|cookielawinfo-checbox-analytics||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Analytics".|
|cookielawinfo-checbox-functional||11 months||The cookie is set by GDPR cookie consent to record the user consent for the cookies in the category "Functional".|
|cookielawinfo-checbox-others||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Other.|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-advertisement||1 year||Set by the GDPR Cookie Consent plugin, this cookie is used to record the user consent for the cookies in the "Advertisement" category .|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-necessary||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookies is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Necessary".|
|cookielawinfo-checkbox-performance||11 months||This cookie is set by GDPR Cookie Consent plugin. The cookie is used to store the user consent for the cookies in the category "Performance".|
|elementor||never||This cookie is used by the website's WordPress theme. It allows the website owner to implement or change the website's content in real-time.|
|wp_woocommerce_session_2b9cdac93390414dd16d1eec4cf0d89c||2 days||This cookie (wp_woocommerce_session_) contains a unique code for each customer so that it knows where to find the cart data in the database for each customer. No personal information is stored within these cookies.|
|__stripe_mid||1 year||Stripe sets this cookie cookie to process payments.|
|__stripe_sid||30 minutes||Stripe sets this cookie cookie to process payments.|
|mailchimp_landing_site||1 month||The cookie is set by MailChimp to record which page the user first visited.|
|_gat||1 minute||This cookie is installed by Google Universal Analytics to restrain request rate and thus limit the collection of data on high traffic sites.|
|CONSENT||2 years||YouTube sets this cookie via embedded youtube-videos and registers anonymous statistical data.|
|_ga||2 years||The _ga cookie, installed by Google Analytics, calculates visitor, session and campaign data and also keeps track of site usage for the site's analytics report. The cookie stores information anonymously and assigns a randomly generated number to recognize unique visitors.|
|_gat_gtag_UA_219864665_1||1 minute||Set by Google to distinguish users.|
|_ga_Y3QVTCFCY1||2 years||This cookie is installed by Google Analytics.|
|_gid||1 day||Installed by Google Analytics, _gid cookie stores information on how visitors use a website, while also creating an analytics report of the website's performance. Some of the data that are collected include the number of visitors, their source, and the pages they visit anonymously.|
|NID||6 months||NID cookie, set by Google, is used for advertising purposes; to limit the number of times the user sees an ad, to mute unwanted ads, and to measure the effectiveness of ads.|
|VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE||5 months 27 days||A cookie set by YouTube to measure bandwidth that determines whether the user gets the new or old player interface.|
|YSC||session||YSC cookie is set by Youtube and is used to track the views of embedded videos on Youtube pages.|
|yt-remote-connected-devices||never||YouTube sets this cookie to store the video preferences of the user using embedded YouTube video.|
|yt-remote-device-id||never||YouTube sets this cookie to store the video preferences of the user using embedded YouTube video.|
|cookies.js||session||No description available.|
|m||2 years||No description available.|
Spring preparations and first inspection
For most beekeepers, the start of spring is usually one big, long, drawn out wait for good weather. Weather warm enough and calm enough for the beekeeper to spring into action for the first inspection of the year. It may come at the end of March. However, it may be as late as April when the conditions are right, and we can finally don our bee-suits. Are you a beginner or improver beekeeper? Read this article to find out how to get your spring preparations underway and all you need to know for that all important first inspection of the year.
When is the right time for spring inspection?
The first comprehensive spring inspection should be done on a warm sunny day with low wind. It is best done around midday or early afternoon on a day when the bees are active. It is generally accepted that if the temperature is above 14 degrees Celsius and you can comfortably be outside in short sleeves, it is ok to have a go. Older beekeepers often say that when the Flowering Currant, or Ribes Sanguineum, is in full bloom, you can do the first inspection of the year. If you want to get started with your beekeeping season, but the weather is not yet right, have a look at the list of Rainy-day Jobs below. Start ticking them off. There is also a lot of information to be garnered from observing your bees without having to open up the hive or do a full inspection.
You may have seen or heard of other beekeepers opening their hives earlier in the season. Some as early as January or February. This does not mean that you should do the same. As a beginner, unless you have good reason to suspect your colonies are dead, sick or starving, you will do better to leave the first inspection until around or after the spring equinox. You have to remember that the beekeepers who start early either have good reason to do so, are very experienced and know exactly what to look for and can do it quickly, or are very foolish. Unless you fit into one of these categories, just leave the bees alone until conditions are right!
Inspecting without opening up
Observe the activity at entrance
This will tell you if your bees are active, and if they are bringing in pollen. Is there pollen coming in? This will indicate that there is a queen laying in the hive. Because the nursebees need to eat pollen to produce brood food, pollen coming in = brood rearing.
