The first inspection of the season is an exciting time as you discover the state of how your bees have overwintered. By now you would have some idea of their condition as you would have watched them come and go on the occasional warm day and seen worker bees take their first flight and others bring in pollen.
This inspection is different to others over the season. You will ideally have a nice warm and windless day that lets you spend a quality amount of time to really assess the health and well-being of your bees. Future inspections might be fast tracked with only a few actions to take but the first inspection sets you up for the rest of the season.
It’s up to you if you follow the plan outlined below or not. Either way it is important you have a game plan and know what to look for for your first inspection of the season.
Before opening the hives:
Have spare frames and boxes available in the event you need to replace some
Prepare and light smoker
Put on your safety equipment
Have sugar syrup on hand in the event you want to feed your bees
How to checklist
Observe your bees coming and going from your hive for a minute or two to assess strength and if they are bringing in pollen stores. Tip – Even if you don’t have much to compare to this will give you some comparison for the next inspection you make.
Look over the outside of your hive for any damage or wear and tear that might need addressing. Remove any screened bottom board and check for mites.
Smoke the colony at the entrance and leave it for a minute or two. Carefully open the lid and have a good look inside. Remove any inner covers or feeders and look for Hive Beetle or Wax Moths moving away from the light. If required add an extra puff of smoke to keep them subdued.
Have a good look through the upper boxes and try and spot the queen. If you can’t find her then try and spot eggs and brood. Tidy up the burr comb as you go. Check each box systematically. Have a close look for signs of other diseases.
If you are using the HiveKeepers smartphone app you should take some photos of specific frames at this point. This will let you closely track development of that frame over time.
Remove any screened bottom boards and hive bases and brush them clean.
Conduct a sugar shake mite count if you didn’t check this earlier.
Return the boxes back on to the base
Consider putting the brood box with the queen and eggs at the bottom. If you have brood in a second box then place this on next. The queen will be thankful for the space and continue laying eggs as she makes her way to the top box.
Remove any box that are not being utilised by the bees.
Reinstate by putting back all frames. Return any unused equipment for seasonal maintenance
Record this information in the HiveKeepers smartphone app so you can make comparisons over the season.
Questions to answer:
What is the size of the cluster?
What is their temperament?
Is the queen present and laying?
Are there any queen cells?
Has the colony got enough space?
Is there enough pollen and honey? ◦Consider feeding a runny sugar syrup (to simulate nectar) if is there is not much honey.
Is the colony healthy? (Brood pattern and stages of development)
If you need to replace any boxes, base boards or lids this is an easy time to do so.
If you found a weak hive then it might be best to add a frame or two of brood from a strong colony to try and help build up the population. If this doesn’t work you’ll need to check our blog post about replacing queens (due out next month).
Check out the YouTube video from last year’s Hive Inspection as there is lots to see and learn.
If you have a different idea of how to do this or some great advice leave your comments below. We all learn together.