First year hive management & inspection [Archive] - Beesource Beekeeping Forums

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Michael Palmer
11-12-2008, 04:52 AM
But you often get the nuc two weeks after the package.

You know what I'm going to say next...

Don't "split" your strong colonies in the spring, but instead, split up your non-productive colonies in mid-summer, and winter your nucs.

Full details at the Nebraska State Beekeepers meeting a week from tomorrow. :-)

11-12-2008, 05:18 AM
<Don't "split" your strong colonies in the spring, but instead, split up your non-productive colonies in mid-summer, and winter your nucs.>

Management is effected a lot by location. In my area it is really difficult to get a split made after the middle of June up to strength for winter. I don't start anything past the first of June anymore unless I can end up with ten frames of bees and 8 frames of brood in each split, because I will just end up having to combine it in Sept or I'll spend more time and money feeding than the colony will be worth. I could take them to one of my locations in valley but then they would be surrounded by large opperations with hundreds of hives close by and I would end up with a different set of problems and a bigger fuel bill to work them. With todays prices, can cost me more to fill the gas tank than a nuc of bees is worth.

11-12-2008, 07:07 AM
Management is effected a lot by location.
I couldn't agree more. Late season splits here are an invitation for shb disasters. The shb population is at its peak and reducing the bee population in established hives increases the opportunity for the beetles get the upper hand. The new nucs are also extremely vulnerable to shb. Having said that I do make a few late season nucs to overwinter but within very narrow limits. And those nucs require much more attention than in the pre-shb days.

Michael Palmer
11-14-2008, 05:02 AM
<Don't "split" your strong colonies in the spring, but instead, split up your non-productive colonies in mid-summer, and winter your nucs.>

Management is effected a lot by location. In my area it is really difficult to get a split made after the middle of June up to strength for winter. .

I agree about beekeeping being local. I'm a northern beekeeper, and nuc-ing non-productive colonies in mid-summer fits right into our flow pattern.

Maybe I shouldn't say "mid-summer", and I should say mid-mainflow.

It's just that if I split my good colonies in the spring, at say Dandelion, I never will my short season...those split colonies reach their potential. I know that the book says a colony will rebuild to full strength in 4 weeks. Well, I think that's a myth...especially in the north.

So, what if you made nucs on the main flow, from colonies that weren't producing a crop. Use the bees and brood from them to make nucs. I can keep mine in 4 frame units, but maybe that's not possible in the south. Couldn't they be expanded into singles, and wintered as singles?

Southern beekeeping is foreign to me. You have such a mild winter, and such a long buildup time. Is there a way to take advantage of the bees and brood in non-productive colonies? Yes, you can requeen those non-producers, for next year, but that doesn't guarantee success with that colony. Up here, it makes more sense to make nucs and winter them.

01-02-2009, 01:57 PM
First season management to obtain strong colonies for wintering. How often to inspect, seasonal timing, and things to be looking for. Will/should I get honey the first year?

Michael Bush
01-13-2009, 03:39 AM
"Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed"--Alexander Pope

I think itís important in every aspect of beekeeping to have realistic expectations. Not to say that those may not be exceeded at times, but also at times they will not be met as both failure and success are dependent on many related variables.

Typically people tell beginners not to expect a honey crop the first year. This is an attempt to set realistic expectations. However a good package with a good queen in a good year (appropriate amounts of well timed rainfall and flying weather) may far exceed this or may not even get well established. But generally itís a realistic expectation that they should get established enough to get through the winter and maybe make a little honey.

02-15-2009, 05:51 AM
a newbee runs the risk of either inspecting too much or too seldom. without experience (and information) it is a difficult thing to call.

the first step I would suggest is for the newbee to begin to recognize what signs outside the hive (most typically at the front entrance) means to the internal operation of the hive. signs here of something going amiss usually means internal inspection is essential.

at the front edge of the learning curve a newbee is well advised to inspect more than necessary.... I also think it is an excellent exercise to have some purpose in mind (small or large) for inspecting and to draw some boundaries on how extensive you want the inspection to be (ie will you simply remove one frame to look for signs of an active queen or will you be totally dismanteling the hive).