If the bees are not active or you see no signs of them bringing in pollen, especially if other colonies in the apiary are, you will need to investigate closer to determine why. The colony could be dead, weak, suffering from disease or have queen problems. All of which would have to be dealt with as soon as possible. If there is no activity at the entrance on a warm sunny day then you need to check. The entrance could be blocked, or the colony could be weak, sick or dead. Always check the hive entrance before opening a colony.
Do you see a lot of dead bees under or near the entrance? Are they blocking up the entrance? Clean them off to ensure that bees can get in and out of the hive. Also check the status of your colony as soon as the weather permits.
Look at removable floor
You can pull out, inspect and clean the removable part of the mesh floor, if using. This should give you an indication of how big the colony is, where it is located, if it has eaten through a lot of its stores (fallen wax cappings will indicate this). It will also indicate if it has a lot of Varroa. And also if there are problems with other pests such as waxmoth or mice. (You can count the fallen mites, waxmoth larvae may lurk in the wax debris on the floor. If you have a problem with mice, you should find droppings on the floor.) Take photo of the floor if you like. You can then compare from day to day or week to week to establish progress/development.
Hefting and feeding
In spring, our bees go through a lot of stores. Even if the weather is poor, you can (should) heft your hives to check that the colony within still have enough stores. If the colony needs feeding, give fondant or any of the pollen and fondant packs that you can purchase. It is still too early to offer syrup. Syrup can be given the earliest at the end of March if it is warm enough.
Diseased and dead colonies
Look out for any indications that a colony had died. Immediately close up that colony to prevent robbing and possible spread of disease. If you suspect death, sickness or starvation, act immediately. Regardless of the weather.
Aims of first inspection
Spring is a very important time for the development of the colony, as brood rearing will begin in earnest. These new bees are so critical in ensuring that the colony can thrive and get the most from the honey flow when it arrives. Any colony starting off on the wrong footing will find it hard to recover in time for the honey flow and may struggle for the whole season.
The overarching aim of the first thorough inspection, is to give the beekeeper a good picture of the condition and strength of each of their colonies. You can then decide either to manipulate the colony or to leave it alone until the next inspection. This can be very difficult for a beginner beekeeper. Both because of lack of experience and as you may not have any other colonies to compare with.
Plan the spring inspection well
At all times of the year, it is important to have a plan when it comes to inspections. Never open a hive just for the sake of it. Know what you are doing and know what you are looking for.
There are a lot of things to check for after the long winter. Space, food, development, disease, queen/brood and condition of equipment. It is important to remember them all, as you might not get a chance to open your hives for another few weeks if the weather takes a turn. Even if the opportunity may present itself, the colonies are better off not being disturbed too frequently during what is often a precarious season. Both in terms of weather and forage.
Assessing strength of colonies after winter can be difficult
It can be tricky at the start to judge accurately if a colony is weak or strong. Or if the brood pattern and queen activity indicate the presence of a good queen, an average one, or one that should be replaced. There can be vast differences between overwintered colonies, even within the same apiary.
A six frame nuc that had a new vigorous queen and five frames of bees in September, benefitted from a late flow of ivy and the extra insulation afforded by a polystyrene hive body could fare very differently from a colony headed by an older queen with a depleting spermatheca in a damp box where the beekeeper did not treat for Varroa in either autumn or winter.
If you have more than one colony, you will be aware that even though two colonies may stand side-by-side in the same apiary, be headed by sister queens, and share exactly the same conditions in terms of weather, equipment and forage, they may develop differently. The bees may fly at different times. They may forage on different flowers. They may initiate swarming preparations at different times or not at all, and they may bring in very different amounts of honey. You will also find that they possess different abilities to overwinter. So, look at each hive individually based on their condition and their history. Armed with this information, try to form an opinion on their potential for expansion and their present needs.
How often should you inspect your colonies in spring?
Depending on when it is in the season, the status of your colonies and whether you have clipped your queen will decide how often you should inspect your hives. During spring build up I would recommend you to inspect approximately every two-three weeks. Once there are signs of swarming preparations, approximately every 7-9 days. Always make a note in your hive records about when the next inspection should take place.
Dead, sick or thriving?
The first thing you will notice when opening up your hive for the first time after winter is if the colony is dead, weak or strong.
Dead colonies are dead for a reason
It could be as a result of disease, robbing, insufficient stores during winter, isolation starvation, not enough winter bees, a failing queen, Varroa and related complications, an unsuccessful attempt at late or early supersedure, pests, damaged hives or inadequate protection from the elements, and vandalism, to list some of the more common reasons.
