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Hive Inspections- Part 2

Hive Inspections!

By: Chari Elam

Depending on where you are in your beekeeping adventure, you may have completely opposing views from other beekeepers concerning hive inspections.

New beekeepers inspect hives to learn AND to manage the hives as they learn. Experienced beekeepers typically inspect hives for 4 reasons:

  • Verify the queen is laying
  • Check for honey stores
  • Look for signs of swarming (space adjustments)
  • Monitor for brood pests and diseases

It is important to experience both learning and managing of your hives all while respecting the dynamics of a colony of bees. I say that because “giving bees their space” (figuratively and literally) is a very important part of beekeeping. As I mentioned last month, you should have a reason to go in your hive… even if the reason is to learn.

We are going to delve into the core of the hive – the brood nest! Understanding how a hive is “supposed” to be laid out and what you’re “supposed” to be seeing is the first step in being able to identify a problem if there is one.

It’s really rather simple. Bees are very particular in how they build a nest. They have a specific order in which they place each component with very little variation. Put that statement in your memory bank – it will be on a test later! Below is a diagram of a “typical” brood nest. When you look at it what do you see?

  • Brood nest (no matter the season or how large it is) is “usually” in the center
  • Resources (Honey, nectar and pollen) left and right of center (Always) Consider this as a road map of a hive.

The “test later” I was talking about? Here it is – Whether you are inspecting a hive, making a split or manipulating frames these basic rules apply every time – Brood in the center and resources to the outside. See I told you, simple!

As we inspect our hive the main task is to identify both the positives and the negatives in the hive. To do this, we need to think one step further and understand not just what is on the frames, but equally important is why.

To start, let’s consider the shape of the nest. As we saw in the “road map” of the hive, our nest is in the center. Not only is it in the center but it is elongated like a football, sometimes even a football with basketball tendencies! In other words, a double deep brood box in late spring could easily take up much of the nest resembling an elongated basketball.

On the other hand, as population decrease. The basketball has will turn into a football, on its way to being a softball. Yes, a lot of sports metaphors… hey, what can I say, it fits! What I’m getting at is this: Time of year plays a HUGE factor in what you will see in a hive inspection. I can sit here and tell you, this will be here and that will be there… but really, learning the seasons of your hive is the road map you need.

Components are important of course; but knowing what you should be seeing and when you should be seeing it is even more important!

Join our monthly webinar where we will discuss what you should be doing in your hive!

Seasonal breakdown

Early Spring (late February – April) 

  • Most of the stored honey will have been consumed over winter.
  • Some nectar and pollen around the brood nest, probably beekeeper generated by supplemental feeding.
  • Population increasing quickly, should be football shape and size. Late Spring/early Summer (May – June/July)
  • Honey stores in the brood nest should be re-established.
  • Plenty of nectar and pollen around the brood nest for feeding the ever-growing population.
  • Population is nearing peak and should be the size of a basketball.

Late Summer/Early Fall (August – September)

  • Honey stores may be stressed due to Summer dearth.
  • Resources such as nectar and pollen are stressed and depend on the beekeeper for supplementing what nature isn’t providing.
  • Active brood nest has reduced to size of a cantaloupe.

Late Fall/Early Winter (October – November) 

  • Honey stores are rebuilt to sufficient overwinter capacity of 30-40 lbs. (3 – 4 frames) per deep brood box, due to supplemental feeding during dearth and in some instances, a fall nectar flow.
  • Very little nectar and pollen because it’s not available and not necessary, due to the time of year and the queen not laying.
  • Brood is scarce. -population is at dormant stage with no new brood and remaining steady.

Winter (Nov. – mid Jan.)

  • Hive is clustered and living off stored honey of which will be decreasing daily.
  • No brood to speak of, depending on your geographic location.
  • Brood is still considered dormant stage but truthfully declining because of bees aging out.

Identifying your baseline, will provide you the checklist of what you are looking for. If you don’t see one of these major components in your inspection then that will be your first indication to look deeper! Knowing what you are supposed to be seeing and when you are supposed to be seeing it, is half the battle. Now you are ready to move to the next step! Next month we will dig deep into identifying problems we face with each season. Being prepared with the knowledge of what to do when you see it is the other half of the battle, and a battle you will win!

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