Beekeeping basics: Maintaining a colony
How often to inspect your hive
How often you inspect your hive will depend on a few factors. Conventional wisdom suggests that less is more. Plan for two detailed inspections of your hive: one at the beginning of the foraging season and one at the end of the foraging season. Then, plan to visit your hive once a week throughout the foraging season to make sure your colony is doing well.
Inspecting your hives regularly will help you identify issues in the hive before they become problems. The guidelines below will help you monitor the health of your hives.
When to inspect your hive
Although hives can be opened and inspected at any time, there are some conditions that make inspections easy.
If you want to inspect bees when they’re in a good mood, open your hives:
- on sunny days
- late morning, noon, or mid-afternoon while bees are out foraging
If possible, avoid inspecting your hive:
- on rainy or windy days
- early in the morning or late in the evening when all bees have returned
- if your bees seem buzzy and aggressive, try again later.
What to look for during a weekly visit
During weekly visits, you will want to see that the queen is still present and laying well. Check your frames of comb for eggs and capped brood. If you can, find the queen (if you can’t find a queen but you see eggs in cells, then the queen is still in the hive). You also want to assess the colony size and make needed adjustments. If the colony is reaching capacity in its current environment (60-80% full), you will need to add supers or make splits during these visits.
While you are there, check the environment around your hive for threats. If the grass around your hive is getting long, cut it back to keep out ants and other opportunistic pests. If you suspect that your hive is attracting animals, like skunks, bears or mice, you will need to implement some type of deterrent.
What should you bring with you on a weekly visit?
Always bring protective equipment (veil or bee suit, gloves, and an epi-pen). You will also need your hive tool (to pry apart frames and supers that are stuck together with propolis), a bee brush and your smoker. Bring any equipment you suspect you will need for the visit, for example, an extra super with frames, if you know that your colony has almost outgrown its current space.
Avoid wearing heavily scent products, like skin cream, hair spray and sun tan lotion, on the days you visit. Strong smells can make your bees more aggressive than usual.
As a new beekeeper, it’s a good idea to bring a camera with you to take photos of curious or unusual sights inside your hive. Photos can be posted to online beekeeping forums to get insight from the beekeeping community or sent to your mentor for feedback and advice.