First Inspections.

At last, the beekeeping season got started this week when the air temperature finally rose and stayed consistently around 13-14 degrees Celsius throughout yesterday, and today. The air was still and a perfect day to assess the colonies and move a couple into full sized hives. Two swarms collected from last summer fared better in double storey polystyrene nuclei than the one in a wooden hive did. The floors were spotlessly clean in the first two, but the latter had a layer of dead bees covering the floor which I think resulted from poor hive insulation and not being able to maintain enough heat in the winter cluster. I’ll be buying a couple more of these nuclei.

The beauty of this hive construction is that, overwinter, there were 5 brood frames in each of the two deep brood boxes, and the shallow super above contained stores. I didn’t give any supplementary feeding at all, not even fondant. They still had some stores in a couple of super frames yesterday and are bringing in nectar now. The OSR is on the cusp of flowering and I can see over the hedge a faintly yellowing field.

Marking Queens.

I always mark queens in spring at the first inspection if possible before the nest gets crowded. From past experience, I find that queens marked in the summer are often superseded which can lead to poor or failed mating at the end of summer. This has led to queenless colonies and drone laying workers in the past. I have one laying worker colony now but I think that the queen may have died from my using Mite Away Quick strips (formic acid) in July. I plan to cage the queen in July for 3 weeks as varroa control this year, and my friend Fred from Dundee is making me some special frames which I will show you in a future blog.

I was quite pleased to have achieved a neat blue dot of paint as often with those marking pens the paint floods out making a terrific mess of the poor queen. When you haven’t opened up a hive for 8 months you can feel a bit rusty to start off with, even if you have been keeping bees for over 16 seasons.

Recording Hive Notes.

I don’t know about you, but I often can’t remember what I went into the bee shed to collect. It is even worse remembering what I see in each hive and now I have 8 to inspect I haven’t a hope of remembering how they are building up or any details. But it’s really important, if I’m assessing colonies to rear good queens from, to know how many fames of brood they are on and how fast they build up etc, so I’ve got a nifty little voice recorder that hangs round my neck on a tartan ribbon. There are lots to choose from on Amazon and they are not expensive. It beats getting propolis all over your smart phone. Later I write up the records at my leisure.

Improving Efficiency.

Increasing the number of colonies means more equipment to lug about and my wheelbarrow is not so useful really, especially as I need to wheel it along the road to my other apiary in the village. In previous years, it didn’t seem to matter running backwards and forwards to collect things from the bee shed but I clocked up just over a mile in the apiaries on Thursday. I’m researching a cart on wheels to make life easier.

Another thing I’ve started doing is carrying my plastic bucket containing washing soda with a squirt of washing up detergent and a scrubbing pad, round to each hive rather than leave it at the shed and walk back to it. This way ensures that I clean the hive tools and my nitrile gloves between each colony. If you think about it, you transfer so many harmful things like bacteria and chalkbrood spores from hive to hive if you don’t clean hands and tools. Another useful tool is a large bucket for collecting brace comb which is also an infection risk if dropped around the apiary. It can also incite robbing if some contains a bit of honey.

If you have never routinely used washing soda solutions as part of apiary hygiene, you make up 1kg washing soda crystals (sodium carbonate) to 5 litres water (or equivalent concentration in smaller volume). So long as it in this proportion it kills most known bacteria. You can find some additional information here on BeeBase: file:///C:/Users/ann/Downloads/Hive_Cleaning_and_Sterilisation%20(1).pdf

These newly assembled and painted lightweight hive stands are easy to carry around and I will use them for placing the upturned hive roof on when I start hive inspections and separate the boxes for inspection. It saves bending so far to the ground with boxes and reduces risk to backs.


I assessed all 8 colonies and placed a shallow super on all but 2 that are not yet strong enough. They are not ready to collect nectar from OSR and able to keep warm enough should it get cooler. Adding the super gives too much for a small brood nest to keep warm. 2 colonies are on old brood frames and I will do shook swarms to get them onto new foundation, and do swarm prevention at the same time. Will need to time that carefully.

How Long to Keep Queens?

This is a tricky one. We’re often told when we start beekeeping that queens can live several years, but in my experience they don’t perform well after 2 seasons, or even one season. Where I live the temperature is often not around the ideal mating temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, and the weather is even less favourable. The chances are many of our queens are poorly mated. I took my eye off the ball last summer and I’ve been caught out this season by letting a 2019 queen over winter. She has laid small partches of worker brood with drone brood on only 2 frames. With hindsight, which is a fine thing, I should have removed this queen and united the colony with another for winter. Hopefully, she will be superseded in the next few weeks.

The Best Swarm Ever!

Baiting the Bait Hives.

I’ve written about this in detail in a previous post but I’m getting the bait hives ready now. Along the road, less than a mile away a beekeeper has, this weekend, again placed his migratory hives to collect a crop of OSR honey. Last year, the best swarm ever flew in to my bait hive from that direction. The queen is prolific and these bees are out working when it is really cold. They were out in a snow flurry too.

However, having used some old fumigated comb in the bait hive I’ve concluded that that’s false economy because I need to do a shook swarm now to get them on fresh comb. So, I’m putting new foundation in all my bait hives and focussing on hygiene rather than economy.

Nature Notes.

Have you ever heard sap rising in a tree? I haven’t but I heard it dripping down from the top of a birch tree on a recent wood walk. I heard the noise of something rhythmically hitting dry leaves on the ground. On closer investigation I felt the drops of birch sap hit my head and was quite amazed. Perhaps a branch had broken off high up in a storm, or a woodpecker had bored a deep enough hole.

