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Utah Beekeepers Association

Utah Beekeepers Association

Estimated read time: 9-10 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

The Utah Beekeepers Association is December 2-3 at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Building, 350 North Redwood Road, Salt Lake City

For more information contact Debbie Amundsen 801 451 3405 or

This information is courtesy of the University of Deleware Extension Service by Dewy M. Caron Dept. of Entomology & Applied Ecology



Keeping bees successfully in a populated area requires an intimate understanding of basic bee biology, property rights, and human psychology. It is possible to keep bees in crowded suburban areas, on tiny city lots, and on roof tops in large or small cities without problems. Even in a city, a hive or two of honey bees will find enough forage to sustain themselves and yield a surplus of honey for harvest.

Beekeepers in suburbs and cities need to manage their bees so that they are not a nuisance to their neighbors. By understanding the circumstances under which bees will bother people, we can take measures to alter these circumstances so that the bees do not create a problem. Bee Flight Patterns

Bees flying from their hive to gather food will fly 3-6 feet above the ground. This may make them an annoyance to people who might be passing by. Planting a hedge or erecting a fence at least six feet high, forces the bees to fly above head level.

Alternatively, hives can be placed on a roof top which starts them flying at a level at which they will not bother people. Fences, hedges, and roof tops also provide seclusion which is very important. Keeping hives out of sight helps protect them from vandalism and theft. However, this is not the only factor involved. Bees out of sight are less often objects of worry and controversy. To a beekeeper, a row of well kept hives generates a feeling of calm and serenity; to a non-beekeeper, they may symbolize a threat or be a discomfort. So, "out of sight, out of mind" will keep both beekeeper and beekeeping neighbors in a better frame of mind. Locations for Colonies

Bee hives ideally should be in such a condition that the bees are content and "happy." A good location is where they are in full sun the whole day. Bees in the shade tend to be more aggressive. The hives should be dry and the bottom boards should slope forward so that rain water can run out the front. Hive stands help elevate the bees off the ground. This makes it easier to keep the hives dry by letting air circulate under the bottom board. Placing the hives 4-6 inches off the ground also makes it less likely that weeds or grass will obstruct the entrance. Entrances Top entrances should probably be avoided in congested areas during the summer season. Whenever a hive with a top entrance is opened and hive bodies moved, hundreds of confused bees will be flying around because their entrance is gone. Field bees flying around the beekeeper's head might make things more uncomfortable for the beekeeper as well as for his/her neighbors.

By providing a bottom entrance only, and working at the side or from behind the hive, the bees are not impeded from flying home even when all the upper boxes have been removed. Keeping equipment in good repair so that cracks or chips in the hives don't provide extra holes for flight is also helpful. When to Inspect Colonies

The bee's sting is primarily for defense of the colony. Whenever a colony is opened or otherwise disturbed, it is potentially in its most dangerous state. Only when the hive itself is disturbed will the bees attack in any numbers.

During a nectar flow, many of the older workers will be in the field foraging. This is the best time to examine the colony. During the summer, especially between honey flows, more bees will be in the hive and the situation can change. During such a time of dearth, there will inevitably be some robbing going on which will make the bees even more defensive of any intrusion into their colony.

Leaving cappings or honey exposed, or leaving a colony open for more than a few minutes may precipitate a robbing situation which can lead to thousands of angry bees in the air. Any hive that is weak should have its entrance reduced; otherwise other stronger hives may attempt to rob from it. While there is a honey flow in progress, robbing is much less likely to occur.

Weather and time of day also have an influence on the disposition of a bee colony. Examining bee hives early in the morning, late in the afternoon, during cold weather (below 65oF), in rain or when the sky is overcast may make the bees angry and more likely to attack.

To minimize problems, the hives should be attended to only on warm sunny days, preferably in the middle of the day. This may vary according to other factors including the types of flowers that the bees are working. Many flowers produce most of their nectar only during part of each day and unless there are alternate sources, the bees will have nothing to do the rest of the day.

