Category Archives: Thoughts on beekeeping by Phil

Posts related to beekeeping and/or honey bees, but not necessarily biology or hive management.

Robbing – honey bees as thieves!


Yes, our honey bees can become little criminals and steal from their neighbors! The threat of larceny is usually not great in the spring and early summer when a good nectar flow is on, but as the flow slows or stops (as occurs from time to time, especially in periods of dry weather), bees are on the lookout for any food they can find. So watch out! It is that time of year. The closest source is often a neighboring hive. Colonies with strong populations can usually defend themselves. New nucs and divides, recently captured swarms, and any hives which have not built up well or which are dwindling due to disease, pests, or other causes, are all likely targets of robbing bees. The culprits may come from your own hives, from your neighbor’s, or from nearby bee trees. Continue reading

For new beekeepers

It is the time of year when new beekeepers are getting started!

                                        Package bees waiting beekeepers!

Below are links to several posts I wrote in 2012, that new beekeepers may find helpful.

Installing package bees

Newly installed package of bees – 3 days later

Here is a post I often get from new beekeepers – 9 frames or 10 in the brood boxes?

This is also right up on the top of questions from new beekeepers (and sometimes from not so new beekeepers) – how do I keep that smoker lit?

Why Is the Honey in Those Jars Different Colors?

As beekeepers, one of the questions we hear most often is, “Why is the honey different colors?”

And of course, we know the answer and are quick to give it; the color depends on the floral source. This article from Western Farm Press expands on that response and provides details which may make us appreciate anew the uniqueness and complexity of each batch of honey, and the incredible amount of work which goes into producing every ounce. Beekeepers may want to forward it to friends. It starts off with an interview with my friend Jon Zawislak, apiculture specialist with the University of Arkansas.

Shortage of Hives for California Almond Pollination in 2013

Every year since 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder was officially recognized, there has been speculation in the national media that there would not be enough honey bees to pollinate agricultural crops in the United States. Each year the ominous predictions have failed to come true. This year, though, it appears that it may really be happening – at least in the California almond groves. Migratory beekeepers have been busy moving their hives to California for the last month and the word is that, this year, there truly is a shortage of bees.

If you are not familiar with the California almond/beekeeping/honey bee connection, it truly has a fascinating history. Almonds are native to Asia, but have been grown in the Middle East for thousands of years. Brought to California from Spain in the 1700s, they were part of the early farming of Franciscan missions. By 2000, the almond groves of California’s Great Valley had grown to a half a million acres. Each acre of almonds requires two hives of honey bees for pollination; a little math will tell you that in 2000, a million hives were required. Today however, there are 800,000 acres of almond trees, producing 80% of the world’s supply. They will need 1.6 million hives of honey bees, with 1.1 million of them coming from outside of California! Continue reading

Getting Started in Beekeeping – How to Get Bees

For anyone about to get started in beekeeping, one of the first big decisions is how and where to get the bees. The options include: buying an existing hive from a beekeeper, purchasing a package of bees from a supplier, or purchasing a nuc from a beekeeper or a supplier.  This is a decision which must be made early,

Package of bees being installed into new hive

especially if the choice is to purchase a package or nuc, since availability is often limited and orders must be placed during the winter or early spring. Continue reading

My New Q&A Column, Ask “Dr.” Phil in Bee Culture Magazine

If you are a reader of Bee Culture magazine, you have likely seen my new question & answer column, titled Ask “Dr.” Phil, in the January issue.

This new monthly column is the result of a series of conversations with Bee Culture editor, Kim Flottum. He asked me about writing some articles for the magazine and, during discussions about possible formats, I told him I would be most interested in writing a Q&A column because answering questions is something that I both enjoy and spend a lot of my time doing. That was certainly the case when I was the Kentucky State Apiarist; a large part of my job was responding to questions, mostly from beekeepers, but sometimes from the general public as well. They came to me through the telephone, at meetings, and in emails. Continue reading

For New Beekeepers (Beekeepers2Bee)

I’m receiving more and more emails from folks who are interested in beekeeping or who are planning to become beekeepers this spring – beekeepers2Bee. I have been giving advice to new and potential new beekeepers for more than a few years, and much enjoy doing it. I find the enthusiasm and excitement of beginners invigorating.

