Over the years, beekeepers have developed a great many tools to use in managing honey bee colonies in an effort make them more productive. Many have been developed through meticulous record keeping.
There’s a lot of home spun advice out there. As some are quick to point out, the bees themselves may or may not benefit from the use of some of these technologies. So it is important many times to consider them in light of the honey bee’s health, rather than simply the beekeeper’s economic interests.
The major tool that secured a huge advantage for the beekeeper was the modern beehive itself, It is really nothing more than a carefully -measured box, which preserves a”bee space” of about 3/8 inch between combs, allowing for their easy removal. This movable-frame hive is generally credited to the Reverend L.L. Langstroth, and is usually called the “Standard hive .” Traditionally, it is made out of wood and preserved and/or painted based on beekeeper preference.
Confining the queen/and or separating her from nest mates has always been something of interest to beekeepers. The queen excluder works because the device filters out the larger-bodied queen from her smaller sisters. But like many management ideas, there is often a potential downside.
Honey bees are unique in animal agriculture because, like plants, colonies can multiply through asexual reproduction. In honey bees this is done spontaneously through a process called “swarming.” The beekeeper can take advantage of this behavior by actively dividing or splitting colonies. The other form of reproduction is via the queen’s egg-laying and workers’ cooperative care giving of the young (brood). Finally, honey bees can be acquired as package bees and installed directly in the apiary.
Active beekeeping has its roots in locating honey bee colonies in the wild and capturing them. This is a long tradition going, back thousands of years, often depicted in cave paintings. Finding the hives in the first place was and still is a skill known as “beelining.” Once located, colonies could be harvested by cutting down bee trees and/or trapping them out of them or other difficult places.
Managing honey bee colonies is especially important when temperament (defensive behavior) becomes an issue. Traditionally beekeepers have used smoke to produce fumes, which mask the alarm pheromone that recruits bees to defend the nest through stinging. Smoke can also be used for other tasks, including in some cases control of bee parasites. Other beekeeping tools include the all-important veil to protect the face, sometimes included as part of a full “bee suit,” and sometimes gloves to protect the hands. Finally, a hive tool is absolutely necessary to pry apart supers, scrape and otherwise help perform essential tasks when manipulating colonies.
Many beekeeping situations, such as an overly defensive colony with a propensity to sting can often be “cured” by simply changing the queen (requeening). Splitting colonies in conjunction with requeening is a tool used more and more in an age when keeping colonies of honey bees alive is becoming more challenging. The converse to splitting colonies in uniting them to produce various configurations for specific beekeeping situations.
If a honey bee colony is totally out of control, then other solutions must be employed. For example, large-scale stinging resulting in human death and/or accidents involving overturned truckloads of honey bees on the highways that are often heavily publicized can only be solved by “stopping” bees immediately.
Beyond the smoker, some important beekeeping tools include, the veil, glove and all-important hive tool. Finally, pollen traps are specialized tools used to harvest bee-collected pollen for both honey bee and human health.