few days until roughly 11 days old
- They stay in the brood area during this period and care for the brood
- Nurse bees attend to the queen.
- Other activities including feeding brood and capping larva..
- Middle aged bees are 12 to 21 days old, serving as:
- Undertakers to remove dead bees and other debris from the hive.
- Building and trimming comb
- Controlling temperature and humidity, through movement of air in the hive or by washboarding with water.
- Receiving resources from foragers and storing it in the hive
- Nectar processing to turn nectar into honey
- Pollen processing to turn pollen into bee bread.
- Guarding the nest entrances from intruders
- Grooming and feeding other bees (trophallaxis)
- Forager bees from roughly 22 days to death. In the summer, workers die around 42 to 50 days
- Locate and harvest resources: nectar, pollen, propolis, and water
- Communicate with other foragers about the location of resources
- Aid in the defense of the hive.
- After swarming, assist with the selection of a new nest site.
131. How is the labor system organized and how do tasks change as a function of age?
- Younger workers perform tasks within the hive, while older workers take on more complex tasks and ultimately foraging outside the hive.
- See the prior answer for full details.
132. When (age) do workers forage and what four things to bees collect? What is the function of each?
- Workers become foragers around 3 weeks and collect nectar, pollen, propolis, and water.
- Nectar is used as food, and dried into honey.
- Pollen is used as food for larvae and is turned into bee bread.
- Propolis is used a glue to fill cracks, improve structural stability, reduce entrance sizes, and prevent (or entomb) diseases, parasites, and small intruders (like mice).
- Water is used to cool the hive during warm periods.
133. What is a pheromone and why are they important to colony functioning?
- A pheromone is a chemical substance released into the environment by an animal.
- Pheromones regulate the functioning of a honey bee colony, including suppressing laying workers.
134. Which bee produces the pheromones most important to normal colony functioning?
- The queen, as she produces queen substance that lets the colony know that a queen is in the hive. This pheromone suppresses swarming and laying workers, and helps keep the hive calm.
- Other important pheromones include
- The queen’s footprint pheromone discourages queen cell construction.
- The larval and pupal brood recognition pheromone that inhibits ovarian development in worker bees.
135. What are the basic functions of the bee dances?
- Let other bees know where food can be found. The Round Dance is used for sources within 100 meters of the hive, while the Waggle Dance is used for food further away.
- These dances are also used during swarming to let other scout bees know where to find a potential nest.
136. Where do honey bees naturally nest? What does a natural nest look like?
- Honey bees naturally nest in cavities, typically in a tree hollow.
- A natural nest is typically around the size of a deep Langstroth box, about 40 to 60 liters (1.5 to 2 cubic feet) and is taller than it is wide.
137. What materials are used to construct the nest?
- Wax and propolis. A nest is constructed of wax, and propolis is typically spread over the side walls.
- Propolis and sometimes wax are also used to fill cracks and crevices.
138. What is the basic structure of the comb (cell shape and structure)?
- Cells are constructed in a hexagon shape throughout the hive. In a natural hive the cells are various sizes, with foundation the size of cells is more standardized.
- Comb is typically constructed in sheets. Each sheet starts as an arc attached at the top of the hive, and is built downward to the sides and bottom of the hive.
- Comb may be attached to the walls and floor in some areas, although a bee space is typically left for movement of bees through the hive.
139. Is there a natural pattern to comb utilization in the nest? For example, where is brood reared and pollen stored? Where do they store honey? How do we take advantage of this natural organization in our management?
- The brood is typically raised at the bottom of the nest, with the honey stored above and to the sides.
- Pollen is stored near the brood area for easy access by nurse bees.
- Beekeepers take advantage of this by placing supers on top of a box for a honey harvest, relying on the queen and brood to stay lower in the next.
Colony Life Cycle
140. What does a honey bee colony do in the winter? Spring? Summer?, Fall?
- In the winter, a colony clusters to stay warm. The hive starts raising brood towards the end of winter to prepare for spring.
- In the spring, the colony continues building. They gather nectar, pollen, and other resources to build up honey stores and prepare for winter. They raise drones. If a hive becomes sufficiently strong it will swarm to produce another hive (or multiple hives).
- In the summer, the colony begins to ramp down production of worker bees. Nectar, pollen, and other resources continue to be collected as available. Swarming can occur during the summer.
- In the fall, the colony prepares for winter. Storing honey above and around the brood nest, kicking out the drones, and ramping down to their winter cluster size.
141. How does a colony population change during the year?
- The colony has the lowest population in winter, ramping up into spring, then ramping down into winter.
- A summer colony can have as many as 80,000 bees, while a winter cluster may be as low as a few thousand bees.
142. When do colonies reproduce? How?
- Colonies reproduce by swarming.
- This typically occurs when the colony is strong during warm weather, generally late spring to early summer.
