The Friday after we brought the bees home, Dave’s friend, Jim, came over around 4pm to inspect our hive. He brought his equipment along with his bee suit, gloves, hat and net, though he left all of it on the ground near the bee hive instead of putting it on. I can tell by now that beekeepers are a brave lot. He explained that you need the suit when the bees start getting angry, which you can tell by their buzzing getting louder. Also, if one stings you, the pheromones from the sting will cause the other bees to attack. If stung, Jim will douse the sting with smoke to neutralize its odor and put on his protective equipment. We learned that when dealing with the hive, you want to be very gentle and not hurt any bees. If a bee gets smashed or hurt, the bees will be irritated. Good to know!
The Inspection Process: Jim pulled out the first frame out of the top box. He looked at it closely and pointed out each type of cell and talked about what he was looking for in this inspection. He leaned the frame against the outside of the hive. He then pulled out each subsequent frame and placed it in the open spot left by the previous frame once inspected, careful to keep the frames in the same order. Then after he inspected all the frames, he shifted them all back to their original position, one frame over and then replaced the original frame. He then moved this full box to the ground and repeated the process with the next box until all boxes and frames had been inspected. I have listed below, the things he looked for in the inspection:
Cell Check: He looked for honey, eggs and larvae. He pointed out worker bee larvae cells and drone larvae cells. It’s important to make sure that the queen is laying eggs. There should be cells that have baby bees in various stages of development. Also, he identified the honey cells. This is the food the hive is making for their consumption in the winter. The bees will close a cell of honey when the honey is done. When the cells of honey on a frame are mostly closed, that frame is done and can be harvested.
Queen Cells: Jim pointed out everywhere there was a queen cell. This is a much bigger cell which looks kind of like a peanut shell. All the ones he found in our hive were empty. He destroyed them all and suggested we do the same. When the hive starts making queen cells, it means they are feeling too crowded and want to produce a new queen. Once they produce a new queen, half the hive will leave with the new queen to find new lodging. This is called swarming. Since bee keepers don’t want to lose half their hive, they don’t let the bees produce a new queen bee until the bee keeper is ready to split the hive. The strategy here is that more bees make more honey. You want the hive full and thriving so that honey production is high. Once you split the hive, you have to give up on honey production that year. So, beekeepers often make the decision to add more boxes and frames to an existing hive instead of splitting the hive so that they can optimize honey production that year. Maybe the start the next year by splitting the hive – something we will need to explore for our bees.
Checking for Mites: Mites are a problem for bees and all hives have them. Jim showed us how to look for mites. Drone larvae have a longer gestation time than worker bee larvae, so mites like their larvae best. Conveniently, the drone is the least valuable part of the hive. They don’t produce honey and they aren’t loyal to the hive. Their only function is to mate with fertile queen bees and they mate with any queen bee from any hive. Jim’s process for checking for mites involves opening up some of the drone larvae cells and pulling them out. The larvae is white and the mites are red. They are the size of a pin head and easily seen on a drone larvae. He pulled a several drone larvae out and noticed a couple of mites. Jim didn’t think this was too many to worry about right now.
Jim’s assessment of our hive: It is a strong and healthy hive. Immediately, we should add another box on top for honey. He also suggested we replace the boxes with new ones as the boxes weren’t in great condition. Some of the frames also should be replaced in the next year, not immediately. Here is a picture of our hive with the new box on top for honey – called a honey super. We painted it the color of our house – grey.
Jim was invaluable in helping to get us up and running. We are so appreciative to him for taking the time to look at our hive and show us what to do. It is suggested that new beekeepers get a beekeeper mentor to help show them the ropes. Jim said for us to call him anytime we have questions, so, I think we have a mentor. Thanks Jim!
Take care all, Sheri