Post Updated onIt was a beautiful and calm morning – ideal for an inspection, the bees would bee out working ….before starting the inspections I made a list of some of the things I wanted to look at… – any queen cells – health of drone brood – state of levels of nectar, honey & worker brood – what is the youngest brood – any signs of dis-ease – spot the queen …so with some objectives in mind I prepared all the gear. I lit a fire and set up the smoker, added a little macrocarpa wood shavings in and she was ready to go. Got my camera and tools, changed into my bee suit and toodled down to the bee garden. Let the inspection begin… Its important to note that when I refer to a level of the hive I count them from the bottom to the top (ie: Level 1 hive box is at the bottom and this is the “main” hive box where the queen and brood are located). …wow… busy busy busy ! ….the first hive I am inspecting is Honey 1, smoked the entrance and left them for a bit, set up my gear (we have a table in the bee garden so that we don’t have to bend too much) …opened her up and man, she is chocka block ! Removed the hive lid, no signs of condensation, then removed the roof hive mat (which I like to refer to as the roof “liner”) and noticed underneath it there is propolis to the front and rear edges of the roof hive mat (this is the side which is “in” the hive) – this is an indication of gaps and holes where the weather can get in so the bees seal it up using the propolis. Propolis is tuff stuff , tacky when warmed with a beatiful deep dark orange/red colour, and when dried very hard like a shiney varnish. Currently Honey 1 has four levels, general inspection practice would be to start by working backwards – from the highest level (in this case hive box – level 4 )and work your way down. …going off in a tangent… If working alone, this would probably be the best way, however in saying that I think that if you are conducting a “full” inspection, starting from the level 1 would be the best way. this method would require would require re-stacking the hive as such (ie: the top level on the bottom and so forth). You would need a solid level surface to place the hive on and not too far away from the actual hive. By using this method for a “full” inspection and starting from level 1 hive box where the brood is, you are “most likely” (but not guaranteed) to find the queen and very early on establish the general health and well being of the hive. You should aim to find your queen, check for recent egg laying, check qualtiy and type of brood (ie: worker or drone) so you’ll need to be comfortable and patient. I suggest a table as we have, perhaps an empty hive box with a “frame hanger” placed on the side where you can hang the frames, take photos and notes – so keep in mind that if the temperature is below or drops below 14degrees you can cause the death of your brood. for the “re-stacking” I suggest a small hive box about 2inches deep so that you don’t squash any bees and also an extra lid or two to cover the hive ensuring the bees are secure. However, back to the inspection – today I am working from the top and working down because the hive is so full of bees with evidence of full frames of capped honey, its meant that I have to rethink my inspection objectives. ..its apparent the hive is doing really well – so it means they need another hive box. I need to re-jig all levels above level 1, and add some frames with foundation, add another full depth hive box and move some of the full capped honey into the “new” levels along with some of the foundation which the bees are starting to draw up. …going off in a tangent… Gary and I are trying to encourage the bees to make their own foundation and although some may considered it as “wasting” the bees energy, we decided that if they make their own foundation it will be “pretty clear” of any chemicals which may have been in the hive as a result of the varroa treatments. The new wax will effectively be fresh. The method chosen is that Gary has cut the foundation in about a 1/3 and the bees start making comb from the bottom and draw it down. By using the wax foundations and cutting them down it also saves on outlay – so Bonus : ) Gary has also designed a “frame separator” – its designed to slot in-between the frames and give a consistent space between them and the gap is wider than normal spacing to encourage the bees to draw the wax out higher so when we do the honey extractions there is less loss of honey when we decap. oops…back to the inspection, the top three levels showed no evidence of dis – ease, no evidence of varroa movement, nor disfigured bees, the brood comb is nice and raised. the frames have lots of colourful nectar and brood (new healthy white larvae) on the 2nd level hive box. As there was young brood on this level, I decided that that was proof enough that the queen is present and decided not to inspect level 1. This level also showed some cells which appeared to be larger than a drone or worker bee cell so I think the bees may well be thinking of creating some queens – so I have concluded that they are over-crowded. I decided I have to rethink my strategy based on these findings. I decided I wouldn’t inspect level 1, I would use the frame with brood evidence on Level 2 to try a method a queen rearer talked about. …final tangent… The way Honey 1 is set up is with two full depth supers – the reason for this is that we want some full frames of honey for providing the hive with food over winter. The full frames of capped honey will be kept within the hive, this method means the honey is kept at a constant temperature and the bees will continue to “tend” it. These frames will continue to be moved up the hive as the honey flow continues. Please note; this will cause the hive to be very heavy so caution is recommended for this method and it is suggested that if moving the hive boxes when inspecting – help will be required. I paid the price for this in February 2010 when I injured my back and was off work for some time. (Bee keeping is a very physically demanding occupation ; ) …don’t listen to those naysayers who say bee keeping is a quiet past time … you need muscles, guts and determination topped with lots of patience… and….the rewards are immeasurable. …back to inspection… …and the experiment with a queen rearing techinique, this method is described as taking the brood frame (with cells which have eggs and the youngest larvae), remove it to a separate hive box – ensure you add some uncapped honey and a frame of capped honey, add a queen excluder to the active, current hive and place the “separate” hive box above. The theory of this method is that the bees traveling up to that level think its “queenless” and make queen cells and the benefits are that you are providing a warm, healthy hive with food available. So from here I then re-jigged levels into “new” level 3 & four, added a new full depth with some honey and full and half foundation frames so Honey 1 now has 5 levels. Sorry I haven’t more photos, but despite all my preparation my batteries died and the other batteries had disappeared somewhere…I’ll be checking with Gary ; ) …Quick inspection of Bethells 1 revealed… … lifted hive lid – no condensation and spotted a psyeudo scorpion – I have blogged about these guys before and if you have these in your hive, you are blessed ! These guys eat mites ! Saw this bee…(sorry gave her life for the purpose of identification) with a dark black thorax and no hair, abdomen more orange any ideas out there as to what type of bee this is? also saw a lot of dead bees out front, spotted some wasps hanging around, noticed some bees fighting with bees, thoughts that there may be some robbing going on. I have kept the entrance to the hive reduced as this hive, although lots of bees, is still fairly new. I added another level as they have capped their honey. We established that the queen has gone from this hive as last look showed some queen cells, these need to be checked in about 4 days. …Mokoroa 1 revealed… The queen in this hive is not laying well at all, there is a bit of brood but majority are drone cells, opened a couple – one healthy, one with varroa. They have some nectar but the hive is showing that the bees are not doing good housekeeping with some nectar showing mould, however in saying that there is some beautiful colourful nectar being collected. This NUC may well need to be killed off, however we will wait to see what happens with our queen rearing experiment from Honey 1. Summary… I think in summary when bee keeping you really do need to work to the bees agenda, we can plan what we want but in the end we as bee keepers have to be in tune with where the bees are at, be flexible and ready for new learning experiences…bees are great teachers, and I wish the rest of the world would learn from them. Happy bee keeping, keep up the good work folks. . .love hearing of your bee keeping adventures as well… so keep ’em coming. Warmest Regards and the the best wishes for a happy 2011, Margaret
Gary is the web designer and chief Propeller-head at kiwimana. He enjoys designing products which solve problems and is passionate about saving the Bees and encouraging urban beekeeping. Gary loves to write about issues that affect the Bees and our environment. He is one of the hosts of the kiwimana buzz Beekeeping podcast.