Inspecting a bee hive

So you have your hive. Now what?

Every hive has its own quirks and it’s important to know your bees so you can spot if anything is wrong. It’s always beat to get on your bee suit and have all your tools ready prior to starting a hive check.

Each hive check needs to cover several objectives including eggs, brood, presence of drone and Queen cells, honey stores and general health.

In the brood box or boxes below the Queen excluder, the worker bees are busy feeding and caring for the Queen as well as the growing brood. The amount of brood present will increase during the summer months when your hive may require extra brood boxes for the Queen to lay in. The number of bees within the colony will also rapidly increase and to limit the chances of a swarm, make sure they have plenty of room in the hive.

The Queen lays one elongated white egg in each cell in the honeycomb. A worker egg will hatch after 3 days before spending 6 as a larvae. If you spot covered brood cells that are slightly raised from the comb, these will be drone cells. Drones are male bees, usually easily identified by their larger size and bulbous eyes. Queen cells are elongated and hang down towards the base of the frame. These can be sealed or unsealed depending on whether there is a developing Queen present.

The Supers are located above the Queen excluder and brood boxes. These are where the bees build their honey stores. Once the honey is pure, the bees cap the honey with white wax. The weight of the super when lifted off the hive during an inspection will give you a good idea of how the honey stores are doing. As a rule of thumb, a hive needs a minimum of 20kg of honey stores to get the colony through the winter.

It’s useful to keep a log of how many frames of brood and honey are in each hive as well as recording any other observations about the hive.

On occasion, the Queen may die or disappear. There are two options, first let the bees create their own or secondly, buy a Queen. Without a Queen the colony will collapse, so it is vital that you make a decision quickly. This year we have attempted to let the colonies breed their own Queen. Only one managed to do so successfully so two of the hives were re-Queened with ones Steve bought online. These new Queens have successfully taken charge of the colony and are busy laying eggs.

Last but by no means least, honey! When you remove the Supers from the hive, make sure you leave enough honey for the bees to eat over the winter (around 20kg). To extract the honey, scrape off the white wax and place the frames into a honey spinner. This device removes all the honey from the comb whilst leaving the comb intact to be reused by the colony next year. Next, filter the honey to make sure there are no impurities. Pour into jars and enjoy!

If you plan to give or sell your honey, you must label the honey as raw (e.g., unprocessed and not homogenised).

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