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For me, this is always both exciting and nerve wracking. However, it’s important to quell some of that energy and do things slowly and methodically. Not only will the bees pick up and act on your excitement, it’s especially important during this first hive check in the spring to take notice of all the details and ensure the bees have all they need for a productive year two.
Always, first and foremost, put on your bee gear. I know it seems like a pain when you just want to see how your ladies did, but there’s a chance they’ll be hungry, and testy (aka hangry) and sting you for bothering them during the hive check process. Keeping yourself and anyone else in the bee yard safe is the primary concern.
Once you’ve got your bee gear on, gather any other supplies you think you’ll need. Smoker, if you use one; camera, if that’s your thing; etc. and head out to the hive.
As you approach the hive, look for signs of bee life: bee poop on the ground, dead bees recently tossed from the hive during bee spring cleaning, bees flying in/out of the entrance, etc.
If you’re like me, you’re lucky enough to have a hive with a shuttered window. If that’s the case, remove the shutter and take a peek inside. Hopefully, you’ll see signs of bee activity within, but even if you don’t, don’t get upset yet. Let’s open the hive and see what’s inside!
The actual steps for opening and inspecting the hive are included in the Langstroth, Top Bar, and Warre posts (coming soon), so I won’t go over them again here. Instead, let’s talk about what you should expect to see during this first hive inspection in the spring.
1. Most importantly: live bees. If not, don’t panic. It’s incredibly hard to get bees to winter over. We’ll have a troubleshooting post down the road, and soon, you’ll also be able to sign up for our mentor program. Stay tuned!
2. Remaining honey stores. If not, provide food. Feeding honey bees in spring is a common practice among beekeepers, especially when it has been determined that the store is low and the honey flow is not yet under way. Because it’s spring, sugar water in a 1:1 mixture is all you’ll need. Use a feeder inside the hive to avoid attracting other spring-hungry animals. Depending on how cold it got, some of the honey stores may have crystalized and look like glittery white dots. Don’t worry, the bees can still use it.
2a. If you’re like me and wait until the spring to harvest your honey, don’t rush it. Wait until there are some signs of flowers before removing any remaining honey.
3. Indications the queen survived the winter. It’s likely still too cold to have larvae yet, but there should be signs of eggs. During subsequent hive checks, there should be continued signs of a healthy queen (as determined by “bee math” explained in our Science of Bees article.)
For now, that’s it. If you’re bees made it through the winter, congratulations! Close up the hive and give yourself a pat on the back. If not, take some time to mourn and stay tuned for help figuring out what went wrong and correcting it.
There is no need to remove any comb or other hive products, unless you plan to use them. The bees will remove or reuse as they see fit. How did your bees do?