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Beehive Inspection Tips

Beehive inspection is a very critical practice to be carried out to all hives on a regular basis, especially the brood. This is an important management practice as it helps farmers to determine the presence or absence of many established pests and diseases within the hive. It is also an important precautionary measure for beekeepers to identify any exotic pests that may be in their hives, such as the exotic Varro a mite.

Hive inspection will enable the farmer to know:

  • The productive colonies
  • The colonies with less tendency of swarming
  • Performance of the queen
  • The presence of pests, predators and diseases
  • Whether to make a division
  • If the colony needs a new queen
  • When to harvest honey

The farmer should:

  1. Examine the brood and colony at least several times a year during spring, summer and autumn.
  2. Make sure that the circumstances are suitable to inspect the colony. For instance, do not start the inspection if the weather is likely to be wet or cold, or if there are people or animals in the vicinity.
  3. Make an assessment of the level of activity at the entrance of the hive. Observe whether honey bees are flying, if there are any dead honey bees, or if honey bees are bringing in pollen.
  4. Keep records of your inspections and write down any occurrence, or suspicion, of diseases.
  5. Always be calm and methodical when working with hives, and try to avoid any sudden or sharp actions.

While inspecting the hive the farmer should;

  1. Remove a brood frame (without the queen bee) and shake most of the honey bees back into the hive or at the hive entrance, leaving the brood comb clear for inspection.
  2. Hold the frame by the top and inspect the brood thoroughly.
  3. Look for symptoms associated with established pests and diseases of honey bee colonies.
  4. Look for any queen bee cells on the comb surface and bottom side of the comb, and if present, remove to reduce swarming potential.
  5. Repeat this for all brood frames.
  6. Place combs back in the same sequence and orientation as they were at the start of the inspection, unless you have planned to manipulate the combs for a management reason.
  7. Make sure that the frames are tightly pushed together to provide the correct bee space.
  8. Record what you observe and note any pests and diseases that you have identified. Look at possible control or management options.
Honey

How Bee Hive Technology Improves Honey Quality

Modern bee hives e.g. Kenya top bar hive and Langstroth hives improve honey quality where the combs can be lifted from the hive and replaced. This allows a beekeeper to examine the condition of the colony without harming it.

Honeycombs can also be removed from the hive for harvesting without disturbing combs containing brood. The colony is therefore not harmed and the bees can continue gathering honey to replace that which has been harvested. This ensures only good quality honey is harvested, free of contaminating pollen or brood.

Harvesting and Processing Methods

Different management, harvesting and processing techniques will influence the final quality of honey.

Harvest honey by cutting the combs and put them in a container.

Do not blow smoke directly on the honeycombs when harvesting. This should be done in small amounts using a smoker, far away from the frames of honeycombs.

Follow these procedures in order to avoid the smell of smoke getting into honey and beeswax, as well as detritus from the bee smoker.

Do not expose the frames of honeycombs after harvesting. Due to high temperatures, exposure to the sun for long periods can lead to  an increased hydroxymethylfurfural content (HMF) in the honey and reduced content of the main enzymes in honey (invertase, glucose oxidase and diastase). This will compromise honey quality.

Many methods are available to separate bees from their honey combs. Honeycombs can be taken out one at a time and bees may be removed by shaking and brushing.  An inner cover or special board with a one-way bee escape can be placed below the honey super. Up to one deep super, or two shallow supers, can thus be cleared in 24 hours, if enough space is available below. This method cannot be recommended if colonies are sitting unprotected in the sun, which might melt the combs in the now non-ventilated supers. These three methods will NOT contaminate the harvested honey.

All equipment used for honey processing should be addressed to this purpose only and thoroughly cleaned to avoid any possible contamination of the product.

Substances found there. The use of unpleasant smelling chemicals to drive bees away is a technique preferred by many beekeepers because it is quick and easy. Some of the chemicals are illegal for use in many countries, leave unpleasant flavors and odors, are toxic and are absorbed by wax and honey.  In order to avoid contamination the honeycombs should not be directly placed on the ground.

Processing

  • The farmer should process the honey as soon as possible after removal from the hive.
  • Honey processing is a sticky operation, in which time and patience are required to achieve the best results.
  • Careful protection against contamination by ants and flying insects is needed at all stages of processing.
  • Remember that Honey is food and it must be handled hygienically, and all equipment must be perfectly clean.
  • Honey is hygroscopic and will absorb moisture. Therefore all honey processing equipment must be perfectly dry. Excess water in honey causes it to ferment.

Essential Beekeeping Equipment

  1. Smoker

It is used to emit smoke when puffed to calm down honey bees. This allows for easy harvesting and hive inspection as it makes aggressive bees more docile. The Smoke masks the alarm pheromone given off by guard bees, minimizing the defensive reactions of the colony.

