First Hive Inspection & Lessons Learned

In case any other beginner beekeepers (from now on I will be calling these “beeks”) happen across my blog, I will be doing hive inspection “post-mortems” or “lessons learned.” This post will include opening up the hive after installation in order to wire the queen cages to the top bars, as well as removing the queen cages. I will be making these rather detailed for my own learning.


Timeline:

  • Friday @ 10:15 AM – picked up bees
  • Friday @ 11:30 AM – installed bees
  • Friday @ 4:00 PM – went into hives to wire queens to a top bar
  • Monday @ 9:30 AM – hive inspection to remove queen cages, check feeders, and see if any comb had been drawn

Friday

If you’ve been reading my blog, you realized that upon installation I put the queen cages on the bottom board of my top bar hives not realizing that advice dictates this should only be done if the weather is consistently above 60 degrees (including night temperatures).

After realizing this the following things happened:

  • Stress level over 9,000
  • Took the roof off one of the hives to see if I could manage this
  • Got intimidated
  • Backed off and decided I guess we’ll just have to see if the queens survive
  • Continued to stress
  • Posted on the Beesource forums asking for IMMEDIATE ADVICE (this was at 3 PM)
  • Got responses saying “yes you need to go wire her up if you possibly can”
  • Steeled myself and went into the hives
  • Everything was mayhem, I couldn’t figure out a good way to wire them up, the bees were mad, I was freaked out, it was just awful
  • Smoking them seemed to do nothing
  • They were SO ANGRY
  • I felt SHOOK and also like crap after

In an effort to NEVER EXPERIENCE THAT AGAIN, I spent a lot more time on the forums. With the clarity of a few days and watching this video (which I actually need to finish), I realized a few things.

Friday’s Lessons Learned

  • I need to be WAY MORE CAREFUL about not shaking up the hive. In the video he mentions not clanking your smoker down on top of hives because it immediately gets their threat level jacked up. This makes total sense but in the heat of the “I need way more hands than I have” moment I definitely was not as gently as I should’ve been.
  • When the bees start “bumping” you, back off and give them a moment. This is really hard because they say you shouldn’t be in there very long which implies I need to go fast but then they also say, GO SLOW. I’m still trying to reconcile these in my brain but I definitely ignored any signs of stress, probably because I was so consumed by my OWN stress.
  • If one hive is riled up, ALL the hives are going to be riled up. This makes TOTAL SENSE but I just didn’t put two and two together. The stress pheromones are going to travel, and EVERYONE is going to be on high alert.
  • Smoking the bees is not a miracle drug. I don’t know why I thought this. But I was DEFINITELY confused when it seemed to do NOTHING (or possibly make them worse). But I *think* the way smoking helps is twofold: one, they think a fire is coming and they might have to move so they load up with honey which makes them more docile; and two, it confuses the smell of the pheromones in the air. Problem is, I didn’t use it till the second hive this day so I’m sure that the air was just SATURATED with panic pheromones and two, they didn’t have any honey TO load up on since the hive was empty.
  • Dark colors are targets. I don’t know why I didn’t know this. I always assumed beekeepers wore white because it’s supposed to promote sanitary looks or something. APPARENTLY, and again, duh, but bees go for dark areas because dark areas usually indicate EYES which is the only way they can get a big creature to GET OUT. Since I don’t have beekeeping gloves I’ve been using my work gloves which are white and, you guessed it, black. The bees that were buzzing me by grabbing on and just beating me with their wings were doing so in the BLACK areas of my gloves. I’ve never wanted to have light colored hair before. BE THANKFUL, BLONDE PEEPS.
  • The later in the day, the more aggressive the bees. Who knew? I SURE DIDN’T.

Monday

Always go into a hive with a goal.
Today’s goals were, in order:

  1. Check to see if the queen had been released.
  2. Pull out the queen cage if empty.
  3. Check the feeders.
  4. See if any comb had been drawn.
  5. Try to sand the edges of the house hive roof so that it was easier to put on/take off.
  6. Take pictures if possible.

Timing

Ideally I would pick a time when foragers were out gathering pollen and nectar so the hive was emptier. This means a nice, warm day. But Oregon, of course, has other plans. I needed to complete the primary goal either today or tomorrow, which doesn’t leave me a ton of wiggle room. The weather forecast was rain from now till WHO KNOWS WHEN starting at 11 AM. Since we know from our previous lesson that earlier in the day is better, I decided to get a jump on it at about 9 AM. Not ideal, but the best I could do.

Lighting the Smoker

I had not anticipated so much trouble with the smoker. I’m great at making fires, I’m not great at making….smoke, I guess. After my struggle with this on Friday I decided to do some research. A lot of people use pine needles, some people say this is hard on the bees’ lungs. I don’t have pine needles anyway. Some people use straw or hay, I don’t have much of that either. Other people use pine shavings to get it started, pine pellets to keep it going, and alfalfa pellets (ie rabbit food). These I do have. I used a paper towel to get it going then ended up using the shavings and rabbit food. It worked…alright. Clearly I will need to practice because by the end of the second hive it was already mostly out.

