What to Check for

When you go to your bee yard there are many things to check for. This starts even before you open any beehives.

1. Equipment and Pests: Does the ground need brushing? Are the lids all on the hives? Are there ants or frogs bothering the bees?

2. Activity level of bees: Are the bees flying? If they are strong and healthy, the weather is fine, and there is lots of nectar around, there will be hundreds of bees flying back and forth to the hives.

A big cloud of bees at one hive could mean

  • they are getting ready to swarm.
  • they have no room inside
  • the bees are on a cleansing flight (going to the toilet).
  • young bees are flying around to learn where their hive is and how to find it.

Look at the hive entrance. If you see bees flying in with pollen on their legs, you know that the hive has larvae that need to be fed. If there are very few bees flying in and out, then maybe your hive has a problem. Maybe it is weak for some reason. If there are lots of bees fanning their wings at the entrance, maybe the hive is too hot. Bees fanning their wings could also mean there is lots of nectar being brought into the hive and the bees are evaporating the water to make the honey thick.

When you open your hive, listen to your bees. If everything is all right you should hear a steady quiet buzz. Sometimes if a colony loses its queen or is being bothered by something, they buzz loudly. The bees run around on the frames and are more cross than usual.

3. Room in the hive: Now that the hive is open you can start to look more closely at your bees. Before you remove any frames, check to see how many frames are covered with bees. This will give some idea if the bees need more room. As you remove the frames from the honey box, check to see how full the frames are. Is the honey capped and ready to harvest? Are the frames only part full and still open? Count the number of frames that are ready to harvest, almost ready, or empty. Do the bees still have room to put more honey in?

4. The Queen: The most important thing to check for is the queen. You don’t need to see her to know she is there. Look for eggs. If you see eggs, you know she must be around. You should see lots of brood at all stages (eggs, larvae, capped brood). Do the larvae look white and shiny and fat? That means there is no brood disease. Look for frames of capped brood. Look at the brood pattern. Is it a good brood pattern or is it spotty? This will tell you if your queen is doing her job, or whether she needs to be replaced. Count the number of frames of brood. Does the queen still have some empty frames to lay eggs in or does she need more room?

Check for queen cells. Are they ripe (egg, larva, or royal jelly inside), capped, or empty? Are the queen cells hanging from the bottom of the frame? Are they in the middle of the frame? Are there lots of drones around, drone brood? How is the wax comb? Is it getting old or broken? Is it time to replace some of it? Do you see any signs of wax moth? Has anything changed since the last time you checked?

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