In our last lesson, we approached the hive from the back, smoked it (if you would like the practice), and lifted off the outer cover and removed the top hive feeder. Now, we are ready to inspect what is inside. Since this is a beginning lesson, we will assume that you have installed your bees, and now you are ready to inspect you hive. Since we used Nucs, we did not have to do a 5 day inspection to make sure the hive had accepted her queen. Our Queen was the mother of all the bees you placed in your hive. Generally I wait two weeks before doing a complete inspection of the hive….in our case we will be waiting 3 weeks because I am away this week. We will Plan to Meet Saturday Morning, May 21 ay 1:00 PM.
Below is the procedure we will follow:
We will begin by gently smoking the hive at the entrance as well as lifting the top and puffing gently there as well. after smoking we will step back for a few minutes to allow the smoke to do its job, We will remove the telescoping top and the screen ventilation as well.
Now, start by pulling out the frame that is closest to one of the sides. It is usually less populated with bees and has less honey, pollen and brood. Just set that frame temporarily into your frame holder which you should have attached to the side of your hive box. Once you pull out this frame, you now have more space to slide each frame back into that space. This helps you have the room you need to separate the frames that the bees have glued together with propolis
. Using your hive tool, separate the frames and slide them apart.
Once the frames are free, you can choose which one to lift out and examine. It is best to start next to the wall of the hive body. If you start in the middle, you could risk injuring the queen or never finding her. Remember, GENTLE MOVEMENTS! No clanging and banging. Bees are alarmed by sudden vibration. Also, work with confidence. It is easy to lift out a frame with your hands, by loosening it first with your hive tool, then use your fingers to get a good grip on each end of the frame. DO NOT DROP A FRAME full of bees. Get a good grip. Then, slowly lift out the frame.
It might seem that you are smashing the bees or hurting them but they are used to being crowded together. You may also see them “holding hands,” hanging on to each other and as you separate frames, it may appear that they will not let go of each other’s legs. You might think you are going to hurt them, but they will finally let go. As you pull up the frame slowly, the bees will have time to move out of the way.
If you are uncomfortable using your hands to pull out a frame, you can also purchase frame pullers like the one in the picture. It is a spring loaded hand grip frame puller and does work well. The difference between a frame puller and using your hands is that with your hands you can feel the bees, so as not to smash any. With the frame puller, it is hard not to kill several. If I am not rushed, I use my hands. If I am in a hurry, I use frame puller.
What do you do now. LOOK! Rely on what you see. You are actually looking to observe any abnormalities. Abnormalities are rare. Yet, most new beekeepers are a little suspicious of any and everything! Don’t be. You’re going to observe everything that is suppose to happen in a hive. It may look and appear unusual to you, but it will probably be a normal thing. Believe me, I answer beekeepers’ questions everyday, and most of their concerns are no big deal. But, when I first started, I thought everything I saw was a problem.
On this frame, you are looking at sealed brood. This is what beekeepers call a “good brood pattern”. It’s pretty complete. We see a few dotted spots sprinkled throughout the frame, which could be caused from the queen not laying an egg in that spot or the bees have a strong hygienic trait, which caused them to pull out a larvae that has a mite inside the cell or maybe these bees recently hatched.
Some beekeepers ask how to tell the difference between brood and sealed honey comb. Color, texture and content. Color: Sealed brood is usually a tan brown color whereas sealed honey comb is light, sometimes very white or slightly yellow. The texture of sealed brood is more velvety while honey comb is more smooth. Finally, if you still can’t tell the difference, you can open up a cell, and you immediately either see a developing bee and you’ll know it is brood, or you will see honey, and you’ll know it’s honey comb.
Look for the queen. If you do not see her, do not panic. Many beekeepers have trouble finding the queen. She is much easier to find in a small hive, say within a week of installing your package. But, in two months, when there are 40,000 bees on 20 drawn comb, it is hard. You can have your queens marked with a dot of paint. Not only does this help you find her, but it also confirms the queen you are looking at is your original queen…ours are not marked. Sometimes they replace her by raising their own.
If you cannot find your queen, look for eggs! Here’s a picture of some larvae and a recently laid egg. When you find eggs, you know your queen is okay and was at least in your hive a couple of days ago. If you cannot find your queen, and see no eggs, then you must begin to see what is wrong. Either the queen is dead or she has stopped laying or is a defective queen and cannot lay.
When you are holding a frame for inspection, be sure to hold it over the hive. This is so that in case the queen should fall off, she would fall back into the hive rather than in your yard. If she falls into the grass away from her hive, she may not find her way back in. Also, when you have finished looking at a hive, place it back in the hive the same way you took it out.
In summary, here’s what you are looking for when you inspect your hive:
*The presence of the queen, either seeing her or seeing evidence of her by observing freshly
*Sealed brood and honey
*Increase in bee population
*Ample supply of frames for the growing colony
It is typical for a frame to have a rainbow shape of stored nectar, pollen and brood. Usually the brood will be toward the lower part of the rainbow, and next to the brood will be pollen, then the nectar will be stored on the outer or upper part of the rainbow shape. You can see this somewhat being started on this frame in the picture.
Pollen in a cell is usually orange or yellow in color but can be many different colors depending on the flower source. It can sometimes look like dry powder in a cell, but sometimes it seems moist.
Now that you’ve seen all that you need to see, place the hive back together and remember to place the inner cover and outer cover securely on the hive. Also, please place a heavy rock on top of the outer cover to help hold down the hive on windy and stormy days. Don’t let your hive be blown over.
The top box inspection will most likely go quickly, depending on how active your Queen is. The real action will be in the deep (brood box)