Inspections

Beekeeping has always, from the beginning and still today, seemed to wipe away the days’ ills. When I am out with the girls, I am more present than I am at any time of the day. I usually do my inspections in the afternoons because I work during normal business hours and I don’t like to get up with the sun. Ironic, right? For someone who has an agricultural hobby by default, I don’t operate during standard hours.

Conventional beekeeping lore will advise you to do your inspections around lunch time or early afternoon because the hives will have the fewest number of bees. This makes it easier to both see the brood patterns and possibly spot the queen. But why make it easier on myself? With my semi-flexible work schedule, I take regular strolls through the apiary on my breaks and perform inspections after work to clear my mind of stress.

It’s similar to a form of meditation. Instead of the sounds of waves and instruments, I listen to the hum of my bees. I greet them as I stand near their hives, I smile and talk to them when they land on me. I can hear them talk back – they do, I promise. If you are quiet and cock an ear towards the hive when you pop their hive open, you can hear whether they are welcoming you or telling you to get lost. It takes a little time, but their hum will change to a higher, angry sounding pitch when you have squished one bee too many, they are creating a new queen or are queenless, or when they are hungry and defensive. Those are the times to step back and evaluate.

The times where their song is a deep steady hum, you know you can work them with ease. Move with purpose, slow and steady, and they will let you into their home. Bees are incredibly sensitive to dark colors and fast movements. Move too quickly – walk too fast, swing the tools too sharply, flick a bee off your hand! and they will teleport to you and sting you. Each hive has a different personality. Some are very aggressive and do not like you inspecting their home, others are sweet to work and you don’t need anything but a tool and a veil. Sometimes I sing to them – they don’t care that my voice is awful and I think it keeps them calm. It’s a win-win since my husband doesn’t have to listen! 🙂

I use a smoker to help keep the bees calm. There are a lot of things people recommend burning – burlap, pine needles, and dried branches. I’m partial to using regular hamster bedding! It’s cheap, comes in bulk, and amazon will let me schedule my deliveries. The thick white smoke from the smoker will help disperse the alarm pheromones and also drive the bees into their hive. This makes it easier to remove and replace the frames in the hive and boxes that house them.

I use a J-Hook tool to help free the frames. The “J” hook slips between the frames to pull it out without disturbing the bees too much. Slow and steady, you don’t want to roll the queen. If she gets rolled, she could be damaged. Damaged queens are dead queens. If this happens in the spring or summer, it’s a bad event, but not nearly as terrible in the fall. The hive tolerates no weakness in their broodmare and they will try to create a new queen regardless of the time of the year. If this happens during the fall, there may not be enough of a population of drones for the new queen to be “well-mated”.

Below I have a list of the things I look for when I do inspections. This blog is part of my inspections – I am recording what I see so I can notice if there are changes in the hives.

My Inspection Checklist

  • How long since the previous inspection?
    • What has changed since the previous inspection?
    • Did you notice any queen cells?
    • Was there a lack or an abundance of nectar and/or pollen, or brood?
    • Does the queen have space to lay?
    • Is it possible they have swarmed since your last inspection?
  • What is the weather like?
    • Cloudy weather, rainy weather, or windy weather can make them very touchy.
  • What time of year is it?
    • Is there plenty to forage or is it the dearth period?
      • Dearth is a period of time where there is little to nothing to forage and the bees are very protective of the supplies they have. This time frame varies by location.
      • Generally, if a beekeeper wants a honey harvest, they will remove the supers from their hives so they can feed them a 1:1 sugar syrup to keep their population up until the next forage period.
  • What does the brood pattern look like?
    • Is it spotty? Are all of the frames with worker cells fairly packed?
  • Do you notice signs of disease or pests?
    • Are there predators disturbing the hives?
      • Examples of pests/predators:
        • small hive beetles, wax moths, ants, carpenter bees, hornets, wasps, varroa, raccoons, bears, robbing bees
      • Examples of disease:
        • nosema, deformed wing virus, excessive amount of drone brood, foul smell, bald brood, American or European Foulbrood

What kinds of things do you look for in your inspections?

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