Yet Another Inspection

Current Bee’s Eye View

Current bee’s-eye view

Most of the routine work involved with bee-keeping seems to be inspecting. Going out periodically and giving the combs a good gander. Is the queen laying? Is the laying pattern consistent? Are there queen cells? Drone cells? Are there honey and pollen being stored. Are there any bees with malformed wings – an indicator of mites? How crowded are the brood-combs and do they need more space? Are the bees drawing new comb? Is that new comb straight and orderly? Does the comb need to be separated from the sides or need to be straightened? And the questions seem to continue.

As usual, the first thing I do is don my suit and get the smoker lit. Keeping the smoker going is a bit of an art form – something I’m still mastering. But, when going, it works remarkably well. The suit is a bit warm this time of year. I’m trying to ween myself from the suit and just use a veil, but it’ll take a little bit to work up my nerve. Especially when the bees can seem irate sometimes. There’s always at least one bee that’s buzzing me consistently. I had my gloves off and it continued to buzz and I decided… gloves back on. Maybe later I’ll remove the gloves and try to bare-hand my inspection. It would be ideal as I get a better tactile experience this way. In time.

Hmmm, is the queen on this one?

Hmmm, is the queen on this one?

Then there’s the routine puff of smoke on the entrance and around the hive. I bath a little in the smoke as well to hide my mammal scent. With that one bee perpetually buzzing me, I take the usuall bee’s eye veiw picture after removing a few top-bars. I notice a couple of bees carrying other bees out of the hive. The other bees didn’t look fully dead – were they honey robbers that got caught when the hive went on high alert thanks to my smoke? Or unhealthy bees that were being discarded? Hard to say, but there’s not a lot of them – usually two or three per hive-opening.

The bees seemed a bit more uptight today than normal. But then, it was late in the afternoon on a very warm day where I usually open the hive in the late morning instead, and the queen had moved to working the combs further back. Nevertheless, all I got was a few bees buzzing about angrily. I had trouble keeping my smoker lit this time around too, so that didn’t help any. Goes to show – you want to clean the ash in your smoker out between uses.

Could that be Her Highness?

Could that be Her Highness?

This hive inspection was mostly a peeking in to evaluate the bees. I had no specific task in mind. I almost didn’t go out there to do it. It’s hot and humid and I half wanted to wait until I got my stand-alone veil. But, the call of the bees was irresistible. I wanted to see how they were coping with this dry period. There’s still a lot of forage, fortunately. But we’ve not had decent rain for several weeks and it’s been ten degrees warmer than usual here for several days in a row. I have a solarboard panel covering the hive so hopefully that’s keeping things just a little cooler.

I move the empty honey-combs back a few bars at a time. The bees haven’t started working them yet and I’m half tempted to remove them and let the bees make new comb from scratch. I come up on a comb that has some signs of some work. There were a few bees on it and a few capped cells interestingly.

Brand New Brood Comb

Brand new brood comb

Oddly, I find a bee with it’s hind end in a cell on the barely used comb. It was a worker that was laying an egg, perhaps? Yes, some workers can lay, tho the unfertilized eggs will always hatch out as drones. But, other bees don’t respond kindly to a laying worker – this one was surely doomed – and this may explain the removal of dead or dying bees from the back of the hive – perhaps this is where the bees tried to hide their criminal behavior – back behind the more heavily populated combs. Yet another reason to remove comb that hasn’t been used yet.

Okay, moving on. I move past a comb that I’d repaired earlier. The repair didn’t stick so I just cut off the offending and thankfully unpopulated part and move on. I come across a more heavily populated comb next. Previously it hadn’t been used much but now it had lotsa capped brood on it and many more bees. And… the queen! Up until now, after the cutout, I had not seen the queen. I wasn’t really looking for her. I figure the girl has her hands full laying eggs, so why bother her for some rubber-necking? Plus, it’s easy enough to see the results of her work. Nevertheless, I got a portrait or two of her on that comb for posterity.

This one’s got nothing but honey and pollen.

This one’s got nothing but honey and pollen.

