This guide is for beekeepers. It outlines recommended practices to ensure healthy, productive managed honey bees in Ontario.

This guide tells you what practices to employ and directs you to the resources that explain how to perform each of them.

To support a thriving apiculture industry in Ontario, all beekeepers should:

  • be aware of the practices described in this guide
  • incorporate the practices into their beekeeping operation to support the overall health of their managed honey bees and those of neighbouring operations

This guide features information relevant to beekeeping in Ontario. It is critical to use credible information specific to Ontario’s unique geography, climate and pest/disease status.

Beekeeping terms used in this guide are defined in the glossary.

Basic colony management

A honey bee colony is defined as an aggregate of a queen bee, drones and several thousand worker bees living together as one social unit in a hive. Colonies have variable populations ranging from less than 1,000 bees to more than 50,000 bees.

The management of honey bee colonies encompasses all of the activities conducted by a beekeeper that influence the health, production and population of their colonies. These activities include employing Best Management Practices (BMPs), biosecurity, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and sampling and testing of bees and/or equipment for pests and disease.

Management practices can vary based on the focus of the beekeeping operation (such as honey production, queen and nucleus production and pollination services). When managing a colony, consider your operation, and make sure you plan beekeeping health and production strategies in advance.

Biology and integrated pest management

The biology of honey bees and how a colony functions and interacts with its environment is central to the health, production and sustainability of the colony in all management practices.

Understand the basics of colony management, honey bee biology and the biology of honey bee pests and diseases

Beekeepers should be familiar with:

  • what a healthy colony looks like
  • the signs and symptoms of honey bee health problems

This knowledge is essential for recognizing problems and understanding how to resolve them.

Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of pests and diseases that can affect Ontario-managed honey bees. This knowledge is required to develop an effective IPM strategy to safeguard colonies and those of nearby beekeepers from health risks.

Refer to the education and training section for workshops and further information on this topic.

Follow IPM practices suitable for the beekeeping operation

The goal of IPM is to manage pests and diseases so they are below damaging thresholds.

IPM can include chemical or non-chemical methods, and the method chosen must be approved, effective and appropriate for the geographic region.

Monitor colonies for pest and disease levels regularly and manage pests and diseases to keep them below defined treatment thresholds (a defined level beyond which a treatment must be applied in order to manage a honey bee pest) for Ontario.

Some diseases are so serious they may require destruction of colonies, which is the case for American foulbrood.

Take action, as per the Treatment options for honey bee pests and diseases in Ontario, whenever pest and disease levels are above defined thresholds. These recommendations include legally registered treatment options, which Ontario-based research has found to be effective in our climate.

Ensure pest and disease treatments are approved for use in Ontario and follow the label instructions

Illegal or off-label treatments may:

  • harm the honey bees or the beekeeper
  • contaminate honey
  • be ineffective against the pest or disease trying to be controlled
  • encourage development of pathogens that are resistant to the treatment
  • increase the risk of pests and disease spreading to neighbouring operations

Avoid development of pest or disease resistance to treatments by:

  • using the treatments according to label instructions
  • rotating between treatments of different active ingredients

Repeated exposure to the same compound will hasten the development of pests resistant to that treatment.

Some beekeepers wish to manage colonies with non-chemical management practices (such as cultural control methods), but this requires a higher level of pest and disease surveillance.

If pests and diseases cannot be kept below treatment thresholds, you must consider the use of chemical (synthetic or organic) treatments for the welfare of these colonies and to prevent the spread of pathogens to nearby colonies, bee yards and operations.

The philosophy and practice of treatment-free beekeeping has gained popularity. While there are varying definitions of these practices, beekeepers must be cautious if they take this approach. For example, if you do not intervene in situations of elevated pest levels or use methods that are not recognized as being effective in Ontario, this may result in the death of honey bee colonies, as demonstrated through peer-reviewed research conducted in Ontariofootnote 1.

Conducting colony inspections

The brood chamber is the section of the hive that contains the queen and developing brood. It is where most of the biological activity of the colony takes place and, as such, it is where most pests and diseases are typically found.

Brood nest inspections should be conducted by the beekeeper regularly on all colonies, ideally every two weeks, throughout the spring, summer and fall.

During inspections, consider and ensure the following:

Colonies have a functional queen (are “queenright”)

Making sure that colonies have a functional queen will:

  • prevent colony failure resulting from the prolonged absence of a healthy and laying queen
  • prevent lost production that occurs in the time it takes for a colony to requeen itself
  • maintain continuous productivity of the colony as older queens are replaced with new and mated queens, since egg laying capacity typically declines after 2 to 3 years in healthy queens
  • help to keep small hive beetle and other opportunistic pests and diseases in check

Colonies have a sufficient amount of food

Starvation is a particular risk in the early spring; however, honey bee colonies may starve or experience setbacks during the active season after a prolonged lack of nectar or a pollen dearth.

