The following Frequently Asked Questions have been asked enough that we wanted to compile an easy reference for answers. If there are significant questions/ information you think is missing, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
Why are the bees dying?
There are multiple factors affecting the health of bees and their colonies. Many stressors interact with one another and the combined effect(s) may be difficult to diagnose. The major factors include the “5 P’s.”
- Poor Nutrition
- Poor Management
Are bees going extinct?
There are many races or breeds but only one species of honey bee in the U.S. (Apis mellifera). There are over 20,000 species of bees worldwide and roughly 4,000 in North America. Some of these native bees have been listed as “species of concern” due to similar challenges honey bees face, such as loss of habitat, lack of forage, and pesticide exposure. In 2008, Franklin’s bumble bee(B. franklini) was listed as “critically endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species and has not been seen since 2006. In 2016, 7 species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees(Hylaeus anthracinus, H. longiceps, H. assimulans, H. facilis, H. hilaris, H. kuakea, and H. mana) were placed on the Endangered Species List, meaning they are facing imminent extinction or extirpation. Then in 2017, the Rusty Patched Bumble bee (Bombus affinis) was also listed. These species were the first bees to be placed on the Endangered Species List in the U.S.
Honey bees were imported from Europe in 1622. They are a managed species, like cattle, and are not at risk of going extinct at this time, though this does not decrease their importance or the danger they are facing.
Where can I get bees?
See our “Equipment/Bee Suppliers” page.
When do I need to order bees?
The best time to order bees is in January, after you are finished with your beekeeping workshops! Typical package bee ordering time is between January-March. Orders are filled on a first come first serve basis and there are limited numbers of packages and nucleus colonies depending on the suppliers. (See “Equipment & Bee Suppliers” page for more information)
How much does it cost to get bees?
- Packages of bees or nucleus colonies will run between $120-$180
- New hive equipment will run about $300-$500
- Protective gear prices will vary
- For more information see our “Equipment and Cost” page
Should I get package bees or a nuc?
We recommend that all beginning beekeepers get package bees. They build up slowly. This gives the beginner ample time to get used to handling bees as well as working with a colony. The amount of bees in a nuc grows very rapidly. This can overwhelm a new beekeeper who may not be used to managing that many bees so quickly in the season. Also, frames that come with nucs may have disease or pests. We recommend package bees and new equipment until you are able to recognize and manage these issues.
How do I join a beekeeping club?
- Attend a meeting, membership information is always available at meetings
- Check Beekeepers Association websites or Facebook pages for meeting announcements
(See “Beekeeping Organizations” page for more information)
How do I donate to the UNL Bee Lab?
Make a check out to “University of Nebraska Foundation” of any amount (tax deductible) and send it to:
UNL Bee Lab
PO Box 830816
103 Entomology Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0816
How do I get the Bee Lab to talk about honey and/or native bees in my classroom, club, staff training, etc.?
Reach out to our Outreach Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org
How do I make a bee friendly garden/landscape?
The easiest answer is to curtail the use of chemicals in your landscape by using Integrated Pest Management for when you do have to deal with pests. Pair that with an increase in the number and diversity of bee friendly plants and you have created a safe and food filled habitat for pollinators. For more ideas see our “Honey Bee Plant List”.
What kind of hive style should I use?
We recommend starting off with a Langstroth hive: a hive style with standardized movable frames (see “Glossary” page for more information). It has universal components that all beekeeping supply stores carry. It is also what most beekeepers use. When starting off, it is critical that you learn the art of beekeeping and become used to handling bees. Being able to read your bees, spot problems with brood or diseases and correct them is critical to your success. After you have had some years of experience, then you can experiment with any other form of beehive out there.
What about the Flow hive? Top bar hive? Warre hive?
Ease of Manipulation
Ease of Extraction
Ease of Establishment
Labor Input /maintenance
3: Uses standard Langstroth frames
1: Turn a handle and honey drips out, but you still need traditional frames for more honey and this is very temperature dependent
4: Still need to buy Langstroth deep
3 Must keep frames from binding. Made of proprietary equipment
1: Easiest, very little lifting involved.
4: Crush and strain: have to start with new frame every time
3:No foundation: More prone to abscond
2: Make sure to not cross-comb frames. No need to mow around hive
4: Hardest, heavy to lift and two person job to add boxes and boxes are small and tippy
3: Similar to Langstroth
2:Similar to Langstroth but smaller
4: Very heavy to lift when established. New boxes loaded from bottom
2: Heavy but only one person needed to add boxes
2: Need a centrifuge
1: Very simple, foundation easy to find/make
1: Standard maintenance. Heavy but very customizable
*DIY builds are usually cheaper
How many hives should I get?