- A swarm can occur throughout the year, if the conditions are right.
II. Beekeeping Equipment and Assembly
A. Hive Types
201. What is the most widely used type of hive?
- The Langstroth hive
202. What are the main features of a Langstroth hive?
- Bottom board, one or more boxes with removable frames, and a top cover.
- Bottom board can be solid or with a screen.
- Boxes can be deep, medium, or shallow, with removable frames that enforce bee space.
- The top cover can consist of an inner cover and an outer cover, or outer cover alone.
203. What is a nuc, or nucleus colony?
- A small hive, typically 5 deep frames. Medium frame nucs also exist.
- Nucs are used as a way to raise queens, overwinter small colonies, and otherwise have a standby colony or queen to help jump start or recover a hive..
B. Components of the Langstroth hive
204. What is bee space and why is it important in the design of a modern hive?
- Bee space is the distance the bees will preserve without building comb.
- It is important because hive designs take advantage of this space to create removable combs that the beekeeper can remove from the hive for inspection.
205. What is the purpose of a hive stand?
- To raise the hive and help prevent the bottom board from rotting.
- To raise the hive entrance to make it harder for ants and mice to enter.
- So the bees can sting a predator when they stand in front of the hive. A skunk can be stung on the stomach, for example, if the hive is raised about 18 inches.
- To make it easier for the beekeeper to work the hive.
206. What is a landing board?
- A board that sticks out from the base front of the hive that the bees can land on before entering the hive.
207. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of a solid and screen bottom board.
- Screen bottom boards
- Provides extra ventilation for the hive in hot weather
- Facilitates mite drop for mite monitoring
- Debris falls through the bottom to the ground
- Queen may be reluctant to lay at the base of the hive, although a slotted rack can help address this issue.
- May make it harder to maintain hive temperature in cooler weather
- Solid bottom boards
- Easier for the hive to maintain temperatures in cooler weather
- Queen more willing to lay eggs at the base of the hive
- Debris gathers on the bottom board and must be removed by the bees
- Harder to monitor mites without opening the hive
- Bees have to work harder to keep the hive cool in hot weather
208. What are the dimensions of a deep, medium, and shallow hive box?
- Langstroth hive boxes hold 19 inch frames, each 1 ⅜ inches wide.
- Deep boxes are 9 9/16 inches deep with 9 ⅛ high frames
- Medium boxes, or Illinois supers, are 6 ⅝ inches deep with 6 ¼ high frames
- Shallow boxes are 5 ¾ inches deep with 5 ¼ high frames
- Boxes are typically built to hold 8 or 10 frames
- Other hive types and dimensions:
- Dadant hive is 11 ⅝ inches deep with 11 ¼ high frames
- Comb super, or extra shallow super, is 4 ¾ inches deep with 4 ⅛ high frames
209. Which hive box(es) may be used as a brood chamber? honey supers?
- Typically deep or medium boxes are used for brood.
- Any box can be used for honey supers, though medium and shallow are preferred since they are lighter. A fully capped 10-frame deep can weigh as much as 100 pounds.
210. Describe the parts and proper method for nailing a frame together.
- It varies with the type of frame. A frame typically has up to five parts: a bottom, top, two sides, and a wedge.
- As a general method: glue sides to bottom and top, make sure it is square, two nails in each joint and an additional nail in each end of the top bar.
- After assembled and dry place foundation in the frame, if desired
- Foundation may snap into the frame
- For a wedge frame, lay the foundation in the frame and nail the wedge into the top bar to hold the foundation in place.
211. What are the dimensions of a frame for a deep and medium hive box?
- Frames are 19 inches long. A deep frame is 9⅛ high, while a medium frame is 6¼ high
212. When should crimped wire foundation be used? thin surplus foundation? Duragilt foundation? Pierco foundation?
- Crimped wire foundation is wax foundation with vertical steel wires (typically 9) through the wax for extra strength. The should be used for brood chambers or capped honey.
- Thin surplus foundation is thin wax foundation used to create cut comb. It is very fragile in both cold and hot weather so must be handled with care.
- Duragilt is a plastic bonded, beeswax foundation with metal edges. The metal edges reinforce and strengthen the frames. Other types of plastic foundation also exist. These are suitable for brood or honey chambers.
- Pierco foundation is a one-piece plastic frame and foundation, suitable for brood or honey chambers. Some beekeepers claim it can warp in hot weather.
213. Describe how to wire a frame, include any specialized equipment for this procedure.
- Here are the steps to wire a frame:
- Optionally insert eyelets into each hole. These secure the wire and keep it from digging into the wood.
- Pound in a nail near the top and bottom hole of the outside of the frame. If wiring an even number of holes put the nails on the same side. For an odd number of holes put the nails on opposite ends of the frame. The nails are outside the frame area.
- Insert a wire through the bottom hole near the nail, across and through the hole on the opposite side.
