One of the most anticipated jobs for the beekeeper is doing a hive inspection. This is when you get to look into the hive and be assured that all is well. But you don’t have to wait until it’s time for a full hive inspection to know that all is well with the hive. There are many things you can learn about your hive just by watching the beehive entrance and the environment around the beehive.
What is a Hive Inspection?
Hive inspections are an important skill to learn when you start a honey bee farm or backyard apiary. They should be done on a regular basis or when you suspect that something is awry. During the inspection you’ll open the hive, locate the queen, make sure there’s brood and honey, and look for pests and signs of disease.
While inspections are necessary, they are intrusive to the bees and will slow down production. Every time you get into a hive it sets the bees back approximately one day as they tidy the hive and repair anything that you damaged.
Observing the Beehive Entrance
There should only be one beehive entrance and it should have a landing pad or board for the bees for taking off and landing. This is where all the action will take place.
As you watch bees coming and going, do you see bees coming in with balls of pollen stuck to their legs? This is good. It means the bees are foraging well. As the hive grows you should see increased activity of bees coming and going. In the height of the summer it will almost look like a subway station.
In the late afternoon, you may see bees exiting the hive and hovering around the hive, flying up and down or in a figure eight. These bees are newly hatched and are orienting themselves to the hive. This is a good sign that the queen is healthy and laying eggs.
However, if you notice bees on the landing pad that are walking around and unable to fly, that is not a good sign. It’s time for a full hive inspection. If the bees have deformed wings look for mites and determine a plan of action.
Each hive will post guards to keep intruders out and they take their job very seriously. Do you see fighting and wrestling on the landing pad? If so, a bee from another hive may be trying to enter the hive, for the purpose of robbing honey. This will often happen during the fall when the nectar flow slows down and the bees are getting ready for winter. If you see this and the offender bee flies off, the hive is fine, and the guard bees are doing their job. But if the offender bee enters the beehive, the hive might be weak and more robbers will come. It’s time for an inspection.
Another sign of possible bee robbing is bees aggressively circling the hive looking for a way to get in. If you see this, keep an eye on the entrance to make sure the guards are doing their job. It’s also a good idea to make sure there’s only one entrance. Bees have a hard time defending a hive with multiple entrances.
During the fall you may see a worker bee dragging a larger bee, a drone, out of the hive and fighting with him until he leaves. This is the fall drone clean out and is necessary for the hive to survive the winter.
While you’re observing the beehive entrance, don’t forget to look down at the ground around the hive. There will probably be dead bees that the house bees removed. This is perfectly normal. Over time you’ll get a good feel for how many dead bees on the ground is normal for the hive.
If you notice more dead bees on the ground than normal it could mean something isn’t right in the hive and a full beehive inspection necessary.
Have you looked at the environment surrounding the beehive lately? Are there tree limbs that are dangling and need to be cut before the next big storm? What else do you need to do to help bees in rain or wind storms?
What is Bearding?
During the heat of the summer, you may be wondering, “How do I know if my bees are too hot?” Well, bearding is one of the signs that the inside of the hive is getting hotter than the bees like.
Bearding is when a mass of bees hang out on the outside of the hive instead of staying inside the hive, it looks like a beard on the hive. Bees like to keep the hive around 95°F so during the heat of the summer, some bees may need to exit the hive and stay out for a while to cool off.
Bearding could also mean that the hive is getting to swarm. If the hive has been growing and has filled more than 80 percent of its capacity, they need more space. And swarming is one way to get more space.
There’s no need to get into the hive every time you see bearding. But it does mean you should look for other signs of swarming such as worker bees bloated with honey. If you know the queen is older or that the hive has been super productive lately, you’ll probably want to do a full hive inspection just to make sure that there are no other signs of swarming.
There are so many benefits to observing beehives between full hive inspections. You’ll be able to observe if they have enough to forage, if the hive is strong enough to defend itself, if there are signs of pests or disease, and so much more.
So, grab a glass of tea and a chair and spend some time learning about your bees by watching what is happening at and around the beehive entrance. What do you see?