I seem to recall that getting ready for such adventure long ago created a bit of an anxious feeling... but it was such events that assulted the steep slope of the learning curve and was a goodly component of the joy of beekeeping where by you exercised the information you had accumulated (quite typically over some fairly long period of time).

good luck to ya' all...

02-15-2009, 06:37 AM
Taking it nice and slow during an inspection is important. No, it's not necessary to look at every frame...front and back, for signs of "something". Nor is it necessary to find the queen. In fact, slow inspections without looking real hard for the queen may result in more queen sightings than a complete teardown. What is important is to get a general feel for the hive. Kind of a 3-D mental image of what the inside looked like before you opened it up. Where is most of the cluster? Where is the brood? How do the stores look...honey & pollen? Were there any queen cells? Were they swarm cells, supersedure cells or just cups? Any damaged comb? How does the brood pattern look? Is it time for a super?

While these few questions seem like a lot, they're nothing more than what a good observer would be able to notice by pulling and examining a few frames. As said above, you can try to tie your observations of the inside of a hive to what you're noticing by watching the outside. Much can be learned by watching bees at the entrance.

Finally, if you have more than one hive in the yard, look for differences between them. Some differences will exist between types of bees. Others will be based on the maturity of the colony, health, etc. It's often the differences that are informative. For instance, a colony that doesn't have much pollen stored compared to others that are winging pollen in all day could point to a failing or failed queen. Focus on the differences and your inspections will be more productive to you and the bees.

Robert Brenchley
02-25-2009, 12:22 PM
I tend to inspect weekly during the active season. It's too much really but I've learnt a lot about bees from doing so. I don't look for the queen unless I really need to find her. What I look for is eggs. If you find them, you've had a laying queen within the last three days and that's normally good enough.

03-15-2009, 07:37 AM
Here's a post that I wrote to help me think through the parts of the inspection process. I wrote it because I couldn't find a specific guide for how to do it when I was confused at the beginning.

Note: Someone suggested that I should add to have an empty box and frames with you to cover what the hive might need and I haven't added that yet, but Michael Bush read this and gave it his stamp of approval back when I wrote it - he may have other thoughts now!

Linda T in Atlanta

03-20-2009, 09:22 AM
I read Tecumseh's response and I agree wholeheartedly. I particularily had a smile:) when I read his last paragraph. I have had bees for several years now and I still get anxious when I go out to inspect. Bathroom break and a big swig of air before I start everytime helps calm me down. Not afraid or anything, just apprehensive about what I may (or may not) find.:D I guess you could call it a Beeks rush:eek:


07-04-2009, 03:02 PM
I am a new beek and wanted to look at the hive alot, so I did. Since I had never seen the things I saw, I wanted to see more. The good thing was that I saw all the things that the books show in pictures (except the mites, beetles, etc.), the bad thing is that I got stung alot. I have been stung (ashamed to say) 32times in the last 6 weeks, even though I have been quiet, slow and kind (I dropped a foundation of bees on my lap, which was not well liked by the bees or me).

But I have learned. I now know that bees don't like the cool weather, the smoker, my hair, looking at them when it is getting dark, rubber gloves, robber bees, slugs and caterpillars. My looking was invaluable.

Ovid, NY

07-10-2009, 12:42 PM
Were there any queen cells? Were they swarm cells, supersedure cells or just cups? Any damaged comb? How does the brood pattern look?
For instance, a colony that doesn't have much pollen stored compared to others that are winging pollen in all day could point to a failing or failed queen. Focus on the differences and your inspections will be more productive to you and the bees.

I was under the impression that a peanut looking cell was a Queen cell, please explain the difference between a swarm, supercedure, or just cups?

why does a lack of pollen point to a failing, or failed queen?
Thanks in advance for explaining these points.

