Beekeeping Myths

Basing a Belief on a Myth is Like Believing in a Fairytale. There Are Many Myths in Beekeeping

The following are beliefs that are actually false but are promoted and taught by many.

A colony needs 80lbs of honey to survive a winter

Smaller colonies require fewer stores.  Carniolan bees go through winter with smaller colonies and can survive with fewer stores.  Italian bees build up to large colonies that consume a lot of resources even in winter.  The amount of honey needed is based on the size of the colony and the length of the winter.   Another factor to consider is if the bees are warm enough, they can fly during winter and will consume more resources.  Lethargic bees consume less.

You can't start a colony without a queen

As long as there are nurse bees with open brood laid by a mated queen and available resources of pollen and honey, a colony can create a queen.

All honey bees are aggressive

Defense bees are older and know how to defend.  Nurse bees are young and non-aggressive.  Some strains of honey bee are more aggressive than others.  Aggression is also related to age, location, time of the season, and degree of available space in the hive.  No open space inside a beehive leaves bees without work so they become defensive.

Plastic foundation is the only way to have perfect frames

It can be an art but creating perfect frames can be done with any system.  Smaller frames with starter strips of thin surplus can create perfect honeycomb.

Only a double deep or equivalent hive can survive the winter

Small colonies have survived the winter in nature for 30 million years.  Methods and hives exist that prove this false.

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay, a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon, a swarm in July isn't worth a fly

Swarms can always be added to an existing colony.  Double queened colonies also generate larger bee populations faster.  Mini colonies can be started as late as October and survive the winter.  Swarms anytime during the season can be a benefit to a beekeeper.  Swarms are loaded with honey and prepared for building a new comb.  Swarms are preparing for a new hive which also is going through a brood break which lowers mite populations.

The size of the hive is equal to how much honey can be produced

Honey production is related to the available forage and health of the colony.  A smaller colony/hive can out-produce a larger colony/hive based on location, health, and age of queen.  A healthy colony, with good beekeeping skills, can produce honey, but it is essential to have adequate forage.  A healthy colony in a small hive in a desert can out produce a large sick colony that is in an area with miles of flowering clover.

Only a 3lb package or a 5 frame Nuc can build a colony that can survive the winter

Colonies started with as little as two 6"x6" frames of open brood with nurse bees by June can not only create a locally mated queen but also survive winter in any North American climate.  MUB hives have regularly survived Utah’s winter with only one 8”x10”x7” box with 6 little frames.

Bees prefer a vertical hive over a horizontal hive

Many methods and hives exist globally, showing that bees adapt to their chosen hive.

Drawn wax takes lots of resources for a colony to produce

Wax is produced quickly when nectar is abundant.  Inducing wax production can be facilitated by feeding when the nectar is slow.

One hive style is perfect for every application

Many needs exist for having honey bees ranging from medical apitherapy to apartment dwellers, to pollination gardens and seniors or children and those with handicaps.  One size hive does not fit all the needed applications.  Perhaps one hive style might be ideal for all commercial beekeepers.

The best hive is the Langstroth hive

There are many hives and each has pros and cons.  The Langstroth hive is the best commercial hive as it is adapted to facilitate greater honey production and migratory pollination.  It is not, however, a great hive to learn on. It is heavy, requires extraction, utilizes plastic foundation, can be overwhelming to a new colony and beekeeper, it is not very attractive, and it's weight and size do not make it ideal for children, seniors, those with handicaps, small yards, and so on.

Drones are not beneficial to a hive

Each colony has an innate need for drones each spring until fall.  Colonies without access to drones may have more aggression.  Drones are vital in sustainable apiaries.  They provide heat when needed.  Local queen production requires 200 drones per hive for mating.  Varroa mites best incubate with drone larvae.  Removing drone sized cells forces the varroa to incubate with worker bees.  Drones are also allowed to visit other colonies.

Deep Langstroth frames are best for bees

The first female beekeeping writer in America wrote in 1883 (Bee Keeping for Profit:  A New System of Bee Management, West Gorham, Maine) about why large frames were hard on the winter clustering of bees.  Her reasons are still valid today.