Ensuring a sufficient amount of food will avert the risk of starvation.

Every colony should have at least two frames of honey at all times.

Regularly monitor for pests and diseases

Regular monitoring for pests, diseases and the health status of colonies will:

  • allow a beekeeper to detect pest and disease risks early before extensive damage is done
  • allow time to implement an effective IPM strategy

Monitoring involves:

Keep records, make notes and document colony health and management activities

Documenting the production of colonies, and the presence and levels of pests and diseases will help you:

  • confirm the absence of pests and diseases (as well as levels) or health issues
  • track trends in colony health over time
  • determine the effectiveness of treatments
  • pay attention to underperforming colonies


Apply the principles of biosecurity in your beekeeping operation to reduce the risk of spreading pests and diseases between colonies, bee yards, throughout Ontario or beyond its borders.

Read a comprehensive overview of managed honey bee national biosecurity practices.

Here are a few areas for consideration for honey bee biosecurity:

Do not leave used brood nest equipment exposed in outdoor settings

Used equipment increases the risk of spreading diseases.

In particular, wax comb from the brood nest (when no longer in contact with an active colony) presents a risk of harbouring and spreading American foulbrood through bacterial spores.

Always store brood comb in bee-tight facilities and do not leave it exposed to bees.

Be vigilant against introductions of pests and diseases

Feral colonies and those managed by nearby beekeepers may be a reservoir for pests and diseases that can no longer be managed by a beekeeper.

Stay vigilant by:

  • assuming you have neighbours nearby managing honey bees
  • assuming there may be wild colonies in the area that may transfer pests and diseases
  • purchasing colonies from a seller that has a valid permit to sell or import

Be mindful of new and additional pests and diseases if catching a swarm. This is especially important for swarms caught at locations near neighbouring jurisdictions (for example, the United States of America) where the pest/disease status may differ.

Ensure beekeeping equipment and tools are free of pests or diseases

Honey bee equipment can harbour and spread pests and diseases (see resources on biosecurity).

Make sure your equipment and tools are free of pests and diseases by:

  • requesting a copy of the seller’s permit when purchasing used equipment
  • regularly sterilizing beekeeping equipment such as hive tools
  • not using reusable gloves, such as leather gloves

Prevent honey bees from robbing nectar/honey from other colonies

Robbing can:

  • spread pests and diseases
  • put stress on honey bee colonies

Responsibility to the community and honey bee population

Honey bees require a community health approach. Since a honey bee colony can freely interact with another within a three-kilometer radius (or greater), pests or diseases can easily transfer between neighbouring colonies and operations.

Honey bees require a community health approach. Since a honey bee colony can freely interact with another within a three-kilometer radius (or greater), pests or diseases can easily transfer between neighbouring colonies and operations.

A mismanaged colony may also spread pests and diseases to native bee species, thus causing harm to wild pollinators.

Beekeeping associations

Communicate and interact with local beekeeping associations.

Associations are an excellent resource for up-to-date information that beekeepers can use to keep current with the dynamic and evolving beekeeping industry. Always ensure the information from associations align with accepted recommendations.

Associations can also help:

  • inform you of the beekeepers and bee yards in your vicinity
  • provide timely updates and communications
  • connect you with the apiculture community

Regulations and legal requirements

Ontario’s Bees Act and Regulation 57 regulate managed honey bees and beekeeping in Ontario.

The main purpose of the Act is to protect the health of honey bees, particularly from pests and diseases. Beekeepers in Ontario are expected to comply with this legislation.

Certificate of registration

Anyone who owns or is in possession of honey bees must register with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). There is no charge for registration.

As part of the registration process, you are required to identify the location of bee yards and the number of honey bee colonies at the yard. This information helps us provide you with:

  • inspections and permits (such as import, including pollination, selling and queen and nuc)
  • claims processing under the wildlife damage compensation program
  • annual reporting on industry statistics through OMAFRA’s annual apiculture winter loss report and Provincial Apiarist report
  • monitoring and responding to current and emerging diseases, pest outbreaks and bee health issues

Learn more about beekeeper registration and renewal.

Apiary permits to sell honey bees and beekeeping equipment

Apiary permits allow beekeepers to sell or transfer ownership of honey bees, honey bee queens and/or beekeeping equipment from one registered Ontario beekeeper to another.

Issuance of these permits is supported by a recent inspection report with the inspection being focused on the mitigation of the transfer of serious honey bee pests and diseases from one operation to another.

Learn more about apiary permits.

