By Master Beekeeper Carol Cottrill
New beekeepers in our classes always ask how often they should check their hives. The standard answer seems to be “every week to ten days”. Off they go and follow the calendar dutifully opening their hives, removing each frame and looking it over. They may not really know exactly what they are looking for, but they are following the schedule. Experience has shown that opening a hive and messing around with it will set the hive back, but new beekeepers need to learn by practice and observation. Opening a hive to see it changing and developing over the seasons is an important part of learning the art of beekeeping.
Once the newness of this process has worn off, however, it is time to adjust hive inspections so that the bees are not disrupted unnecessarily. It is also time to become more organized so that trips to the bee yard are more efficient. Opening a hive and finding that it needs a super when all the supers are in storage back at your house means the hive will be disturbed a second time once you retrieve a super.
Keeping a simple notebook to diary your hive observations can be very helpful in organizing your bee yard visits. Bringing paper and pencil with you can result in a sticky mess; if you only have a few hives recording brief notes after leaving the bee yard may be fine. If you have a failing memory such as mine you may want to bring a recipe card (better than a piece of flimsy paper) and make a few quick notes with a pencil (not a pen – ink runs) that can be transferred to your diary. I find I often refer to my notes to check year to year progress, determine approximately when I performed various tasks and see what things worked and what didn’t.
Another useful reminder can be as simple as a brick on the hive. I use rocks to weight down the hive covers, but keep several bricks on the ground near the hives. If there is a reason a hive needs special attention it gets a brick on top when I close it up. Maybe it has swarmed and I need to check to see if the new queen has mated and is laying a good pat- tern. Perhaps I am keeping an eye on mite levels in case I need to treat the hive earlier than normal. Even without my diary in hand I know which hives might need an extra inspection.
Use your diary to plan your trips to the bee yard. If you know why you are opening your hives you are more apt to have all the supplies and equipment you need. You don’t need a fancy container to keep all your equipment in, but you should have something that holds all you need. Toolboxes, buckets, totes of all sort will work as long as it is something that you can add to as you fig- ure out what is essential each time you inspect your hives. Is there room for a container to collect hive scrapings so you won’t leave them lying around the bee yard (a coffee can per- haps). Are you putting on medi- cations that require use of chemical resistant gloves and eye protection.
If your bees need to ask “Why are you here?” perhaps it time for you to become better organized before going to visit them!