- Take the wire up to the next hole on the outside of the frame, through, and across to the hole on the opposite side. Continue this back and forth wiring until you reach the top hole near the top nail.
- Clip the wire, leave enough wire to pull it taught.
- With pliers, pull the wire tight and wrap it around the top nail.
- Again with pliers, pull the wire tight and wrap it around the bottom nail.
- The wire should be taught like a guitar string. If necessary, further tighten the wire by twisting the nail with pliers.
- When the wire it taught, you can twist some remaining wire around the nail.
- Pound both nails into the frame so the wire is secure.
- Clip any remaining wire by the nails. This can be done before pounding the nails in the final time as well.
- To insert foundation, do the following
- Have a properly sized piece of foundation ready. Crimped wire foundation can be used, or pure wax foundation.
- Lay the foundation across the wired frame. For additional support, interlace the wax through the wires so the wire is on both sides of the frame.
- Now place an electric current through the wire. This can be done with a special device or with a normal battery. Be careful you don’t get shocked. In general, place the leads on each end of the wire, this can be before pounding in the nail the final time.
- Press gently against the foundation so the wire melts into the wax.
- Remove the current and you are finished.
- Some alternatives to the process.
- Some beekeepers insist that wire is not necessary, especially for medium frames, or they use a simple hair pin or specialized pin to hold the foundation in place.
- Some beekeepers only wire through the top and bottom holes and cross them in an X over the wax, or they only wire the central holes on a deep frame.
214. Why is an inner cover used in a beehive?
- The inner cover goes at the top of the hive and helps provide proper ventilation in the hive.
- It also prevents the bees from propolising a telescoping cover to the top of the hive.
215. What are the basic types of outer covers?
- A telescoping cover fits over an inner cover. It is normally covered in galvanized metal to help protect the hive from the elements.
- A migratory cover works without an inner cover to sit snugly on top of the hive.
- The long sides of the cover are flush to the hive so the lid can be pried off with a hive tool
- A migratory cover allows hives to be placed side by side flush to each other so they can more easily be placed on a pallet and moved from place to place.
216. What materials are used to construct a hive? Frame?
- Most hives are made with wood. The top cover is typically covered in metal.
- Frames are made from wood as well. Frames or foundation can be made from plastic as well.
- Hives are also made from Styrofoam.
Additional Hive Parts
217. What is a queen excluder and how is it used?
- A queen excluder is a plastic or metal mesh just big enough to let a worker bee through and too big for a drone or queen to pass through.
- It has a number of uses
- Place above the brood chamber to keep the queen out of the honey supers.
- Place between (and around) brood boxes to isolate the queen. After a week the box with open brood has the queen.
- Place on the top hive box to prevent sugar cakes or other winter food from falling into the hive. The bees can reach or crawl through to the food.
218. Describe three (3) types of sugar syrup feeders and list advantages and disadvantages of each.
- There are boardman feeders, top feeders, and frame feeders.
- Boardman feeders are placed at the hive entrance, and consist of a quart jar that sets upside down in the feeder with an entrance that extends into the hive. The bees crawl into the feeder and can reach the syrup through small holes in the lid.
- Advantages: easy to insert and refill, either at the front of the hive or on top of the hive.
- Small volume at a time
- Other bees or insects may smell the syrup and enter the hive and either steal the syrup which may initiate robbing
- Only a few bees can feed at a time, equal to the number of holes in the lid
- Top feeders are the size of the hive box and placed on top of the hive, either above or underneath the inner cover
- Hold a large volume of syrup
- Lots of bees can feed at once, allowing faster feeding of syrup
- Can be refilled without opening the hive boxes,
- Syrup further from the entrance so not as prone to induce robbing.
- Top of the hive must be removed to refill
- If there is a top entrance this can promote robbing.
- Depending on the feeder bees can drown in the syrup.
- Frame feeders are the size of one or two frames and sit down inside a hive box..
- Away from the entrances so least likely to promote robbing.
- Holds more syrup than a boardman feeder though probably less than a top feeder.
- Bees can more easily reach the syrup than other feeders, they don’t need to leave the hive.
- Lots of bees can feed at once.
- Hive boxes must be exposed to refill the feeder
- Depending on the feeder bees can drown in the syrup
219. What is a fume board?
- A device used to drive bees out of a honey super, typically a wood sided box with a solid top (typically metal). A cloth is placed underneath or is embedded in the fume board.
- A fume pad is another alternative that is used under a top cover.
- The fume board or fume pad goes on top of a hive to drive bees out of the supers using an odor the bees do not like.
- Examples of fumigants include Bee Go, Bee Quick, Natural Harvester, and Honey Robber.
- Some fumigants are more toxic than others, or may drive beekeepers away as well as bees
- Natural substances are now available which are safer for people and bees.
