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I Spy… Getting your eye in. 2024

I Spy… Getting your eye in. 2024


I Spy….. Getting your eye in. 1st June 2024

Thanks to all those who came to this meeting and made it a success. We hope you enjoyed the afternoon’s beekeeping session and will put some of the hints and tips to good use in your own hives. As promised, I have duplicated the Task Sheet and put together some notes on possible answers / scenarios to act as prompts when you are working your own bees. There is also a down loadable PDF you can use.

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We will start with 20min – 1/2 hr chat to explain what this exercise is all about.
You will be divided into groups and allocated a hive to study plus an experienced beekeeper to guide you.
Follow the Task Sheet questions and make notes as you go if you wish. We will be around to help answer questions and point things out if you get stuck.
After the Practical session we will return to the Bee Shed for tea, cakes and discussion!

Task Sheet (left hand column) and some possible observations or deductions (right hand column)

Before opening the hive


Consult the hive record sheet, and consider recent weather conditions.
What can you predict from this information?
Two possible scenarios:
Record says low on stores, weather poor – MAY NEED TO FEED
Record says good stores, weather fine – MAY NEED TO ADD SUPER(S)
What is flowering now, and what will be flowering in next 7 days?
Two possible scenarios:
Oil seed rape out now, will cease soon – BAD TEMPER!
Not much out at the moment, but nectar flow may start soon – watch SPACE in supers and ADD boxes in plenty of time.
Hive entrance activity?
Air temperature?
Pollen loads?
Nectar loads?

10℃ minimum for bees to emerge.
Pollen loads easy to spot.
Drones, indicator of swarm possibility. Check in brood box.
Nectar loads, honey stomach full, legs hanging down.
Orientation flights?

Robber bees?
Asian hornets
Orientation flights, young bees first emergence. Characteristic flight pattern. Don’t confuse with swarm emergence.
Robber bees enter hive empty (legs up), and leave full (legs down).
Hawking behaviour
Examine varroa mesh floor.
Distribution of debris?
Significance of dark cappings and/or white cappings in debris?
Count different coloured pollen loads.
Distribution/pattern shows where cluster is and what it is doing. Important to know when winter feeding.
Count mites and give average daily mite drop.
Dark cappings are from brood comb therefore bees emerging.
White cappings are from honey stores therefore bees actively using stores.

How many different pollen colours? 6 or more should give adequate nutritional diversity.
Antenna cleaning action at entrance.
Signs of:
a) Nosema
c) DWV

Very rapid cleeaning of antennae before flight.

a) Diarrhoea streaks
b) Shiny bees and quivering bees
c) Deformed wings

Nazanov gland not visible – fanning for temperature/humidity control
Nazanov gland open – colony has been disturbed.

After opening hive

Observations / Deductions?

First impression.
Crowded or uncrowded?
Space for queen to lay?
Does activity equate with what you saw at the entrance?

Should be space for queen to lay: do you see pollen blocking or solid stores?
Do bees have enough space to process and store nectar / honey?
Are extra supers needed?
Space for workers to process nectar is 2-3 times space required to store honey.

Add new super under existing super or above? Discuss.
In brood chamber examine frames and note:
Brood in all stages (MUST see eggs)
Queen present?
How many drones? (a few, fair number, lots)
Queen cells or cups?
What is your assessment?
Everyone should see eggs!

Drone numbers may indicate likelihood of swarming.
Dry cups or cells are nothing to worry about at present. Only need to take action if cells are charged with royal jelly/larvae.
Shake bees off a frame and examine for disease. Look for:
– Perforated cappings,
– Sunken cappings,
– Larvae that ‘don’t look right’,
– Chalk brood,
– Deformed wings,
– Sac brood,
– Bald brood – a sign that bees may be uncapping brood to deal with varroa.
If you need a demo, ask the experienced beekeepers.
Check for queen before shaking.

Make sure you recognise the difference in bald brood from wax moth damage and uncapping varroa mites.
Bald brood from wax moth damage

Images Courtesy The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Crown Copyright

Bald brood from uncapping
Is the brood chamber filled with brace and burr comb or even drone brood stuck everywhere?
If so, what is going on?
Bees desperate for space will build drone comb anywhere.
Ideally, provide somewhere for them to lay drones from April onwards.
Discuss alternatives, half frame, drone foundation.

Maybe the bee space is wrong.
Inspect the brood laying pattern and interpret what is happening.
Irregular pattern could be:
– New queen still learning.
– Old queen fading.
– Disease or old comb.
– (Diploid drones)
Ratio of eggs : open brood : sealed brood.
Comment on findings.
Ideally, should be in ratio 1 : 2 : 4, but will vary with season, weather, forage, etc.

If no eggs, could be swarm preparations, dearth of forage, poor weather (or need new glasses!).
What is bee space in brood box?
What is bee space in supers?

Spacing for new foundation.
2 bee spaces on face of comb, 1 bee space elsewhere.
1 bee space for supers.

Standard Hoffmann spacing is 35mm. This equates to no fewer than 10 frames in a National super.

Picking out a few observations:

  • All the hives had different characteristics! All were calm, some were busy, some were laid back and not very active. Perfectly normal!
  • Some had lots of pollen going in, others had very little.
  • Pollen colours were up to 6! Good news for the health of the colonies.
  • Good selection of flowers spotted, including cow parsley, elderflower, lots of buttercups (but not used by honeybees) and all the usual hedgerow flowers. Bramble and Himalayan balsam are also out in places, so there may not be a June Gap.
  • All participants saw eggs. Well done!
  • Ratio of eggs : open brood : sealed brood. Some comments that egg numbers were low or absent in comparison to sealed brood quantity, but at least one hive had masses of eggs.
  • Very little disease spotted.
  • Queens spotted.

Thanks to the apiary team for preparing the hives and to the experienced beekeepers (Stan, Mary, Keith and Simon) for their help and advice. Feedback on the session was positive and participants were pleased to have hands-on experience in small groups with a knowledgeable beekeeper there to help and advise.