How to Do The First Hive Inspection of the Year

For any first-year beekeepers in Newfoundland (or a similar climate) wondering what they might find during their first hive inspection of the year (which usually falls somewhere between late April and mid-May), here’s a video of my first hive inspection in 2011 that shows a fairly healthy colony coming out of winter, one that allowed me to steal a boat load of honey from it later that summer (though I may have had to feed it for a few weeks to give it a boost; I don’t remember).

I found honey on the outside frames, some pollen mixed in and then capped and open brood spread out over five or six frames in the middle. I might have been concerned with one or two frames of brood (though queenright colonies with zero brood as late as May 15th isn’t unheard of) but five or six frames of brood during the first week of May is pretty good for my local climate. (None of my colonies are doing as well this year. They’re still recovering from The Attack of The Shrews.) The hive body underneath was more or less empty.

These days I’m usually much faster with my inspections, but overall the video demonstrates how I still inspect (and reverse) my hives every spring. I have a more detailed video in the works, but for now I’ll break it down like this (assuming we’re dealing with a 2-deep Langstroth hive and it’s a warm, windless sunny day somewhere between 11am and 2pm):
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How to Move a Hive

What follows is one way to move a Langstroth honey bee hive a short distance. Okay then… Here’s a rough map of our backyard:

The numbered squares represent hives. We moved Hive #1 to location 1a, gave the bees time to adjust to the new spot, then moved the hive to 1b, waited a few days again and then moved the hive to its final location at 1c. Each move was approximately 1 metre or 3 feet and we waited at least three days between moves. Essentially, that’s all you need to know for moving a hive a short distance. (There’s also a video at the bottom of this post.)
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The Aftermath of Moving a Hive

February 2019 Introduction: I makes mistakes all the time, so I feel confident in passing on this pro tip. Here’s my pro tip: After moving a hive to a new spot, remove all signs of the old hive so that any returning bees have no visual cues that their hive was ever there. In other words, don’t do what I did in this video. It’s an enlightening video in that it demonstrates how honey bees summon all their siblings to the location of their new home by fanny pheromones into the air after a major disturbance (which I admit is a very cool thing that honey bees do). But the bees in the video probably would have found the location of their new home much faster and with much less effort if I’d simply removed all signs of their old hive. I should have shaken all the stragglers off the old hive components in front of the new hive. Then I should have removed the old hive stand, the boxes, everything, from the old location, so that nothing that looked like their old hive or smelled like their old hive was there to confuse them.

Honey bees are impressive little navigators. They can continually find their way back to a small patch of flowers miles from their hive, and then give detailed directions to any other bee willing to listen. Honey bees can find their way back home like nobody’s business. It’s amazing. On the other hand, they easily become disoriented to their hive when it’s moved only a couple of feet. A hive can be moved using various techniques designed to help the bees reorient themselves to the new location. I won’t go into that now. I just want to show how cool the bees are. They can deal with just about anything we throw at them. Today after I moved one of my hives, I stood back and watched the bees gradually reorient themselves to the exact location of the new hive. It took a few hours for all of them to get the message, but eventually they homed in on the new location. When half the colony starts cranking out the Nasonov pheromone, it’s hard to miss. Check it out:

This is part 2 of Inspecting and Moving a Hive.

P.S.: I wasn’t wearing any protective clothing during this portion of the video. Not a single sting. Some of the bees became more defensive an hour or so later when plenty of foragers were still coming back to the old spot. I was probably messing up the orientation pheromones with my stinky human smell.

Inspecting and Moving a Hive

February 2019 Introduction: The well-known rule for moving beehives is “3 feet or 3 miles” (3 metres or 5km), and it’s true most of the time. Move a hive more than 3 feet and the bees get disoriented and can’t find their way back to the hive. But move the hive more than 3 miles and they recognize right away that they’re no longer in Kansas and will automatically reorient to the new hive location.

But rules are kind of for dictators, don’t you think? I’ve heard about a little dictator where I live who likes to tell prospective beekeepers that they shouldn’t keep bees if the hives can’t be in full sun all day. That’s bunk. I’ve never kept my bees in full sunshine and they’re fine. In fact, the best colony I ever had, that produced 50kg of surplus honey for me, was a hive that was kept in the woods in the shade for most of the day. They weren’t the most docile bees I’ve ever seen (because some bees get cranky when temperatures drop for any reason), but who cares? I got out of their way, let them do their thing, and I got 100 pounds of honey out of them. Which pretty much kills the full sunshine “rule.”

The “3 feet or 3 miles” rule can be bent in many ways too. I’ve bent the rule when moving hives more than 3 feet within my backyard by moving the bees while it’s dark, when the bees are done flying around for the day, and then I block the top entrance and cover the bottom entrance with a branch from a spruce tree — something that immediately confuses the bees and disrupts their normal flight patterns. The next morning, the branch causes them to reorient to the hive and we’re done.

When I know that three or four days of bad weather are in the forecast, I’ll move a hive the night before the bad weather starts (or even during the bad weather). Honey bees usually have to reorient to the hive location if they haven’t foraged for more than three days. I place a branch in front of the hive entrance just be safe. But that usually works too.

I’ve also moved hives early in the morning on a sunny day. As long as other hives are close by, the disoriented bees have the rest of the day to find their way into a hive, maybe not their original hive, but they find a place to live. I’ve only done that a few times under desperate conditions. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t catastrophic either.

This post from 2011 records the first time I tried moving a hive when I didn’t know all the fine details of the “rule” like I do now. Let’s see how it played out (I’ll jump in with extra info while I read through it all again)…

Hive on the left. Frames were inspected and moved to the empty deep on the right. (May 5, 2011.)

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