Hive inspection: 19 July 2016

This time of the year can be hard for bees–we’re  enjoying the results of their work earlier in the year but there’s not a lot for them to tote back to the hive to store in preparation for winter right now. As a beekeeper, dripping sweat in feels-like 97ºF temperatures, it can be a bit difficult to realize the ladies in the hive are in the midst of preparing for winter, or that while we enjoy plenty they are in a dearth of nectar and pollen–that bees can starve at this time of the year if the beekeeper is not keeping up with what the colony needs.

hive addedThis was a routine inspection as, from the outside, both hives appear to be doing well, judging by traffic in and out though not much pollen seems to be carried into either hive. But that’s expected at this time of the year while we’re waiting for asters and goldenrod to bloom.

Although I can see the effect of the dearth with less brood, Rosemarinus colony has almost a full super of honey that is capped. My intention for that box was for cut-comb honey until the ladies declared it partly a brood box. Now there is only a very narrow band of drone brood on the lower edge of the center frames and the areas where brood had been are being filled with pollen and nectar. I was hoping to snatch a couple of the lateral frames for cut-comb honey even this late in the season but the girls have decided to put pollen there so I won’t take those frames now. (Learning experience for beekeeper!). I’m happy to see that much honey and pollen stored at this time of the year. Though I still haven’t seen that queen, I do see evidence that she’s doing what queens are supposed to do–brood in all stages and lots of workers also doing their thing.

Salvia hive (from the swarm earlier in the year) has grown well over the summer–lots of bees. Since I saw brood in all stages I didn’t spend a lot of time searching for the queen, but feel sure that this colony is queenright. The fourth box on this hive had been intended as a honey super so I had put a queen excluder on; the ladies seem to be reluctant to start drawing comb above it. They simply propolized it down to the top of the frames below. I removed it once I managed to free it from all the propolis and hope they will use it to store more honey for the winter. I’ll have to go back into the hive when the fall nectar flow starts to make sure that they are using those frames for honey storage. This hive also had capped honey and what appeared to me to be reasonable pollen stores for this time of year.


I’m so happy to see that both colonies appear to be in fine fettle for this time of year. I’ll put sugar syrup feeders on both hives today even with the honey stores that I saw because we are now in a dearth. When the aster and goldenrod come into bloom I’ll quit feeding until that bloom is over. I just don’t want the bees to have to use the current honey and pollen stores for survival right now. Those need to be saved for wintertime.

I also noticed (thanks to two stings while working the hive) that the girls are a bit testier than usual. After some research on one of my favorite beekeeping websites (Honey Bee Suite) I found a list of things that may make bees more aggressive. Among the things listed were nectar dearth, heat and high humidity, and rainy weather–all of which have been present in the last few days–and two present  right now.  The ground around my hives was definitely wet from the rain of the last few day and the dew point was in the 70s.

I guess I should be grateful that I got only two stings from the ladies! I’m sure I was grumpier after working for several hours in the heat and humidity, so I can understand theirs though I don’t care for the way in which they choose to communicate it to me.



The lingo of the hive

20160528_163841_001It has finally soaked into my brain that I keep babbling on about “boxes”, “supers”, and frames–without much explanation so I’ll try to remedy that.  The hives (that is the woodenware or structure) is made up of a number of structures stacked vertically in layers. If you look closely, you’ll see that the hive on the left  (which is Rosemarinus–how else would a cook name hives?) has five “layers” sitting on a wooden base. Salvia (on the right) has only three layers right now (a new one added just today).  The hives that you see here are Langstroth (after the inventor)–a very commonly used vertical hive. The hive is made up of several parts. Let’s start from the bottom and work up.

Note: All the images of hive parts are from the Bailey Bee Supply website since my components are all in use.  The photographs of bees and in-use components are from my hives (bought from Bailey Bee Supply). Since many of the pictues seem to have disappeared, I’m adding a simple diagram that’s labeled.

Related imageThe wooden base with a sloped area (at the entrance) on the very bottom of the hive is a landing board to help the bees get into and out of the hive easily. It’s kind of a landing pad and place to taxi for takeoff.

Obviously, the hive needs a “floor” of some sort; on top of the landing board and frame we use a “bottom board”.  Clever terminology, huh?  In this hot climate for ventilation and to help control pests that like to hang around the hive, I use a screened bottom board–hardware cloth that is a small enough mesh that the bees cannot go through it. The white grid you see slides out so that the screen is open–it’s used to do maintenance things like mite counts when we need to assess for Varroa destructor infestation.