We do not recommend going all in and starting off trying to be a commercial operation your first few years. 1-2 hives your first year would be sufficient. If you can only afford 1 hive that is fine. There are advantages to starting with 2 hives as no 2 hives will ever be the same strength. If something happens in one of your hives (ex: queen failure), you can use bees and resources from the second hive to correct this issue. Starting off with 1 or 2 hives is up to you, your comfort level and your pocketbook; but we recommend you at least purchase extra equipment for a second hive even if you don’t purchase bees for it because as your one colony grows, you can expand by splitting. A good rule of thumb is to have enough empty equipment for one more hive.
What kind of bees should I get?
We usually recommend starting with Carniolans and Italian strains of honey bees simply because they are bred for gentleness, easy on beekeepers, and produce honey when managed well. Other strains can have quirks or behave slightly different than the Italians and Carniolans so they are better for more seasoned beekeepers.
When should I feed my bees?
- Spring feeding is 1:1 syrup (by weight Example: 8lbs of sugar to 1 gallon of water (8lbs) ). This stimulates the bees to produce wax, which is critical to their survival and build up the first year.
- Fall Feeding is 2:1 syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water, by weight) to add weight for winter survival.
- In the spring, you also want to put on a sugar board filled with “sugar candy” to feed the bees.
- Sugar Board dimensions. 20"length, 16 1/4” wide, 2 ½” tall. This lid will hold 20lbs of candy.
- Make sure to route-out a half-moon notch on one side for ventilation (about the size of a water bottle cap).
- Candy board instructions:
Heat up 2 cups of water. Slowly add 10lbs of sugar. Making sure to not add it all at once. Stir in sugar. Let the sugar heat up and melt. Stir often. Once all 10lbs of sugar are added and it is liquefied, pour into sugar board. Repeat process and pour another 10lbs of liquefied sugar into the lid. You do not want to overfill the sugar board. DO NOT POUR CARMELIZED (burnt) SUGAR INTO THE SUGAR BOARD. THIS WILL POISON YOUR BEES.
How much honey should I get in the first year?
You should never expect honey your first year. Although some people do produce surplus honey the first year if they have access to a lot of forage. The first year you have bees you should allow them to keep the honey in order to overwinter successfully.
How can I start a beekeeping business get free seed or enhance my land for bees?
See our “Apiary Business Financing” “Seed Resources” and“Land Enhancement” pages.
What type of feeder is the best?
It is a matter of opinion for 2 of the 3 main feeders. There are 3 main types of feeders: Boardman entrance feeder with jar, division board feeder, top hive feeder.
- Boardman entrance feeder - Not recommended. Sun will heat the jar, forcing syrup to leak causing robbing. Robbing can decimate a small colony.
- Division board feeder - Takes the place of 1 or 2 of the frames inside your hive. Can hold 1 to 2 gallons of syrup. Need to open the hive and expose bees to refill.
- Top Hive Feeder - Sits directly above your brood nest. The bees crawl up the feeder from inside the hive to get syrup. Can hold 1-3 gallons depending on style. No need to expose the colony when refilling, just pull off lid, refill and close up the colony.
Should I go treatment free?
It is not recommended to go treatment free with your hives ESPECIALLY if you are a new beekeeper. There are many factors that determine colony health and by not treating you are leaving your hives and neighboring hives at risk for more problems. You will also lose a lot of bees. Keep in mind: Treatment free and management free are different. If you choose to not use chemical treatments you should STILL manage for Varroa mites and other diseases using non-chemical methods.
Should I treat for varroa on a schedule?
No. Beekeepers should monitor for varroa mites in their colonies using the powdered sugar roll. If your powdered sugar roll yields 9+ mites per ½ cup of bees (300 bees), then action should be taken. It should be noted that most treatment options cannot be used when there are honey supers on the hive.
There is a wonderful guide that lists all of your legal treatment options from the Honey Bee Health Coalition: https://honeybeehealthcoalition.org/varroa/.
What are the “soft chemical” mite treatments for varroa mites?
Soft treatments are typically natural compounds as opposed to synthetic chemicals. This does not necessarily mean they are “soft” on bees or that they will not leave residues in the comb. Organic acid-based compounds (indicated with *) do not leave behind residues in the hive. Extract oils will remain in the comb, however, residues are unlikely to cause harm.
- Oxalic Acid (OA)*: extract chemical from rhubarb
- Formic Acid*: MiteAway strips
- Hops beta acids*: Hopguard II - extract from hops plant used in beer making
- Apiguard: Thymol gel - extract the chemical from thyme
- Thymol: ApiVar Life- extract the chemical from thyme + Camphor, menthol & eucalyptol oil
What are the “hard chemical” treatments for varroa mites?
