Checking the hives: is it a child’s play?

How much is checking the hives important? Do you remember when we looked into how much the first inspection of the year is essential? If you want to refresh, have a look at our article The first hives inspection: in what does it consist of? – Gaeblini. Nevertheless, that one was only the very first one of a long series of checks. Indeed, it´s very important that the beekeeper periodically checks the hives. Of course, this does not mean that you have to put your nose in them every day, but during Spring/Summer, every 10-15 days at least it would be better to have a check.

Why? And ok checking the hives, but then? I mean, you open the beehive, you take a honeycomb…and what are you exactly checking? What are you searching for? What do you expect to find, my dear beekeeper?

Imagine the scene: from one side, Basti observing very focused and with much care the honeycomb, and at the other side, me… wondering ´But what is going on?´ – at the very first inspections I had often the feeling that I was missing something very cool. Needless to say, the endless amount of questions to Basti while checking the hives. Do you want to find out something more about it? I can absolutely understand you! So…ready, set, gooo…today you´ll check hives with us!

First of all…

Protection suit and gloves. For the bravest ones, it may be enough the upper part at least to cover the face (then we have granpa Heinz that does not wear anything, but let´s not take him as an example in this case). Tools. Yep, because  there are tools that are very important to be used while checking the hives:

  • Lever: bees tend to close any possible hole with wax and propolis. Most probably when you try to lift up the hive cover, you don’t manage (or you struggle pretty much) because it´s completely stuck to the rest. This lever is essential for opening the hive or to separate the honeycombs that are always ‘glued’ to each other inside the hive with propolis and wax ‘bridges’ – of course, you have to use it gently.
  • Brush: it´s a big brush used literally to ´brush´ away the bees that are on the honeycomb (here too super gently). Otherwise checking the hives gets a bit complicated when the honeycomb is covered by a carpet of hard working bees – don´t you think so?
  • Smoker: I love this tool, don´t know why but I find it cute – while generally there is a hate/love relation from the beekeepers to it because it´s not always so easy to keep it on 😊 but what is it? It´s a container where you can put some herbs or starters for lighting up fire so as to produce smoke. Why do we use it? Is it dangerous for the bees? No, of course not. As explained in a beekeeping manual I have read, the smoker causes an instinctive reaction of the bees: it makes them move away! It is something related to their evolution: there is smoke and they think there is fire, so they stop whatever they´re doing and they go to their honey provisions, like if they want to make sure that everything is ok. Said this, you can understand that having something that calm down the bees while checking the hives is very important and reassuring. We have both the traditional and moew wide-spread one, but also a more original vintage version from granpa Heinz. It works like a pipe and it´s practical for short inspections (since it´s little). Moreover, blowing with the mouth, it allows to work with both hands free, while the usual smoker must be pressed from time to time otherwise it gradually switches off.

Let´s proceed with checking the hives…

Here we are, more or less covered, and with all the needed tools! We open the hive, we take gently the first honeycomb. The very first one, closest to us, it´s the so called by Basti ‘to keep busy frame‘. He opted for this nickname to make me understand what was its aim. We always put a completely empty frame, without any wax sheet. Already from there, with the inspection we can understand how much the family is strong and healthy. If they have started to build the honeycomb, this means that they are pretty active. If it´s well built, we can simply cut away the wax and keep it  (nothing is supposed to be thrown away, you know how many things you can do with it??). We put again the empty frame in, so as to let them start all over again.

Pooooor bees

Nooo, it´s nothing bad, they don´t get angry! They love to be busy, it´s like a hobby 🙂 Really, no problem! Keeping on with checking the hives, it would be perfect if we manage to find the beequeen, so as to put her temporarily in a cage, just to be sure not to hurt her or kill her by mistake (unfortunately it can happen, especially if you´re clumsy). If you can´t find her running on any honeycomb – not so easy to find her! – you need to be even more careful.

Let´s continue with checking the hives…then what do you observe?

Royal cells found while checking the hives

Simply…the bees! For example, if you see them with any flaw to the wings, this could lead to the presence of Varroa. Inspections are important to get those warning signals that show the presence of certain diseases of the super organism. Or like we were telling the last time here swarming symptoms: how to prevent from swarming? – Gaeblini, if we find drone cells on the upper and side part of the hive or if we find royal cells, a swarming might get closer and closer.

If there are no eggs, this may mean that there is no beequeen or that she is still very young and needs to get her marriage flight.

What should the cells contain?

Not only honey, a bit of everything! The cells are truly shelves where bees keep several things.

In the honey box you will find essentially honey. Hence, be careful, if during the inspection you find brood there, you have to wonder why: maybe the grill was not put properly and the beequeen managed to reach the honeybox? Always regarding the honeybox, you can find honey there. This is correct, but only when the honeycomb is covered by a wax layer or it starts to get covered by it, this means that it´s ready to be harvested.

As far as the brood box is concerned, the situation changes: here you can find the brood (otherwise which kind of nest would it be?), but also pollen, propolis and honey. Hence, here too there are food provisions, as we were telling here what do bees eat, if we take their honey away?? – Gaeblini. Everything of course is placed according to a precise logic and absolute order: you don´t find everything at random. Generally the two more external honeycombs are those with food. Whereas the brood is more towards the centre, in the heart of the nest, so the most protected part of the beehive.

Now it´s a bit more clear the importance of inspections? Here too we get the confirmation that the art of beekeeping is characterized by much patience and power of observation. Of course, a person can develop these skills thanks to experience and training. You don´t get this all out of the blue. In any case, as Basti previously told here Basti: a curious child turned into an all-around beekeeper – Gaeblini, it’s not something that get improvised. This all requires much time and commitment.

Do you still have any doubt regarding inspections? Ask us anything 🙂 …we are at your disposal, in fact we would be super happy to read you and answer you! Do not forget to follow us on the social media, you’ll find more pics and videos about our inspections!

A hug,

The Gäblini

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