Now for the business parts of the hive. We build layers of “boxes” for various functions of the colony (that refers to the bees living in the hive). We add as many boxes as the colony needs to rear brood and to store honey so hives can be tall.  (The upper layer is just at shoulder height for me, filled with honey, so it weighs about 40 pounds.)


A box is just a wooden structure. We refer to them by different names depending on what the bees are using them for: brood boxes are where the queen lays eggs and the nurse bees rear new bees. Usually, the lower two or three boxes on the hive tower are used this way and we call those brood boxes or brood chambers. That huge open space is not very functional for bees to build tidy comb so we put in dividers: frames on which the bees build comb.


Here is a box filled with frames. Each frame is a wooden (or plastic) frame (like a picture frame without a picture in it). In order to help the bees be neat and tidy, we supply them with something to start building comb: a foundation–a base on which to build (draw) comb.  This can be a sheet of beeswax, or plastic (coated with beeswax). You see a frame with wax foundation tipped up at the back of the box.

Bees are constantly rearing new brood–in the summer when work is hard the lifespan of a bee is about six weeks. So the lowest three boxes on my hives are brood chambers. The frames there are filled with comb into which the queen deposits one egg is each cell. To keep the housework simple, honey and pollen needed for brood rearing are stored around the edges of each frame.

5 middle outer

Above is a frame that I’ve pulled out of the brood chamber for inspection. (It’s actually being held upside down as I’m rotating it to look at both sides–so the bottom of the frame actually appears at the top of the photograph.) The darker, golden brown comb that you see (and the area under the cluster of bees) is where the queen has laid eggs, which turn into larvae, and then into pupae. The bees here are nurse bees–they are feeding the larvae. This is a pretty typical brood frame.  An area at the bottom of the frame in an arc contains the brood. Around the ends and the upper edge of the frame is stored honey and pollen used to maintain the colony. The cells containing honey are covered with wax–“capped”.

6th middle outer

This frame is held right-way-up. You can see the brood area. Near the bottom center you see the golden brown cells that now have been covered with wax. These are what we beekeepers call “capped brood”–and contain maturing pupae–which will emerge from the cells to begin their working life. Again around the edge is capped honey. Now you have a general idea of the brood chambers. Hives will always have brood chambers. Now we come to another section of the hive–the honey storage part.

The term “super”–is the beekeeper way of saying that we have put boxes with frames above (over or superior to, thus “super”) over the brood chambers for the bees to use for honey storage–some of which we will take away for honey harvest.


bees on frame of honey


The frame above is from the “super”–the box over the brood chamber where there is only honey storage–no brood rearing. The wax here is lighter in color since it hasn’t been used for brood rearing–this is the good edible stuff that can be used for comb honey, or have the honey extracted (by centrifugation) and the comb (wax) returned to the bees to fill again.

Many of the cells here have already been covered with wax–sealed for storage after dehydration so that it won’t ferment. At the bottom center, you can see some open cells–uncapped cells–that still need to have water evaporated from the nectar for it to become honey. Now you know about supers as well as brood chambers.

inner cover

inner cover

Now our bee house (hive) needs a ceiling and a roof. The ceiling is the inner cover.  It helps to control heat in the hive, and allows us to use feeders if needed during the cooler weather or when not many thing are blooming or to get through the winter. (Yes–we do sometimes need to feed our bees.)



cropped-20160202_1347541.jpgFinally, we come to the “roof”–which in bee lingo is a “telescoping cover” or “outer cover”. We call it “telescoping” because it can slide forward or backward to allow ventilation through the hive in hot weather or to allow a top entrance for bees to enter and exit the hive. This is a basic, no frills, functional hive roof–what you see on my hives.


As beekeepers we need to “inspect” the colony. That means that we look inside the hive to see if all is going well: the queen is laying eggs, to make sure that there is not some nasty disease in the colony, to see how much pollen and honey is stored.

inner cover

For an inspection we disassemble the hive into its parts and we pull at least some of the frames and look at both sides of them–to see if the honey is capped, and if the larvae look healthy, et cetera.

You start the inspection by removing the telescoping cover and the inner cover–after using some smoke to let the girls know that you are going to invade their home.

Here is my hive with the “roof” removed–and looking down on the “ceiling” or inner cover. You can see that you start encountering the welcoming committee right away. Once you remove the inner cover (below) you can see the frames in the boxes–and the girls going about their business. They’re going to be walking and flying around all the time you are inspecting the colony, but they don’t sting unless you injure them. (They die when they sting, so it’s a last resort for them.) But they are curious, and will explore so a veil is a necessity during an inspection.

lower body


Now when you look at first photograph, I hope you can find the parts of the hive at bit better. Rosemarinus (on the left) has three brood chambers and two supers. If it’s a very productive season, I may need to add one or two more supers. One of the supers on Rosemarinus is for comb honey so can remove it when the girls have filled it and give them an empty one to go to work on.