08-15-2009, 11:57 AM
There are so many factors that determine whether or not you'll have honey your first year, but as a general rule don't expect excess honey. IMHO, if you DO get surplus, it's a good idea to save it for spring feeding.

As far as how often to inspect, and what to look for that's where this board and reading/learning before you delve in comes in handy. As a new beekeeper, having a basic understanding of responsibilities during different times of the year is so important. I wish I had worked with a knowledgeable beekeeper for a season before I got bees.

The thing to remember is the world won't stop turning no matter what happens to the bees. There are many things that a colony can recover from including sloppy beekeeping. There is too much to write about what one should look for at different times of the year, etc. But a few very important issues that should always be monitored are:

varroa mites, and general health of the colony, ie diseases, pests, and any of the complications they cause.

the health and strength of the queen. Is she laying, if not why?

honey stores. Do they have enough to make it through winter? If not, why and how can you get them there?

going into winter, especially in the North it's important to have good ventilation in the hive. Setting the colony in a sunny location, painting boxes a dark color or wrapping in tar paper doesn't hurt. And make sure your bees have an entrance/exit to get in and out of for cleansing flights. This may mean propping them up off the ground a couple of feet or in my case shoveling every time it snows!

Hope this helps.

08-17-2009, 06:25 AM
Thank you for your imput. As a new beekeeper, I was going in much too infrequent....I did so hoping to stress them less. I had a BOOMING colony and every time I saw them with nothing to do, I'd check to see their progress and often would give them something more to do... i.e. adding honey soupers, ventillating more etc. They were busy drawing out comb, collecting nectar and pollen. Well all of a sudden it looked like my booming hive was a quarter of it's original size. On friday, after work (a 90 degree day) I went in to see what was going one.(had no choice, I needed to know and were they nasty!) I went through seven frames before I found a very small bit of larva. I was sure I rolled the queen! My mentor came over on Sunday....blessed blessed all you Master Beekeepers that have the time and patience to mentor people like me...THANK YOU..... Back to story, we saw more larva than two days I've got someone laying and because of the pattern it looks like a queen, but is she a virgin? I'll find out next Saturday. Lesson learned: forget about not stressing the girls...GO IN OFTEN! I saw queen cells but I thought that was a natural pattern to excect when and if they decide to fly away! I kept giving them more room, and more things "to do"...I just guess it might be a little arrogant to think I can "control" their entire process.
As to you comment about shoveling out in the winter... might I suggest you invest in a good pair of snow shoes? That's what I always did for my dog. My snow shoes cleared the path for him to walk and sniff and potty, and I also created a path to the bird feeders. I easily tramped down all that snow without the back breaking task of shoveling. Plus it was fun! Treat yourself to a pair, it's like wearing flip flops over your boots in the winter. Again....THANK YOU MENTORS!

AR Beekeeper
09-30-2009, 11:50 AM
There are many beekeepers who do not use queen excluders in their hive management. I have found it to be a useful tool and I think many of the problems with it's use during the spring honey flow results from improper timing and improper placement.

The queen should be allowed free access to all of the boxes in the brood/food chambers until the time the supers of comb for surplus are added. When the queen excluder is added it should split the brood nest, not be placed above it.

When the brood nest is split, the worker bees do not hesitate to pass up through the excluder to tend to the brood or to place nectar in the honey supers. An upper exit for drones and workers should be made by using a shim with an opening above the excluder or by sliding one of the honey supers about 1/4 in to the rear. Bees like to store pollen near an entrance so the upper entrance works well when two medium supers are used for the brood/food chamber above the excluder.

Bees draw wax well during the spring flow and above brood is the place where they draw comb all the way down to the frames bottom bar. If there is no mid-summer nectar flow after the spring flow ends, the excluder can remain in place to limit the number of workers produced that would be "consumers and not producers". If there is a heavy fall flow the excluder would be removed to allow workers to laid for the fall flow. In all cases the excluder is removed before winter.

