Our 23 hives are (mainly) fine

Inspecting the brood

Inspecting the brood

We did an inspection with Bruce (okay, Bruce did the inspection and we watched/helped) of our 23 hives on Tuesday. The main objective was to ensure they were queen right and disease free.

All were queen right and had brood – in fact, some had a lot of brood. We’ve been having sunny, warm weather lately and it looks like the queens have decided it is spring regardless of what the calendar thinks. There were even a couple of drones and drone cells in with all of those girls.

Of course with 23 hives, it couldn’t all be perfect, could it?

One colony had a small patch of chilled brood. This happens when brood can’t be kept warm enough by the bees. The grub dies and the cell turns patchy white & black (or that’s what ours looked like). The affected cells were on the outer edge of the brood (a couple frames in from the edge of the box) and the rest of the brood was fine so we didn’t worry about it.

Several hives had some chalk brood out front. This really worried me because I’m a newbie and easily worried. Bruce totally ignored it and said it was fine because a) it was minimal (sure looked like a lot to me), b) a strong hive can deal with chalk brood (a weak hive probably would need feeding) and c) it’s coming to spring so the hives – pretty strong anyway – will just get stronger.

Chalk Brood Mummies in front of hive

Chalk Brood Mummies in front of hive

Chalk Brood

Chalk Brood

One hive had European Foulbrood (EFB). I just thought I was worried about chilled and chalk brood. The reality of EFB in one colony, which could spread through the apiary got me really worried. Again, Bruce was pretty non-plussed by it all. He’s going to drop by some OTC with instructions for us on how to sprinkle it over the brood. Seems even EFB is to be taken in stride (AFB would be a very different matter – but it’s not AFB). I’ll post soon about our EFB experience.

Three hives were deemed by Bruce to be weak. One of those was “treated” in 2 ways:

1) moving a frame of capped brood into the weak hive’s brood box and
2) moving the super of a strong hive on top of the weak brood box. That super had a bunch of bees in it so was separated from the brood with a single sheet of newspaper. The bees will eat through the paper allowing the bees from the 2 different colonies to get used to each other before they come into contact with each other. The end result will be a whole lot more field bees to feed up this weak little colony.

Newspaper between brood and new super full of bees

Newspaper between brood and new super full of bees

Another weak hive was fed with its own honey. It had a frame of capped honey and Bruce sliced through some of the cappings to get the honey flowing and slipped it into the brood box next to a frame of brood. This will cause the bees to eat up and supercharge them which will stimulate the hive to grow.

Cut honey frame

Cut honey frame

Here’s the front of that cut-honey-hive 2 days later. A lot of the comb was ejected from the hive. Why???

Hive with cut honey frame - the bees ejected the wax

The 3rd weak hive was left to its own devices to get stronger as spring flows come on.

A couple of the hives were so strong that we added supers for them to start storing honey. And it’s the middle of August. There really isn’t a winter dormancy here. It looks like we’re in for a big summer of honey.

It was fantastic for us to have such an expert in the apiary to learn from. I’m looking forward to gaining a wealth of experience quickly this way. Soonish I’ll post more about the difference between my experience as a backyard beekeeper compared to what a professional beekeeper does.

Apiary, all hives checked

Apiary, all hives checked


About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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20 Responses to Our 23 hives are (mainly) fine

  1. John from Victoria says:

    I love your posts on beekeeping.
    They make me nostalgic of those times when my back was good enough to carry those heavy supers full of honey up the slope.
    You have made a good life for yourself in contact with our bountiful Australian nature and your blog allows you to share that luck with others. I really admire this.

    • Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoy reading about my adventures. You are not alone in the ex-beekeepers. It’s not a hobby for people with weak (or even normal) backs. There’s no way I could take this hobby on if I didn’t have a hubby to do the heavy lifting. Either that or I’d use those half-height supers that are common in the UK. It’s a lot more fiddly but at least I’d have a hope of moving them.

    • There are always horizontal hives to consider. You could still use frames if you did not want to follow the whole top-bar hive fashion. Unless you have to move the entire hive, you are never lifting more than a frame at a time.

  2. Gosh it looks as though Bruce does not wear any protective clothing! It looks as though you will be learning a lot.

    • Bruce generally wears none. He said he’d try the net over his hat which he lifted off his face almost immediately and so he needn’t have bothered at all. I wear one of everything you can buy to protect yourself from bee stings. I don’t like being stung!

      • Barehanded? Sure. Barefaced? No.

        One can get used to the girls crawling over hands and body. Even across the face would be tolerable if there were no chance of their exploring nostril interiors or traversing eyeballs. Tangled in hair is another hazard one hears of.

        • He blew hard a few times to get the bees away from those more sensitive areas of the face. And, as far as I know, he didn’t get stung in the face. But he got stung lots of other places. I saw several singers on his arms so it’s more than crawling to get used to.

          • gosh I thought you were going to say that the bees didn’t sting him… because he was so calm ….ouch! I dont like being stung either!

            • 🙂 He’s probably tired of me saying “did you just get stung” every time he scratches himself with his hive tool or smokes himself (something you do after being stung to mask the smell of the sting which could otherwise encourage others to think you’re worth making the ultimate sacrifice over) but I can’t help but be shocked that it really doesn’t bother him.

  3. cohutt says:

    Thanks for all your bee posts. I think I’m going to start this in Spring here

  4. Emily Heath says:

    Lucky you don’t have varroa, they would breed like crazy having brood all year round. It’s mad for me seeing you inspect in mid-winter. We have about 4-5 months when we can’t inspect at all!

    • We are lucky in so many ways – no varroa, no real winter, flowers in bloom year round – all meaning happy, healthy bees, lots of honey and plenty of chance to inspect and just admire these great creatures. I feel really sorry for you and I read with anguish your attempts to inspect a hive only to find the rains picking the day you have free to dump on your apiary. I think I’d throw down my smoker and walk away if I was a British Beekeeper, I’m glad you’re made of sturdier stuff!

  5. How far apart are the hives? And are the entrances all facing the same way?

    We tend to inspect our south-facing long hives from the side opposite the entrances. If there were another hive behind us as we did so, we would either have to point its entrances north away from the sun or have its bees fly up our bums unless we were far enough in front.

    • Between the hives is maybe 1 metre, between the rows is maybe 2 meters. They all are oriented with their entrances to the north. You are standing pretty close to the entrance of the row behind you when working on a hive – they fly around your bum with great dexterity. Bruce would kneel in front of a hive with his ankle right in front of the entrance to its neighbour (he swears he only got one sting in the ankle) 😮

  6. You are lucky to have such warm weather most of the year. I would love guaranteed sunshine on Saturdays to inspect our hives, although our bees are quite patient with us. Glad to hear your hives are (mostly) ok and produced a huge honey harvest! 🙂

    • Bees seem to have the attitude “ignore them and maybe they’ll go away” when dealing with beekeepers 🙂

      We have great weather – but probably a bit too much sunshine. More regular rain wouldn’t be unwelcome – just not the British version of “regular” thank you very much.

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