The red squirrel visits the garden on a daily basis and becomes bolder. He was in the background during an apiary inspection. When I left to visit the back apiary he shot up to collect nuts as fast as he could. I’d put some of the left over nuts from Christmas in the box to slow him down and give him some work for the reward. I imagined him tut tutting at the sight of an almond in its thick shell but I see the broken shell below.

I’ll be watching out for the first swallow arriving any day. Last year they arrived on 11th but this year has been so much colder with not many flies around till now.

20 thoughts on “First Inspections.”

  1. Yes I did my first of the year yesterday, Inverness. All good with my 5 hives.
    My best queen is a 2019er. She is going strong still. Lots of brood and a great pattern, hive full of bees and stores. (I did feed aggressively this year). Popped a super on three of the hives, no OSR here. It’s a good feeling to have come through the winter well and to be looking into and forward to a new season.
    Great blog, as usual, thank you.

    1. Good to hear, Stephen. I think that you are slighty warmer in the city, and maybe even better mating conditions there. It is amazing how our microclimates vary over the 15 miles between us.

  2. Thank you for the update, Ann. Yes my ‘cowpat’ swarm from last summer is going great guns in the double brood 6 frames/box poly nuc, too. In the autumn they had fondant in the feeders with both partitions removed as you showed us, then they had fondant on top of the frames, covered with one of the new Maisemore, thick, deep, poly roofs for the rest of the winter. I’ve put a double poly nuc about (40 litres of space) out, as a bait hive with a sachet of swarm lure, and 11 new frames with fresh foundation and one old frame with drawn comb in the top box. It is strapped to the top of the slated picnic table with the entrance facing south. That spot has worked twice before, so fingers crossed – as you said, nothing thrives as well as a good prime swarm – I guess it’s because they themselves chose the time and the population of the swarm. It will be great to hear if your bait hive gets a nice new colony to take up residence.

  3. Hi Ann, Very informative post. Also, interested in how you plan to cage the queen in July for 3 weeks as varroa control this year works out. Please do keep us posted.

  4. A good time of year indeed, all hope no stress as every problem can be fixed at this time of year.
    I always get the bait hives up early because that arrival of a colony and any swarm collection activities provide the most lasting memories for me. We don’t need the bees but there is always someone who does.

    1. Thank you for endorsing getting the bait hives up early, Tristan. People might not realise (unless they have read Tom Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy) that scouts go out searching for a new home a week or more before the swarm leaves the parent colony. I had bees sniffing round one of mine yesterday after rubbing some lemongrass just inside the entrance.

    1. Is is great that you have even a few in the south. The greys might have moved further north than Edinburgh but there are only reds to been seen up here. Cawdor Estates have clear-felled a large area of forest near here recently and I think that the squirrels are pushed for space perhaps. I actually think that they came to our garden when the oak first bore acorns (after over 30 years) 2 years ago. I saw one fleetingly then. Now I am concerned that our regular visitor may get run over by a car so may need to get a sign put up. He (I know this due to the way he was positioned round the bird feeder!) gave some passing children a lot of pleasure the other day when he climbed over our wall and bounded across the road towards the woods. I heard the children exclaim delightedly.

  5. Thank you, Ann, for reporting your observations on the differences between your three colonies that you established last summer with swarms, two put into polystyrene hives and one into a wooden hive. I am doing a similar expt this summer with matched colonies in either a standard wooden-wall hive or one that is the same but has 1.5″ (ca. 4 cm) of polystyrene foam added to the outsides of the hives’ walls. Will monitor growth, health, and survival of each colony for at least a year. It may be that hive insulation is something that we’ve neglected in recent years.

    1. I am so pleased to hear that you will do some scientific experiments, Tom. This must be one of the most important subjects at the moment, and one of the most misunderstood I should think. I am also interested to know how Robin Ratcliffe’s study of hives wrapped in woollen duvet style covers went?

  6. I love reading these articles. They are so useful for a would-be beekeeper! I have done a virtual course and am hoping to get some close up experience this season and start my own hives next year. We have had glorious weather over the weekend and I am sure that the bees have been out and about in our area. No OSR locally but plenty of dandelions and blossom.

    1. Hello Lucy, and welcome to Beelistener. Thank you for commenting positively about the usefulness of the articles for new beekeepers. You must be very excited about getting started with some hands-on practical beekeeping soon. You are a fine example of someone who respects the complexities of honey bees enough to learn as much you can before taking on the responsibility of a colony. I’m trying to reach a wide audience of beekeepers at all levels so my blogs vary somewhat in content, but please ask anything you need to know, or suggest a subject to cover.

      1. Ah, thank you Ann! I absolutely loved the course I did with a very well respected teacher but I realise that it is a big responsibility and I want to make sure that I am ready. Rob has given me the contact details for the local association so I will join that and hope to get to meet up with some local bee gurus to learn my skills! In the meantime, it is fabulous to read your articles and tune in to the ways of the bee! Thank you!

  7. Hi Ann
    I’m not sure your bait hives will be as attractive with just foundation. I usually put at least one older sterilised comb in my bait hives and make up with foundation as necessary. I have shook swarmed incoming swarms onto new foundation after a week or arrival and this has worked well (with a good feed to help them draw the wax)
    Great article again!
    Best Regards

    1. Hello Stuart, now there’s a thing I hadn’t thought of: shook swarm! Thank you. A great idea. I’m planning to cover shook swarms in a future blog as I shall be doing a couple soon. I will experiment with foundation only and with an old but fumigated comb in bait hives. Thank you for sharing your expertise. Best wishes, Ann.
      PS. I was given a couple of packets of swarm lures so maybe I need to experiment without them. Too late for this season as I’ve already added and positioned them.

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