Removing the Roofs

One thing I had realized from Friday was that removing the roofs immediately heightened the bees’ threat level because, with the house hive, I have to rattle it around to get it to come off. BAD. VERY BAD. This, as we learned from our post-mortem on Friday’s performance, means the bees know someone is BUSTIN’ IN. There’s nothing really I could do about this, so I decided I would pop the roofs off then let them settle for a while before going in. This would’ve been GREAT if, in my attempt to lift the WORLD’S HEAVIEST AND MOST AWKWARD ROOF off, I hadn’t bumped a bar out of place. Also if it hadn’t started sprinkling. Seriously, just, nothing in life wants to cooperate lately. I wiggled the bar back into place but already I was getting bumps. I backed off, removed the roof of the other hive, and then with the rain I just got shook AGAIN.

Removing the Queen Cages

“Oh just check to see if the queen is out of the cage,” they say casually, FULL WELL KNOWING that queen cage is going to be surrounded by hundreds of bees. I pulled the bar, which of COURSE is in the middle of the cluster because of COURSE it’s a cold day to try and see into the cage. At this point everyone is mad at me. I’m trying to go slow, be calm, smoke any bees looking at me, watch out for guard bees, but also I’m a N00B and there’s a lot going on. I see the queen cage and it appears the sugar has been eaten out of the entrance (freeing her) but there looks to be bee(s) inside?! I set the bar down. I’m going to unwire it, pull it out, and double check she’s not inside. I do so, manage to pull it out, and decide it’s just workers going in and out to screw with me. In the process (this is hive #1) the comb had OF COURSE been built around the cage so when I remove it the comb breaks. I feel like crap. I haven’t made a saver bar (basically wire attached to a top bar that you can stick comb onto) so I don’t know what to do. I set the comb near the feeder. In hindsight, I should’ve been prepared with rubber bands or thumb tacks or SOMETHING. Sigh.

Since I’m doing this weirdly piecemeal I’ll move onto removing the queen cage from hive #2. Obviously I didn’t jump back and forth between hives. So, in hive #2 same issues, I can’t see ANYTHING. They’ve built a lot more comb and it appears they’ve started filling with with syrup. YAY. SO EXCITING. But I can’t tell if the queen cage is…a part of that? I unwire it and pull the wire gently…no queen cage. FUDGE. It apparently got knocked down to the floor, who knows when. Move the bars and slowly put my hand down to the hive. Sorry, I’m just NOT COMFORTABLE YET reaching my hands into the midst of hundreds of bees. They aren’t a fan either. I pull it out and again, dumb workers hanging out but it appears the queen is free. I pull the cage.

Check the Feeders

Both feeders appear to be mostly full. This seems…concerning. I don’t see many bees around them at all, and in fact, hive #1 has a cluster near the top of my access board. No idea why. This seems concerning to me but I don’t know what to do about it. I sprinkle more sugar water in the bottom of the hive and near the access board’s hole in the hopes that if they’re confused about how to get back into the main body of the hive, they can figure it out. I do this is both hives though the second hive just doesn’t have ANY bees in that area.

Sand the Hive Roof

One of the times when the bees were bumping me and getting upset, I backed off and used the dremel to sand the edges off the tight roof. The battery died pretty quickly, but when I put it back on it was MUCH easier. I think it’s good now, especially when things dry up and the wood shrinks a bit.

Take Pictures

Due to the rain and stress, this goal was canceled for this inspection.

Summary

Having completed or canceled all my goals, I put the roofs back on. Unfortunately, this continues to be impossible for me to do alone. It’s jarring, I always bump a bar out of place, and then it’s just a terrible time for both of us. The only solution I can think of is to only go into hives when I have someone to help pull the roof off. Since this was the most time-sensitive hive inspection and the weather was turning, I didn’t feel like I had the luxury to wait. I also don’t currently have the money to buy protective gear for a helper, which is something I’d like to have on hand instead of borrowed.

When I was pulling my suit off I noticed a bee hanging out. Upon further inspection, I could see that it had stung my suit and was dying. This sucks. I had hoped that although it wasn’t a perfect inspection, I hadn’t incited any of them to want to sting me. It feels like crap. I know there’s a learning curve with everything, animal husbandry not excepting, but it’s usually a rare day that one of my animals dies because of my inability to care for them. I know it’s “only a bee” but it’s hard not to get discouraged when you try your hardest to do things best and end up screwing it up. It’s an overwhelming feeling that I’m getting sick of in all areas of life. I guess I just need to be like the bees and continue to rebuild, even when my hard work gets knocked down and cast aside. Sorry ladies.

Next Steps

  • I need to find a bee support group of people willing to help me out. Both experienced and inexperienced. I’m going to the local beekeeping meeting tomorrow night so that’s a good first step.
  • I need to get extra gear for helpers. I’m going to get an extra veil since that’s the key bit. Hopefully soon I will feel comfortable working the bees with just the veil.
  • I need to continue learning as much as I can. First step is finishing that video and watching the second episode of Hive Alive on Netflix.
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One thought on “First Hive Inspection & Lessons Learned

  1. Katie you’re a superhero. This is a crazy learning curve/mountain you’ve got going on here (one that I totally aspire to one day when I have amazing nerves of steel like you) and you are doing AWESOME WORK in the bee saving business! It sounds hard, and cool, and sad, and interesting all rolled into one. Thanks for the blogpost!

    Like

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