Features of a smoker include:

  • barrel (fire box) made of a flat iron sheet.
  • grate to hold the smoldering fuel.
  • nozzle (snout) to direct the smoke
  • bellows which compresses and pumps air into the combustion chamber (barrel).
  1. Hive Tool

It is a handheld multipurpose and a critical piece of equipment. Bees glue everything in the hive together with their resin-like propolis.

Uses of a hive tool include:

  • bent side is used as a hammer
  • sharpened end is used for; prying apart top bars and frames, as a knife for cutting honey combs during harvesting, and scrapping off propolis from inside and on the sides of the hive’s top bars and frames.
  1. Bee brush

The bee brush is used to gently brush the bees off from the comb surface.

Uses of a bee brush include:

  • honey harvest
  • repairing broken combs
  • swarm removal
  1. Bee Keeping Suit (Coverall and Veil)

This is a set of clothing made with the aim of protecting the beekeeper from bee stings when opening the hive during hive inspection and honey harvesting. It is made up of: Bee veil, Coverall, Gloves and Gumboots.

The veil is used to keep the head, neck, shoulder and face safe from bee stings. It must be black so that you can see through it well.

The coverall is one-piece of cloth that cover the trunk and limbs made of a light-colored material. There should not be any space or gap between your body and clothing to ensure the bees can’t reach in your body.

Gloves: Made of smooth leather and patched up with smooth light colored material, similar to that of the coverall. They protect the hands from bee stings. They should be worn over the sleeves of the bee suit.

Gumboots: To protect the feet and should be covered by the coverall. Wear the bee suit trousers over the gumboots to keep the bees from getting into the gumboots.

Langstroth Hive

This is an American hive named after its founder Lorenzo Lorrain Langstroth. It is rectangular in shape and categorized under movable combs with frames.

The hive has two major parts:

  • the brood chamber/
  • super box/honey super.

Bees build honeycombs into frames which can be removed with ease. The frames are designed to prevent bees from attaching honeycombs where they would either connect adjacent frames, or connect frames to the walls of the hive. The movable frames allow the beekeeper to manage the bees in a way which was formerly impossible.

During harvesting the frames are removed and inserted into an extractor, which removes the honey leaving the combs intact.

It is made up of the following parts:

  • Bottom Board – a wooden stand on which the hive rests. The bottom board should be placed on bricks or concrete blocks to keep it off the ground.
  • Top Cover – made of galvanized iron sheet which cap the entire hive and protect it from harsh environmental conditions e.g. rainfall and sunshine.
  • Frames and Foundation – wooden frames hold sheets of beeswax foundation that is imprinted with the shapes of hexagonal cells. Bees use the foundation to build straight combs.
  • Brood Chamber – a large wooden box that holds ten frames of comb. It is reserved for the bees to rear, brood and store honey for their own use. Either one or two hive bodies can be used for a brood nest.
  • Queen Excluder – it is between the brood box/chamber and the honey super. It is made of wire mesh and keeps the queen confined in the brood nest, such that brood will not occur in honey supers. An excluder is not necessary if two hive bodies are used.
  • Inner Cover – prevents bees from attaching combs to the outer cover. It also insulates dead air space against temperature changes.
  • Honey Supers – shallow supers with frames of comb in which bees store surplus honey. This surplus is the honey that is harvested and it contains 10 frames.

Advantages of using a Queen Excluder

  • The queen bee only lays eggs in the brood chamber.
  • The honey chamber contains clean honey.
  • Wax from the honey chamber is clean and white.
  • When honey is harvested, bees remain calm since there is little disturbance.
  • Bee population increases steadily thus more honey is produced in time. This is due to little disturbance of the queen and the brood.

Advantages of Langstroth Hive

  1. The comb is fixed firmly to the four sides of the frame hence facilitate easy harvesting and no fear of damaging the comb.
  2. The strength of the built-in comb allows easy transportation. It also affords easy control of a bee colony without fear of breakage before arrival at the destination.
  3. Honey is extracted by a centrifugal honey extractor, hence honey is removed without damaging the combs. Bees will not waste time and energy making new combs.
  4. During hive inspection, very few bees are crushed dead between frames, whereas many are killed by careless handling of top bars in K.T.B.H.
  5. The hive is designed with a queen excluder. Therefore the queen and brood are confined to the lower chamber without disturbance during harvesting
  6. Stealing a double or triple storey hive with a colony is difficult for a thief unlike for the K.T.B.H.
  7. A swarm of bees can be hived easily as bees easily pass through the spaces between the frame and the top of the hive.
  8. Hive boxes can easily be stacked for storage. This makes it easy to expand or contract the hive to meet the needs of the bee colony.