Beginning Beekeeping: Inspecting Bee Hives

~by Tammy Taylor~

Welcome back to the Beginning Beekeeping Series.  We’re still NewBEES but there are many who are interested in raising bees, so we’ve been asked to blog about our experience.  I’ve written about the beekeeping preparation steps that were necessary before we ever obtained our first bees in this Preparation Post, and I’ve written another post about what to do when you actually Obtain your Bees, so if you haven’t read those posts be sure to check them out.  But now that we have our bees we know you don’t just put ’em out there & let them do their thing…  There’s a rhythm to tending to the hives to assure a healthy, thriving, productive hive.

We have the hives, we have the bees - what's next? Come with us as we inspect the inside of the bee hives! #TaylorMadeHomestead

Observing New-Hive Activity

RancherMan visually checks the activity at the hives each day by standing outside the bee pen that we’ve sectioned off for the hives.  He watches the bee’s activity at the hive, but he doesn’t disturb the bees or their hives during these daily visual inspections.  He’s using this visual inspection time to compare general activities of each hive.  Do both hives look to be active?  Are many bees coming & going from each hive?  Are there any stark differences between the two hives’ activities?

We have the hives, we have the bees - what's next? Come with us as we inspect the inside of the bee hives! #TaylorMadeHomestead

Feeding Your Bees

Especially when your hive is new the bees may need a little help with feeding by adding feeders filled with 1 part water to 1 part sugar.  The feeder seemed to be emptied about every 5 days so RancherMan would refill the feeder as it was emptied.   We loved the external feeder for the ease of refilling and monitoring the feed levels but found external jar feeders leaked so bad that they attracted ants – we didn’t like that at all.  We removed the external jar feeder from the entrance of the hives and RancherMan placed one of the jar feeders on a plastic lid on a cinder block about 10-ft away.  It’s a community feeder and both hives use it but so far it hasn’t caused any problems.  When it leaks enough to attract ants, RancherMan will move it to the next cinder block.  We’ll continue using this method of feeding until we expand the hives.  Then because we’re placing another box and frames on top of the existing hives we’ll be able to use internal feeders instead.  We’ll compare results and decide which works best for our hives.

Weekly Physical Hive Inspection

We’ve read that it’s best not to disturb the hive unless you’re doing a physical inspection.  From what we’re learning at our beekeepers seminars & association meetings, it’s fairly typical for beekeepers to inspect the inside of new hives about once a week to check the health of the hive. (some beekeepers go into the hives more often, some less often but a week is typical)  During these inspections you’ll be answering these questions:

  • Do you see any hive beetles or Varroa mites?  If so, now is the time to start taking action to assure they don’t compromise the health of your hive.
  • Is the queen active & present?  The queen is larger and pretty easy to detect.
  • What are the stages of the larvae (baby bees)?
  • Are new cells being formed and eggs still being laid?
  • How much comb is being drawn on the new frames?

You’re basically checking the health & growth of the hive.  Now although there are all manner of beekeeping apparel available, RancherMan’s typically comfortable with heavy jeans, a long-sleeve shirt worn OVER a short-sleeve tucked-in for double layering, leather boots, beekeeper’s gloves and beekeeper’s veil.  We’ve been told to ALWAYS wear the veil since bee stings in an eye can be very dangerous.

When inspecting the hive it’s best to wait until middle of the day when they’re all out foraging.  It’s common to smoke the hive before opening up the boxes to distract the bees.  Smoking the hive makes the bees believe there’s a fire close by so they go into a frenzied feeding mode to prepare themselves for this hardship, so you don’t want to get into/smoke the hive any more often than you have to.

We have the hives, we have the bees - what's next? Come with us as we inspect the inside of the bee hives! #TaylorMadeHomestead

Keeping A Bee Journal

Since we’re still NewBEES, RancherMan likes to keep a journal of his observations.  He can compare notes from this inspection vs last inspection and see any trends or growth at a glance.  His bee journal shows:

Expansion Of Your Hive

It’s important during these weekly inspections inside the hives to determine the appropriate time to place another deep box with frames on a full hive.  If the bees have filled up all their current frames with brood and comb, they’ll start looking for a place to expand and oftentimes that means they’ll swarm.  When they swarm they will take the queen and go look for another place to live – that’s a losing proposition for a beekeeper that has spent time & money to purchase & care for his own bees.  A second box with frames allows them room to expand and reduces the chances of swarming, as well as an opportunity to grow the hive with more brood, more bees, and of course more HONEY!

More often than not you’ll determine after your hive inspection that all is fine.  If so, you’ll carefully close the hive and leave them to their bee bzzzzzness.