09-30-2009, 01:46 PM
I am confused. I understand the timing of the excluder - I should put it on when I put on my honey supers. You made me think about using it as managing tool by limiting the number of bees being laid during a dry spell... good idea. But when you say split...
let's say the hive has two deeps and anything above them are the honey supers... you're suggesting putting the excluder between the two deeps? and leaving the queen in the bottom deep? and if I'm using mediums instead (which I plan to switch to next year)....three mediums = two deeps...are you saying to put the excluder above the second medium leaving her below?

Thank you...

AR Beekeeper
09-30-2009, 02:10 PM
Yes that is what I ment when I recommended splitting the brood nest. With brood above the excluder workers pass through it and once the traffic flow begins it continues.

In a 7 or 8 days you should check the brood above the excluder for queen cells. Often when a queen is kept from one of the brood chambers the bees start queen cells. All that is needed is to cut cells once and then no more will be started because they have no eggs/larvae of the proper age.

10-02-2009, 06:52 AM
If this is a duplicate response forgive me.

I now get what you mean..and yes, without new larva to create another queen, there would be no queen making.... But what about the bottom brood box, wouldn't she prepare for succession if she thinks there is no more room for her colony? What would the fix be for that, or would one need to monitor her weekly?


AR Beekeeper
10-02-2009, 08:27 AM
Usually by the time the spring nectar flow is underway and you see white wax being placed on the combs the colony has gotten past the swarming period. If you use Walt Wright's method of swarm control (Checkerboarding) the colony usually will not swarm.

Let me describe my spring management. The first nectar flow (about the first week in March) is a minor flow and it starts when Henbit and Red Nettle starts to grow in the lawns and pastures. The bees use all the nectar in their build up and little is stored as surplus. It is at this point I checkerboard and add 1 super of drawn comb on top. My hive configuration is a deep, 2 mediums checkerboarded and a medium with ten frames of drawn comb. No excluders are used at this time.

The next good flow is from Red Bud trees (about the 23 of March). The colonies will store surplus on this flow if they are strong and the flow lasts longer than a week to ten days. If no swarm control is used the first swarms will issue in about 2 week after the trees are in full bloom. The queen still has the run of the hive and usually will have 8 frames of brood in the deep, 8 frames in the bottom medium and 6 in the next. Usually they use the top medium to store incomming nectar.

The spring darth starts after Red Bud stop producing. Little or no surplus is stored until the first or second week of May. This is when white wax is produced and the bees will start to draw foundations. This is when I add the mediums for surplus honey and place the queen excluder to keep the queen in the deep on the bottom. Little or no swarming occurs after the main nectar flow starts but you may have supersedure occur about the first week of June. You will have to learn the plants to look for in your area that signal the start of nectar flows and the swarming period in your location.

10-02-2009, 08:50 AM
My goodness, I should be working but this is too fascinating not to keep it coming... I will do a "checkerboard' search to find out what that almost sounds as if you put one super facing east and west and the other north and south but that would have to bee supers with eight frames I would think. I'll find an answer to checkerboarding later...

But I have probably the silliest question of all. I am a gardener. Have been one since forever. But I do not know the signs of "nectar flow". How do you know if the nectar is flowing? Am I watching the bees? Do I watch the flowers with bees on it... How do I know?

And your hive configuration is one deep with THREE mediums on top? then you add honey supers? Why do you keep the deep? Do you never rotate the supers? So many quesitons... so much to learn... what a fabulous hobby!

Great advise, just great... I am copying and pasting these for rereading during winter.

