The soft, lush grass felt cool against my left cheek through my bee suit hood as I lay sprawled in the orchard beside one of my hives. I look up to see my aider-and-abettor busily putting a box with the old comb into the car. “Good.” I thought, “He didn’t see me.” “Did you enjoy your trip?” He shouts over without taking his eyes off the task in hand. Drat! Caught! I get up as nonchalantly as I can and tidy up the hive strap that I had tripped over. “Sorry, bees, this is embarrassing.” The bees whiz in an out of the hive on this glorious St Patrick’s day wishing I’d hurry up and leave them alone. “What’s all this new stuff you’ve put in our hive?” they buzz. “Ah, fresh foundation – we could use that, we want to be busy making comb. Keep us busy. Keep us busy.” They buzz. I can’t believe just how awful some of the comb is. There’s one that is just pure slick black, the cells had been polished and re-polished with propolis before the queen laid eggs in them and over time the cells turned mahogany, then ebony, as minuscule layers of propolis build and narrowed the cells. If this black comb is left in the hive too long (as in for a few years) I have heard that the resulting bees emerging are smaller due to the cramped conditions. The black comb may look awful but it’s really a work of art and has been sanitized over and over by the bees. I checked that there were no stores, or eggs before I remove the blackened frame. There’s large holes in the comb of some frames and the outer frame has what looks like a dusting of mould..ugh, a sign of condensation in the hive over winter. The bees had also connected a few frames together with brace-comb, that would be a fine mess later in the year if I left it there and I would find it difficult to separate the frames to do a proper inspection.
There are only about 3 frames of bees which is not a lot but I’ve seen small hives like this explode with bees and be ready to swarm out by May. I saw brood and larvae and eggs, and no sign of disease but I didn’t try to look for the queen today as it was still just a little too cold. All is looking good. I was able to change out most of the frames. This will help prevent disease as well as give the bees something to do as they build out comb. Then I add a top feeder and give them 1:1 syrup. Using a top feeder means that I can look in without disturbing them later and see how much they’ve taken down and if they need more or not. A feed now should give them a boost. “Is it too cold to feed bees now?” is a popular forum question at this time of year. It depends on the weather (and hemisphere). I saw that someone on a forum today say it’s still too cold to put on syrup in my region but my bees must have missed the memo thankfully as they are taking it down. It’s great to be out at the apiary and doing some real beekeeping again.
Links below if you want to find out more about spring inspections:
First hive inspection in the spring from Perfect Bee
This is the right way to do Your First Spring Inspection ! (so it says) 13+min video
Honey Bee Hive Inspection ( Early Spring) 18 min video
First Spring Hive Inspection Of An Overwintered Colony – March 12, 2012 by Anita Deeley a Beverly Bees blog post (scroll down to see a lot of photos)
Cover photo by Damien TUPINIER on Unsplash