Topical Tips – “Hive inspections” – by Malcolm Wilkie

At the moment competent Beekeepers are all looking closely at the weather forecast. Most Beekeepers only will open up and inspect their bees once the temperatures have risen to 15°. However if you have already missed the boat for inspections when we had a spell of warm-ish weather, you may now be getting nervous.

If you have your bees in a sheltered site and they have been building up nicely you will notice that there is a lot of activity and a lot of pollen going into the hive. So what should you do?

Well this is what I would suggest. Everyone has the option of lifting off the roof, lifting off the crown board and looking at the cluster of bees. I am not talking about doing an inspection and breaking the propolis seal between the frames, I am talking about observing how many seams of bees there are in your hive. This sort of quick look can take as little as five minutes and doesn’t really bother the bees at all! Do use a smoker though.

So what is the point of doing this? Well, if you have eight or nine seams of bees then you can pop on a queen excluder and pop on a super of drawn comb. The very presence of lots of bees is telling you that they need a super. Another indication may also be that they are building brace comb in the hole in your crown board. This is a message that they need some more space. Or worst case scenario there are hundreds and hundreds of bees milling about on top of your crown board. The latter scenario means the bees definitely need a super NOW!

The trouble is that the conditions we are experiencing at the moment are forcing the bees to stay at home. Margaret Mawson (one of our more experienced members) always says that if the bees are forced to stay at home early in the season, this encourages early swarming. It is as if they get fed up with mother and therefore decide to divide. It may also be because if the foragers cannot get out the bees feel cramped for space. Congestion leads the bees down the path of early swarming.

You can also get yourself ready. Build the frames that you have bought and place foundation in those frames. Once conditions warm up in a week or so you will be able to do an inspection. If you find that your brood box contains too many frames of stores you will then be able to remove one or two frames (put them in the freezer). Then discover where the edge of the brood nest is and place one of the frames of foundation next to the brood nest. If you have a prosperous colony with lots of young wax builders then they will draw that out for you and this will give the queen room to expand.

I suspect in a week’s time once temperatures jump there will be a big nectar flow. There are lots of blossom trees out at the moment and once temperatures rise above 13° the flow should be enormous.

This morning in Lesley‘s garden in St Leonards the bees were going mad. There had been a frost and temperatures were cold but the Sun now has heat and the bees became active by 9 am. Observe the following videos and see the amount of pollen going into the hives.

You will also find that if you have put out water trays the bees are collecting water and taking that back to their hives in order to dilute their stores. They are building up quickly and before you can say Jack Robinson they are going to be needing that super and if you don’t give them that space then you know what the consequences are going to be......

Hope this helps,

Video – Nucleus colony

Video – An old queen that has undoubtedly been superceded

Video – This colony was only a 3 frame mating nuc with onr frame of brood 5 weeks ago

Video – Look at the pollen going in – The entrances on some larger colonies need to be made larger

Video – Bees collecting water

Video – A water collector bee

Malcolm Wilkie – 13th April 2021

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