YOUR FIRST INSPECTION.
There are a lot of points to consider during this first inspection. What you do now can affect how your bees perform during the early part of the season.
What you need for each colony: – clean floor, brood box, crown board and a roof preferably scorched with a blow lamp and a few spare frames of drawn comb or foundation
Open up the hive starting at the end nearest to you and look at each frame carefully. We are looking to see if any stores are remaining. Are there eggs larvae and sealed brood in a regular pattern to indicate a laying queen? Are there any signs of disease – discoloured or distorted larvae, are the cappings of sealed brood a wet or a funny colour.
After you inspect each frame put it into your clean brood box.
This is a good time to remove old black combs and replace with clean. If you do a couple each year it will be to your advantage.
A colony with six frames of brood is good.
At this time of the year your colony has relatively few bees making queens easier to find. If she is not marked this is an ideal time to do it. A marked queen makes life so much easier if she has to be found in a hive boiling with bees showing signs of swarming.
PROBLEMS THAT YOU COULD FIND.
If you suspect any disease – box up and call for help.
DRONE LAYING QUEENS. This occurs when she has not been fully mated the previous season. You will see a regular laying pattern with one egg at the bottom of each cell, she will be seen going about her business in a normal way, but all the sealed larvae will have the characteristic drone cappings.
LAYING WORKERS. This occurs when the queen has died and the colony has become hopelessly queenless. One or more workers start laying unfertilized eggs which become drones. It is characterized by multiple eggs laid part way up the cell wall (a workers abdomen is not as long as a queens so cannot reach the cell bottom). The laying pattern is irregular and the cappings are again all characteristic drone shaped.
NO BROOD AT ALL. This will occur when the queen has recently died and laying workers have not started laying.
WHAT TO DO. Drone laying queens can be requeened, but getting hold of queens early in the season is not easy. Being early in the season, your colony will be at its weakest, so it is better to dispatch the queen and knock all the bees into a weak colony. Do the same with colonies that have no brood.
Laying workers are another problem entirely. A laying worker colony is quite happy in its own way and will resist the introduction of a new queen, so to dunk all the bees into a queen right colony could be counter productive – the laying workers possibly seeing off your queen.
The standard practice with laying workers is to knock all the bees off their combs in front of a strong colony and let them sort themselves out.
WEAK / STRONG COLONIES.
I am a great believer in equalizing colonies. Weak colonies are boosted and strong colonies are weakened reducing or delaying the swarming urge.
Colonies can be weakened or strengthened by taking combs of sealed brood from the strong and giving it to the weak.
Another way is to swap the positions of strong and weak colonies and let drifting do some equalizing for you.
If you have a drone laying queen or laying workers – food stores can be saved for later use. Combs with drone brood should be taken home for rendering alongside any black combs you have removed.
John Fuller. March 2020.