Beekeeping For Dummies
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What to do during your spring, autumn, and routine beekeeping inspections varies. The spring inspection starts or revives your bee colony, the autumn inspection prepares your beehive for the cold weather (assuming it gets cold in your area), and your routine beekeeping inspections help maintain a healthy and productive hive. Here are our buzzworthy tips.

beekeeping inspection ©kosolovskyy/

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.” Feeling like a busy bee yourself will help you know you’re on the right track to successful beekeeping. 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 [10 degrees Celsius] or warmer).
  • Observe the hive entrance. Are there many dead bees around the entrance? A few dead bees are normal, but finding more casualties than that may indicate a problem.
  • Lightly smoke and open the hive. Do you see a live cluster of bees? Can you hear the cluster buzzing?
  • Look through the comb. 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 it’s getting low, immediately begin feeding syrup to the bees. Consider adding one of the many new all-natural food supplements to your syrup. These can help boost bee nutrition and improve gut health.
  • Feed your colony a nutritional pollen substitute to boost brood production.
  • If you are using a Langstroth hive, reverse the deep-hive bodies to better distribute the brood pattern. Use this opportunity to clean the bottom board.
  • Use a screened bottom board or the powdered-sugar-shake method to determine Varroa mite population. Take corrective action if the population of mites is heavy.
  • Later in the spring, add a queen excluder and honey supers to your Langstroth hive (if you medicate your bees, 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. Not to be too cliché, but practice does make perfect — or at least, closer to it. Look for these specific things and follow these procedures while inspecting 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 whether 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 (no more than one egg per cell) means that you likely have a queen. If you are 100 percent 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 (good) or are they tan or dull (bad)?
  • 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.
  • Always anticipate the colony’s growth. Provide additional space by adding honey supers (if you are using a Langstroth hive) or by moving your follower board (if you are using a Top Bar hive). Give them room before it’s obvious that the bees need extra space.
  • Replace all frames and close up the hive.

Autumn beekeeping inspection

The beekeeping cycle slows in the autumn (the same way most of us do!). To prepare your bee colony for the cold winter weather in your area, do these things in your autumn 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. If you are 100 percent certain that you don’t have a queen, order 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 deep frames of capped honey (less for bees in warm southern states).
  • Even if there is ample honey, provide emergency nutrition by placing sugar “fondant” on the top of the frames of the upper deep (that’s emergency carbs for the bees, not unlike keeping a banana in your purse “just in case”). In addition, place a pollen patty on top of these frames (that’s their emergency protein).
  • Feed bees syrup. (Consider adding one of the many new all-natural food supplements to your syrup.) These supplements can help boost bee nutrition and improve gut health.
  • Provide adequate ventilation to prevent water condensation in the hive.
  • Install a metal mouse guard at the hive’s entrance.
  • Wrap hive in black tarpaper (if you are in a cold climate), or use a commercially available insulated hive wrap.
  • Clean, repair, and store surplus equipment.
  • If you plan to store any comb that had brood reared in it, fumigate the comb with paradichlorobenzene (PDB) crystals or place the combs in the deep freeze to kill wax moths before putting them in storage.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

C. Marina Marchese is an author, beekeeper, and honey sensory expert. She is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society and the Red Bee ® brand.

Howland Blackiston is the bestselling author of Beekeeping For Dummies and Building Beehives For Dummies, and founding board member and past president of Con­necticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers Association.

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