If you come across a dead colony, immediately close up the entrance to the hive. This will prevent robbing and stop and possibility of spread of any disease that may have been the cause of its demise. Remove the hive from the apiary and do a post-mortem of the colony. Consult your hive records as well to see if there are any patterns that you can discern or events. Such as for instance a late supersedure, queen going off lay for weeks during Varroa treatment, or high Varroa load in autumn. This might point you in the direction of the answer to why the colony died.
If you in any way suspect disease, in a dead or living colony, let another experienced beekeeper or your mentor have a look at it if possible. Alos send samples for testing. For more information on sampling honeybees for disease in the Republic of Ireland, follow this link: gov.ie – Honey Bee Health Surveillance Programme (www.gov.ie)
Weak colonies are weak for a reason
It could be as a result of a dead, old or poorly mated queen, lack of food, insufficient numbers of winter bees, disease, poisoning or dampness to name a few.
Using observational skills and hive records, you need to try to identify the cause or causes of the weakness. When you have figured out the why, and ruled out disease, you can opt to combine a weak colony with a healthy one. It is important to make sure that the colony is free from disease as otherwise you will risk spreading disease to a healthy colony. Kill the queen in the weak hive before combining.
How to deal with weak colonies
A colony that is weak but with a viable queen that will not be united with another colony could benefit from feeding to boost egg laying. During mid to late spring, you can offer a stimulative feed of 1:1 syrup (made up with one part water, one part sugar), or fondant (early to mid-spring) or pollen if there is a lack of pollen coming in. Do not add frames of brood to a weak colony with a low number of bees as they may not have the capacity to keep the brood warm, and the brood could then die as a result.
A weak colony could in many cases also benefit from some extra bees. If you have a strong and healthy colony that can spare a frame of bees, then you can select a frame that does not have the queen on it. Check it well, and while holding it over the parent colony, give it a light to moderate shake. This should get rid of the foragers, leaving house bees and newly emerged bees on the frame. Make a space in the receiving colony by removing a few frames at the back of the hive. Lower the frame of bees into the space and give it a couple of hard shakes to release all the bees. Replace the frames in both hives and close them up. Repeat, if necessary, at a later inspection.
Strong colonies are usually strong as a result of a combination of reasons
As important as it is that we become aware of the factors that elicit weak or dead colonies so that we can avoid or mitigate them, is it equally important that we know what works and what results in strong, healthy colonies.
The queen is often the first to get our attention, and we place a lot of responsibility for the success or otherwise of our colonies on her. And it is true that where you find a good, strong and healthy colony, it is invariably headed by a decent queen. Not seldom also not very old. But there are other factors at play as well. So, if you find a strong colony, go over your hive records from last year and see if you can figure out why this particular colony overwintered as well as it did. And of course, try to replicate those conditions.
What to look for at the first spring inspection?
If you have done the Beginners’ Course, you will have heard of Ted Hoopers five questions. By asking those questions at each inspection, you will ensure that you get a good picture of what is going on in the hive, and you can remedy any issues before they become a problem. The five questions refer to the following:
Bonus: Condition and cleanliness of equipment and combs. Replace, clean and phase out old or damaged equipment.
Instant answers and delayed patterns
Some of the things that you need to check at the first inspection you will be able to get answers for straight away. For instance, amount of food, space, brood pattern, presence of a queen, state of equipment and to some extent disease. Others, such as development and some aspects of queen performance you will be able to judge only after a few inspections, or in the case of some disease, testing.
Checking all those areas each time you inspect the hive will give you an insight into what is happening in the hive, if the colony is thriving or poorly or if it needs any special attention.
When you inspect your colonies, make sure to take detailed notes, and maybe even a few pictures, so that you can assess the progress and decide about the viability of the queen and the colony. In time, if you properly record your inspections and findings, you will start seeing patterns, making predictions and drawing conclusions. This is when you also start to gain confidence as a beekeeper. I always try to look ahead to the next inspection and second guess what I will find then. And then I check the accuracy of my predictions at the next inspection. It’s a little game I play with myself, and it helps keep me on my toes and make sure that I always learn new things about my bees and what they get up to.
Hive records are an essential part of beekeeping, and an extremely useful tool for the beginner and improver alike. If you fail to ask all the five questions discussed above, you run the risk of missing some very important information that could be detrimental so the survival and welfare of your bees. They could starve, become crippled or die from disease, or they could swarm causing a nuisance to those around you, reduce your yield of honey and rob you of chances to make increases to your stocks. Keeping good records will help make sure that you check and record all vital information at every inspection.