220. What are the reasons for using an entrance reducer?
- An entrance reducer is a barrier placed at the front of a hive to reduce the size of the entrance, typically to just over 3 inches or as small as ⅞ inch.
- This can be used to give the bees a smaller area to guard and reduce the chances of robbing, especially for a weaker hive or during a summer or fall dearth.
- In winter a smaller entrance reduces drafts and makes it easier for the bees to heat the hive, and helps prevent rain and snow from getting into the hive. At this time, the entrance should be placed with the opening up to help prevent dead bees from blocking the exit.
- A final use is during some treatments to reduce drafts and make the hive into more of a fumigation chamber.
221. When would a ventilated inner cover be used?
- When additional air flow for the hive is needed or desired. A ventilated inner cover allows more air to leave the hive making it easier for the bees to cool the hive in hot weather and allows moist air to escape the hive in winter.
- Depending on the cover they may also provide a top entrance for the hive.
- A screened inner cover can serve a similar purpose, and also prevents robbers and other invaders from entering the hive through the top.
222. What is the function of a frame spacer?
- To spread frames out so the bees build wider comb beyond the edges of the frame. This makes the comb easier to uncap.
- For example, an 8 frame box can be spaced with 7 frames, or a 10 frame box with 9.
223. What is a drone trap? beetle trap?
- A drone trap is a frame of drone cells to trap varroa mites. A frame is placed in a hive and removed after the drone cells are capped. Since varroa mites prefer drone brood, this can remove a large portion of mites from a hive without using chemicals.
- A beetle trap is a device for capturing small hive beetles. For example, a small black tray with small holes in the top. The beekeeper fills it with vegetable oil and the bees chase the beetles into the trap. The beetles like to hide in small dark places. Once in the trap the beetles drown in the oil.
C. Safety equipment
224. What color clothing is best for working in and around an apiary?
- White or other light clothing works best.
- Bees are more likely to attack dark colors or rough textures.
225. Name three (3) types of veils.
- Square veil, square folding veil, a round veil, a pocket veil, a hooded veil, or an Alexander veil. Look at any bee catalog for other names and the latest types.
- A square veil has wire mesh square panels that stand out from the head. Typically fits over a hat, though can be made with a cloth top like an Alexander veil.
- A square folding veil has square panels with wire mesh that fold flat for easy transport.
- A round veil is a wire mesh that fits over a hat and provides a 360 degree view for the beekeeper with no seams. The hat covers the head and keeps the veil away from the face.
- A pocket veil is a loose mesh that fits over a hat like a round veil. Folds to fit in a pocket, and useful for gnats or mosquitoes as well.
- A hooded veil has a rounded hood with the mesh in front. It is stiff so that it stands up around the beekeepers head, or can be worn with a baseball cap.
- An Alexander veil is like a rounded veil with a cloth top, such that a helmet is not required.
226. Why are most veils dark color?
- So it is easier to see through in bright light and especially when sunlight is on the veil.
227. What is a hive tool?
- A metal crowbar with a chiseled edge used to pry apart hive parts glued with propolis, or for scraping edges to remove dead bees or propolis.
- A number of shapes are available
- Also very useful to squish small hive beetles and wasps.
228. List the advantages and disadvantages of canvas, leather, and plastic coated gloves.
- Canvas gloves
- Advantages: pliable and soft, more ventilation than other types, machine washable.
- Disadvantages: more absorbent, less protection from stings.
- Leather gloves
- Advantages: more protection from stings, more naturally resist dirt and liquids.
- Disadvantages: heavier, hotter, less fine manipulation.
- Plastic coated gloves
- Advantages: most manipulative and sensitive to touch, easy to clean.
- Disadvantages: hot and sweaty, allow stingers to penetrate.
- Some beekeepers use nitrile gloves for the sensitivity of touch, claiming that 8mm is difficult for a bee to string through.
229. What is the function of a smoker?
- To generate smoke and calm the bees.
- It is a can with attached bellows in which a beekeeper creates a small smoldering fire to generate smoke while working with bees.
- Smoke masks the pheromones of the bees to help them remain calm while the hive is opened.
- The bees do not like smoke so they tend to move away as well, which can be used to encourage bees to leave an area.
230. What materials may be used for fuel in a smoker?
- Essentially anything that burns or smokes and is non-toxic to bees.
- Paper or other easily lit material is good for starting a smoker.
- Cotton, pine needles, sticks, leaves and grass work well for generating smoke.
III. Yearly Management Cycle
301. Describe the general annual growth cycle of a bee colony.
- A hive starts raising new bees in late winter to prepare for spring. The population increases until around the summer solstice, after which the population begins to dwindle until late fall when the bees are preparing for winter.
302. What are the main objectives in spring management?
- It varies based on the objective of the beekeeper.
- Generally, to provide enough room for the expanding brood nest and for storing honey in order to keep the bees active and prevent swarming.