Report pests and diseases to an apiary inspector

Immediately contact a local apiary inspector if honey bee pests or diseases are suspected or found within an operation, including:

  • American foulbrood
  • European foulbrood
  • small hive beetle
  • varroa mites that cannot be controlled through treatment

Education and training

These resources are recommended for all beekeepers in Ontario. They are from reputable, science-based groups and have proven to be successful in the province.

It’s important to pursue continuous learning on apiculture. Take workshops and read training manuals from reputable sources of information specific to Ontario. This helps you stay informed of informational changes, new pests and diseases, or new management solutions or science.

See resources from the Government of Ontario.

Workshops and courses



American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae)
A virulent and highly infective bacterial brood disease of honey bees, spread by spores from infected colonies and equipment.
Bees Act (Ontario)
The legislation governing honey bees and beekeeping activities in Ontario. Most of this legislation addresses the health of honey bee colonies in relation to pests and diseases.
A set of practices used to minimize the transmission of pests or diseases in animal and plant populations, including their introduction, spread within the population and release.
The developing stage of honey bees (larvae and pupae) before they develop into adults.
Brood cycle
A period of time where brood is being produced.
Brood nest
The region of the honey bee hive containing honey bee brood, the queen and much of biological activities of the hive. Ontario colonies typically have one or two boxes at the bottom of the hive dedicated to brood rearing.
Chemical treatments
May include organic chemicals (registered uses of organic acids such as formic and oxalic, and essential oils such as thymol) or synthetic chemicals used to manage honey bee pests and diseases.
Refers to the collective unit of all the worker bees, drones and a queen living together in a common space.
Community health
The improvement of biological communities (such as honey bees) focusing on a geographical region (such as Ontario).
Feral colonies
A honey bee colony that has established itself in the wild (typically the result of a swarm) and is not managed by a beekeeper.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
A management system for pests and diseases that uses all suitable techniques (including sampling and different methods of approved treatments), in context of the associated environment and population dynamics of the pest, to maintain pest populations at levels below those causing economic injury.
Nectar dearth
A period of time in the season where there is a shortage of nectar in the environment.
Nucleus colony (Nuc)
A partial or beginner colony, typically composed of a queen, one or more frames of brood, three or more frames of worker bees and a frame of honey.
Ontario Apiary Program
An OMAFRA program responsible for administering and overseeing Ontario’s Bees Act. This includes registrations, inspections and permitting. The Program also provides information and advice to beekeepers in collaboration with the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association and the University of Guelph.
With respect to the treatment of honey bee pests and diseases this may include non-chemical management practices (such as cultural control such as breaking the brood cycle) as well as chemical controls (such as organic acids such as formic and oxalic acids or essential oils such as thymol). Methods must be proven effective and chemical treatments (product, active ingredient and application method) must be legally registered for use in Ontario.
A biological agent such as a bacterium (for example, American foulbrood), virus (for example, deformed wing virus), or fungus (for example, Nosema) that has the potential to cause disease in honey bees.
Pollen dearth
A period of time in the season where there is a shortage of pollen in the environment.
Queen and nuc production
The production of honey bee queens and small starter colonies (nuc or nucleus colonies). This can be done for replacing losses, increasing the size of an operation, or for sales.
Queen rearing
The practice whereby a beekeeper produces honey bee queens.
A colony that has a functional queen.
The process of replacing a honey bee queen in a honey bee colony.
A natural process where a population of organisms are no longer susceptible to a stressor (or method of control).
The act of honey bees stealing nectar or honey from other colonies. Often occurs to weakened hives or during times of nectar dearth.
Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida)
A species of beetle considered a pest to honey bee colonies.
The product of dividing one honey bee colony into two or more smaller units.
A queen and a large proportion of a honey bee colony that has left the rest of the colony and is looking for a new nesting site.
Synthetic chemical treatments
Chemical treatments used to manage honey bee pests and diseases that have been derived through synthetic processes, are not microbial organisms (bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses) and are not naturally occurring (for example, plant extracts).
Tracheal mites (Acarapis woodi)
A parasitic species of mite that lives inside of the breathing tubes (trachea) of honey bees.
Treatment thresholds
A defined level beyond which a treatment must be applied in order to manage a honey bee pest. The thresholds for Ontario have been established by the scientific community (for example, varroa mite treatment thresholds).
Varroa mites (Varroa destructor)
A parasitic species of mite that attaches to the exterior of adult and brood honey bees.


This guide was developed by OMAFRA’s Apiary Program and the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.

Additional input and guidance from University of Guelph Honey Bee Research Centre; Technology Transfer Program – Ontario Beekeepers’ Association; Niagara College Commercial Beekeeping Program; numerous commercial and non-commercial beekeepers, apiary inspectors and honey bee specialists.