Hard treatments are made from synthetic chemicals. They may be more effective at Varroa control but leave behind pesticide residues. Accumulation of these residues have been shown to cause problems with larval development of worker and queen bees. If these treatments are used, replace comb often and alternate with different compounds to prevent mites from developing resistance to the treatments.
- Amitraz: Apivar
- Coumaphos: Checkmite+
- Tau-fluvalinate: Apistan strips
What are the non-chemical measures I can take to control varroa?
There are non-chemical measures you can use. These non-chemical treatments can and should be used along with other methods, including chemical treatments:
- Screened Bottom Boards - 10% effective
- Sanitation/Brood comb culling(replacement of combs every 3-5 years)
- Drone Brood removal, also called drone trapping varroa
- Brood Interruption (caging queen)
- Requeening with varroa resistant stock
Where do I order nuc, package, queens?
View our “Equipment/Bee Suppliers” page.
How do I keep honey bees out of my hummingbird feeder?
Purchase a hummingbird feeder that has longer tubes that the honey bees cannot reach(usually they are marketed as bee/wasp proof). If they find a feeder that is unsecured they will recruit their sisters from their hive and can drain it quite quickly.
Bees are in my swimming pool/bird bath, how do I get rid of them?
All living things require water to survive. If you know someone in your area who keeps bees, talk to them. See if they provide a water source near their hives and keep it filled.
Can I produce/buy organic honey?
In order to produce organic honey, a beekeeper must be able to say with certainty that all forage within 5 square miles of your hive is organic, as well as any drift from neighboring fields. This is because bees can forage up to five miles in any direction and in doing so can come into contact with treated plants. So there is not many who can say their honey is “organic”.
What are killer bees?
Africanized bees are a type of honey bee that exhibits more aggressive behavior and tends to swarm or abscond more due to its home geographical area of tropical Africa. These bees had to defend against hive bandits (ie honey badgers that just don’t care) so they tend to exhibit more aggressive responses to disturbance.
What is the weight of a full super? Deep?
A full super will weigh approximately 50-60lbs. A full deep will weigh approximately 90-100 lbs.
How many times per year can I treat my hives?
How many times you can treat is dependent on the treatment you are using. Remember to always follow the label, the label is the law. If you treat more than the label says or do not treat with the right dosage, you could be allowing varroa to build up a resistance! Off-label use of chemical treatments may also cause harm to a developing brood, affect queen egg-laying, and cause mortality of bees. Pay close attention to optimal temperature ranges for applying treatments. If treatments are applied when temperatures are not optimal, Varroa control may be ineffective (wasted $) or treatments may harm colony development.
Does the UNL Bee Lab sell bees?
Not at this time; view our local “Equipment/Bee Suppliers” page.
Does the UNL Bee Lab sell honey?
YES. The UNL Dairy store, Hardin Hall lobby on the first floor, and directly from the Lab at Entomology Department.
What can I plant to help bees?
Please see HONEY BEE PLANT LIST.
How much land does a colony need?
A hive will thrive if there are floral and pollen resources from April-September, this varies greatly by weather, precipitation levels, and blooming species. Get to know the land you are interested in before placing hives.
How many beehives can I put in one location?
Many commercial operations will put 30+ hives on a one location. This is not recommended for any long length of time as the bees will be more aggressive and will deplete resources quickly. Your land’s carrying capacity will vary with the forage resources on it.
What kind of fuel do I use for my smoker?
Pine needles, burlap (non-synthetic), wood shavings, dry cow patties or any other natural substance that emits a cool white smoke. Do not use any type of accelerant to light your smoker (ie lighter fluid, oil, hairspray, WD40).
How do I store my unused equipment?
DO NOT USE MOTHBALLS. Mothballs that can be purchased in many stores should not be used in storing beekeeping supplies because they contain a substance called naphthalene that leaves a residue on the equipment that will kill your bees.
Para-Moth® does not contain naphthalene and is the only registered product for use against wax moths in beehives. Para-Moth® should never be put into a hive when bees occupy it, and equipment stored with Para-Moth® should be completely aired out before being occupied by bees. Off brand, versions exist called “Moth Ice Crystals” just make sure they contain Paradichlorobenzene.
Kevan, P.G. 2008. Bombus franklini. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species2008: e.T135295A4070259.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T135295A4070259.en. Downloaded on 03 January 2019.
Hrala, Josh. 2016. "7 Bee Species Have Been Added To The US Endangered Species List". Sciencealert. http://www.sciencealert.com/seven-species-of-bees-have-been-added-to-the-endangered-species-list.
Service, U.S. 2017. "Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Fact Sheet". Fws.Gov. https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/pdf/RPBBFactSheet10Jan2017.pdf