- If the beekeeper is trying to induce swarming, split hives, raise queens, or achieve other objectives then the approach may change.
303. Describe a good brood pattern.
- The eggs are laid in a circular pattern from the center of the frame, with nearly every cell filled. Brood of similar type should be near each other.
- Breaks in the brood pattern naturally occur in hygienic bees or in cooler weather.
- Hygienic bees will remove infected larva from the hive. VSH bees will remove larva with a varroa mite in the cell.
- In cooler weather spaces are left to permit bees to form a tighter cluster, as bees can warm the cluster from within an open cell.
- Generally speaking, a good brood pattern is an oval shaped brood area on the frame (or across frames) with pollen on the outside and honey in the top corners.
304. What are the characteristics of a good apiary site?
- A sheltered area near a water source, with partial sun and not in a valley or other area where running water may accumulate.
- Natural or artificial water source, where there is room for bees to land and obtain water.
- Morning sun is best as it will get the bees up and moving by warming the hive.
- Face the hive south or east to be away from the winds and catch the early sun.
305. What are signs that a queen is present in a hive?
- The bees are generally calmer than a hive without a queen.
- Afternoon orientation flights are more typical in a queenright hive.
- Uncapped brood normally means a queen is present.
- Eggs must have been laid by a queen in the past 3 days
- Larva must have been laid within the last week to 9 days.
306. What are indications in the hive of a failing queen?
- Lack of brood, although some bees will stop allowing egg laying when the nighttime temperatures are below 50 degrees.
- Poor laying pattern, often spotty brood beyond normal hygienic or cool weather behavior.
- Overly aggressive bees or lack of bees bringing in pollen
- Queen cups on the frames.
307. What is swarming and why is it a concern?
- Swarming is how colonies reproduce. The existing queen, or sometimes a virgin queen, leaves the hive with a good portion of the bees to form a new colony. The swarm finds a suitable location and creates a new colony.
- A colony that swarms is likely to produce less honey during the season than a similar hive that does not swarm.
- Swarms can be alarming to neighbors or other people, although the bees in a swarm are unlikely to sting.
- A swarm that nests in a building or public place can be a nuisance or build a nest that is expensive to remove and clean up.
308. Describe two management techniques that can be used to prevent swarming.
- Reversing hive bodies in early spring to force the bees to reorganize and work their up to the top box, though care should be taken not to split the brood nest.
- Spreading the brood nest by inserting an empty frame within the nest so the queen has a new place to lay or the bees have to build comb.
- Splitting a hive, as this reduces the bee population and forces one split to create a new queen.
- Added new boxes to the top of the hive, to get the bees working on filling the boxes rather than swarming.
- A hive that is preparing to swarm will likely swarm eventually anyways, however, so these techniques can sometimes delay swarming rather than prevent it.
- Removing or replacing the queen will prevent swarming.
309. What are signs that a hive is ready to swarm? has swarmed?
- Signs a hive may be preparing to swarm
- Drones in the hive
- A shrinking of the brood nest, or lack of brood altogether. Seeing no open brood can indicate that the hive will swarm within a week.
- Queen cups on the bottom bars. Some bees, such as Carnelians or Russians, will build queen cups even when they have no intention of swarming.
- Signs that a hive has swarmed
- Sudden drop in weight or population
- Lack of brood in warm weather
- A new queen, especially easy to spot if the prior queen was marked.
310. What is the difference in top and bottom supering and when would each be appropriate?
- Top supering is when new honey supers are placed on top of the hive
- This is appropriate for drawn comb to provide additional storage space for honey.
- Also used early in the year for the first honey super or when the purpose of adding space is to provide future expansion to help reduce swarming.
- Bottom supering is when new honey supers are placed above the brood chamber but below at least one full honey super.
- This is appropriate when the beekeeper wants the bees to draw out foundation.
- A queen excluder can be used to keep the queen out of the fresh comb.
311. Why is it important to keep the queen separated from honey supers?
- She doesn’t have to be, although if the queen lays eggs in a honey super than the brood has to hatch, moved, or cut out before the frame can be harvested.
- Alternately, any brood in a honey frame has to be filtered to ensure no brood is in the honey.
- It is important that the queen is left in the hive when a super is removed.
312. Describe the configuration of a hive for production of extracted honey.
- A typical configuration is for brood boxes on the bottom, with an optional queen excluded, and honey supers on top.
- Typical brood configuration in Virginia is two deeps or three mediums, or even one deep and one medium.
- Honey supers are typically mediums or shallows, though some beekeepers use deeps for supers.
313. List two (2) indications that a honey flow is in progress.
- The hive rapidly gains weight.
- Bees are drawing out new comb, or there may be fresh white wax on comb ends or top bars.
- Lots of fanning activity at the entrance.
- Strong smell of nectar in the bee yard.
