Earlier, I put up a series of posts on installing a package of bees in their hive. Once they’re in the hive, the beekeeper can breathe a sigh of relief, and start a regular schedule of inspections or check-ups to make sure they’re doing okay. We hope that the bees will accept the new hive, and that the new queen will be healthy and start laying eggs quickly, and that those eggs will develop into a lot of healthy bees, so the colony can grow. In the spring, it’s the beekeeper’s job to make sure the bees have everything they need to grow into a huge, strong colony as fast as possible.
Here’s a quick look at what this beekeeper does during an inspection in the spring.
Early in the year, and especially with a new package of bees, I need to make sure the bees have fresh sugar syrup, which provides a food source right inside the hive.
In an established colony, the bees might not need sugar syrup, because they would have stored honey to eat over the winter and on cold or rainy days. A new colony doesn’t have any food stored up, and if their first few days or weeks are cold or rainy, or they can’t find enough flowers in the early spring, they could starve before the weather changed.
Pollen is rich in protein, and bees feed it to their developing larvae, so it’s really important that they have enough, or the babies could go hungry. I buy pre-made pollen patties and store them in the freezer until I’m ready to put them in the hive. They’re strange, sticky, nasty-looking things, but bees eat them like candy. You can mix your own, and it’s less expensive, but it’s a terribly messy, sticky job. I tried it once, and I’m never going to try it again!
I put one on top of the frames, where the bees can get it easily. They’ll chew the waxed paper away as they start eating the patty.
Now that I know the bees have enough food, I need to check that the queen is healthy. However, finding one bee among all the others in the hive could take hours, and even if I do get a look at her, I won’t really know whether she’s healthy or not by looking. Fortunately, a good indicator of the queen’s health is looking at her eggs. Bee eggs hatch into larvae after 3 days, so if I can find eggs in the hive, that means she was there, and healthy enough to lay eggs within the last 3 days-and that’s good enough for me.
Eggs are a little hard to see, but they look a bit like tiny grains of rice stuck to the bottom of the cells. You usually only see them if you can tilt the frame at just the right angle on a sunny day, and look carefully. I have trouble taking photos of them while wearing a bee suit, but here’s a link where you can see a good picture. Penn State Entomology Photo Gallery
Now that the bees have food, and I know the queen is healthy, I’m ready to close the hive and go home. They should be fine for another week.