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First Inspection of the Spring

Had a really truly full day today, and I absolutely decided that I had to fit an inspection in today.

The next week was supposed to be 60+, but given that tomorrow's Easter and our day was full, and the following week the out-of-state Biloxi rebuilders are coming HERE to do flood relief, I knew that I was going to be totally busy and physically exhausted for most of the coming week. And doing it today would allow the bees to take full advantage of the coming days of heat and spring flowers. Inevitably here in Colorado there is going to be at least one more snowfall before the frosts end in late May.



It started with breakfast with my son, then grocery shopping for an Easter party tomorrow that will have about six families who all decided to accept the invitation today. Then I had to get a bee block for a research project for individual wasps and bees by the University of Colorado, luckily the professor lives here in Longmont, so I didn't have to go into Boulder to get it. Then my husband, son, and I helped move furniture for the owner of one of the flooded houses. The house is mostly together, and a neighbor had been storing her furniture and needed to get rid of it. So we were there to put it all into place. Luckily, one other member of the church came to help us as there was some significantly heavy lifting.  Then I had an hour and a half saber lesson with the Denver Fencing Club, and my son and I both go to that, and I was exhausted by the end of it.

So, knowing I was tired, I sat down with my bee journal and a pen and wrote down exactly what it was I wanted to do with the inspection and what my decision points were. I needed to do the following:
  1. Figure out if there were queen cells and/or drone cells to see if my very busy hive was preparing to swarm.
  2. See what the honey situation in the hive was to figure out if I needed to supplement with sugar syrup.
  3. To see what the population in the hive really was after wintering-over. And see if it was big enough to warrant a super already.
  4. To remove the entrance restriction. Our neighborhood's fruit trees are blossoming now, all the dandelions are out, and so our flow is On and there was going to rain tonight and tomorrow. Plus, there was going to be a week of 60+ degree day weather and no freezes at night. So it seemed time to at least do that. But I know that here we can still have a snow or two before Mother's Day, so I didn't want to put the screened bottom board in, yet.
  5. To remove a few frames of really badly formed comb so that I could do inspections without rolling so many bees. I knew, from last summer that two frames on the bottom box were badly deformed, and I'd deliberately moved that box to the bottom so that they'd eat it out first.
  6. To see how the brood was doing and what the queen's laying pattern looked like just to assess how she was doing this spring. There have been at least half a dozen orienting flights since early March that I've seen, so I knew she was laying pretty well, but I still wanted to see how it was going.

I don't do a lot of inspections. I do them only when I have a reason to, unlike some beeks who say that they go in every week, no matter what, just to keep the bees used to them. But I also don't let them just do their own thing, I'm their beekeeper, and they do rely on me to manage things, especially things like space, mite control, and the size of their entrance. And I really, truly needed to know if they were going to need to be split. I wasn't prepared to do the split today, but I needed to know if I had to prepare for it.

And knowing I was tired meant that I had to plan all my moves and contingencies. Especially since I was kind of nervous about it as I haven't done a frame-by-frame inspection of the brood box since last fall. And if I had most of my decisions points plotted out beforehand, I could just do things and follow the decision points.

First good surprise was finding that the lower box was nearly completely full of bees. Last spring, I installed the package, and they mostly stayed in a tight ball in the center of the box together, and built out from there. Most of the wax, of course, is still from last year, but I hadn't expected nearly all of it to be full of either brood or honey!

I did the usual thing, for me at least, of taking the top box and putting it on the lid and then going into all of the bottom box, as that was the one that I was most concerned about with regards to the misshapen comb and the amount of honey that was left.

It was really full, though, so I had to be really careful about making sure that I could get one frame out and then start sliding the other frames over so that I could remove them without crushing anyone. Luckily, nearly every frame in this particular box was new, factory assembled, and solid enough that even when they were full of honey, they lifted out quite easily and the top staple held just fine.

You can see the sheer density of bees. They were up and down most of the frames. I was using smoke so I tried to keep them away from the edges so that I could get good hand holds on the frames and not drop them.

I was surprised to see not quite as many bridging comb as I thought there was going to be. I remembered the last time I went into this box that they had comb going from frame to frame in all kinds of crazy places. I think it was one way to get drone comb in when I hadn't put any drone foundation into it. But the three pieces of bridging comb I did see was all honey comb!!

I took a few of those pieces by smoking the bees off the protrusions, and then scraping them off with my hive tool. I learned from last year, when I scraped a piece off with the bees still on it. All the bees that were on it drowned in the honey. So I decided not to do that ever again.

Another cool surprise was seeing the sheer amount of brood comb now in this box. The last time I'd done a complete inspection of this particular box, the center frames had been half filled with brood and half filled with honey. They hadn't built all the way to the top.

As you can see in this picture, the brood is pretty solid where the bees haven't hatched out, yet, and when I looked into the cells with larva in them, they were all tightly packed together. So the queen is still doing her thing and doing it really well. There were at least two solid frames of brood already, and I was pretty amazed.
The top box had the last, dried remains of the bee patties. I cleaned them all off and tossed them into our compost. The bees were pretty solid through this box as well, though it was a much lighter box than the bottom one. I think they'd eaten out all the honey and brood's pretty light.

Still, there were a lot of girls up here, too, and the brood pattern was now just the lower half of the frames up here, but they were filling the rest with honey and bee bread. I was pretty impressed by all of that, and it seems that the girls feel like they have plenty of room, as I didn't see any queen cells.