~TMH~

C’mon by & sit a spell!  Come hang out at our ~TMH~ Facebook Page – it’s like sitting in a front porch rocker with a glass of cold iced tea – lots of good folks sharing!  You can also follow along on Pinterest, Twitter or GooglePlus. If you’d like to receive an email each time a new blog post goes live it’s EASY to Subscribe to our blog!

 

BEGINNING BEEKEEPING SERIES:

(All Beekeeping Posts Can Be Found HERE)

 

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23 thoughts on “Beginning Beekeeping: Inspecting Bee Hives

  1. Beth

    What great info for someone interested in starting to keep bees. I wonder if we’re allowed to have them in our city? Thanks for sharing with Simply Natural Saturdays.

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      I remember going garage-saleing in west Texas and one of the houses we stopped at was selling honey from their own hives. They asked if we wanted to see and took us into their backyard to see the hives they had set up right against the house. Love it! ~TMH~

      Reply
  2. Katy SkipTheBag

    Hubby and I are interested in bees, but not quite ready to take the pluge ourselves. There is a class we can take locally to learn more, but haven’t take it yet. Thanks for posting this on #sustainablesunday and providing this insight into beekeeping.

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      We started going to classes months before we got our bees Katy, it’s so good you have some local options for them. Living out here we had to trek to various places to glean our education, and we’re still learning! ~TMH~

      Reply
  3. Jamie

    Very nice and informative article, with great pictures to boot! My husband and I are hoping to get bees next year. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      OMGosh this beekeeping endeavor has been surprisingly fulfilling, Jamie. When I go to the garden & see all the pollination going on I assume those are OUR girls doin’ their thing! ~TMH~

      Reply
  4. Sherry Legan

    Very interesting. I just heard about ‘renting’ bee’s. Who would have thought? Not me. Thanks for linking at The Art of Homemaking. I always enjoy visiting you! Come over and see me at My Journey Back-the Journey Back!

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      Me too Sherry – who’d have thought?? And they typically pay you with HONEY??!! Yes please! ~TMH~

      Reply
  5. Jessica Quinn

    We extracted honey for the third time last weekend! Beekeeping really is amazing and I love your beekeeping journal idea. We might have to start doing that.

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      I can’t wait until we finally get to harvest our first honey, Jessica. I’m hearing it won’t be until at least the 2nd year. ~TMH~

      Reply
  6. Ifeoma Samuel

    Very very educative….you have made a chapter of a book already. I love the journal idea. It makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Hugs and blessings to you

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      It’s a fun endeavor for us and we’re learning so much as we go along. ~TMH~

      Reply
  7. Bill

    Just checked in on our hive yesterday and was pleased to see that they’re doing fine. Keeping bees used to be much simpler than it is now. When we started out years ago all we really had to do was collect the honey once or twice a year. But with the coming of varroa mites and CCD now it’s hard to keep them alive. I’m grateful for posts like this and folks who take the time to share wisdom. There’s a lot at stake!

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      That’s what I’m hearing too Bill. We’re researching various ways to treat varroa, we’re thinking of using the thymol crystals since it was the highest recommendation from the USDA research. What are you using? Would you recommend it? We’d like to stay as natural as possible but realize that we’ll need to move up the ladder if natural doesn’t keep ’em in check. I’d love to hear what other beekeeper’s experiences are! ~TMH~

      Reply
  8. Connie

    Bees are so interesting and so important. Thanks for being a caretaker to the worlds future. I admire you 🙂

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      What a sweet thing to say, Connie. RancherMan is certainly pumped about these hives, and we’re already making plans to expand to another hive soon. ~TMH~

      Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      It’s been super fun so far raising these bees – I can’t WAIT until we finally get to taste that first honey, although I’m hearing we may have to wait until next year for that. ~TMH~

      Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      We’re learning so much Laurinda but from what I’m hearing the learning will be ongoing as long as we raise bees! I hope to be able to share what we do with our bees for others to learn from, but each beekeeper adapts the procedures to what works best for them. Knowledge is power! ~TMH~

      Reply
  9. ColleenB.~Texas

    Busy as a Bee they say. :} Interesting article Tammy Sent your link to a couple of guys down Houston way who also has bees and thought they just might be interested in reading about your adventures and set up.

    Reply
    1. Taylor-Made Homestead Post author

      Yes indeed Colleen! You’re so dang sweet, thanks for forwarding the link along to your friends in Houston. We’re learning so much as we get hands-on and it’s been quite a ride so far. ~TMH~

      Reply

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