The Bees are Awake
All winter long my small black honeybees have been keeping warm inside their hive. They don’t go dormant like other insects but instead eat honey and stay warm by vibrating their little bodies. On clear and calm days they might venture out for a flight but for the most part they’ve stayed inside.
Now that spring is here, there’s a good chance that their honey supplies are depleted — just when they need it most. At the end of each year a honeybee colony will naturally decline from about 80K bees to just 10 thousand. In the spring they need to build up numbers again and they need food to do it. It’s this time of the year more than any other that a beekeeper has to help their bees.
First Inspection of the Year
I’ve had this in mind over the past couple of weeks and have been anxious to see how much honey is inside my two hives. It’s been cold and wet though and an opportune day to open my hives didn’t arrive until this week. Whenever you do look in on your bees you need to have a check-list of reasons why you’re doing it. This is what I wanted to see and do on my first inspection of the year:
- Check honey supplies
- Look for problems and signs of disease
- See if the bees are producing Brood (baby bees)
- Look for frames that need replacing
- Remove the Entrance Blocks
Protecting the Bees in Winter
In the autumn, beekeepers place either a mouse-guard or an entrance block in the hive’s main opening. We do this to stop rodents from sneaking in during the winter and also to keep the cold out. Now that spring is here, the bees will benefit from a larger opening.
There will be more and more of them born in the coming weeks and that means it gets warmer inside the hive. A larger entrance gives better ventilation and more space for foraging bees to enter and exit.
Removing the Entrance Blocks
I use Entrance Blocks, instead of Mouse Guards, since they keep mice out and the hives snug. They’re pieces of wood shaped to fit inside the long, narrow, hive entrance and can be pressed in from the outside. A small 3″ cut-out on the bottom allows a handful of bees through at a time.
In the damp of winter the blocks can swell to fit snugly inside the entrances so it can be harder taking them out. I used my metal hive tool to pull them and the bees came flooding out after. They weren’t too angry, more like surprised at the fresh air.
While I was at it, I pulled out the yellow Varroa Floor inserts. They were filthy so I tapped off the debris and and left them propped against the hives. I’ve used wooden inserts too this past winter but left those in place. I pulled each one back by a few inches though to create more air-flow. I’ll take these inserts out completely when it’s properly warmed up outside.
Full of Honeycomb
This first venture into my hives was more about check-list item number one than anything else: honey supplies. As soon as I popped open the Blue Hive it was clear the colony was doing just fine — both the Supers (top boxes) were full of capped honey.
Most of it will be leftover from our mild winter but they’re busy bringing in pollen and getting ready to make new supplies. The bees need more space to work, and quick!
Full of Brood
I spent more time on the Blue Hive than the White in this visit. I don’t like messing around too much in the Brood Box — that’s the larger box where the Queen lives. I took a peek though and it was clear that she’s been busy.
The frames are full of baby bee cocoons, called Brood, with plenty of little larva swimming around in uncapped cells too. I also noticed that the frames are in serious need of replacing. The beeswax is dark and old and I’ve just ordered brand new frames for both colonies. I’ll be doing the Bailey Comb Change starting next week. That’s a method of moving all the bees and the Queen out of the old Brood Box and into a new one.
Planning for the Next Inspection
So far so good. The bees are healthy, multiplying, and snug in their homes. My work in January cutting back the bushes around the hives was a good idea too. There’s plenty of air flow and extra light which is no doubt encouraging them to get out and forage.
In a week or so I’ll be visiting them again and bringing them new frames to build on. Spring is here and they’re going to need more space when the nectar flow hits.