314. What characteristics of the hive are used to evaluate queen quality?
- The workers in the hive are offspring from the queen, so the quality of the queen is generally evaluated based on the characteristics of workers in the hive.
- Common evaluation measures include:
- Gentleness of bees while around or working the hive, which can be measured manually by a beekeeper.
- Efficiency of spring build up compared with other hives, which can be measured by comparing cluster size or bee counts of hives in the same bee yard.
- Efficiency of honey production compared with other hives, which can be measured by comparing hive weight of hives in the same bee yard.
- Resistance to diseases or pests; especially to varroa mite, which can be measured by mite counts or survival over time.
315. When should a queen be replaced?
- The best time is late summer. This allows the hive to accept the queen and start raising new workers, and reduces the tendency to swarm the following spring.
- Some beekeepers choose to requeen every year.
- Other beekeepers will requeen with a spotty brood pattern or if the bees are behaving excessively aggressive or exhibiting other unfavorable characteristics.
316. What is a bee escape?
- A device that lets the bees through in one direction only.
- This can be used to clear bees from a space, for example from a honey super by applying a bee escape to an inner cover underneath a honey super..
- In some cases the bees can figure out how to get back through a bee escape, so their usefulness may be limited to a few days.
- Nurse bees will not leave brood, so a bee escape is less effective if there is brood above the escape.
317. List two (2) bee repellents.
- Fumigants that repel bees include Bee Go, Bee Quick, Natural Harvester, and Honey Robber.
- Some fumigants are more toxic than others, or may drive beekeepers away as well as bees.
- Natural substances are now available which are safer for people and bees.
- Chemical repellents include butyric propionic anhydride and Benzaldehyde
318. Describe how bee repellents are used to remove honey supers.
- A repellent is placed on a cloth or fume board at the top of the hive. The bees move away from this smell and exit the supers.
- Bees are less likely to leave brood, so the beekeeper should make sure there is no brood in the super.
- Once the supers are clear, the beekeeper can remove them for harvesting.
319. What are other methods for removing bees from honey supers?
- A bee escape can be used under a super to prevent bees from returning to the super after they leave. Nurse bees will not leave brood so there should be no brood present.
- A bee brush can be used to brush bees off of each frame, and then the frame placed in another box that the bees cannot enter.
- Waiting until cold weather when the bees are clustered around the brood. The supers can be removed and will have little or no bees.
320. What are the two (2) main types of extractors?
- Tangential and Radial.
- Tangential extractors hold the frames tangent to the extractor, along the outside of the circle. The frame must be turned around to extract from both sides.
- Radial extractors hold the frames along the radius of the circle, as spokes on a wheel. Both sides of the frame are extracted at once.
321. How are cappings removed?
- A heated knife works best, though a regular knife will do. Electric knifes are available, or a knife can be heated in hot water.
- The beekeeper slices the cappings off the comb to expose the honey before extraction.
- Automated capping removal machines are also available for large commercial producers.
322. How is a capping scratcher used?
- The cappings missed by the knife are scratched off to expose the honey before extraction.
- A fork can be used for this purpose as well.
323. Be able to describe the general steps you would use to clean and bottle honey
- The honey is extracted from the comb or crushed out of the comb, and results in unfiltered honey.
- Honey is filtered through a screen or some sort of cheesecloth. This removes debris from the honey. A warm room or slightly heated container will keep the honey flowing well. Honey can be heated up to 115 F without destroying enzymes and other aspects of the honey.
- At this point honey can be pasteurized or heated to 160 F to prevent crystallization. This process also destroys enzymes, yeast, and other healthy properties of honey, so some beekeepers avoid this.
- For a filter, a screen of 400 to 600 microns works best. Larger and bee parts or other debris may remain in the honey; smaller and pollen may be filtered out.
- Once filtered the honey may be bottled. Honey is a food, so safety and sanitary practices should be followed: wear a hairnet, keep hands and equipment clean, and so forth.
- Bottles should be glass or plastic, cleaned, dried, and free of any dust or debris. A sealing lid should be used to keep moisture out of the honey.
- Automated bottlers exist, although the beekeeper can bottle the honey one jar at a time.
324. How should honey be properly stored to prevent crystallization?
- Store honey in a cool, dry place and avoid sunlight, in airtight containers
- Honey stored below 50 F prevents crystallization, and inactivates the yeast in the honey to prevent fermentation.
- Honey is more likely to crystallize (and ferment) as it absorbs moisture and in warmer temperatures.
325. What is the appropriate range of water concentration in honey?
- From 17 to 19%, generally.
- Honey with less than 17.1% water will inactivate the yeast in the honey.
- Honey with more than 19% water will ferment.
326. List the main hive preparations for winter.
- Remove empty supers
- Make sure you have a laying queen
- Check honey stores and colony size. Consider consolidating small colonies
- Arrange brood and honey stores, if necessary
- Honey on both sides of the brood nest
- For top bar hive, make sure brood nest is at one end, typically near entrance
- Make sure hives are secure from wind and rain.