10-02-2009, 09:41 AM
I have always been one for planning; although the best laid plans may not come to fruition. I think this is one of the hardest things for the beginners to do. In management of the colony, one should first know what the needs of the colony is, and so when inspecting, should measure the current status against those needs, which are different for different times of the year. With winter coming on rapidly, those management objectives should now be focusing on

1. Sufficient population to make it through the winter in order to maintain the cluster, (this means that one must have a healthy productive queen also)

2. Sufficient stores to provide heat/energy to maintain cluster temperatures, (this means that one needs to know what the requirements for his local area is)

3. Sufficient stores to provide for the early spring buildup necessary to give the colony a good start for a productive 'next year' that we are all hoping for.

AR Beekeeper
10-02-2009, 01:27 PM
Knowing when nectar is being produced by flowers is learned by talking to beekeepers in your area and finding out when nectar producing plants bloom. Then you watch those plants for bees working them. All beekeeping is local, areas differ at to plants producing nectar(soil/moisture conditions) and blooming dates. Books on beekeeping will aid in understanding what plants produce and when.

Watching the hive entrance can tell you if bees are getting nectar and pollen, watch for increased activity and bees with pollen in their baskets. Some plants produce in the mornings only, some in the afternoon, and some all day. Some plants furnish pollen as well as nectar, some only pollen. Bees heavy with nectar fly into the "landing pattern" like they are carrying a heavy weight. When you do an inspection you will start to see open cells with nectar in them and if you turn the comb on it's side nectar will drip out.

When the main nectar flow ends my hive configuration is a deep for the brood chamber proper, 2 mediums for the food chambers/brood chambers, and any mediums (varies from none to 3) that contain surplus honey. The food chambers were filled with nectar as the brood they contained hatched. Those 2 mediums will hold 30 to 35 pounds of food each.

When I remove surplus supers I leave the queen excluder on to confine the queen to the bottom deep. I have no nectar flow after the sumac blooms in late June. The bees will have to live on what they have until mid September when the small white aster blooms. I don't want a large population to feed until the build up for winter. I use Buckfast, Russians and their crosses and they are frugal with their stores.

I requeen in July. I have found that after a queen has gone through winter and a spring nectar flow she may fail and be superseded in late fall or winter. I prefer that I not try to over winter with a queen that did not have a large number of drones to mate with. I clip and mark my queens so I know the age they are and can tell if they have been superseded.

The best things you can have to ensure overwintering success is a young queen and a good population of young adult bees. The first of August I break down the colonies to the screened bottom board and re-configure the hive. I place the lighest of the medium food chambers on the bottom board, place the deep on top of it, remove the queen excluder and place the heaviest medium on top.

During the months of August and September the bees will eat or remove all the honey in the bottom medium. What they don't eat they store in the broodnest. They store pollen in the bottom medium as they remove the honey. The removal and relocation of the honey act as an automatic feeder and causes the queen to increase the rate of egg laying. In mid September I check food stores and if any colonies are short they get 2:1 sugar syrup. I want a full medium on top of the deep and I want 4 or 5 frames full in the deep. I consider this amount of food the minimum and if I have the extra honey I leave 2 mediums on top. It is hard to predict the spring weather, I don't know if we have "average" years anymore and I am lazy and don't like to feed.

A deep full of brood doesn't weigh any more than a medium of honey and I don't have to lift it often. I sell a few nucs and customers want deep frames. Each deep frame has 3 in. more usable comb space than a medium and the cost is not much different (I'm not only lazy, I'm cheap too).

My screened bottom boards remain open the year around, I use 3/8 in high enterances which I close to around 2 1/2 in to prevent robbing on warm winter days. Here in the south moisture is not a problem so I do nothing about ventilation.

Remember that in beekeeping nothing works 100%. What works for me may not work for someone else. All beekeeping is local and good locations will excuse many beekeeper's mistakes. Your bees are your bees, keep them to suit yourself. The purpose of being a hobby beekeeper is to have fun! Last but not least, remember bees are only a bunch of bugs!