That was one of my prime worries. I didn't want to lose a very strong colony to swarming when I'd done so much work to help them make it through an extremely cold winter.

One lady who sells honey at the Longmont Farmer's Market said that they lost 70% of their hives. So it's been a pretty rough year for the commercial keepers. She said that I was good and lucky to have been able to keep my hive alive. So I'll take that as having done something right with the way I do things.

Given the sheer numbers, I thought I'd put a medium super on with a queen excluder between the brood boxes and the super. It wouldn't hurt to give them more space to grow into, and just discourage the idea of swarming all the more.

I got tired of the gloves, too, as the ladies were very gentle with me, and so when I had to respace the top bars of the super to make sure they were set at the right space, I just took my gloves off and went at it.

It's interesting that in the spring, the girls seem to be more gentle, when I know that last fall, when I was taking honey, they were really upset with me and were actively attacking me and following me around the yard after I'd stolen so much. But today, even when I was scraping off the misshapen bits, they didn't seem to care at all. They were just too busy getting things going again to bother with me.

So it was a nice, successful inspection. I didn't see any signs of diseases. The brood looked all healthy, solid, and in good shape. There were a LOT of bees, and there seemed to be plenty of honey in the hive for them to eat, since they seemed to be able to make even more as there was new, uncapped honey in a good bit of the comb.

I am very grateful that they wintered well, and that they're doing so well.

Of course, after the inspection, I was totally sweaty, exhausted, and sore in my back and legs. I got a good, hot shower, and then had to make lemon squares for snacks for church tomorrow. John, thankfully, made a pizza for our dinner, and then we went and saw Winter Soldier. I loved it immensely, and am really really happy with the way the Marvel movies and Agents of SHIELD play together so well.

And now I sit listening to a gentle April shower falling outside my window, probably bringing even more flowers for me bee girls for the coming days. I smell faintly of propolis, the tree sap and beeswax blend the girls use to seal the hive, and am quite content with the day.

  • Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
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Congratulations on a surviving, thriving hive! I love reading about what goes into the care and maintenance of a hive.

Also, I adored the latest Captain America movie, and I find that I am shipping Steve/Sam harder than anything I've shipped in a while.
Thank you!! I'm very glad you're interested. *grins* It's a good record for me, too, so that I know what I've done with the hive.

*beams* They are quite shippable, especially in the movie version. I loved their conversation about beds. *laughs*
First of all, congratulations on over-wintering a healthy and thriving hive.

I learn something new every time I read one of your posts.

Bee-bread? What is that? Crumbly bits of pollen, perhaps? I thought it was propolis at first, but apparently not.

Also laying patterns? Aside from the hexagonal shape of individual comb cells, are there different patterns for queens?

Finally, how do you manage mite control? Is there something you put on them? Or an organic technique?
Thank you! Thank you.

Bee bread is a kneaded mixture of protein and honey that the bees keep near the brood cells/larvae. It's a way of storing protein near the hatching eggs, since that's the main thing they feed the baby bees.

The laying pattern is how often the queen lays within the hexagonal area of the wax cells. A healthy queen will lay in almost every single cell. When a queen gets older she'll wander about a bit more and miss laying in more and more cells. It's one way of telling whether or not one should replace the queen.

There's three different things I do about mites. The first is putting in the screened bottom board, where there's a screen above the bottom board that the bees can walk on. If the mites fall off the bees, they'll fall through the screen. I often put a sticky board on the bottom board, so that the mites get stuck to it and they can't get back on the bees. The second is a very simple treatment, which is to sprinkle sifted powdered sugar on the bees. The bees will clean each other off, and will, in the process, pull the mites off each other (for varrona mite, not tracheal), and the mites will then drop through the screen... etc... The third is a pesticide treatment... *laughs* It's tough to kill itty bitty bugs that are living on slightly bigger bugs without killing the bigger bugs.

There are three or four types of strips that are sold for treating the bees and killing the mites. I've got one of the milder ones that still allows the hive to qualify as "organic" as it's basically an organic acid, whose fumes are mild enough to not affect the adult bees but will kill the mites and the larva that the mites have grown their young on. If left untreated the mites will kill the colony, so it kind of has to be done one way or another.
Okay, the explanations are very helpful. I was particularly curious about the patterns and the mites, mainly because you had mentioned the powdered sugar method of mite control before, and of course, a person always hopes to avoid applying repellents and, especially, poisons. Did the weather turn cold enough this winter that you had to plug up the screened bottom board? Or does your screen sit in such a way that you can leave it in even with the bottom nearly completely shuttered?

If I can find a space to set up a sterile extraction room, I will definitely construct some hives. We certainly have enough flowers to feed some bees.
In anticipation of the first hard freeze, I actually took the screened bottom board out, i.e. lifted off all the boxes, put them aside, took the screening out, and then just put the bare bottom board on the hive stand. Then I rebuilt the hive on the bare bottom board and used the entrance restrictor to make the entry way into nothing more than a one inch gap. Of course, the girls figured out that the entrance restrictor was a little smaller than the gap and actually used one of the edges as another tiny entrance about the width of a bee. But it still kept out predators and effectively narrowed the entrance so that the bees could easily defend it.

I have to reverse that process after the last freeze of spring.

Good luck if you decide to do it!!