Next up is a brand spanking new comb on one of the separator bars I installed to space out a pair of uneven combs. It’s beautiful and fresh and it is loaded with brood! Nothing capped yet, but this comb isn’t even done and the queen is busy laying eggs in it, eggs that are now larvae. That was exciting! For the longest time I didn’t see a lot of comb development and that was a little anerving – were they not getting enough forage? In the existing combs I had not previously seen a lot of evidence of honey yet either. They had no stores to fall back on. Well, now they were building new comb and moving the brood further into the hive and I was seeing signs of honey and pollen. Very good sign to see!

Picture Perfect Brood Comb

Picture Perfect Brood Comb

As if to answer my honey store issue, the very next comb – a smallish one from the cutout – was loaded heavily with honey and pollen! If we weren’t in the middle of a dry spell and with uncertain forage, I’d have taken that little comb out to sample their work. It looked so fresh and good, even tho it was in older comb. I look forward to them drawing that comb all the way down and loading it and several more up with honey! In any case, I feel better about our little dry spell now. We still have plenty of forage currently and they’re building up stores finally.

Side two of picture perfect brood comb

Side two of picture perfect brood comb.

The next one up looks like a an ideal model of what a brood-comb should look like. So many capped cells and a very clean and straight comb. Except for a little finger of comb near one of the ends anyway, this looked about as good as it can get especially for a cutout comb. If they don’t join that finger up with the larger comb I may cut it off next inspection to keep them from doing cross-bar comb-building. Anyway, other than that, it’s a beautiful comb. It’s very well attached to the top-bar and I can safely cut the strings that were holding it on. It’s got a good brood pattern, several cells of honey and a few cells of pollen. Definitely a happy comb. I look forward to seeing many more like this.

Hmmm, that looks like a new comb…

Hmmm, that looks like a new comb…

I move further towards the front and come across the second from-scratch comb that they’ve built since the cutout. This one is much larger than the other one, and very fully occupied with freshly capped brood. It’s got very good form and is very evenly attached to the top-bar. It’s so satisfying seeing them building new combs exactly where I want them to – on the top-bar centered on the comb-guide. I hear so many stories of cross-combing problems and was worried that I would have to deal with that too. So far, no cross-combing. Cross-combing is where they build comb at an angle that crosses more than one top-bar rather than centered on a single top-bar. That makes it a pain to manage the bees that way. But mine are still very evenly spaced and very straight, thankfully.

This comb is less than three weeks old

This comb is less than three weeks old.

The next one is a goobered up comb that isn’t attached well to the top-bar. It used to be at the very front, right by the entrances. I had to cut it from the end as well as from the side-walls to move it back and insert a blank spacer in. It’s a rather ugly comb but a large one and one that is very fully populated by bees and brood. I want to be rid of it and hopefully will be able to move it back and away from the brood combs so that it will stop being used for brood and be used for honey instead, where I’ll then be able to remove it after every capped brood has hatched from it. I’ll probably start that process next week. Once that is removed, I’ll have no complaints over ugly combs.

Goobered up comb slated for removal

Goobered up comb slated for removal.

That was basically it. I started moving the top-bars carefully back into their original their positions, being careful not to squish any bees. You gotta be slow and conscious of where the bees are. In all the times I’ve been in my hive, I think I only squished one bee. That made me even more determined to watch what I’m doing much more carefully. A dead bee gathers no nectar.

Fortunately, while the bees were just a little more irate today than normal and I had problems keeping my smoker lit, the inspection was rather peaceful. I hope they continue to be this way as the hive grows and as I get more hives. Soon I hope to use just the veil rather than getting suited up. Poly/cotton or no – that suit gets hot in the Texas sun.

But in this inspection I was able to verify that the queen is happy and laying, that the brood-combs were starting to move further back, that the bees were storing up honey, that I need to remove an ugly comb and that I can safely remove any remaining strings tying the brood-combs from the cutout. I counted 6 brood-combs with two of them newly drawn, and a dedicated honey-comb, oddly placed between two brood-combs. I’m sure they’ll draw it out soon and turn it into a brood-comb tho. The Spring buildup is doing rather well, it looks. My next inspection will have a to-do list based on this inspection. I’m looking forward to cracking open the hive again!

Michael Vanecek

I've been keeping bees with no treatments whatsoever for several years. I've followed a basic philosophy of if the bees don't bring it into the hive then it doesn't get put into the hive with good success. After a life-time of naturalism, this was simply the logical course to take with honeybee husbrandry and proof is out there buzzing and making honey right now.

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