Salvia (on the right) has only brood chambers right now. I’ll be keeping a close watch on it to see when they need to have a super put on so there’s plenty of place for them to stash the sweet stuff–some for them for the winter, and some for me.


Hive report: 28 May 2016

I woke up to pleasant, sunny weather this morning–so I made a beeline (sorry, but I just had to put that in) for the hives.

I was feeling really pressured to inspect Salvia (the hive on the left) to see if I needed to add another honey “super”–another box with frames and foundation. My inspection was abbreviated as soon as I got the inner cover off and pulled out one of the side frames. Bees don’t really “like” to work the side frames in a box, so those are often empty or light. This one wasn’t it was a good three pounds with both sides drawn into comb and being filled with honey and pollen.Looking between the other 7 frames it was obvious that the girls had been very busy. I needed to make a trip to Bailey Bee Supply on a pretty urgent basis–this colony was started from the swarm from Rosemary. Since this was a long holiday weekend, and the weather is a bit uncertain with a tropical depression heading out way and I certainly didn’t want these girls to decide that the hive wasn’t big enough and decide to go live somewhere else. I closed the hive back up, leaving the feeder (which was 20160528_163841_001empty) off and moved on to check out Rosemary.

Rosemary (on the left) hive was inspected much more recently, so I just removed the top honey super on top–all 40 pounds of it–and pulled some of the frames in the super that is for comb honey. It looks as if the colony size is increasing now that the queen is laying. The bees have started drawing comb and storing honey on the center frames of that box now the queen excluder (which was almost entirely closed off with propolis) has been removed and the colony is growing rapidly. I closed that hive quickly so that I could make it to the bee store before they closed at 2 p.m.

After my dash to Hillsborough, I came back and gave the girls in Salvia some more room to stash honey on nice tidy frames instead of building extra comb on the base of the feeder–I think they were definitely feeling crowded.

Normally I’d give them more room when they had used 5 or 6 of the 8 frames in the box, but these girls had been so industrious that they were already close to filling all 8 of the frames. Looking in the hive today made me realize how fast they can fill a super with honey. I was a little late adding the super–I’m just glad I wasn’t too late.

Hive report: 15 May 2016

Happiness! My large colony, Rosemarinus, that produced a swarm on 24 March 2016 is now queenright.

Finally, a day with conditions that didn’t make opening the hive to do a major inspection of the colony traumatic for either the ladies of the hive or for me! It was just a bit cooler than I would have liked–the temperature 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with a bit of wind–about 5 mph. The local weather report was cooler than that but the hive was in a sunny location and I decided that I really needed to know if the colony had successfully reared a queen. So I opened the hive today and took a good look inside.

20160116_pupae and burr comb_134800Although I didn’t lay eyes on the queen, it was obvious that she was in there somewhere doing her thing. There was lots of brood in an excellent pattern. There was brood in all stages, but what seemed alike an incredible amount of capped brood.

Though the population was down from the last time I opened the hive, I suppose that is to be expected after the queenless period.  Even so, it seems to be a good strong hive with lots of bees. I’m not experienced enough to tell if the population decrease it what would be expected under those circumstances or if there was a small secondary swarm. What I do know is that the colony is now queenright.

The girls weren’t making much headway on the comb honey super that I put on the hive yet. I moved it down on the hive and placed the super full of capped honey on to. That was an experience–hefting that full super up to shoulder height! It makes me think more seriously that the next hive will be a horizontal Langstroth with the kind of set up that allows honey supers to be put on top. I now know just how heavy an 8-frame honey-fill super really is. Not complaining, just observing.

I’ve now had my third beesting  (note only my third) since I started working with the bees at the end of July last year. I’m still not wearing gloves to work the hive. Every sting that I’ve had has been because I’ve managed to put my finger down on a bee. I still think I’ve lucked out and gotten some good genetics in this colony again.

Yes, I’m happy! Rosemarinus has a queen–even though I haven’t actually seen her, and she is not marked. That’s for next inspection.



Hive Report: 13 April 2016

Though not as warm as I’d wished, and much windier than I liked, I thought it was hive inspection time again. Amidst errands and indexing work, I opened both hives on the 13th.

quad feeder base on inner coverSalvia was quick and easy. The queen was in there doing her thing and easily found since she was marked when she arrived here last summer. I found brood in all stages as well as honey and pollen. Looking good but since this is a small colony I’m feeding them. I removed the Miller hive top feeder which I find difficult to handle if there is any syrup still in it (and it seems that there inevitably is). I replaced that with the hive top feeder that I got from Brijean Acres Apiary after a Facebook friend told me how well she like that type of feeder. It sits on the inner cover and holds four quad feeder with jars in placesmall-mouth mason jars. Since my hives are just outside my front door, I can check feed often, so this feeder works well for me. I’m feeding that colony 1:1 sugar syrup with Honey-B-Healthy. (Though they are doing some foraging they are still taking the syrup. When they quit taking it, I’ll quit feeding.)


