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Cheat Sheet

Beekeeping For Dummies

From Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Edition by Howland Blackiston

Your spring, winter, and routine beekeeping inspections vary. The spring inspection starts or revives your bee colony, the winter inspection prepares your beehive for the cold weather, and your routine beekeeping inspections help maintain a healthy hive.

Spring Beekeeping Inspection

Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers. Your spring beekeeping inspection is the first of the season. It’s time to start bee colonies or bring your colonies “back to life.” Here’s your spring inspection chores list:

  • As winter crawls to an end, pick the first mild sunny day with little or no wind to inspect your bees (50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer).

  • Observe the hive entrance. Are many dead bees around the entrance? A few dead bees are normal, but finding more casualties than that may indicate a problem.

  • Is there brown spotting on the hive? These are bee feces, which indicate the presence of nosema disease. Even if you don’t see the brown spotting, your first spring inspection is time to medicate your bees with Fumigilin-B (antibiotic) by adding it to the first two gallons of sugar syrup you feed them.

  • Lightly smoke and open the hive. Do you see the cluster of bees? Can you hear the cluster?

  • Remove a frame or two from the center of the top deep-hive body. Do you see any brood? Look for eggs (eggs mean you have a queen). If you see no eggs or brood, consider ordering a new queen from your supplier.

  • Does the colony have honey? If not, or if they’re getting low, immediately begin feeding syrup to the bees.

  • Feed your colony a pollen substitute to boost brood production.

  • Use a screened bottom board or the sugar roll method to determine Varroa mite population. Medicate if needed.

  • Place a packet of menthol crystals on top of the brood nest to control tracheal mites. Putting this on a small sheet of aluminum foil will prevent the bees from covering the packet with propolis.

  • Dust the frame’s top bars with a mixture of Terramycin (antibiotic) and powdered sugar to prevent foulbrood.

  • Reverse the deep hive bodies to better distribute the brood pattern. Use this opportunity to clean the bottom board.

  • Later in the spring, add a queen excluder and honey supers (all medication must be off the hive at this time).

Routine Beehive Inspections

The mechanics of routine beekeeping will become habit the more you visit the hive. Look for these specific things and follow these procedures while inpecting your bees and their hive:

  • Observe the “comings and goings” of bees at the entrance. Do things look “normal,” or are bees fighting or stumbling around aimlessly?

  • Smoke the hive (at entrance and under the cover).

  • If you’re using a screened bottom board, check the slide-out tray for varroa mites. Determine if treatment is needed. Clean the tray and replace it.

  • Open the hive. Remove the wall frame and set it aside.

  • Work your way through the remaining frames.

  • Do you see the queen? If not, look for eggs. Finding eggs means that you have a queen. If you are 100% certain there are no eggs (and thus no queen) consider ordering a new queen from your bee supplier.

  • Look at uncapped larvae. Do they look bright white and glistening (normal) or are they tan or dull?

  • How’s the brood pattern? Is it compact (with few empty cells) and does it cover most of the frame? This is excellent.

  • Is the brood pattern spotty (with many empty cells)? Are cappings sunken in or perforated? If yes, you may have a problem.

  • Do you see swarm cells? Provide the colony with more room to expand. Check for adequate ventilation.

  • Anticipate the colony’s growth. Add additional honey supers before it’s obvious that the bees need more room.

  • Replace all frames and close up the hive.

Winter Beekeeping Inspection

The beekeeping cycle slows in the winter. After you’ve prepared your bee colony for the cold weather in your area, do these things in your winter beehive inspection:

  • Smoke the hive at the entrance and under the cover as usual.

  • Open the hive for inspection.

  • Confirm that you have a queen. Either find her, or look for eggs. If you are 100% certain you have no queen, consider ordering a new queen from your bee supplier.

  • Does the colony have enough honey for its use during the winter? Bees in cold northern states need eight to ten frames of capped honey (less for bees in warm southern states).

  • Feed bees syrup and medicate your colony with Fumigilin (to prevent Nosema).

  • Place a sugar-and-grease patty on the top bars of the upper deep.

  • Provide adequate ventilation.

  • Install a metal mouse guard at the hive’s entrance.

  • Wrap hive in black tarpaper (if you are a cold climate).

  • Clean, repair and store surplus equipment.

  • Fumigate stored honey supers with paradichlorobenzene (PDB) crystals or place supers in deep freeze to kill wax moths.

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