Wednesday, March 16, 2016

First Hive Inspection of the Season

spring hive inspection

How can a groundhog be an accurate predictor of an early spring when the Farmer's Almanac was so totally wrong about how bad our southern winter was supposed to be? Whatever the reason, I am doing my happy spring dance (a waggle dance maybe?) especially after so many of days of rain in a row. Y'all the sun is shining and I took advantage of yesterday's fantabulous weather to do a hive inspection.

A basic hive inspection in spring means looking for lots of bees when you pop the top on the hive. And starting at one end I remove a frame to make space to slide the other frames over checking them as I go.

 Read my post about what it's really like to keep bees here.

Here's what I am looking for:

First, there should be a lot of bees wondering what in the world you think you are doing disturbing them. 

The next thing to look for is capped brood that is uniform and not spotty. A few holes are fine because that likely means those bees have hatched out but notice how nice and even the rest of the frame looks.

On the upper left you can see larvae. This means that 4 to 10 days ago there was a laying queen. I almost never actually spot the queen and don't spend but a minute looking for her. If I have larvae and capped brood all is well. Look at the picture below. You can see a pupa, which is at the stage where her sisters will cap her cell and she will spin a cocoon around herself much like a butterfly. When she emerges she'll be an adult bee. You can see why beekeepers are excited by all those capped cells. Each one is a future bee!

 Here's a pic of some frames that had lots of honey on them. These are generally the outside frames and the bees use the honey for insulation. Winter is all about keeping the brood warm until spring.

A textbook frame might look like this. I say "might" because just when you think you have the girls figured out they can surprise you. Like last year when they swarmed and then returned. That wasn't in any book I'd ever read.

Okay, this has everything we are looking for in a hive inspection. There is honey on the top corner, next to that pollen, then some larvae, and finally brood. If I had found some swarm cells I could take some frames that look like this with the frame that has the swarm (or queen cell) on it and start a new hive. We call that making a "split."

Read my 31 Day Introduction to Beekeeping here. 

Once I saw that each hive was healthy, free of any problems, and had laying queens I did that spring chore I hate which is switching the brood boxes. My bee club and lots of beekeepers say that since the queen likes to go up in the hive that she won't return to the bottom box and you should separate them and put the top one on the bottom and the bottom on top. This year I switched the ones on the ends and left the center one. I'll see for myself if it really makes any difference.

If your hives are light because bees eaten up a lot of stores and don't have much honey or brood yet it's no big deal, but the boxes are HEAVY when they are full and I am doing this alone. While I have the hives on their ends I scrape off all the burr comb. Burr comb is extra comb the bees build above and below the frames when they need more room and sometimes for no reason at all. Since a lot of it has drone larvae in it I let the chickens have it.

Warning: Bees that haven't been all that upset are going to go crazy when you remove the top box. Ignore them as they fly into you to let you know they will sting you if they can. Concentrate on what you are doing. Work slowly and carefully.

None of these hives needed anything but all three were ready for their honey "supers." A "super" is just a smaller box that goes on top for the bees to store honey in.

Once I get everything put back together this is how it looks. You can see that some bees are still making their way back into the hives to get to work after all the commotion.

As long as everything looks good in the front of the hive the only thing to do the next couple of inspections is to keep an eye on how fast the honey supers fill up.


  1. Lovely to see your bees doing so well.

    1. Thanks,Emily! How is your spring coming along?

    2. Up and down. We have some lovely sunny days when the bees are flying like crazy, but then they can be followed by really chilly days with a nasty wind. Still wearing my scarf and gloves :)

    3. Here too! Some days have them flying and bringing pollen like mad but I too have had days where I needed a hat and gloves. We've also had crazy gale force winds several days.


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