Inspecting The Hives

It’s November 2018 as I take a second look at this post from 2010 so I can tweak away any bits that could be misleading to new beekeepers. I’ll jump in with comments as we go. So… let’s go.

I decided to do a thorough inspection of my honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so I took advantage of the sunshine and put on my bee suit.

I rarely wear a full bee suit anymore, only when I’m digging into a massive hive full of bees that aren’t in a good mood. Today, to inspect a single-deep colony, I use a veil or maybe a bee jacket. Gloves would be optional. I play that by ear. Mist. No smoke.

I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help me identify exactly what I’m looking at. I know I saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point I could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. I couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.

I’ll fess up. I don’t think I was able to spot the queen in any of my hives for the first year. My bees weren’t marked with paint to make them easier to see, so that didn’t help. I don’t believe I spotted the queen until my second summer when Aubrey Goulding dropped by to help me requeen one of my colonies that had a nasty queen. He found the old queen in no time and after that I didn’t have much difficulty spotting queens. Once you see how big the queen really is and notice how she moves, how the other bees move around her, how her abdomen (most of the time) is so elongated that her wings only reach halfway down her body — she’s unique and stands out among the thousands of bees in the hive. But it helps to get the ball rolling on this by having someone point her out to you like I did in 2015.

I’ve decided that I don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers in Ontario spray their bees, and now so do I. Whenever the bees were agitated (I could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), I just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. I probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time I used the smoker on the bees, they were buzzing like mad and flying around the hives in large numbers for at least an hour afterwards. It took them a while to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know I’d completely dismantled their houses and put it back together again. I can see maybe using the smoker next year when we harvest some of the honey and have to brush the bees off the frames, but I’m convinced for now that misting the bees with a little water is the way to go.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a smoker on the bees if it’s done right. I use a sugary mist on my bees 95% of the the time. I don’t do it because it’s more natural. I do it because most of the time I get the same effect (easier to control bees) using mist instead smoke. In general, though, I don’t break out the smoker until the bees are well into filling a second deep. Then I keep it on standby just in case I need the little extra umph that smoke provides.

I didn’t take many photos. I concentrated more on not dropping the bees or squishing the queen. The inspection went well, though. I didn’t find any swarm cells and we saw plenty of brood and honey — all good news. Here’s a closer shot of what I think is a frame full of capped brood (there were several frames like this):

Capped brood. (July 31, 2010.)

Capped brood. (July 31, 2010.)

This, by the way, is the perfect frame of brood. A frame fully packed with capped brood from edge to edge is usually the sign of a robust healthy queen. It’s lovely. Also, it would be unlikely to find swarms cells this early in the life of a colony (but at least I was on top of it). The bees at this point hadn’t filled in a full box and were nowhere close to running out of room.

I had no problem separating the frames connected by comb…

Bridge comb. (July 30, 2010.)

Bridge comb. (July 30, 2010.)

The comb connecting the frames was empty anyway, so no harm done. But the honeycomb I sampled yesterday was still there on top of a couple of frames, so I scraped it off.

Removing burr comb from the top bars. (July 31, 2010.)

Removing burr comb from the top bars. (July 31, 2010.)

I got about a Mason jar full of loose honeycomb from it. Half the comb was empty. Half was full of honey. I sampled the comb full of honey. Delicious and chewy.

Two weeks ago, each of our hives consisted of 3 drawn out frames, one full of brood, one full of honey, one full of pollen. (A drawn frame means the bees have built comb on it.) Today, each hive has close to seven drawn out frames, some full of brood or honey, some half-way there. I’ve been feeding one hive the whole time (that’s Hive #1 with the honeycomb on top of the frames, and a very sticky hive, too, compared to Hive #2); the other didn’t get a feeder until a week ago. I’ve been feeding them a honey-sugar-water mixture, sometimes just a sugar mixture. I plan to keep feeding them at least until I’ve added the second brood box, which I think will be in about two weeks at the rate they’re going. I won’t be doing much with the hives until then, except to refill the feeders. (I do have some plans on going foundationless, but I’ll talk about that later.) So far so good.

Here I am cutting comb from the top of the frames in Hive #1:

Cutting burr comb off the top of a frame. (July 31, 2010.)