10-02-2009, 02:21 PM
Thank you AR, I have learned much today! Your last sentence..."remember bees are only a bunch of bugs!" is the best. I'm not there yet but I will keep that in mind. Every morning I bring them food, every evening when I come home from work I bring them food. Every time I do something to the hive I second guess myself...convincing myself I've either rolled the queen or made such a huge mistake they all are going to die! There is so much to learn (which I adore). I call this nothing less than "sacred science". Thanks for mentioning Walt. I started reading his information. Actually I didn't even know that those resources were available on this thank you for that! I look forward to more continued sharing. Have a wonderful weekend!

01-28-2010, 06:21 PM
I was in charge of a table on hive inspection at the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Short Course this past weekend. I put together a power point on how to do a basic hive inspection.

I uploaded it to my blog - the uploader I chose changed the color of the background and a couple of the slide titles slid off into the Ethernet, but it might be useful if you are starting out and want to see pictures of how to do a basic hive inspection as per one beekeeper (me)

Linda T in Atlanta

03-30-2010, 07:29 PM
Great presentation. I fretted over my boxes all winter and put them out in the back yard at the end of Feb. Opened the lid, checked for life and left them alone. Last week at 50 degrees I opened the upper boxes again and removed on frame with bees on it to find them storing syrup. Closed it up and left it alone. Now I need one more day at 65 to open the brood box and inspect it for preparations. When do I clean out the bottom and cut off the burr comb.

05-30-2014, 03:12 PM
A search of this topic, somewhat surprisingly, yielded no results here. The brood nest is the "heart" of every hive, no matter how large or small. It appears most problems with a new hive ( or old) naturally have to do with disruptions within the brood nest. Understanding, and then treating, healing and/or promoting the health of the "heart" of every hive - the brood nest - is most often, if not always, the solution.

It is my belief that every new beekeeper would do well to read and consider the following words of advice from Dr Richard Taylor. There is wisdom buried within the wisdom.

from "The How-To-Do-It book of Beekeeping" by Richard Taylor:

" 25. The brood nest of a normal beehive has a definite and uniform pattern. The queen begins her egg laying more or less at the center of a comb, more or less at the center of the hive, and works out from there.Thus (as it progresses) one finds a pattern of sealed brood, surrounded by larvae, surrounded by smaller larvae and eggs. Eventually, as the larvae develop, the entire comb, or most of it, comes to consist of sealed brood.Then as brood at the center emerges, the queen again deposits the eggs there. Above and around this brood nest, one finds, first, pollen, then honey. The outermost combs in a hive contain only honey, sometimes pollen and rarely brood. The pollen is what is needed first, to feed the larvae, and then as winter approaches and brood rearing ceases (declines), the honey will be used; so both are appropriately placed."

If you want to inspect and assess any colony, that is what you should see. If you don't see that, you need to direct your efforts to providing the necessary queen, or eggs, brood and stores of pollen and honey, in whatever combination best treats the ailment/condition

"This general pattern should be preserved, unless there is good reason for doing otherwise. Thus you should never spread brood out, alternating combs or empty combs (frames) of foundation, thinking that this will cause the bees and queen to redouble their efforts to fill the empty combs. It only demoralizes them, and puts them behind."

With new packages, swarms or weak colonies, focus your efforts on feeding the edges of the heart, not cutting it in half. The brood nest must also retain a certain level of warmth (inferred from elsewhere in the book), and dividing it most often results in a setback in early brood rearing cycles.

"Similarly, the common practice of reversing hive bodies in the spring ...has little justification. It is likely to result in breaking the brood nest in two right across the middle. When a bee hive is inspected or combs removed for any reason they should be replaced in the order in which they were removed. About the only times the brood nest should be disrupted are when one is making increase by dividing the colony (21),(57), or making up nucs (19). "

There are exceptions which may benefit an advanced beekeeper.

Almost every problem that a new beekeeper experiences with any colony is addressed, either directly or indirectly, by conditions affecting the brood nest and it's cycle. Almost every solution can be had by taking it into consideration.

With greatest respect to Dr. Richard Taylor.