SO EXCITING!! Your first beehive inspection!! I used to get so nervous because it is an adrenaline rush to get into your bees! I have included all my best tips here for you.
WHAT EQUIPMENT SHOULD YOU BRING TO YOUR FIRST BEE INSPECTION?
Safety equipment (bee suit, gloves, and boots)
Smoker, lighter and fuel (for fuel sources please see my first blog about getting your NUC. I explain what to get and how to light your smoker).
Sugar water (use one part HOT water.. not boiling, for dissolving the sugar and one part white sugar.. never use brown sugar) for feeding if necessary, or if you live next to your bees you can inspect first to determine if you need it before adding it. It is best to let bees forage and find their own nectar, obviously it is healthier, but if they are very light and struggling, you don't want them to starve either. Basically we feed them just enough to prevent starvation, but not too much to make them lazy!
* Containers for feeding your bees vary depending on what you want to do. I prefer the gallon size or the two gallon buckets with a screened hole in the top. This is placed upside down over the lid (hole in the lid for this set up)
Hive tool and bee brush
Notebook and pen for taking notes about your observations- I prefer plastic covered scientific notebooks because they stand up to dew, propolis and dirt better!
WHAT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE FOR YOUR FIRST BEE INSPECTION?
This is the exciting part!
First smoke the entrance to your hive. Use several puffs and then let them sit for a minute.
* Even if your bees are nice you should smoke them every time you look inside. It keeps them calm and prevents them from becoming too aggressive with you.
Take your hive tool and insert it in the corner between your lid and Box. Once it pops open keep the lid up because the bees come out right away and you can easily squish them. Once you lid is off.. turn it over and inspect it.. Do you see Propolis (sticky brownish residue akin to wax)? Do you see hive beetles? Be sure to kill any beetles you see. You can research small hive beetle if you want to know the damage they cause, but just trust me.. they are bad! Large numbers will aggravate your bees and can change their temperament from being nice to very mean! I will list pest management advice at the end of this blog.
Smoke the first frame.. use gentle puffs. Use your hive tool to pry the frames loose. Gently pull the frame up being careful not to squish bees. The outside frames should contain their food sources Carbohydrates in the forms of nectar and honey and their protein/fat sources located in the pollen, or bee bread. They will also place small amounts of these food sources around the brood frames. You can see inside the cells the best if its a sunny day and you put your back to the sun and hold up a frame into the light. Nectar looks like a shiny liquid, honey is wax covering your nectar and pollen can be many colors! (white, yellow, orange, red, purple and black!) Check to see if you have at least a full frame of pollen/ nectar for 4 frames of bees. After you pull out your first frame, place it down beside the hive. You can rest it in front with all the bees still on it, or you can gently use your bee brush to brush them off. The brush tends to annoy them more so I do the first option, unless I am worried the queen might be on the frame. Always check for your queen on each frame so that you don't accidentally squish or roll her.
Continue checking each frame and count the number of brood frames and look to see whether the queen has enough drawn comb to lay her eggs. You may want to add a thin layer of beeswax to your plasticell frames, or you can buy them pre-coated. If the queen doesn't have enough cells to lay eggs in, she will swarm. If you have at least 6 frames of brood you will want to add a super. I find it best when adding a new super that you leave the queen excluder off. Let the bees draw out the comb and then put on the excluder once the queen has laid eggs up top. Make sure you put your queen back down in the bottom box first!
As you check your bees, keep the orientation of the brood frames in the same order. It is important that the queen's nest isn't disturbed. The outer frames of food can be interchanged. I find it easier to take out the first frame and then scoot all the frames to the edge of the box and as you check to continue sliding them together. Then the last frame will go in at the other end. Place the lid back on the hive being careful to move the bees on the outer rim..its easy to squish them. Smoke and brushing help.
IMPORTANT OBSERVATIONS TO NOTE
How much nectar/pollen do they have?
How many frames of brood are there?
Do you have a queen? ( Did you see eggs?)
Do you have pests in the hive such as ants, small hive beetles, cockroaches, spiders, or wax moths?
What is the temperament of the hive? Calm? Aggressive?
What is the weight of the hive? You will begin to see the difference between checks if you will get into the habit of picking up the back of the hive to feel the weight. They shouldn't be super easy to lift. This is a sign of starvation.
After you have taken your notes be sure to include the date. The next time you look at them should be no longer than 12-14 days. This is enough time to catch a queen getting ready to swarm or fix a hive if you accidentally squished the queen at your last check. Of course you can look every week while you are learning, but more often than that will frustrate the queen.
I would love to hear from you! Reach out to me with any questions by filling out the form in this link.