The state of the bees: nearly eight weeks in the hive

My beekeeping partner John and I opened our four beehives on Sunday afternoon for the first time since the bees had been installed on April 2. Bloom-wise, it has so far been a good spring for the bees. First there was the crimson clover that was blooming in abundance when the bees first joined us. As it began to fade, a variety of other blooms began to appear: privet, honeysuckle, blackberries, etc. Now that those are gone, we find a lot of white clover on the group with a bit of hydrangea and other flowing plants mixed in.

So, the bees have had plenty to munch on and care back to the hives for storage and honey-making purposes.

In addition, we have been watching from the outside and have seen plenty of bees and plenty of activity around the entrance of the hives. Seeing that on a daily basis has been a good thing, and there haven’t been any signs of trouble, such as a lot of dead bee carcasses in front of the hives.

All that said, when we opened the hives, what did we look for:

Lots of bees. Each hive began with about 10,000 bees. There are several times that number in each hive now. It means the queen has been actively laying her eggs, and the eggs have been developing into new bees.

Lots of brood cells. Brood cells are cells in the comb where new bees are developing. They are easy to spot because they have a brown capping over the cell. (See the top picture.) We found lots and lots of brood cells in each hive. This is the major sign that the hive is currently healthy and functioning properly.

Relatively few drone cells. Drones are male bees that do little to help the hive, and their presence can serve as a host for varroa, a mite that is the chief pest of beehives in this country. Drones are a natural part of the process, so you expect to find some drone cells, but if you find too many, something in the hive has gone amiss. Here, again, all the hives checked out. We found some drone cells but not enough to be alarmed about.

Evidence of honey. The hives won’t contain much capped honey (as seen in the bottom picture here) at this point, but you do want to see honey in the cells. That means the bees are involved in the process of making the honey. It doesn’t happen all at once, and if you see uncapped honey, that’s a good sign. We found some capped honey and lots of uncapped honey in all of the hives.

Bottom line: The hives are healthy and functioning properly at this point.

There are five to six weeks before we will get into the honey harvesting season, and there is still much that could go wrong with the process. But our hive inspection brought us good news, and we are happy to have it.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, (JPROF.com) a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self-publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker, and beekeeper -- among other things. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter at http://www.jprof.com .
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