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Best Practices

Location of Apiary/Hives

  • Honey bees housed in manmade hives or abodes are considered to be “managed colonies” and fall under the jurisdiction of the Ohio Apiary Laws and Rules which is administered by staff in the Division of Plant Health at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).

Based upon Ohio Law, honey bee colonies are considered to be an agricultural pursuit and can be maintained anywhere in Ohio as long as the beekeeper/owner complies with all of the Apiary Laws and Rules. Note that the local zoning rules may have specific parameters or may prohibit colonies altogether.

  • Honey bee colonies should receive full sun, at least from morning through late afternoon. The sun is important to help the bees combat pests and diseases. The entrance of the colonies should face south or east so that the sun shines on the entrance in the morning. Bees are usually not aggressive if the colonies receive full sun.
  • Colonies should be placed so that they face away from neighbors and so that the flight path does not interfere with outdoor activities in adjacent properties.
  • Honey bees maintain a flight path entering and exiting the front of the hive. The hives should be placed so that the front of the hives face a structure or planting, etc. so that the bees fly up and away from living areas in adjacent properties. The bees will fly straight down then straight up when flying into and out of the hive, respectively.
  • Colonies should be placed in areas with season long abundance of plants that provide sufficient quantities of pollen and nectar to support the colony.

Management

Beekeepers must:
  • Manage all colonies to keep them queenright and vigorous;
  • Pursue efforts to maintain pest levels below the USDA threshold and control serious bee diseases, using university and USDA approved methods and following all label laws;
  • Manage colonies to avoid swarming;*
  • If a County or State Apiarist wishes to inspect the colonies, the beekeeper should allow that inspection to occur;
  • Only obtain European honey bees and queens from areas where the Africanized honey bees (AHB) are not known to be established. Re-queen colonies which are unusually aggressive. Reasons for aggressiveness may be from: being queen-less; being disturbed by animals or people; or having a pest problem. If these reasons are rejected during an inspection from a State or County Apiary Inspector, the queen should be destroyed and replaced with a queen of known European and temperate origin. All state laws and rules apply in the effort to control these pests.
  • Top bar, Warre hives and other honey bee abodes different than the standard Langstroth hive box must be maintained so that frames can be removed easily for inspection and frame manipulation.
  • Beekeepers should avoid manipulating colonies when neighbors are having outdoor parties or large cookouts.
  • Beekeepers should remain diligent to learn about honey bees and beekeeping and remain current on honey bee research, especially regarding control of honey bee pests and diseases.

Bee Requirements

  • USDA recommends 1-3 acres of forage per colony of bees. The number of colonies in an apiary is restricted by the availability and richness of season long forage. A 40,000 sq. ft. yard may only have 2-3 colonies in an urban area, depending upon the floral abundance and diversity, and the number of apiaries per square mile.
  • The beekeeper should have a constant source of clean water which is closer to the colony than any man-made body of water in an adjacent property. If the water source dries out, the beekeeper must make all efforts to “retrain” the bees to find water on the beekeeper’s property.

Laws and Rules

  • Every beekeeper must comply with all local, state and federal Laws and Rules. State apiary laws (ORC) can be viewed here. State apiary rules (OAC) can be viewed here.
  • State Law mandates annual registration of every yard containing bee hives (called an apiary). The registration form can be found here.
  • All local zoning rules and regulations regarding the placement and use of honey bee hives must be followed.
  • The beekeeper should consider having liability insurance coverage for the apiary.
  • All parties involved should stay informed of policies regarding pesticide applications of yards, mosquitoes and other pests.

Seasonal Colony Management

Honey bee colonies should be checked several times a year. Below are minimal assessment requirements for any colony:
  • Early spring (March – April)
    • Check proximity of bee clusters to food in the hive. Add feed or place frames of honey close to cluster when temperatures are above 56 degrees. On cold days, move frames quickly and do not expose the cluster to cold air.
    • Determine how many colonies may survive and why the others failed. Choose the source(s) from which more bees, nucs (nucleus hives), or queens should be ordered and obtained. Order queens, packages and nucs from local certified and licensed beekeepers whenever possible. A list of beekeepers that have been certified by ODA as having healthy colonies available for sale can be obtained from the Apiary Program.
    • Repair and clean all equipment and order all supplies for the upcoming season.
  • Late Spring (May- June)
    • Swarming* is a natural means by which colonies reproduce and at times can be difficult to avoid. Swarming can be reduced by the following suggestions however it is almost impossible to prevent swarming completely.
      • Split colonies- make nucs by placing frames of brood and honey into a 5 or 8 frame hive box. By OAC definition, “Nuc" is a “colony of bees in a box with three to eight frames containing a laying queen bee and her progeny in all life stages. The nuc shall have honey and a viable population sufficient enough to develop into a full sized colony.” The Rule can be read here.
      • Switch the bottom with the top brood box (so that the top box is now below the former bottom box) or add empty boxes with frames to existing colonies so they have more room.
      • Place 2-4 frames of foundation or comb between frames of brood and honey so that frames of brood are spaced out more (called checkerboarding). This can be dangerous to do in the spring when frosts are possible as the bees may not be able to cover the frames of brood in multiple locations.
    • Monitor the varroa mite population and treat if necessary. Ensure that the colony(s) is queen right and both adults and brood appear healthy. Look for symptoms of pests and diseases. Contact the County Apiary Inspector or State Apiarist with pest and disease concerns.
    • Feed bees if necessary to encourage colony growth and to help the bees build comb on frames of foundation.
    • Purchase and manage any new colonies or queens so that they will build and be healthy before the onset of summer temperatures and drought.
  • Summer through early Fall
    • Monitor varroa populations monthly and treat as needed to maintain mite loads below the USDA threshold following all label directions.
    • Continue to check colonies for healthy queen and brood. Make splits as necessary to manage mites and avoid late swarms.
    • Ensure that bees have access to fresh clean water and feed if necessary to encourage colonies to grow when a dearth occurs or to raise new colonies.
  • Fall through Winter
    • Monitor mite populations and treat as needed to maintain mite loads below the USDA threshold following all label directions.
    • Continue to check colony health and obtain help if problems arise. Do not wait more than two weeks for the colony to recover from symptoms of a problem.
    • Install mouse guards, make preparations for winter protection.
    • Feed if necessary so that colonies are heavy and full of honey for the winter. Colonies in Ohio should weigh at least 80 pounds going into winter.
    • Unite weak colonies to strong ones and condense all colonies so that either brood, honey or pollen are on every frame. Remove empty frames and store appropriately to avoid damage from mice or wax moth larvae. Colonies should be reduced to two or three boxes to protect them from pests and ensure that food stores are close to the cluster.

Laws and Rules

  • Multiple university and research websites have reliable, proven information about honey bees, beekeeping, and honey bee biology. The beekeeper should continue efforts to read and stay informed on beekeeping management and disease and pest control. Thousands of books have been published on honey bees as well.
  • Information on topics detailed in the BMP can be found at the links below:

University of Florida BMPs

ME State Beekeepers Association BMPs

IL State Beekeepers Association BMPs

NY State Beekeepers Association BMPs

Pollinator Conservation Resources

HBHC Hive Management