As you learn more each year about the bees, you may come across some strange ideas. Most of these weird concepts come from a friend, who heard it from a friend. Usually they make complete sense when you hear them, but later, you may wonder (about the weird idea, not the friend). Here are a few myths of beekeeping which have been perpetuated over the years, and are hard to kill.
Myth #1: You need to use foundation.
If you level your hives side-to-side (with a level!), you will get nice plumb comb using just frames or top bars with starter strips in them. A good starter-strip material is the waxed cardboard that milk cartons are made of, as it can be folded lengthwise and installed in wedge-top frames the same way crimpwire foundation usually is. It’s still best to wire the frames, however. The bees will build the comb right over the wires, and the comb will be very strong in the end.
Myth #2: You can’t move hives short distances.
Generally this is true, if the new location is less than 3 miles from the old spot. This is because the honey bees’ memorized territory and hive location are so firmly fixed in their brains; their new location needs to be at least 3 miles away to make them re-orient. However, if you want to move a hive a short distance — say across your yard — you can have great success doing so in the following way: first rotate the hive so its back is facing the direction you want to move it. The day after the bees are used to that, begin moving the hive backwards about 10 feet per day until it’s in the new spot. As the fielders come in for a landing, they just fly 10 more feet to the hive entrance each day. This technique works well because the hive is still in the original flight path, but just further back.
Myth #3: Laying workers can’t fly.
Supposedly laying workers are weighed-down with eggs, and if you shake the bees off the frames onto the ground some distance from their laying-worker hive, the laying workers won’t make it back. The idea is that only good workers who aren’t full of eggs will be able to fly back, and the rest will be lost in the grass. However, a load of nectar or pollen weighs more than eggs, and those workers fly! The queen, an egg-laying machine, has trouble flying, but she can fly with a swarm. Shortly before a swarm leaves the hive, she slims down by not being fed so much. She still however has all the eggs she was born with.
Myth #4: The queen likes black better than white plastic foundation in the brood chamber.
Remember, it’s dark in there, folks! The queen can’t see the color of the foundation. Black is simply better for the beekeeper to see eggs and tiny larvae. Studies actually show the queen prefers newly drawn comb to old comb, but this must have to do with scent and comb age, not color. Interestingly, workers prefer to store honey and pollen in comb that’s been used for at least one cycle of brood rearing.
Myth #5: The bees know their beekeeper.
Honeybee workers only live about 6 weeks in spring and summer. During that time, the beekeeper will probably visit the hive twice. It is likely that the bees seem friendlier around the beekeeper, and appear to know him/her because the beekeeper instinctively moves more calmly than does a visitor (non-beekeeper) to the yard.
Myth #6: It is illegal to kill honey bees.
In NY State [and Maine], at least, it is legal. Honey bees are not an endangered species. Sometimes exterminators tell homeowners this, possibly in the hopes that a beekeeper can be found to deal with the difficult task of taking care of bees in walls, or possibly out of good-heartedness.
Myth #7: You must have 10 frames of foundation in a box to begin.
Not true! If you like 9 frames in brood chambers or honey supers, just put in 9 to begin with. Space them perfectly evenly by hand, or use 9-frame spacers. The bees will draw out the comb nicely. This saves the trip back to remove one frame after they have drawn them out, as is usually suggested.