Spring is a thrilling season for beekeepers, as it marks the time when hives start buzzing with life again. However, this is also the time when hives are most vulnerable to disease, pests, and other issues that can negatively affect the colony. That’s why it’s important to conduct a spring inspection to assess the overall health of your hives.
During the inspection, you should pay special attention to the amount of pollen and brood in the hive. Pollen is essential for the bees’ health and is used as a protein source to feed the brood. If there is not enough pollen in the hive, the brood may not develop properly, leading to weaker bees. On the other hand, an excess of pollen may indicate that the hive is experiencing a pollen flow, which is a good sign.
Similarly, brood is a good indicator of the hive’s overall health. The brood pattern should be consistent and dense, with few empty cells. If you notice any irregularities, such as spotty brood or drone brood in worker cells, this may indicate a problem that needs to be addressed.
Another important aspect of spring inspection is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This approach involves using a variety of methods to control pests and diseases, such as monitoring and prevention, cultural practices, biological control, and, as a last resort, chemical control. By practicing IPM, you can help maintain the health of your hives while minimizing the use of harmful chemicals.
Overall, conducting a spring inspection can help ensure the success of your hives throughout the season. By paying attention to the amount of pollen and brood in the hive, as well as practicing IPM, you can promote the overall health of your bees and feel confident in your ability to manage them.
Spring inspection is an essential practice in beekeeping that helps you identify the condition of your colony and prepare it for the upcoming season. Apart from pollen and brood, it is also crucial to check for any diseases that might affect the health of your bees. Varroa mites and Nosema are two common diseases that beekeepers need to be aware of, and here are some considerations for their identification and management:
Varroa mites are external parasites that feed on the hemolymph of honey bees and can weaken or kill the colony if left untreated. The presence of varroa mites can be identified by checking the bottom board of the hive for fallen mites, which can be done during spring inspection. You can also perform a sugar roll test or alcohol wash to estimate the mite population in your colony.
If varroa mites are identified, beekeepers should consider implementing an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan to manage the infestation. This can include the use of mechanical methods such as screened bottom boards, drone brood trapping, or using sticky boards to remove mites. Chemical treatments can also be used as a last resort, but it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure that the treatment does not harm the bees or contaminate the hive products.
Nosema is a microscopic fungus that affects the digestive system of honey bees and can lead to dysentery and reduced lifespan of the bees. The presence of Nosema can be identified by inspecting the hive for signs of dysentery, which includes brownish-yellow stains on the outside of the hive or around the entrance.
If Nosema is identified, beekeepers can consider implementing an IPM plan that includes good hygiene practices, such as regular cleaning of the hive and equipment, and feeding the bees with sugar syrup or pollen patties to boost their immune system. Fumagillin is an antibiotic that can be used to treat Nosema, but it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and ensure that the treatment does not harm the bees or contaminate the hive products.
Have a look at this generalized chart that Randy Oliver created from data collected by Lloyd Harris. It’ll help you visualize the growth pattern of brood:
How does this data help me going into a hive inspection?
First of all, I recommend that you aren’t doing these maneuvers of comb until you have:
- Climatic averages: Nighttime around -9c
- Weather average: 14 day forecast of +9c
Do you see that a majority of your bees right now (March-early May) are OLD LADIES (aka winter duitinus bees)? They are working really hard to tend to brood and to care for the next generation of summer bees, all of the babies that will become the spring foraging bees, capable of nursing future brood for good spring build-up and healthy summer bees.
During this time, pollen consumption is on the increase because of brood development. This is the ideal situation. You want as much brood development in your hive for:
- Succession: replace winter bees with summer bees
- Wax collection: you need bees to produce wax during dandelion flow
- Foraging: you need bees available to gather nectar and pollen during the dandelion flow
- Increased resiliency to disease: due to a large number of well-fed, healthy future workers
- Queen viability: ensures a hive has a healthy queen or increases the number of eggs for the workers to build a future queen out of if she fails
Integrated Pest Management and Varroa Mite Sampling
You should also be checking your hive’s mite load during this inspection.
1. Sticky Bottom Board
This is the best way to sample entire colony. Cover a white piece of heavy white card stock with Vaseline and slide into the hive on top of the bottom board. As mites fall or are removed from bees they will stick to the board. Leave board in hive for 72 hours (divide that number by 3 to get your 24 hour mite drop count), remove and count number of mites. More than 8 indicates that mites/24 hour interval = levels are beyond the normal threshold. Ideally a beekeeper will keep doing this throughout the Spring and Fall months to trap mites, but also to keep an eye on mite population changes and to aid in making decisions on potential management (treatment) choices.
2. Oxalic Acid Dribbling and Fumigation
If you want to learn all about how to manage mites with oxalic acid fumigation and dribbling techniques, watch the Honey Bee Health Coalition video:
3. Formic Acid Fumigation using Mite Away Quick Strips
If you want to learn all about how to manage mites with formic acid fumigation, watch the Honey Bee Health Coalition video: