Karl Colyer

With ever-increasing forage availability, warmer and brighter days, the bees fully launch into their new season. Help them out with your first thorough inspection of the year.

The first full inspection of the year should be considered as one of the more important inspections for two main reasons. Firstly, it will be the first chance to more fully understand the condition of the colony and the stores, and secondly, it may be one of the last chances to detect and respond to issues within the colony, and to reconfigure your hive before the season gets into full swing.

First thorough inspection
If it is warm enough to be able to spend time outside in a tee shirt, it is warm enough to be able to do a thorough inspection at a steady pace. Have a plan and purpose for the inspection. Your inspection equipment should all be clean, tidy and to hand. This can include queen marking equipment, spare frames and foundation, and even the queen excluder and supers if you have not yet put them on. It is useful to have a checklist, either on your record card or as a separate list, to help you note the activities and log the outcomes of the inspection, particularly if you have a few hives, each with different requirements and inspection results. 

Adequate space and stores
When the hive is fully opened for the first time, it is essential that the amount of space for the colony to expand into and the remaining food stores are assessed. Within the brood area, there should be eggs, larvae and sealed brood. There may also be some drone brood. There should also be many empty cells available for the queen to lay her eggs into. Eggs can be a challenge to spot for many people and a cell with a vertical egg inside can easily be mistaken as an empty, available cell. Do cells have nectar in them? If so, these are not available for laying in, and may restrict the queen’s ability to find empty cells.

Hive clean-up
Inspecting on a warm day will normally allow time to scrape the frames of excess burr comb and propolis if it has built up over the previous months. Have a container to put these scrapings in. If you are also able to scrape clean the floor and entrance, so much the better. If you want to exchange the floor, ensure it is swapped with a fully cleaned and scorched floor and that the removed floor is similarly treated before reuse. If you have used mouse guards, wind guards, chicken wire and the like, it is now time to remove these items. Give the crown board a good scrape and clean up around the roof vent.

Health and disease
Swapping unsanitary equipment between hives or not properly dealing with old comb, debris and dead bees is potentially asking for trouble. Your bees may be able to resist and tolerate the normal threats from disease but to suddenly add to their risk burden with unclean equipment and/or debris left in the apiary can easily tip the balance against the bees. Do your foul brood checks; Google search ‘check for EFB’, the National Bee Unit content should be at or very near the top of the results list.

If the colony has Nosema, it has to be dealt with. If your colony has a higher Varroa count, it should be dealt with. There are several options for both issues and your choice will depend upon the severity of the issue and your personal intervention preferences. You have a responsibility for the ongoing health of your bees, they are livestock, and inaction is not really an option. One suggestion for consideration; take photos, either of each frame or of any frames where you may have a potential concern or query. It is so much easier to get help and support if you can send a picture and a question to a fellow beekeeper.

Get to Know Your Bees
What is the egg-laying rate of your queen? Many people answer this with a number quoted from books rather than an actual or approximate answer. There are a couple of useful facts to consider:

  • Worker cells are typically sealed for about twelve days before the bees emerge.
  • A National brood frame with bought foundation normally has about 2,600 usable cells per side.

If you estimate how much of each side of a frame has sealed worker brood and add up all the estimates for all the sides, e.g., 10% + 15% + 25% + 50% etc., you end up with a total number of sides. Let us say you have 675% or 6.75 sides in total, which is equivalent to 6.75 x 2,600 = 17,550 cells used during a twelve-day period. Dividing 17,550 by 12 gives an approximation of the queen’s daily egg-laying rate of 1,463. Since 2,600 and 12 are constants, you could multiply the number of sides occupied by 217 (≈2,600/12); you end up with 1,465. That is ~1,465 eggs laid per day by your queen when you did the count. It is only approximate, but it is your number for your queen. Everyone can debate the accuracy; count your frame’s cells if you wish and divide it by twelve to end up with your multiple number. In this example, 217 was used, but it is a very useful and quick way to compare results between colonies and at different times of the year.

Photos:  Karl Colyer