Beekeeping leading practices

Beekeeping is an inherently local process. What works best for one beekeeper will often fail for another because of even minor differences in climate, forage, or the traits of his sub-race of bees. Also, the needs and goals of the hobbyist beekeeper will be very different from the needs and goals of the commercial beekeeper. Nevertheless, there are some generally accepted leading practices that have wide relevance. Please review the discussion of these practices on the Talk page before applying them.

The practices on this page are sorted by "Generally Accepted" vs. "Controversial or Emerging" practices and within those categories by the most likely audience - "All", "Hobbyist" or "Commercial" beekeepers. So far, no leading practices have been identified that are uniquely appropriate to the Sideliner beekeeper.


Generally accepted

All beekeepers

Treat for disease only as needed 
Over-use or inappropriate use of medications to treat disease or pests will lead to increased resistance to the medication.
Label honey with place of origin 
Honey, like wine, picks up unique flavors from the flowers and nectars in the local environment. Each varietal will have a distinct taste and mouthfeel. Labeling your honey with place of origin can distinguish it from mass-market blended honeys which have lost that unique flavor.
Storing pollen 
To store pollen for feeding the next spring, freeze it in zip-loc bags.
Track Growing Degree Days 
Growing degree days can reliably predict the time from last frost to bloom for each of the major nectar sources in the area of your beehives. This can enable more effective supering and, in some cases, better planning for pest control.

Hobbyist beekeepers

Re-queen annually 
There are many benefits to annual re-queening (some of which are still disputed), but the most relevant benefit to the hobbyist beekeeper is that a young queen (<13 months) emits stronger pheromones and therefore hives with young queens rarely swarm. Since hobbyists often keep hives in residential areas with non-beekeeper neighbors, swarm control is a high priority.
Some beekeepers believe that it is better to requeen in the Fall, for several reasons:
  • Purchased queens are more available to amateur beekeepers in the Fall; there is a high demand by commercial beekeepers for Spring pollination tasks and queens may thus not be available until relatively late, perhaps after a first year queen has swarmed, taking away a large portion of the colony.
  • If the colony is fed at an appropriate interval before the Spring nectar flow the hive will be strong and ready for production as the young queen will be a better layer of eggs than a queen installed in the previous Spring and far less likely to swarm in the Spring, with appropriate hive management used to reduce the probability of Summer swarming.
Inspect often 
Inspecting your beehive is an important way to learn about bees, bee behavior, etc. Frequent inspections will expose you to more types of behaviors and help you learn more quickly. The trade-off in lost honey production is generally worth the educational value.
Elevate the hive 
Placing the hive on a stand about 45 cm (18 inches) high can significantly reduce back strain. It will also deter some predators such as skunks by forcing them to expose less protected underbellies to the bees' stings. Caution: Do not make the stand so high that you will have difficulty removing the full honey supers from the top of the hive.

Commercial beekeepers

Standardize your equipment 
Standardized equipment will make it easier to interchange hive parts, frames, etc. between hives as needed.
Inspect only when necessary 
Inspecting beehives disrupts the bees, kills some, and takes time and labor. It has been estimated that each inspection is the equivalent of reducing the bees' productive time by 3 to 7 days.

Controversial or emerging practices

All beekeepers

Food Grade Mineral Oil as a miticide 
Recent research by Dr. Pedro Rodriguez and others has suggested that a Food Grade Mineral Oil (FGMO) vapor fogged into the hive can be an effecitive miticide. The vapor droplets are sized to interfere with the mites' respiration without affecting the respiratory apparatus of the larger bees. Research continues in order to 1) improve the consistency of results and 2) improve the cost-effectiveness of treatment.
Do not provide honey as a supplemental feed 
Many beekeepers provide supplemental feed for bees to get through periods of drought or harsh winter. The optimal solution is to leave enough honey on the hive for the colony to survive the winter. When that is not possible, most beekeepers provide sugar water as a supplement for two reasons. (1) Honey contains small levels of material that is indigestible to the bees. During a long winter when the bees are confined to the hive and can not leave to void themselves, this can lead to dysentery. (2) Honey from another hive may be contaminated with American Foulbrood spores. While American Foulbrood is harmless to humans, it is an extremely serious disease for honeybees.

Hobbyist beekeepers

Start with two hives 
By starting with two colonies, the beginning beekeeper can compare bee behavior and more rapidly learn what makes a difference and what is random variation. Two hives also increases the odds that at least one hive will survive the winter and lets you split your hive and repopulate when or if one of the colonies dies.
Consider top-bar hives 
The (old) conventional wisdom discourages top-bar hives for beginners, yet the simplicity, low cost, and ease of use are distinct advantantages when learning beekeeping. An advantage of this type of hive is the ease with which it may be completely inspected with minimal disturbance of the bees.

Commercial beekeepers

Use first-generation Africanized Queens 
For pollination beekeepers in areas with africanized bees such as Mexico an emerging practice is to locally raise and wild breed queens, but using only a purchased, pre-inseminated non-africanized queen to produce queens. It appears that these first generation africanized queens do not exhibit the extreme and massive defensiveness of subsequent generations.

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