For those interested in tracking the progress of their hives over time, the first thing I would suggest is for those beekeepers with more than one hive to devise a system to keep track. You can tag all your colonies if you like, or just the ones you plan to inspect and/or sample on a regular basis. A numbering system can be an easy way to do this- it does not need to be complicated.
Opening a Beehive
It will soon be time to check our hives, so it is a good time to review how to do a thorough hive check. Hive approach is very important when doing an inspection and it is best done on a sunny clear day. How to start:
- Gently smoke the entrance
- Crack the lid with smoke
- Keep the sun at your back
- Remove the lid
- Gently smoke again
- Go straight down to the brood nest gently smoking each box on the way down
- Remove outer frames first and then move toward the middle
- Find eggs- if you see eggs you do not need to find the queen
- Always put frames back in the same way they came out (unless you are manipulating the colony for management purposes)
- Don’t keep a hive open for more than 15 minutes to prevent robbing
- Slow, deliberate, fluid movement during a hive inspection
Bee Hive Inspection Record
When inspecting your beehive, it’s a great idea to keep an inspection record. We’ve prepared a beehive inspection sheet for you to download and use during your record.
The most basic hive inspection should include the following:
- Estimate the adult bee population (estimate the number of frames of bees in a hive). The bee population should be acting healthy- looking active and not sluggish
- Estimate the juvenile bee population (estimate the number of frames of brood in a hive). There should be brood in different stages and the brood pattern should be solid – cells of brood should be capped and filled in one spot – not spotty looking (spotty brood pattern can indicate an old queen or a queen who is not properly mated)
- Clear off the bottom board of debris with a hive tool – make sure any damp dirty debris is removed.
- Check for honey & pollen stores
- Check for evidence of bee diseases/viruses.
At this time of year there can be specific things you will want to watch out for:
- Dead outs – this is the worst, but it happens. Your hive has died. Check out the autopsy chart we posted on our Facebook page for reference. There are many things that can kill a hive – starvation, Varroa, Queen Issues, Nosema, MOISTURE (hard to avoid on Vancouver Island), Tracheal Mites, Mice or rats…Make sure you remove the dead out from your yard. Also know that you can send a sample of your dead bees to Paul Van Westendorp, the provincial apiculturist to find out what killed them: Paul.firstname.lastname@example.org You can also take your bee boxes to Iotron on the mainland and have them irradiated (this process sterilizes the equipment killing any diseases in the comb).
- Weak Hives/Low Population – you could reduce down to 1 box if it is on 2 boxes or in an extreme case you can put the bees into a Nuc to keep them warm and feed with sugar or sugar syrup depending on how warm it is outside.
- No queens – if you do not see a brood patter you will want to look for the queen and see if it is laying
- Moisture – if the hive is wet inside try to find the source of the moisture. Clean it up and check for airflow.
- Stores – you want to see if you think there is enough honey and pollen to keep them going until plants start producing nectar. If not, you need to supplement feed with dry sugar and maybe a pollen patty.
(Download beehive inspection sheet)
This is also a good time to check your equipment- check your smoker, bee boxes, hive tool, veil. If you need to replace them or acquire more, now is the time to get organized.
Good Luck and wishing you all a healthy bee season.