by HoneyLover Susan Rudnicki
One of the most important regular events in the life of a beekeeper is the inspection of the hive to verify that the queen is laying and the workers are vigorous. It’s late July, so the queen is laying less and the bees are not as focused on brood rearing as they were earlier in the year, but we still must inspect the brood nest every 3-4 weeks to verify that the queen is doing her job.
I often hear newbees say that they “know” they have a laying queen because they see the bees bringing in pollen. This is not a reliable sign; even a queenless hive will show the pollen gatherers robotically still bringing in pollen because that’s their job!
The only way to know the status of your Queen Mother is to actually see eggs and open brood. You do not need to see HER, only the evidence of her work. Proper smoking technique is essential for calming and observing the bees, so if you do not know what that is please read up on the HoneyLove website. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
If your hive stack is several boxes high, it is best to go to the bottom level first by setting aside the other boxes so not all the bees are driven to the bottom box (crowding them) by the smoking and inspection process. Foragers returning will also add to the number in the entry box, so place the boxes in a stack in reverse order to be able to look into the bottom level first.
Alternately, If your hive is grumpy, place a towel or piece of plywood over each box as you remove it so the individual bee boxes are isolated from each other and contained. Check the frames in the first hive body for eggs and open brood. Eggs are very small and it is essential that you be able to identify them. Use a strong set of glasses or a magnifier if you need to.
Older hives—two years or more—will often abandon the lowest level the first winter and most brood rearing will occur in the next level up while excess bee bread and honey will be stored in the bottom box. There is no satisfactory answer from experts as to why this happens but it is common.
Sometimes a colony loses their queen and a worker (or a number of workers) begin laying drone eggs as compensation. There can be entire frames of capped and open drone brood. This is called having a “laying worker hive” and obviously leads to a dead end. Sometimes the bees do not have the resources of eggs less that four days old to make a replacement queen, so in their desperation they will draw queen cells that contain only drone eggs laid by the workers.
This is a very confusing sign if the beekeeper has not been attentive and missed the change in population dynamics by way of regular inspections. It is imperative that the beekeeper act on the situation, though, as the colony is fated to die out.
Know what a good brood frame looks like by practicing attentive observation on a queen right hive. A laying worker hive can be remedied by newspapering in a swarm, putting the queen right colony under the queen-less colony with a double screen board and leaving the stack for two weeks, then combining them. There are a number of additional fix-its; Michael Bush’s site has an exhaustive list of the many remedies at http://www.bushfarms.com/
In closing, frequent inspections year-round is the key along with on-going education.