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What should I be looking for now?

At my daughter’s birthday party, a fellow beekeeper asked me what I was looking for in my beehives now. He immediately followed up with well, what should I be looking for now? In my opinion, we are now creeping into a really important time of the year for this question, so I thought I’d share my answer.

To begin with, I am only trying to go into each of my hives once this month. It is usually a really dry and hot month for me and the bees do not appreciate my poking around too much. Plus, I really only need one look to accomplish my goals.

For most of my inspections, the first thing that I do is spot check any honey supers that are still on the hives. I never take frames for harvesting unless they are capped. This basically means that most of my hives end up with one partially worked super after my last extraction in early July. I usually put a second super (a wet one – recently extracted with honey still along the edges of the comb) on top of this after the extraction weekend (or week, as it happened this year!) I am checking these supers with three possible outcomes in mind. One, I may have a September extraction day if there are enough capped supers out there. Two, any capped (or even uncapped) medium supers might offer me a ‘bank’ of honey for any late swarms or cut-outs, an overwintered nuc or simply a young hive that never got to finish drawing out and capping their top super. I am not looking for more honey, so it takes a lot of capped supers for me to extract again. I also use this time to pull any drawn supers that they have cleaned out (they were probably put on ‘wet’ back in July) to reduce the space my bees need to maintain going into the Fall months (I’ve beaten the space issue into the ground in previous posts, so I will not drone on about it again here!) I usually put these supers above the inner cover with a note to come back and get them within the week.

The second thing I do in the majority of the inspections is to pull 1 frame from the upper hive body (Medium for me, mostly) and 1 from the lower hive body (Deep for me, mostly). My ideal hive today is a hive that has capped off 7+ frames of honey in the upper hive body. Actually, some of the middle frames will have nearly full honey where they were laying eggs and raising brood, but they will not have capped it off yet. I might find a frame or two of capped brood up here too. The bees are just waiting for those last bees to hatch and they should fill up that space with honey too, giving me a full, capped upper hive body by Winter. When I pull the frame in the lower hive body, I am just checking for capped brood. If I find larva, eggs or even the queen on this one frame, it is a bonus. But, if I find capped brood, I am comfortable that the hive is doing just fine.

So, my primary goal right now is to check the honey stores for Winter (and for my bank) and make sure that they still have a queen and all seems right. That’s what I do on the majority of the inspections. For a few, I am looking to mark queens and will take a bit more time going through the hive to find her. For various reasons (swarms, I forgot, etc…), I have (or had) about a dozen hives with unmarked queens going into August. It’s very important to me to have marked queens in all of my hives right now, as I want to be able to find them when I create Nuc’s next Spring (or raise queens, as the case may be!) But, these hives are the exceptions. I am ‘in-and-out’ of most of my hives very quickly.

As a postscript, here are the things that I look for to demonstrate a healthy hive (outside of honey) with a quick inspection. One, if they are raising drones, it means they believe that times are good. Honey bees do not waste resources raising those lazy males unless times are good. Two, I like to find a lot of bees on my inner cover. All things being equal, it tells me they are managing their space well and I do not have to remove any supers unless I want to. Three, I am constantly scanning all of my bees for problems. One bee with deformed wing virus is just fine by me. If I see three or more in a quick inspection, I know the hive is at risk and may require more management.

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