Winter death is due to not enough honey

Winter failures can be associated with lack of honey but is also related to the health of the colony and access to the resources in the hive.  The bees cluster in winter and may not leave their cluster in accessing available stores.  Colonies overrun with varroa mites or other health threats can also fail.

The only way to add a box to a hive is on top

The Langstroth method encourages adding boxes to the top, for brood and honey.  There is a variation referred to as bottom supering which adds new honey supers to the bottom of the honey area.  The Warré and Mini Urban Beehive methods encourage adding to the bottom, and harvesting from the top, creating an endless natural cycle.  Top-bar and long-hives open space to the side of the colony rather than above or below.

Local beekeepers can’t raise good queens

Good queens can be subjective.  A poorly mated queen may have good genetics but less than optimum drones for fertilizing.  A poor queen is better than no queen.  Once eggs are laid, other attempts to replace the queen can occur, from purchasing one online to subsequent tries at raising a queen that is better mated.  Locally mated queens are viewed by some as better adapted to that area.  Queens can also vary due to availability to large amounts of royal jelly prior to being capped.  Colonies can be induced to produce royal jelly and it can be added as well.

Preventing a colony from swarming is good animal husbandry

The natural goal of a colony is to grow and to eventually swarm.  Losing a swarm can be poor animal husbandry.  Some seek to encourage a colony to swarm and once it is ready, and queen cells are about to be capped, splits can occur creating nucs.  The queenless colony will go broodless for a time breaking the mite cycle as well.  The nuc with the queen also benefits from lowered mites by the reduction of the colony and hive.  Historically beekeepers would wait during the time their colonies were to swarm and catch them to start a new colony.  Killing queen cells, clipping the queen’s wings, forcing a queen to remain in a hive for multiple years is not natural and can promote unhealthy colonies.  These same unhealthy colonies then require other forms of management.

Multiple eggs in a cell is a sign of a laying worker

Young newly mated queens with limited place to lay may place multiple eggs in the bottom center of the cell.  Eggs haphazardly placed into a cell is a sign of a laying worker(s) issue.

You can’t mix bees from multiple hives

You can mix frames of brood and nurse bees from hive to hive.  Honey frames and older foraging workers and robbing bees are difficult to mix.  This can be done by adding a screen to the hive and placing the new bees on the other side of the screen with their own entrance.  Remove the queen and after a week the bees will have the scent of the new colony.  This can also be done by adding newspaper between the two boxes.

Only one queen per hive

Double queened hives exist, both sisters and two separate brood chambers in one hive with shared honey supers.  A hive is the structure the colony is in.  Setting separation boards in an existing hive can produce many sections in one hive with separate queens.  The Mini Urban Beehive can have 4-8 queens in one hive system.

No brood means no queen

No brood can be related to wasps robbing the hive and low foraging conditions.  Queens can also be unmated, poorly mated, or about to mate.  Brood also drops prior to the cold season as well as a colony becoming honey-bound.  Honey-bound colonies have no place for the queen to lay.

The only way to keep bees is in a Langstroth hive as it is supported by the USDA

Many hives exist.  In the US and Canada, the law dictates removable frames are used.  As long as the hive has removable frames it can be used.  Many hive systems exist around the world and throughout history.

Shaking out a laying-worker hive and replacing the queen will solve the laying-worker problem

Laying workers can find their way back to the hive with the help of other returning bees and can even kill the newly added queen.  The Chubak Method suggests moving the hive during the day and allowing foraging bees to return to the original location.  The original location can have frames of nurse bees and young larvae and eggs or a queen with nurse bees.

Ventilation is vital to a bee colony

Ventilation requirements depend on the location and availability of water.  A hive is first an incubator and second a honey producer.  An incubator requires increased humidity.  Many beekeepers place their hives in areas with far off water sources.  Bees have to locate and bring water back to control the humidity.  If placed close to water, ventilation is not as critical.  If placed in a hot location far away from water, ventilation is helpful.