Every beekeeper loves to share what they discover. Today I’d like to share with you how I do my hive inspections. Keep in mind before we begin that each hive inspection is different because each colony is different, and there are other variables to consider like the time of year for example. These variables will determine what you will do upon inspection. With practice you’ll get the knack, so be patient and you’ll soon be a seasoned beekeeper ready to tackle any situation.
To me a hive inspection is like buying a used car. You check it out on the outside first by “kicking the tires” as they say. For a hive inspection this just means that the inspection actually begins on the outside first. If you were walking up to look at a used car and you saw a huge dent in the door, you would notice it right? Sure thing – how can you miss it? Well when you look at the outside of a bee hive, it’s pretty much the same. If you do not see any obvious issues you are probably ready to continue. What are the obvious things you should notice? There are a few like a pile of dead bees in front of your hive could mean that they were either exposed to a toxin like lawn fertilizer or they are suffering from a brood disease. If you do NOT see any bees flying in or out, that’s another big obvious thing that tells you there could be trouble. Otherwise, most of the time, you will not see the big issues, but it’s good to have something in mind when you do approach your hive.
Next thing you do when inspecting a used car is to look under the hood. Same thing with your bee hive. You crack the lid with your smoker ready. First thing you do when you crack the lid open is to LISTEN. Do you hear anything? A low hum is good. A loud hum or loud buzz is a little excitement on the part of your bees. Don’t let that scare you, a couple puffs of smoke first before you continue usually calms them down enough so that you can continue.
The more hives you inspect, the more you will be in tune with the hum sound of the bees when you first open their hive. You’ll find that during a honey flow they are generally calmer, and during the dearth they are louder and more excitable. Usually all that you’ll need to do is move a bit slower when they are excited and use a few puffs of smoke. You’ll also find that you can get through an entire hive and never use your smoker at all because they are so calm. As long as you don’t squish bees when you are moving the boxes and frames, the better things will go for you.
Inside the hive, I always look for 2 things that are on EVERY hive inspection check list. 1. Signs of life. This does not necessarily mean that you must see your queen, however this is a plus. More importantly, do you see eggs? Do you see larvae, and brood in different stages? These are all signs of life that all colonies must have. 2. Food in the pantry. Is there enough honey and pollen based on the time of the year? They need pollen to feed baby bees with, and honey provides the colony with energy food.
If you see the right amounts of these 2 things based on the time of year, you are in good shape. The time of year will dictate whether or not to add supers, or take away supers. To harvest honey, or leave honey. To feed or not to feed, etc , etc. The good news is, these decisions are usually based on common sense. For example, you would not harvest honey and leave the bees empty going into winter. You would not add supers in late fall going into winter. You will add supers at the start of the flow. Pretty easy stuff if you think about it.
I had a hive that I inspected this week that had a small cluster of bees that made it through winter. For all of my other hives, I had to add supers already because we are starting an early honey flow. Not this one! I actually had to move them into a smaller hive body with fewer frames because it is easier for a small cluster of bees to manage a smaller space until they really get up and running. I have a video posted that you can check out that shows this particular hive.
Make it a practice to watch the different flowers that start to bloom in your area when you are out on a drive. Is the weather getting warm yet? Do you see dandelions or clover popping up on peoples front lawns? When you start to see these, you are getting into a honey flow. I never really noticed these things as much until I started keeping bees. Now I find myself watching keenly as the different blooms appear and disappear. It’s kind of fun if you think about it. You become more in tune with what is happening in nature.
I hope these tips help you when you do your next hive inspection.