Rosemarinus was quite a project–three medium hive bodies, two medium honey supers, and then the one honey super for cut comb honey. This inspection of the hive was to check the queen cells and look for a new queen.

That hive still seems to have an incredible number of bees even after that swarm which was small. It was so windy with gusts that made it difficult to use the smoker. Just getting the girls to move so that I could pick up frames by the ends without smooshing bees was difficult. I was wishing for frame grips when I had to resort to picking up some of the frames in the middle.

I didn’t get a full inspection of the two very heavy honey supers but on earlier inspections, there was no brood in them. I did inspect the three medium hive bodies frame by frame. The swarm happened on 24 March. When I looked in the hive on 31 March, there were some queen cells and some brood. On this inspection, I found no eggs, larvae or capped brood but there were open queen cells. Some looked as if they had been opened from the side. I hope that is a sign that there is a queen lurking in the hive, and I just didn’t have a good enough eye to find her. I saw one closed queen cell that I left in place since I didn’t find a queen.

I’m getting a bit antsy since that same day I saw a group of bees (about the size of the original swarm) flying around quite a distance from the hive. They eventually went back to the hive, and I haven’t had bees collected on the outside of the hive as I did with the original swarm. I saw a good example of a virgin queen at our last DCBA meeting so I’m sure that I might well not have seen a queen even if she were in the hive.  Once I do find her, she will get mark so that it’s easier to find her amongst all the other bees.

Now I have to wait. Not patiently, but wait to see if the colony is going produce their own queen or do I need to purchase one from a supplier. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the colony will (maybe even already has) provide a queen–these seem to be very gentle, productive girls. I like that!


Hive check: 01 April 2016

This was my first inspection, though a very quick one, of the new colony in Salvia. The bees are drawing comb on wax and on plastic foundation. Queen (Salem) seen on a lateral frame. Conditions really not optimal for a detailed inspection–as the sunshine quickly disappeared as clouds rolled in and it got much windier. The light wasn’t good for visualizing eggs in the cells, but I THINK I did see some in cells near the queen. I didn’t inspect all the frames with capped brood.

Conditions were really not optimal for a detailed inspection–as the sunshine quickly disappeared as clouds rolled in and it got much windier. (With gusts you could see the bees clinging onto the comb–not a good time to have the queen out in the open.) The light wasn’t good for visualizing eggs in the cells, but I THINK I did see some in cells near the queen. I didn’t inspect all the frames with capped brood.

I now know that the split is on its way!

Love my Hive Tracks Beekeeping software!

Hive inspection 29 Feb 2016

IMG_8958It’s a lovely, sunny (but slightly breezy) almost 70-degree day, fit for a hive inspection to do a recheck on the queen cells noted on the 21st and to go into the bottom body to assess brood. I was fortunate to have friends–aka “bee buddies” to lend extra hands and eyes. So there are a few pictures of the queen cells and (unfortunately) of the two varroa mites that we saw.

There is lots of activity in and out of the hive. It appears that the girls are finding pollen–a rainbow coming in ranging from cream, greenish-white, bright yellow, to deep golden yellow. The pollen baskets are better filled today. There were drones out and about today too.

Happily, the queen cells are still open and without egg or larvae–which makes me a happy beekeeper. Although there was some capped brood in the lower body, there is not enough capped brood to do a split, but lots of nectar and pollen stored.  I have to wonder if they were not slightly honey bound.

I did place a new super with wax foundation for the girls to expand into so that the queen has more room to lay–so that I can get enough brood to do a split in a month or so. It’s a relief to find those queen cells still vacant today.  I’ll be hoping that they are still vacant in a week because we have some more cold weather forecast.

The girls have demolished five pounds of fondant in the past week, and given the forecast, I guess I’ll need to supply more food for that period, but since we still have some nighttime temperatures hovering close to, or slightly below, freezing it seems a little premature to start syrup yet. Now the question is do I buy more fondant or do I try one of the techniques for feeding granulated sugar.

I got my first look at varroa mites–two of them–on one bee today. Even with the video of last week’s inspection and looking at lots more bees today we saw only two. It’s time for me to get out the sticky board and also to do a sugar roll to get a better idea of the mite population.