Ted Hooper’s five questions – as described in his book ‘Guide to Bees and Honey’ were devised to walk the beekeeper through his or her weekly inspections. The first 5 columns in the Colony Assessment Sheet are there for you record the answers.
Take a look at this frame of bees above – yes there are several things there that should put you on alert!
What you do, or don’t do, in response is the essence of beekeeping.
Hooper’s Five Questions:
1. Does the colony have enough space?
2. Is the queen present and laying properly?
♣ Is the colony building up in size as fast as the others?
♣ Are there any queen cells?
4. Are there any signs of disease?
5. Have they got enough stores to carry them through to your next visit?
Does the colony have enough room?
Sometimes, the bees can pull in a super-abundance of ivy honey late in the year which far exceeds what they need to come through the winter. Come spring when the queen needs space to lay – there simply isn’t any. This situation is termed – ‘honey-bound’. If your bees are honey-bound you need to do something about it.
- If you have spare drawn frames you can remove a couple of the fullest frames of stores from the outsides and add the drawn frames to either side of the brood nest.
- If you don’t – then you will have to add foundation and – as long as they are strong enough – the bees will draw it as they need it. You could even feed them at this point if you think they need help.
The other reason for lack of space is when they have become so strong they have filled the box!
You should begin to add supers as soon as you find your bees covering the top frames when you remove the crownboard. Give supers early rather than late. If it is still chilly you can put a sheet of newspaper between the brood box and the queen excluder. This will keep them warm and give them options – if they need the space they will chew their way through and if they don’t they won’t.
You need to make a note of what you did/ need to do/ equipment to bring next time etc.
Is the queen present and is she laying properly?
I’m not going to tell you how to find your queen here. It is a knack and if you can’t find her then practice, practice, practice.
If you still can’t find her, then you must look for eggs. Once you find them, look for a nice even pattern with no few gaps. Eggs should be plumb centre of the cell and there should be only one per cell. Sometimes a new queen takes a little time to get the hang of this but a queen that has overwintered should know what she is doing.
If there is a paucity of eggs, a ragged scatter, or cells with lots of eggs sprinkled about in them there is probably something wrong. The first two would be signs of a failing queen – she could be a drone layer or just plain ‘old’. The last is a sign of laying workers.
- If you see her – note ‘Q’
- If you see her but there are no eggs – note ‘QP’
- If you see her and she is laying well – note ‘QPL’
What you do about these predicaments is the subject of another post. But you should know when you need to do something.
Is the colony building up as fast as, or faster than, the others?
If you record the number of frames with brood present at each visit you can see how each colony is progressing week on week. If you have more than one colony you can compare them – a weak one will stick out like a sore thumb and so will a strong one. Early in the season it is a good idea to equalise. The aim of this is to slow down a very strong colony and build up a weak one.
Take a frame or even two frames of brood from a very strong colony and put it into a weak colony. Give the strong colony empty frames or stores in exchange.
- Only give sealed brood to a weak colony because they will not be strong enough to rear larvae;
- Don’t give more brood than they weak colony can keep warm.
Take a nuc
Another option when bees are too strong is to take a nuc.
Are there any queen cells?
Record whether or not there are queen cells and at what stage.
- Play cells – small empty cups;
- Queen cells with eggs in them;
- Queen cells with larvae.
Once you have play cells you must make sure your bees have plenty of space.
When you have queen cells with eggs in them you should know that the next time you come – or perhaps the time after that – there will be queen cells with larvae.
When you find these you are into swarm control and that is not the subject of this post.
Are there any signs of disease?
At each visit remember remember remember to keep an eye out for signs of disease. If you catch it early you can control it. If you don’t… you can’t.
Record what you see. Devise a shorthand. One that makes sense to you.
Have they got enough stores?
This one’s easy – just record the number of frames of stores and keep an eye on the weather forecast and the available sources of nectar and pollen.
You may need to think about feeding – even in the midst of the Irish summer. Bear it in mind and consider your options.
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