Cutting burr comb off the top of a frame. (July 31, 2010.)

Nothing else to report.

November 2018 postscript: It’s interesting to see how much I didn’t know at the time. For instance, not knowing for sure if I was looking at capped brood, honey or pollen. It doesn’t take long to figure that out, but two weeks into my beekeeping, I didn’t know much of anything. It’s also kind of funny how I wanted to go all natural when I started beekeeping. I used foundationless frames eventually, mist instead of smoke, and I probably would have gone with top bar hives if I had any carpentry skills. I now realize that natural beekeeping is a nebulous ideal at best and that no matter how much we idealize it, beekeeping is, by definition, unnatural. A little smoke used sparingly and with skill is no worse than mist. I say skill because it takes a practiced hand and keen attention to do it well. A smoker in the hands of a skilled beekeeper — it’s so elegant, it’s like watching a conductor in front of an orchestra playing gentle music. Much of the work of the beekeeper can be done without smoke, but it seems naive to think that smoke is never necessary. Even if it’s used only once a year, it’s good to have around.

Then there are top bar hives which are advertised as being natural. But top bar beekeepers still need to insulate their hives and feed their bees and manipulate the frames to prevent swarming just like everyone else. There’s not much natural about any of it. If there is such a thing as a natural hive, the Warré Hive may be the closest. Like every hive, though, the top bar hive has its pros and cons. I would love to have one some day, but not because it’s natural, mainly because it looks like fun.

27 thoughts on “Inspecting The Hives

  1. Did you find the board feeder made a difference in the growth rate of the introduced nuc. I have a nuc that I am trying to build the numbers up ASAP.

    Do you have a contact number I can reach you at for questions


  2. Hi Jeff,

    I don’t give out my phone number, but to answer your question:

    Yes, the board feeder helped speed things along. The hive that didn’t have a feeder for the first week had the least drawn comb when we did our inspection. Some of the honey-sugar mixture was stored in the frames, but the bees seemed to eat most of it to build comb quicker — giving the queen more places to lay eggs.

    We’ve had our hives for just over two weeks now. At first we didn’t notice many bees around the yard. Now they’re all over the place. So the colonies are definitely growing.

    Check out the Beekeeping Lessons from David Burns at Long Lanes Honeybee Farms. You’ll probably find everything you need to know there. I think David suggests feeding bees from a nuc until the colony has filled 2 brood boxes. That’s what I plan to do.

  3. I ordered in a frame feeder which I installed yesterday. I placed a few pieces of straw on an angle so the bees have a place to grab hold to so they do not drown. I’m debating about making a board feeder this evening as I think it will be less detrimental on the bees.

    My goal is to maximize comb make so the queen has more places to lay her eggs. Right now I do not think she has reached her potential 1900 eggs a day.

    Having any issues with dragon flys? I had 15 – 20 hovering around the hive unit I started to swat them.You could see them swoop right in front of the hive and catch the bees. That’s hard on a starter hive.

    Thanks again

  4. Checked the hive to make sure no bees had drowned in the frame feeder. There were about 30 – 40 bees down there drinking away. Also I put in some pollen substitute. They were feeding away on that too. Funny thing is there were just as many bees flying in and out of the hive with pollen and nectar after the syrup and pollen substitute were added to the hive.

    You are right, to bad there isn’t a beekeeping club on the island.

  5. My bees are eating away at their food, but they’re also bringing in plenty of pollen. It’s great.

    I have a crazy work schedule until Monday, so I won’t have time to check the hives or refill their feeder bags, but judging from all the bees I see coming back loaded down with pollen, I think they’ll be fine.

  6. We had a few dragon flies, but they didn’t stick around for long. They could probably kill 20 bees a day and the hive would barely notice it.

    I’ve since destroyed the wasps nest near my shed. I may re-install the Boardman feeders, but I don’t know. If the bees are feeding from the bag feeders, I might just stick to the bags. We’ll see.

  7. Have to ask you. Have you noticed the bees carrying away any white objects slightly smaller the the bees themselves. I noticed a couple of these today. I didn’t know if it was Chalk Brood Virus. I think it may be but don’t know for certain. Apparently a good queen can detect that and gets rid of bad brood. Sometimes happens when nuc brood gets to cold. to many young and not enough workers to keep them warm.

