A first look inside the hive

From Simon's beekeeping blog. Comments are welcome via email.


B and I performed the first hive inspection today, with B operating the smoker and me checking through each of the frames. Broadly speaking, after ten days, the colony looked pretty good to me. The structure of the hive looked good — a good weight of capped pale sugar/honey around the top, with the occasional pollen here and there in the middle. Roughly central to the four-and-a-half frames they'd been working on, beneath the honey on the frame, were a stripe of only about a hundred tiny eggs, not quite at the ten-day stage, but eggs nevertheless. This was good, because neither me nor B could spot the queen this time, and the increasing buzzing of a usually very docile colony reminded us that the clock was ticking before we had to replace the roof.

I was really pleased to see no clear signs of disease. I was sort of expecting some disease in a collected swarm somehow, so I think we've been lucky, though of course it doesn't mean no disease is present. I had a look at the varroa board and although there's a lot of light-coloured debris on there, I don't think there is much sign of a varroa problem. For the next inspection I'll make sure I know how to read the varroa board a bit better, though. The other thing I was pleased with was the temper of the colony — they seemed to get only barely agitated at this first, significant, invasion of their home. This is especially good because B is having his first experience of beekeeping with these inspections.

A few surprises, too. Rather than starting in the middle, the bees appear to be working on the comb from the one side of the hive to the other. They're starting from the north side, but we saw quite a few bees doing not much besides buzzing around on the south side too. Maybe it's something to do with the temperature or ventilation in the hive, or the 'cold way' orientation of the frames (i.e. they are perpendicular to the entrance). They are drawing out almost white, irregular comb, some of it hanging off the bottom of the frame, some bulging out here and there, but there's a fairly regular bee space left between the combs, which is the main thing.

They'd left the supermarket fondant alone, so that was removed. However, they had finished up the 650ml of sugar syrup I'd left for them a week ago, so B and I came back later and he topped up their rapid feeder with another 700ml. We think there's plenty of food for them in the environment outside their hive, though, so maybe it's just a nice housewarming present that we've left for them rather than an absolute necessity. In any case, my sister has no sugar left in her cupboard now with all the syrup we've been making.

I now realise why beekeepers say it's good to have a goal in mind for the inspection, because I suppose until you learn to 'read' the frames, it feels like a lot to remember if you aim to do it all, and you get torn between being aware of the need to get it done quickly but also trying to look for everything possible too. So, inspection goals. Next time, the plan is to try to find the queen again and to look for the continued development of the brood.

I enjoy playing around with data, so I'm planning to keep quite detailed hive records, using the BBKA's system as a starting point. For what it's worth, I've extended my blogging software to handle weekly data as rows of a virtual inspection logbook, to appear along with the blog entry. This data can be combined to form the record for the year. In the data, 'C1' just means colony 1. This week's row is...

Queen seen?Queen cellsBrood# available frames for broodHealthEstimated mitesTemper / docilityFeed given# supers addedWeather
C103✔ 100e?91l 1:1025°C ☀