Your First Exciting Inspection
After you have hived up your package of bees!
It is exciting to be an official beekeeper! Congratulations!
I know you want to pop off the metal telescoping lid on your honeybees and look inside every single day to see what is happening, but you need to give them time and space. The truth is, every time you open the hive, it sets your back, and let’s a cold swoosh of air into the hive, so don’t do it. One inspection after the thee or four days or at the end of the first week is the correct thing to do.
As you wait, patiently, to be able to open the hive and peer inside, enjoy watching the bees work from the outside of the hive. Watch the hive entrance. There is a lot to see and observe, even from the outside.
Do you see foragers coming and going from the hive? When your honeybees return, from foraging, their pollen baskets, located on their hind legs are filled with different colors of pollen. Pollen is brood food and when you see it being carried into the hive, that means you have an up and running queen. Also look at the shape of the honeybees stomachs (the abdomen),. Do you note that the bees returning to the hive have more distended abdomens than the bees leaving the hive? This means their honey stomachs are full of nectar.
Nectar is 70 per cent water, and the bees will mix this with a chemical which comes out of their head, the load this mixture into a cell in the wax comb. After fanning, with their wings, the content will be reduced to 18 per cent liquid. Without any special instruments, the bees automatically know when the mixture is reduced and will immediately cap it. Now, it is honey!
Three or four days after you have installed your package of honeybees, the queen will have been released by her workers from her queen cage, and she will begin laying eggs.
Now it is time to check inside the hive. Make sure there is little or no wind and it is the warmest part of the day, usually around 1 – 3 pm. Arrange your beekeeping equipment, smoker, hive tool, your gloves and your veil, preferably attached to your jacket, especially near your neck, and long white pants (painters pants will do). If you only have regular jeans, be sure they are thicker and loose. Duct tape or Velcro the ankles closed. Bees think dark clothing and fuzzy things, like socks or a fleece jacket is possibly a honey loving bear, so avoid wearing these items.
When going up to the hive, approach from the sides or the back. Do not stand in front of the hive, and break the flight pattern of your honeybees. Doing so sends out an alarm.
Some beekeepers smoke their hives at this point, just a few puffs under the boxes, then lifting the inner cover and giving a few puffs there, and administering a few puffs towards the entrance are sufficient, but not so close you singe your bees wings, or worse yet crispy fry them. Your smoke should be cool.
I do not do this. This is the procedure I use successfully and hope you will adopt. I quietly open the lid and set it to the side. Then I pry open the inner cover, which can be stuck and noisy upon removal, due to propolis. But try to do it gently and quietly. Then, I immediately set the inner cover back down on the hive and wait 2 – 3 minutes. Usually this is enough time after you have let a tiny bit of outside air in. The bees react a little, to the introduction of a bit of cooler air into the hive, but after the 2 – 3 minute wait time, they go back to work, as usual. Then, when you remove the inner cover, the second time, it comes off silently and, most times, the bees just continue to go about their work. A few bees might fly around you. If that is all that happens, then no need to administer smoke. If a numerous amount of bees ping your veil and really pester you, it is time to smoke the bees. I hope you will not have to use smoke!
Removing one frame or two from the outside of the box and setting them aside lets you move the other frames around more easily during your inspection, and allows you to remove a frame from the center once you have created space around it without squishing or rolling your bees.
Remove the queen cage and see that it is empty. Perhaps there are some bees or a bee inside. This is most likely a worker that entered as the queen pheromone is so strong, they love to go inside that little queen cage. If so, gently shake out the worker bee or bees into the hive or set it at the entrance and the bees will work their way back into the hive. .
If the queen is still blocked by the sugar cube in the queen cage, you will need to remove a total of three or four of the outer frames, creating a hole in the middle of the hive. Lower the queen cage into the hole and pull the sugar plug(cube) out, releasing the queen near the bottom of the hive box, so that she goes onto a frame and does not fly out. This situation would be rare, as the bees almost always release the queen before three or four days have elapsed. Immediately and gently move the frames towards the center, closing up the hole. Reinsert the frames you removed from the outside and close up the hive, if you have had to release the queen yourself.
If the queen has been released by your bees, as is almost always the case, continue on with your inspection at this time. Remove any burr comb that workers have built onto the frames around where the queen cage was hanging and clean around the top of the frames with your hive tool. ]
Bees work from the center of the hive out, so be sure to replace your frames in the same order, and in the same direction, but also centering up the few frames on which your bees are working. At this time, there may be just two or three frames with bees working on them. Remember, half the bees are most likely out foraging in the middle of the day. It is never a good idea to work your bees early in the cold morning or at night.
Create space around a center frame by sliding the frames towards the outside. Then, when you pull up the frame to inspect it, you will not harm many bees. Pull out the frame and inspect both sides while you hold the frame above the hive, in the event the queen falls off. It is better for her to fall into the hive than onto the grass or into the dirt.
When you have briefly looked at the frame, place it back into the hive in the exact same location and same orientation in which you found it. Proceed to the next frame. If you need to mark the frames with a felt pen, indicating which ends face the entrance of the hive, do so, so you do not spin the frames. Bees are oriented to the sun and you do not want to reorganize the frames or change their organization. The bees know what they are doing when they set up the inside of the hive, including the nursery (the brood), the honey and nectar. It is not a good idea for you to be reorganizing the frames. So put them back in the exact same order and exact same direction each time you inspect your hive.
Look at each of the frames. You will most likely see eggs and larvae. This means you have an active, laying queen. It is not necessary to spot the queen. In fact, most times, you do not actually see the queen. You have confirmed you have a vital queen that is in the hive, laying. Now close up the hive and let the bees go back to work. It is a good idea not to have the hive open at this stage for more than l0 minutes or so, as you can chill the brood.
After you close up the hive, it is a good idea to make notes, indicating the date and what you saw inside the hive, anything you will do differently to prepare yourself and your “bee box or kit” for the next time you conduct an inspection.
I like to keep all my tools and smokers inside a metal can with a lid. Even if your smoker is still hot, you can plug the end, extinguishing the burning smoker fuel, and place it safely inside the metal can, without fear of catching something on fire. If you are in a dry, grassy area, be prepared to put out any fire and be very careful with your smoker to avoid such a situation. Your smoker remains very hot for a very long time.
Congratulations, you have completed your first successful inspection!