Your First Hive Inspection in Alberta

So, its time for spring management? How do you know it is spring?

Well, in the human world you can tell by robins, little or no snow, warm sunny days, and maybe some sprouting crocuses! In bee world, it is very different! It comes much much sooner. Have a look at the chart below:

Brood production in Alberta beehives

Brood Production; “Beekeeping in Western Canada”

Your bees begin replacing dying older bees pretty early on in the season here in the norther Prairies. So just because it is cold outside, doesn’t mean that the bees aren’t keeping it toasty and warm in there. And we mean a toasty 35ºc in there. So here are some things to consider when you are getting in to your beehives first thing in the spring.

What are your goals for these inspections?

Anytime that you are entering a beehive, you should have a prepared goal or outcome planned ahead. You’re doing this so you are able to keep good notes (projections and real outcomes/observations) as well as your learning will grow dramatically. Critical thinking is essential in order to learn from the bees how they are doing, what they are doing, how they are engaging in nature, and lastly, always last, what you should be doing. OBSERVE BEFORE YOU ACT, PLAN BEFORE YOU MOVE ANYTHING. This will help a beginner beekeeper feel prepared and focused, but also help you stay ahead of your beehive so you aren’t chasing it up a tree this year.

So, what are some common goals in your early spring inspections?Goals are never unattainable!

  1. Is it time to enter the beehive?
  2. What am I looking for when I get in there?
  3. How am I going to manipulate the equipment and tools to do this job quickly and easily?
  4. Do I have everything I need to complete this task?

So, lets start in order:

  1. Is it time to enter the beehive?

This is a contentious one amongst beekeepers as there are lots of opinions. Here is how I judge when it is time to enter the beehive.

TOOMUCHSNOOOW!There are two principals that you MUST understand first: climate vs weather.

  • Climate is the average weather patterns in your area OVER TIME.
  • Weather is the current and projected weather events in your area

So, before I decide to enter a beehive, I am looking for the following

  • Night time climatic averages are around -5ºc
  • Weather is at a 7-10 day weather forecast averaging+12º

The length of time where you see good weather is important because once you open the beehive you are releasing the relative temperature and humidity from the beehive. Honey is a thermal insulator and helps the bees regulate temperature throughout the day and night: bees give off heat all day, the honey works as a heat sink, and then when temperatures drop, the honey gives heat back to the bees. When you open the hive you mess this all up. YOU MUST be sure to be working within a 7-10 day forecast timeline, at the very least, to ensure that your bees have time to re-regulate their beehive

2. What am I looking for when I get in there?

confused-faceYou very VERY first hive inspection in the spring should be short, quick, and to the point. You are not breaking apart boxes nor aggressively unwrapping. What you are checking in a very simple and easy way is: DO MY BEES HAVE ENOUGH FOOD? Look at the chart above, it is clear that if night time temps are around -5ºc that your bees are going to be producing some brood in there (quantity depends on the culture of the hive and how that society has decided to run its season: this has to do with breeding as well as general genetic characteristics that we are only beginning to understand as a human species). Brood eats brood food or bee bread, a strong mixture of pollen and honey.  Your bees will ramp up the rate of consumption during this time and can take down massive quantities of both food ingredients. So, you are going in the beehive to check and be sure that if a snow storm comes sits in your back yard for a couple of weeks, that your bees have enough food to feed their little ones. There is a lot of info about liquid feeding here, but really this is the time to have fondant ready (recipe), pollen substitute if you think you need it based off of your Fall notes of pollen loads, and even better, saved frames/combs of honey to switch out and replace in the top box of your bees.


          3. How am I going to manipulate the equipment and tools to do this job quickly and easily?

This is the easy part. All you need is your hive tool. You are going to:

  • Open your lid (langstroth and TBH beekeeping)
  • Observe your cluster (TBH you are going to feel the heat on the top bars to ID where your cluster is)
  • On the perimeter of the cluster you are going to slide your hive tool in to the top inch of the comb and cut in to it
  • Observe on your tool if honey is on your tool

If one bee has access to honey, the whole hive eats. Bees feed together and starve together; they are the perfect sharers! So, if you come up with empty/dry tools, then you know that your bees are light on honey. This is when you apply your feeding strategy. One or more of the following:

  • Replace empty comb with a honey filled one
  • Place your fondant or pollen patty (langstroth) above your cluster between your inner cover and the bees with wax paper side down. This will ease clean up later in the spring if the bees don’t take it all down.
  • TBH beekeeping, you will remove the front bar (left empty in the fall for ventilation) and peel one side of the wax paper off of your fondant and/or pollen patty. Wet the bare side with damp fingers and stick to the inner wall facing the entrance of the beehive.
  • Close the lid, replace the wraps.

HINT: I choose not to use smoke during these inspections as I prefer do disturb the cluster as little as possible. Also, smoking increases the bees behavior to gorge, and I don’t want them to over eat their sometimes meager food stores.

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