- For solid bottom boards, hive should tip slightly forward so water will run out.
- Hay bales or other barriers can be used to shield hives from wind
- Optionally tie down or otherwise secure lids from wind
- Optionally provide top or side insulation for each hive
- Ensure hive has proper ventilation to avoid moisture build up
327. What colony population (bee numbers) is recommended for good winter survival?
- Depends on the locale and the type of bees
- Italian bees generally need a larger cluster size than Carniolan or Russian bees
- A colony from a few thousand to ten thousand can survive the winter.
328. What is Fumidil-B and how is it applied in a beehive?
- An antibiotic used to treat Nosema.
- Fumidil-B is mixed with sugar syrup and fed to bees.
- Mix 1 teaspoon Fumidil-B power in 1 cup of warm (not hot) water. Add this to 1 gallon of sugar syrup.
329. Describe the proper configuration for preparing a hive for winter.
- Typically either two deeps or three medium boxes are recommended for Virginia.
- Alternately one deep and one medium can be successful as well.
330. How much honey should a colony have going into winter?
- Depends on the area and type of bees, though 60 pounds in Virginia is often recommended.
- A colony will consume 20 to 40 pounds, and stores are required in spring to successfully ramp up the colony for the spring nectar flow.
331. What concentration of sugar water is used to increase honey stores?
- A 2:1 ratio of sugar to water is recommended.
332. What adaptations do honey bees have that allow them to survive winter?
- In the fall bees are born with additional fat stores. Their glands that create royal jelly for the queen remain active over winter as well. This helps keep the bees alive through the cold months.
- The colony clusters together in the cold and vibrates their wing muscles, without actually flapping their wings. This generates heat to keep the cluster warm.
- While the center of the cluster generates heat, the bees on the outside of the cluster pack in tight to provide an insulating layer. As long as the outside bees stay above 45 F the bees will remain active.
333. What are the primary cause for winter losses?
- The most common cause is a weak colony due to mites. The bees will weaken over the winter and dwindle or freeze.
- Lack of honey stores is also common, or cold temperatures that prevent the cluster from reaching nearby honey.
334. When should a hive be checked in winter and why?
- A hive should be checked if the beekeeper suspects there is a problem, typically concerns over having enough honey stores.
- A hive can also be checked on warmer days to make sure the cluster is intact and within range of food.
IV. Major Bee Pests
401. What is the disease of major concern for beekeepers?
- American Foul Brood (AFB) is a major concern because the spores of the disease are long lasting and renders equipment unusable.
- While antibiotics can work, the often recommended treatment for AFB is to destroy the colony and burn the equipment.
- Since AFB easily spreads, the entire apiary as well as neighboring apiaries can be infected.
402. What stage in the life cycle does it attack
- The larvae phase.
- Death generally occurs in the late larval or early pupal phase.
403. How is it spread?
- When the beekeeper moves equipment between hives, or uses tools and other equipment in multiple apiaries, may spread the disease.
- Honey in an infected colony is stored in cells that contained infected brood. This contaminates the honey, and later robbing will spread the disease to other colonies.
404. Who should you contact if you think your colony might be diseased?
- The apiary inspector for the area.
- In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) performs apiary inspections. Search the web for “virginia apiary inspectors” to locate.
405. Name two other common brood diseases of honey bees
- Chalkbrood is a fungal disease that covers larvae with filaments and leave them chalky in appearance.
- European Foul Brood (EFB) kills larvae when they are uncapped, notable for the color change of the brood from white to brown or black. EFB is not as dangerous as AFB.
- Sacbrood is a virus that causes an uneven brood pattern with discoloured, sunken or perforated cappings. It mostly infects worker larvae though can also infect adult bees.
406. What is Nosema and why is it important?
- Nosema is a disease caused by protozoans. There are two strains: Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae.
- Nosema will cause diarrhea and weaken a colony, especially in winter.
B. Honey bee pests
407. What is the major mite pest of the honey bee?
- The varroa mite
408. How does one determine if they have a mite problem?
- By counting mites in the hive.
- The most accurate counting method is an alcohol wash, although a sugar shake can be equally accurate if done properly. This only counts mites on the bees, not under capped brood. In both methods, a half-cup of bees is used and the number of mites are shaken out of a screened jar. The number of mites divided by 300 gives the percentage rate of infestation.
- Opening up brood, especially drone brood, can identify how prevalent mites are as well.
- Mite drops on a screen bottom board can monitor mite activity, though they are not accurate for counting the level of infestation in a hive.
409. What is done in the way of treatment for these mites?
- There are a number of methods, including natural, organic, and commercial, that can be used to reduce mites in a hive.
- Natural methods can reduce mite loads before they become a problem.
- Allowing a hive to swarm creates a natural brood break
- Splitting a hive creates an artificial brood break.
