Keeping bees. Part 6: Inspecting your beehives

Alison Benjamin

22 June 2012

Inspecting your beehives should be done weekly to make sure your bees are healthy and have enough room to store their honey.

You can't just leave your bees at the bottom of the garden and collect the honey at the end of the summer.

Your first hive inspection should be exciting. It's the first time you get to spend quality time with your bees.

Pick a warm day when many of the bees will be out foraging. Don’t open the hive when it is raining or ideally below 13 degrees or your bees will get tetchy.

You are hoping to look through each of the frames in the brood box and see eggs, larvae, sealed brood (brown wax capping), pollen, honey and sealed honey (white wax capping).

First light your smoker, put on your protective gear and give the hive entrance a few gentle puffs of smoke. Wait for five minutes and then, standing behind the hive so as not to block the entrance, lift off the roof and remove the feeder.

Now run the sharp end of your hive tool around the underside of the crown board, then prise it off gently. There will probably be lots of bees on the underside, so lean it against the entrance so bees can walk back into the hive.

Use the curved end of your hive tool to lever an end frame out of the hive. You might find it empty. That’s to be expected as most of the action takes place in the middle of the brood box. Place the first frame in the upturned lid on the ground and lift out the next frame, also placing it in the lid. This leaves more room in the hive.

Lift out the other frames gently and have a good look at them. If any are covered in bees, give them a firm shake above the hive to remove them so you are able to see the brood. You should now see large, pearly-white, C-shaped larvae, smaller larvae and tiny white eggs like rice grains.

Some of the cells will be covered with a brownish wax capping. White wax covered cells on the edge of the frames is honey. There should also be cells containing different-coloured pollen and liquid nectar. You may see the queen on the frame where there are eggs, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t see her. If there are eggs you know that she is laying.

If the bees buzzing around your veil are getting agitated – their buzz becomes high pitched and louder – give them a few puffs of smoke.

When you've been through the whole hive, put your frames back in the position you found them and replace the lid. Give them some more feed if the weather is poor. Open the entrance by a few centimetres if they seem to be doing well and the weather is fine.

You’ve now completed your first inspection. Put out the smoker by sticking a cork or grass in the snout. And make sure there are no stray bees on your veil or suit before taking them off.

The work's not quite done yet. Write up your notes with the time, date, weather conditions, temperament of the bees, details of what you saw on each of the frames and your actions, such as feeding the bees.

Next month: Adding supers

Alison Benjamin is co-founder of Urban Bees with Brian McCallum. Their latest book is 'Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers' Handbook' (Guardian Books, £12.99). To buy a copy, visit our Shop

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