Being a good beekeeper is something that is hard to calculate. There are beekeepers who “know” everything, but seem to hear little when it comes to the beekeepers themselves, and there are beekeepers who depend on being guided and told what to do before they act. Then there are all sorts in between. A lack of knowledge or confidence is not a sign of a lack of skills or intelligence. What defines a good beekeeper, in our opinion, is the willingness to explore, learn, and investigate the goings on in their colonies. But doing this can be challenging when not knowing what questions to ask!
So here are some guiding principals in beehive inspections that I recommend. If you can have all 5 of these answers questions or documented. your job us: OBSERVING ABNORMALITY
2. Brood Pattern?A healthy brood pattern should look like a patchwork quilt. This is because the queen will lay her eggs in a concentric cycle, allowing for the eggs laid at the same time to hatch at the same time, and keep a feeding schedule with the new nurse bees. Many if not most hive diseases affect honey bee brood and is expressed in the larval bodies, or visible through the vacancies of the brood pattern. The worker bees will remove sick or dead larva from their cells. Seeing abnormal brood patterns can directly inform you of disease or failing queens.
3. Queen Replacement?
Knowing what a queen cell looks like is important. If you don’t know what a queen cell looks like, google image it, and get comfortable with it. It is also very important that if you see queen cells, that you are able to distinguish the difference between Swarm, Supercedure, and Emergency queen cells. other blog link. If you see signs of queen replacement, you need to be proactive on swarm suppression, requeen, or allow for the colony to requeen.
4. Increase or Decrease?
Knowing where you are in the beekeeping season is essential. Some management practices should not be taken underway during periods specific to increase or decrease. Increase and decrease are measured by the brood rearing taking place within the colony. This is mapped in your note taking by always counting the number of frames of brood found within the colony.
The increase period are all periods from when brood is bring produced leading up to the peak of the summer flow. (link to understanding flows here). The decrease period is all that is happening to the colony after the peak of the summer flow. This means that if you colony is not matching the expectation of the bell curve season, that you may be running in to queen or disease issues and measures should be taken to support hive growth and mitigate against collapse and or failure.
If you do not have healthy increase, your colony runs the risk of not having enough foragers to maximize nectar collection for winter food stores. All colonies should meet this bell curve profile unless management practices were taken to restrict this growth: creating splits, naturally requeening, or known ailments that are being managed for.
Whether you are aware or not of the disease that is ailing your bees is not as important as knowing that you have abnormality and are inquisitive. I recommend that all beekeepers uncap or remove 20 brood cells every inspection. This not only strengthens your relationship with the pupation and larval cycles of your colony. The more familiar you are with healthy brood, the more familiar you are with observing abnormality. So, as we say, “if you don’t know what you are looking at, POKE AT IT”. The bees will forgive your murderous ways as like in life, you are just taking a small sample to ensure that the whole hiveBODY survives. You are a doctor doing a test every time. So take your time, look closely at your brood nest, and get to know your bees at all stages of development. It will pay off over time.
If you are able to maintain beehives and apiary records, you are best able to learn, grow, and expand your understanding in the management of bees. Without notes, you will be surprised to learn how quickly you forget. Get in your hives, poke around, and take notes. It is the best way to become a great beekeeper.