    Or it could be nothing and the bees just carrying away junk.

    I really don;t know.

    P.S. Checked the frame feeder today. It was empty so I topped it up again with another 7 cups of sugar syrup. You can see a difference in wax production. Also another half of a frame has new eggs laid in it.

    It’s good to see.

    Take care.


  8. Chalk Brood? Never heard of it (and I don’t see signs of it in my hives), but I just looked it up. It often occurs during wet springs. Better ventilation helps. Which leads me to ask, Jeff…

    Are you using screened bottom boards? Most beekeepers who live in cold regions (though maybe not as cold and wet as Newfoundland) use screened bottom boards for better ventilation — even throughout the winter.

    I thought about using screened bottom boards since I first looked into beekeeping, but the two professional NL beekeepers I’ve met use solid bottom boards and drill holes in the top of their hives for winter ventilation.

    I’m not sure which way to go, but I’m sure my bees could handle the extra ventilation from screened bottom boards at least for the summer. It must be extremely hot in those hives on days like today when the average day time temperature is 25 degrees Celsius.

    Good news about your frame feeder. Where did you order yours? I’m thinking about getting a couple too. Only about $7 from Beemaid. (We need a beekeeper supply store NL.)

  9. I called Aubrey late week from Paradise farms and he called me back today. He confirmed that it was Chalk Brood. I observed the hive carrieding away similiar stuff this weekend. This is a potential problem if the a nuc hive is introduced into a super. It is not detrimental but it can be caused by not enough worker bees at night to keep the brood warm. This results in a minor die off of brood. A good queen will dectect it in the brood and have teh workers remove the infected/dead larve. As the new workers hatch they will keep the eggs larve warm and teh problem will go away.

    Also at first my hive was tilted a little back so rain water was accumulating in the back of the hive keeping things damp. That may have aggraved teh sitaution. Since this I have slightly tilted the hive box forward so water will not run into the super. Shoudl also reduce the problem.

    I ordered my frame feeder from New Brunswick but I noticed the place on the prairies you quoted the prices from are cheaper.

    I need to look into ordering some more supers and shallow supers for next year. Assuming I can manage to get this colony to survie the winter.

    Good luck with the bee keeping. I noticed some fresh eggs on some new extracted comb. If I let myself I’d be in teh hive everyday. Can;t wait for next year to see the impact of polination on my sweet cherry and pear trees.

    Take care

  10. Hey Jeff,

    I’m glad you got through to Aubrey. He’s a good guy. As lousy at the Chalk Brood is, at least it seems your bees know how to deal with it.

    I’d like to talk to some beekeepers who use screened bottom boards (which can’t hold water). If it keeps moisture out and the bees warm, it may be the way to go to prevent Chalk Brood and other moisture-related problems. I know the biggest concern for wintering bees isn’t heat, but moisture that builds up in the hive, freezes and then kills the bees.

    You said, “Also at first my hive was tilted a little back so rain water was accumulating in the back of the hive keeping things damp.”

    Again, I wonder is screened or partially screened bottom boards would be the way to go. I used a level on my hives when I set them to make sure they were flat. Then after some rain, I decided to prop up one end of each hive just enough so the rain would maybe not run off the bottom board, but at least not run into it.

    Tricky business this beekeeping racket it.

    You said, “I ordered my frame feeder from New Brunswick but I noticed the place on the prairies you quoted the prices from are cheaper.”

    Yeah, I thought about ordering from N.B. too because they have cheaper shipping, but even with more expensive shipping, Beemaid from Manitoba was cheaper for me. I recently bought a second bee suit from them for something like $45, and all of my suits from them are excellent so far, and way cheaper than anything I’ve found elsewhere on line. (If a company doesn’t have online ordering, I usually won’t bother with them.)

    You said, “I need to look into ordering some more supers and shallow supers for next year.”

    Right now I have four medium honey supers (some call them shallows) for next year — I know I won’t be using them this year. Half the supers have frames with foundation. The other frames are foundationless. I’m curious to see how that goes — if my bees survive the winter. But I got them all from Beemaid at an excellent price, the best prices I could find from any supplier in Canada.

