In His Own Words
A few days ago Jayden had the chance to do his first hive inspection. It is recommended you check your new hive about one week after transferring the bees from the nuc box into the full size beehive.
We installed two small nucs about a week ago. In case you didn’t know, a nuc is a mini-behive, and it is one way to get started in beekeeping. The other ways are to get bees in a package, or to purchase a full beehive. Most nucs come with 4 or 5 full sized frames.
A good nuc should have:
- at least one full frame of brood, preferably two.
- 2 frames honey/pollen
- 1 empty frame, but if you have one with wax foundation or drawn comb, it’s even better
- a young, mated and laying queen.
You also want to have bees covering most, if not all frames in the nuc. This is important, as it takes three weeks for a new bee to hatch, plus another two weeks spent in the hive as a nurse, before it can become a foraging bee that flies out and brings nectar and pollen.
Even though our nucs had 5 frames, we only had one frame of brood in one, and barely two in the other. In addition, the outer frames in the nucs had very few bees on them. This was because of the cold weather this spring, which delayed the mating of the new queens, and perhaps a bit too much parsimoniousness on the part of the beekeeper that sold them to us. But that is another story…
What To Look For During A Hive Inspection
Every time you open a hive, you disrupt the nest of tens of thousands of bees and their queen. It is quite amazing, considering how small they are compared to us, that they do not react in a more defensive way. Because of this reason, it is important to have some clear objectives in mind when you do a hive inspection. Once you have achieved them, you want to close the hive as soon as possible.
The objectives for our first hive inspection were these:
- Make sure we still have a live queen that was laying eggs.
- Check how much brood, nectar and pollen we had.
- Replenish the hive’s sugar syrup supply.
- Enjoy the breathtaking view, sound and smell (preferably without getting stung) of thousands of bees working together in a truly amazing way, each and every one of them doing their part in making the beehive super organism grow and develop normally.
As you can see below, we managed to achieve all of these objectives, so we were very happy about it. Jayden tells his sister about how it all went in the video below.
Tips on Hive Inspection
As I said above, inspecting a hive disrupts the bees. There are a few things you can do to minimize their discomfort, and yours, too, as upset bees are a lot more likely to sting:
- Choose a sunny, warm (at least 55F) day for your inspection. This has several benefits:
- a lot of the foraging bees will be out of the hive, so you’ll have less crowding on the frames, which will make it easier to see eggs, larvae, pollen, nectar and, of course, the queen.
- warm, calm weather creates a calm disposition in bees, and they are less likely to sting.
- Work as gently as possible, to avoid unnecessary disruptions. This turned out to be more difficult than I expected, for two reasons:
- bees seal the frames and everything else in the hive with a very sticky substance called propolis. This not only provides them with protection against the elements and invaders, but it also has important germ killing properties, which helps the bee stay healthy. The downside of it is propolis makes the frames stick to each other and to the sides of the hive box quite badly. Having a good hive tool to pry them apart helps. We have also ordered a frame grabber, but it has not arrive yet.
- wearing thick, leather gloves dramatically reduces your dexterity, which is very low as a beginner anyway. I’ve heard experienced beekeepers recommend discarding the leather gloves as soon as you become comfortable with your bees, and wearing latex, or nitrile gloves, two on each hand, to minimize the risk of stings. I didn’t think I would get there for a long time, but the last couple of times I checked on the bees I felt the panic level had gone down considerably.
- When pulling frames out of and placing them back in the hive, go very slow. It is best to first remove one or two frame from one side of the hive box you work with, to make room. You will then be able to use the space created to get the other frames, one at a time, out of the hive, without risking to roll the bees and the queen between frames, squishing them to death. This, I am told, is a common mistake novice beeks make, resulting in queen loss. To get a better idea of how careful you want to move the frames, take a look at a video I shot of my dad a couple of years ago during one of his hive inspections:
- Try to finish your inspection in less than 30 minutes, if possible. This was the hard part for us: we often lost track of time while staring in pure amazement at these beautiful insects.
Last but not least, it is important to feed your bees sugar syrup in the spring, before the nectar flow starts, as it stimulates them to grow faster. This can be easily made by mixing equal volumes (or weights) or boiled water with pure cane or beet sugar (no brown sugar here). Once it cools down, you can just feed it to the bees. There are a variety of feeders. We have two types in our hives: one is a top feeder that the Apimaye hive came with, and I have to say it is very convenient, as you can refill it without having to open the hive. The other hive has a 1 gallon Pro Feeder sold by Mann Lake. It has the advantage that the bees go inside it using a plastic net, or ladder, that prevents them from downing, but you have to open the hive to refill it, plus it takes the space of two frames in the hive. Regardless of the feeder you choose, it is important to feed your bees early on. You may also have to feed them pollen, which is necessary for them to feed their larvae. More on that in a future post.