Start good record keeping at the first spring inspection
Good recordkeeping will also aid you in understanding why certain things happen in a colony. As already mentioned, the first few years of beekeeping will present you with a lot of challenges and a very steep learning curve. Things will go wrong, they just will. You will have to deal with swarming, dronelaying queens or workers, colonies that stand still when their neighbours thrive, queenlessness, angry bees. You name it. Being able to go back over your records to find a pattern or perhaps a single incident that led to the issue you are facing will help you prevent it from happening again. Or at least make you aware of the potential of such incidents occurring.
Start keeping records if you have not previously done so. Number your colonies and keep one record card per hive. Bring them with you to and from the apiary so that you can have a look at them at home. You can then make necessary preparations ahead of the next inspection.
There are numerous variations of hive records available on the internet to download and print. I would recommend that you choose a basic one that records the points listed above. and provides ample space for taking notes. On your hive records, always write down the date of the inspection, and when the next inspection should take place.
Read more about good record keeping and view samples of hive records here: Hive records for beekeepers – Hanna’s Bees (hannasbees.ie)
How to do Spring inspections?
The first inspection in spring should be reasonably quick so try not to linger with the roof and crown board off for a long period of time. Especially if the colony is small or weak. Having said that, the inspection also needs to be quite extensive and thorough. Hence, you need to be well prepared and know what to look for.
If the weather is not on your side, you may want to keep the visit short and check only for the vital statistics. Leave the more thorough inspection to another day with better conditions. If you are only starting off in beekeeping, it would be a good idea to ask your mentor or another beekeeper to assist you.
During the first few years of beekeeping inspections can seem overwhelming and chaotic. This is also true for the first inspection of the year. Very often you come away with a feeling that you haven’t got a clue what’s going on in there and being unsure about whether you have contributed to their welfare or hindered their development. And, in fairness, in the beginning it is probably likely to be 50/50. Don’t be discouraged by this though. The more you learn about the honeybee and how she operates, the more the odds will change in your favour.
To do or not to do
One thing that is important to remember is that while action is action, inaction is also action. You don’t always need to DO something when you inspect a hive. Sometimes looking is enough, and based on what you see, you can decide to leave them alone until the next inspection. Just record what you observed and the reason behind you action/inaction. If you are uncertain about something, take pictures, then close up the hive and go home and have a think, consult a beekeeping book, Google or call your mentor.
N.B. Many beekeepers like to bring their phones with them while inspecting their hives. It does provide a wonderful opportunity to take pictures that you can later have a look at and enlarge if there are things that you would like to investigate further. However, bees are not overly enamoured with mobile phones so do switch it to airplane mode if at all possible.
Simple steps for a quick & thorough spring inspection:
You have now successfully checked for STORES, DISEASE, and BROOD. Furthermore, you have given SPACE, REMOVED OLD FRAMES, and started recording DEVELOPMENT. You may also have given FEED and REPLACED DAMAGED EQUIPMENT.
Rainy day jobs
There are lots of jobs to be done in the apiary and in getting your tools and equipment ready. So even if the weather might not be suitable to open hives, you won’t be idle.
That’s all for this weeks installment, although I think that should keep you going for a while! If you have any comments please feel free to comment below, and also If you have any topic suggestions for future posts.
Happy beekeeping folks!
2 replies to “Spring preparations and first inspection”
Monica (Mount Arley Garden)
Hi Hanna a lovely well written piece. Thank you. Do you use queen excluder as I don’t think you mentioned it. I have been beekeeping for over 5 years & I am still learning. These articles are very helpful for all beekeepers as reminders & are brilliant for beginners. It’s always a challenge to do it better & be bee mindful each season.
Hi Monica, Thank you for your comments. To answer your question in typical beekeeper’s fashion, yes. And no. I do use queen excluders during summer and honey-flows on my production colonies. However I do not use them after harvest and in winter or in smaller colonies. (If you use queen excluders in the winter the queen can get isolated in the bottom if the rest of the bees, or most of them, move up to get the food in the top box.) I often also do not use queen excluders during spring build. My bees are usually on two brood boxes at that stage and I want to encourage the bees to draw a full box of foundation in the spring so that I can change out the old comb that they wintered on. I think they draw much better and quicker if the queen excluder is left out. I hope this answers your question. Happy beekeeping! Hanna
Beehive insulation, condensation and ventilation
In winter and spring you will often hear beekeepers talk about beehive insulation, condensation and ventilation, and the different ways in which a hive can be set up to deal with the issue of dampness in the hive. While many novice beekeepers worry about the cold, more experienced beekeepers know that it is the dampness that can cause real damage to a colony of bees in the winter. But why is this and how can we deal with it?
Honey Refractometer – All you need to know
There are many honey refractometers available on the market, most are portable and easy to use. There are both analogue and digital instruments available, ranging in price from around twenty Euros to several hundred and even thousands for laboratory style pieces.