The 1-2-3 of every hive inspection
1) Is there a queen, and does the brood look all right?
2) Does the colony have enough food?
3) Does the colony have enough room?
1) The Queen
The top left photo shows capped brood. Capped brood alone does not tell us that there is a queen present. It tells us that there was a queen present 9 days ago. (brood gets capped 9 days after the egg was laid). Once there is no capped brood we know that the queen has been missing for 21 days, since that is how long it takes for brood to go from egg to emergence.
1b) Does the brood look all right?
The top right photo shows larvae on the left side (those wormy things floating in royal jelly) and eggs on the right side. Eggs that are standing up straight were laid today. Eggs laying half-way over were laid yesterday. Eggs laying on their sides are 3 days old. Seeing eggs in any position is good enough to think that there is a queen present. Just seeing the queen, bottom right photo isn’t really enough for me. I want to know that she is laying, and that the brood is looking good, so I always want to see the eggs, larvae, and capped worker brood. If you see a queen and only capped drone brood, she may be brand new and not laying yet, or she may have run out of sperm, a drone layer. This is a good reason to mark your queen, so you know if a supercedure occurs.
2) Enough honey?
The bottom left photo shows capped honey. See how the texture of the honey cappings look shiny compared to the leathery brood cappings? If your hive has capped honey, you should not be feeding anymore. Even a couple of frames of open nectar is plenty to tell you to stop feeding. If there is no nectar or capped honey, feed 1:1 sugar water in a safe manner that will not induce robbing.
3) Is there enough space?
Is there plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs? If the bees are putting nectar in the brood chamber, they need more room. Put a sheet of drawn comb or a frame with foundation between the brood and honey frames, not in the middle of the brood chamber.
3b) Is there enough room for honey?
Frames 1 and 10 should be honey. Frames 2 and 9 should be honey and bee bread. Frames 3,4,5,6,7. and 8 should be brood. Frames 1 and 10 will be the last to be filled. When frames 2-9 are finished, move 1 and 10 into the 2 and 9 spaces, and add another hive body.
Top bar and long hives should have honey at the door, bee bread next, followed by brood. Keep moving the first honey frame back and adding bars or frames behind the last brood bar so that the bees can draw it for brood if they need more room for babies.
The goal in good beekeeping is to help the bees do what they want to do. They want lots of babies, they want adequate honey stores for winter, they want a defensible space, not too big nor too small. Check for the 1-2-3 every time you inspect so that your hive remains healthy and well fed. (every other week)
Many thanks to Carol Tyrrell for her consultation on this tip of the day! Happy Beekeeping! T