New bee emerging.
Photo by Mary Parnell Carney

To this group I want to point out my Beginning Beekeeping page here at There you will find beginning beekeeping information and tips waiting for you. Continue reading

For the Beekeeper’s Book Shelf: The Joy of Beekeeping by Richard Taylor

If you’re looking for some winter reading on beekeeping, I recommend Richard Taylor’s The Joys of Beekeeping. This is much more than a “how to” manual, though it does contain pertinent information for the new or novice beekeeper. Compiled from a series of essays, many of which appeared in Mr. Taylor’s Bee Talk column in what was then known as Gleanings in Bee Culture (since shortened to Bee Culture), this is not reading for new beekeepers only. The first essay in this little book – only 166 pages – is titled The Taste of Joy, and the sense of joy permeates to the end. Not a recent book, it was originally published in 1974. I have a 1984 edition, which is the one you will probably find if you seek it out. I discovered this volume many years ago and still pick it back up occasionally, as I did just this morning, to enjoy it again. The section on bee yards, which describes the smells of wax and honey and the sounds of buzzing bees, makes an impression on me every time I read it. This is what I enjoy most about beekeeping: my time in the apiary, those smells and sounds, and the daily discoveries in the hives. Richard Taylor shares with us his pleasure in these simple things. Enjoy!

About Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor may be known to readers as a beekeeper and writer, but his original career, never abandoned, was professor of philosophy. He earned his PhD in that field from Brown University, and during his long academic career he taught at Brown, Columbia and Rochester Universities. He passed away in 2003, but his words live on.

Are Your Bees Doing the Washboard Dance on the Front of Your Hive?

Bees, in addition to just hanging out at the hive entrance, sometimes exhibit an even more interesting behavior called washboarding. This is a rhythmic movement, in which bees on the front of the hives (on the landing board and often above it) seem to step forward and backward,  swinging their front legs in what looks to me like a sweeping movement. In another era, when I was a child, my mother still sometimes made use of a washboard to do small batches of laundry by hand. (Her main laundry chores were done in an old fashion ringer washing machine.) This movement of the bees does remind me of the up and down movement my mother made on the washboard. However, I think it looks even more like a dance. Since the term “honey bee dance” is used to describe the movements of forager bees inside the hive on the face of the comb, I guess a new term was needed for this behavior. I find it interesting that only certain hives take part. Out of the 15 full, two story hives in my apiary, only two are exhibiting it at this time. One is shown in the video below. This raises multiple questions, why are they doing it, and why are only certain hives doing it? Is it weather related? Heat? Related to bearding on hives? Though long aware of this behavior, I had not noticed the bees in my apiary performing it earlier in the year. (I have observed it in years past.)

What are they doing? While many beekeepers believe that the bees are cleaning the surface of the hive near the entrance, I am not convinced. I do not know of any scientific research or evidence which shows that what they are doing is cleaning. If you are aware of any (a scientific paper), let me know. I did find one interesting article, co-authored by Dr. Jeff Pettis – head of the USDA Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland, discussing some of the scant research which has been done on this behavior, but the authors conclude that the reason for it is still unexplained.

See a little video I filmed this week of some of my girls doing their “washboard dance”, and turn up the sound. Washboard video.

Ten Frames, Nine, or Even Eight in Honey Supers?

In early May, I wrote a post on the topic Nine frames or ten in the brood box? Since that discussion was confined to brood boxes, I promised a future post on the subject of the ideal number of frames in honey supers. That discussion follows.

In the earlier post, I commented that beekeepers can manage hives with only nine frames, as long as they keep in mind the theory of bee space and the proclivity of honey bees to build burr comb whenever they have extra space available between frames. I ended by saying that, while I had maintained colonies with nine frame brood boxes in the past, I had arrived at the conclusion that using ten is a more productive management style for me, resulting in more bees and higher honey yields. I have a very different perspective when it comes to honey supers. I have used nine frames in my supers for many years, and am currently using eight on most of my hives.

To review a few basics: standard beekeeping equipment is designed for ten frames. Continue reading