    All my bottom boards, inner covers and top covers from Beemaid are dipped in beeswax, which the bees like. So are the foundations I’ve purchased from them. The bees will build on the wax-dipped foundation faster than plan plastic. I didn’t have to spray down my foundations with sugar water to get the bees to start building.

    You said, “I noticed some fresh eggs on some new extracted comb. If I let myself I’d be in teh hive everyday. Can;t wait for next year to see the impact of polination on my sweet cherry and pear trees.”

    I was walking past a house near the Labatt’s brewery in St. John’s today that had big bushy trees out front
    full of white fragrant flowers. I stopped to see if there were any honeybees around. The bees were all over it. I thought, “Wow, those could be my bees.” I don’t know what kind of tree it was, but I’ll have to find out and plant some in the field behind my house for them. It was just great seeing the bees a fair distance from my house collection pollen and nectar (assuming they were my bees).

    I hope yours get over the Chalk Brood soon. Keep me posted.

    By the way, we should get together some time and check out each others bees. You don’t know any other backyard beekeepers in the St. John’s area, do you?

    When and where did you get your bees?

    • From the NL bee company in Pasadena. It’s the only place to get honey bees right now on the island as we are not allowed to import any onto the island due to being parasite free. Which I am ok with. I’d rather keep the island parasite free. I found Andrea really nice over the NL Bee Company. She spent some time with me going through the hives.

      I can really see an increase in the number of bees in the hive when I take off the cover. It’s nice to see.

      Yeah I need some shallows. There is a lot of clover and fire weed on the go now. It’s amazing the different color pollens out there. There is tan,olive green, beige and yellow that I have noticed so far.

      Anyway keep in touch Phillip

      IF you find out what type of tree it is let me know. Without seeing it might be a mock orange. if you think about it send me a pick of the tree. Could be useful.

      As for checking out each others hives at some point. I’m interested. It is good to chat with others with bees. You may have some ideals that I may have missed. I was thinking about asking Aubrey if I could shadown him some day he is at the bees.

  11. Phillip,

    I think I’m in trouble. I opened my hive tonight to install some waxed comb and I could not find my queen. I checked all frames twice yet I could not see her. I had Andrea mark her with a yellow dot and I couldn’t find the dot. Now that being said there is fresh eggs in some new comb since the last time. So unless I squished her tonight.

    I was talking to Aubrey and he told me to wait until Sunday to open the hive to inspect again. I was trying to get hold of Andrea just in case I need a new queen.

    That being said there is a good sign of new bees in the colony and they are making a good amount of wax since I installed the frame feeder.

    I’m all concerned. I’ll feel bad if I did squish the queen. That’s what you call a good learning lesson.

  12. Jeff, I’m always afraid I’m going to squish the queen. That’s why I spend little time looking for her. I figure the quicker I’m in and out, the better.

    You probably haven’t squished your queen. I hear that even with the dot, she’s not always easy to spot. She could have been laying an egg with her butt deep in a cell when you looked. Other bees could have been crowding her. She could have been in a crack near the edge of a frame — tons of places to hide.

    I’d wait until the weekend and look again. If the queen is dead, you’ll probably see a supersedure cell too. But it’s probably okay. Let me know how it goes.

  13. I took a quick look at my hives this morning.

    I’m concerned about Hive #2. Compared to Hive #1, they’re not very active. Hive #1 has also drunk up about half of the feed I gave them a couple days ago. Hive #2 has barely touched theirs.

    I saw what looked like the beginning of a swarm cell on one of the frames in Hive #2 the last time I inspected the hive.

    I may take a closer look today just to ease my mind.

    If I spot any swarm cells, I’m cutting them off. I might also put a queen excluder on top of the bottom board — maybe, as a last resort to prevent the queen from flying away.

  14. Do you have any idea when Andrea will be back? Just in case I need to get a new queen off her. I will find out Sunday. Or the other thing is should I let them make a new queen. I am a little nervous about that. Due to breeding with the hives own drones and the additional down time on hive growth.

    Any thoughts?

  15. I don’t know when Andrea gets back. I used to have her cell number, not just the company number (from which they’ve never returned my calls). That’s probably the best way to contact her. (I’ll email it to you if I can find it.)

