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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.