- Drone trapping captures mites in the comb before they emerge
- Some beekeepers use powdered sugar dusting, although research has shown that this is not effective and may be harmful to honey bees.
- Organic chemicals are natural compounds found in nature for which honey bees have some resistance, or at least more resistance than the mites. These compounds are naturally occurring and leave little or no residue in the wax.
- Formic Acid, such as Mite-Away Quick Strips
- Oxalic Acid, either as a dribble (OAD) or a vapor (OAV).
- Thymol, such as Apiguard or Api Life VAR
- Commercial chemicals are synthetic products that target mites. These can leave residues in the wax, which can negatively impact the hive over time. Varroa mites also seem more likely to develop resistance to synthetic chemicals over time, as compared with organic chemicals.
- Apivar, based on the chemical Amitraz, is currently widely used (in 2016)
- Apistan (Fluvalinate) and Checkmite are other products, although mites have shown resistance to both products.
410. What is a wax moth and what damage does it cause?
- There are two species of wax moth: the Greater wax moth (Galleria mellonella) and the Lesser wax moth (Achroia grisella).
- Both species lay eggs in beehives. The caterpillars cover the combs with silken tunnels and feed on beeswax and other debris in the comb. They especially like larva debris, so the moth prefers brood comb.
411. How can one avoid problems with wax moths?
- Wax moths tend to take advantage of an already diseased or weak colony. Keeping a colony strong and healthy is the best way to avoid problems.
- Wax moths do not like cold or light, so freezing combs ensures that any larva or eggs are destroyed. Some beekeepers have had success keeping combs in a bright room or an open area.
- Reduce weaker colonies down to just enough space they can successfully guard.
- Some beekeepers use Para Dichlorobenzene to keep wax moths out of stored drawn comb. This is a harsh chemical that may leave residue in the comb, so is not recommended by many beekeepers.
- Another chemical, Bt aizawai (Bta), available in the U.S. as Xentari, can be used. It is sprayed on the comb, or on foundation, or even on an effective hive. Some beekeepers avoid it as a chemical, although studies have shown it to be safe for bees and humans.
412. What is the Africanized honey bee?
- A honey bee created by crossing African honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) with European honey bees (Apis mellifera).
- A researcher was asked to improve the bee stock in Brazil (?), and he though such a cross might be more effective, and created Africanized Honey Bees (AHB).
- In 1957 the first AHB swarms ‘escaped’ from experimental hives down in Brazil. The AHB was discovered in North America in 1985 and in the 1990’s in the United States.
- The bees have since moved north and into the southern U.S.
- The bees is much more aggressive than European honey bees. One report stated that the alarm gene is disabled in this bee, such that an entire hive tends to react to intruders rather than ramping up a few bees at a time as in most European hives.
- These bees do not tolerate cold, so for now are confined to warmer climates. Africanized bees show in the southern U.S., though not into Virginia.
- When ordering queens from southern states, care should be taken to make sure the queens do not have AHB tendencies.
413. Why is it a concern?
- Africanized honey bees (AHB) are highly aggressive and can be dangerous to neighbors or even people standing nearby. Beekeepers in regions that support ABH need to be careful while working their hives and with the placement of their bee yard.
- Some states have laws in place to limit the spread of AHB. These may require beekeepers to avoid open breeding of queens, for example, to limit the spread of AHB genes.
414. If someone discovers a very aggressive hive, what should be done?
- Notify a beekeeper or local beekeeper association so they can assess the hive.
- A dangerously aggressive hive in the wild should be destroyed.
- If the hive is managed by a beekeeper, the beekeeper should determine if there the cause and address accordingly. For example, is there a laying queen, are skunks or other animals visiting the hive at night, or is the hive overly infested with mites or otherwise diseased. Correctly these types of issues may calm the bees.
- If a hive is very aggressive and there is no specific cause identified, the hive should be re-queened or destroyed to eliminate the aggressive traits.
V. Practical Hive Inspection – What is involved?
The hive inspection is separate from the written test. A beekeeper should be familiar with the following aspects of an inspection for the Apprentice evaluation.
- A knowledge of how to light and use a smoker.
- Be properly dressed and have proper equipment for a hive inspection.
- Be able to show how to open a hive.
- Demonstrate proper techniques for hive inspection.
- Be able to recognize different stages of brood (eggs, larvae, pupae) and the
- cells for workers, drone and queens (including queen cups).
- Be able to differentiate emergency, swarming and supersedure queen cells.
- Be able to recognize cells with pollen, honey and discuss the normal
- arrangement of brood, pollen and honey on a comb and in the hive.
- Be able to give an overall evaluation of colony condition (is the hive, strong
- or weak, does it need feeding, does the colony appear healthy).
- Is the queen present and is she doing an acceptable job?
- How much brood and honey is in the hive?