    Or the other thing is should I let them make a new queen.

    The colony will make a new queen pronto (or it should anyway) if the queen is dead. So you’d probably see at least one supercedure cell — the ole peanut shaped cell — in the middle of a frame somewhere on Sunday if the queen is dead. That’ll work, as far as I know, even if the queen mates with one of her brothers. But that might slow down the growth of the colony for a couple weeks. Then again, it might not. As long as the colony is building comb and there are plenty of cells for brood, a young queen can lay up to 2000 eggs a day. At that rate, I’d think the population would catch up pretty quick.

    If you don’t see your queen on Sunday, I’d call Aubrey and Andrea and ask what you should do. I suppose the safest thing would be to get a new queen from Andrea if she can get one to you in a day or two.

    • Andrea called me back. She has a spare queen if I need it. We talked about the chalk brood too. Not a major problem can exist on the island. Seems to be clearing up anyway. She mentioned that she could have a new queen in the mail on Monday and be in Clarenville by Wednesday, with the workers accepting her by Saturday or Sunday.

  16. …with the workers accepting her by Saturday or Sunday.

    That’s excellent. I suppose the queen would be in a cage with the colony before being released.

    Who knows, I might end up needubg a new queen in a couple weeks too. I did a full inspection of Hive #2 yesterday and I know I squished at least a dozen bees. That hive is behind in comb building compared to Hive #1. So to help them catch up, I decided to put TWO feeders on Hive #2. I’ve also decided to skip feeding them a sugar-only mixture. They need a taste of honey it in to really go for it.

  17. Excellent.

    Now I wonder if I killed the queen in my second hive. I’ll check in 2 weeks and find out. Hive #2 is taking up more feed now, but those bees definitely aren’t as active as Hive #1 — my super hive.

    I may put a second box on Hive #1 this weekend. If I do, we’re adding foundationless frames. I created starter strips and wired my foundationless frames today. I’ll write a post about it this weekend with photos if I install the second box.

  18. To be honest the sugar syrup feeder made a big differnece in the frame extracting. When I added some sugar syrup the bees were making wax like crazy. I guess there was some surplus in feed and it allowed them to speed up wax production. That’s probably the same case with your second hive. Throw in the two feeders and the growth is going to take off.

    I’m amazed how many eggs/brood are in the hive now. I figure next weekend I’ll put the second super on. Both Andrea and Aubrey suggested that I should wait until all frames are just about full. Then move one or two brood frames up top to start the process up there.

  19. Both Andrea and Aubrey suggested that I should wait until all frames are just about full. Then move one or two brood frames up top to start the process up there.

    My second hive is doing well and may have filled all their frames by this weekend. If that’s the case, we’ll be putting on the second box. Andrea told us it helps to put empty frames between fully drawn frames because the bees will fill is spaces before they work their way out — or maybe that’s just when installing the nuc frames.

    I may call Aubrey today with a few questions today.

  20. When I added some sugar syrup the bees were making wax like crazy. I guess there was some surplus in feed and it allowed them to speed up wax production. That’s probably the same case with your second hive. Throw in the two feeders and the growth is going to take off.

    Yeah, I’ve had two feeders on for a couple days now. They’re drinking it up, though still not as fast as I expected.

    I just took a quick look at the hives. Hive #1 is buzzing like mad, bees coming and going all over the place, which is impressive on such a cold cloudy day.

    Hive #2 is barely active. Something isn’t right over there, but I’ll leave them alone, keep the two feeders on them and hope for the best. Adding brood from a healthy hive often props up a weak hive — but I so much love Hive #1, I don’t want to ruin their fun. We’ll see.

    UPDATE: This the afternoon now and the sun has been blazing since about 10am. The bees in both hives are gone wild, looking great. Hive #1 still looks the best, but I’m guessing it was just the bad weather that made #2 look a little sluggish. Novice beekeeper freaking out over nothing again.

  21. I hear you regarding the novice bee keeper thing. I was a little freaked out too a couple of times with my hive too. Give them time. They’ll catch up now that you have the second feeder. Also, so I’m told, if they have a choice of nectar or sugr syrup they’ll chose the nectar anyday. So if the nctar s flowing is well that may be the reason why they are not consuming as fast as you thought.

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