The beekeeper should understand the subtleties of flows and be observant enough to determine when the bees are bringing in nectar. An obvious indicator would be heavy flight activity at the entrance.

Weather on the previous day will influence the nectar yield of flowers. If it has rained the nectar will be more dilute (watery) making it less attractive to the bees. They may not forage heavily until the sun has evaporated the nectar to a stronger (and sweeter) concentration. Water

Honey bees need water to cool the hive and to dilute honey for feeding their young. Bees generally collect water from the nearest source, although they prefer standing water that is warm, has some organic material and is located in very shallow pools. Some beekeepers keep a faucet running leaving a steady trickle to flow over some boards. This assures a continuing supply of fresh water.

A backyarder's bees could easily collect water from other sources, but this may present a problem. Bees collecting water at swimming pools, bird baths, and wading ponds quickly could become a nuisance. Neighbors could get stung or they might avoid using an area where the bees are because they are afraid of them.

The aesthetics of having a number of dead bees floating around in the water leaves something to be desired. Once bees start using a particular water source, it is very difficult to keep them from returning to it. The solution lies in providing a constant supply of water close to the hives as soon as the bees start flying in the spring. Stinging Bees

Angry bees are attracted to movement, animal odors, and vibrations. Opening a hive while your next-door neighbor is mowing their lawn is definitely a good way to get them stung. If the bees are particularly touchy about lawn mowers, one might tactfully recommend that the lawn be mowed on cool evenings or early in the morning when the bees are less likely to fly. A good general rule is not to disturb the hives when anybody in the immediate area is likely to be outside.

Beehives, like people, vary in temperament. Generally, if there is a mean hive, replacing the queen will alleviate the problem. A beekeeper should never keep a hive of aggressive bees near houses or where people will pass close by. Sometimes the progeny from an individual queen will vary widely in disposition.

As a queen uses up the sperm of one of the approximately 5-12 drones she has mated with, she begins using the sperm of another, at which point her daughters effectively have a new father. As a consequence, a gentle hive may become mean even though it still has the same queen. Keeping Control

Whenever a bee hive is opened, the beekeeper must keep it under control at all times. A typical bee hive contains thousands of workers all capable of stinging. The bees have an elaborate and organized system of defense. If we chose to ignore this system, the consequences could prove disastrous. A beekeeper in a remote area may bundle himself up or take a number of stings and ignore them. These alternatives are not available to the urban or suburban beekeeper because of proximity to his neighbors.

Smoke is the most important tool for anyone opening a hive. Smoke should be used in moderation; however, the smoker should be capable of producing large volumes of smoke on short notice. The beekeeper should smoke the entrance, smoke under the cover, and periodically smoke the frames while the hive is open.

Jarring the hive or frames may anger the bees so the beekeeper should work carefully and without haste. Keep the frames freely movable by going through the brood chamber several times a year. Using nine frames will make it easier to remove the first frame in inspection. Any excess comb should be removed.

The folly of wearing gloves cannot be overemphasized, stings on hands are easily removed and the pain quickly passes, yet many beginners insist on using gloves. Stings on the gloves are not felt, yet because of the scent associated with the sting, they anger other bees in the hive to attack. The attack builds and the beekeeper ignores it until the bees find an opening. Thus, the beekeeper may lose touch with the mood of his hive. By working with bare hands, one will be less clumsy and also will be less likely to let the bees get out of control. Public Relations

If one is on speaking terms with his neighbors, that friendship may be encouraged by giving them some honey at Christmas. It's amazing how interested and cooperative people become when presented with an occasional jar of honey. Show them the difference between wasps and bees and they will be less likely to blame you for every sting. Be careful and tactful - befriending a neighbor is a lot easier than calming them once they have become angry with you and your bees.

4/9/99 D.M. Caron


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