First Hive Inspection March 2013

The Idea

march beeyard

March Beeyard.

Just enough time to:

  • look inside
  • fill the feeders
  • and find everything alive, strong and healthy

The Details

The Weather

The high temperature has exceeded 60 degrees the last couple of days. And today’s temperature is forecast to be above 60 with little wind. Then, tomorrow the temperatures are predicted to drop and snow is a possibility. So, it’s time for a quick feed check today.

There’s only one problem, I’m chained to my day job till after 5pm. And the approaching storm is forecast to hit this evening.

  • 3pm – beautiful weather, warm with light wind
  • 4pm – warm temperature but dark, cold looking clouds moving in from the northwest
  • 5pm – cooling with lowering clouds and some moisture felt against the face

Darn it. I’m still at work. And it looks like no feed check today.

As storms approach, the winds usually pick up to more than 40 mph and the temps drop 30 degrees in less than an hour.

It’s now 5:30pm.

  • the wind has stopped
  • it’s still warm
  • there’s no precipitation

Would disturbing the hives do more damage than good? I’d planned to:

  • feed the light weight hives
  • quickly pull and inspect a frame of brood
  • document what I find with my camera (more buzz for this blog)

But this time, it will have to be short and sweet.

  • no cover or frames removed to preserve cluster warmth
  • just heft the hives
  • quickly split the deep hive bodies apart
  • take a photo
  • fill the feeders
  • make note of the hive’s state
  • put them back together

So, here we go.

First Impressions

September hives the last time I worked them.

The hives are much as I left them last September. And that’s a good thing as it’s all too easy for the curious, or vandals to cause lots of damage. Last fall:

  • the division board feeders were filled with granulated sugar
  • covers were securely nailed down
  • the hives were pushed together
  • they faced them away from prevailing winds
  • the pallets were tipped forward so the hives would drain toward their entrance
  • the entrances were reduced

Today, there’s limited bee flight. But that’s ok  as there’s nothing to work except water from the ice cold river. It was frozen over just a week ago. And it’s a risky proposition for a cool bee to gather ice water on a marginal flying day.

Dead Bees

dead bees

Normal amount of dead bees in front of hives after overwintering.

In front of the hives, there’s a cup or so of normal looking dead, crispy bees. Nothing to worry about. There’s no:

  • large piles of greasy looking bees
  • no dead crawlers clinging to the hive or nearby vegetation
  • no obvious deformed bees
  • no rejected brood

So, there’s no sign of problems there.

The bees have gathered in depressions scratched out by skunks. But there’s no signs of recent skunk depredation. No skunk odour yet.


hive stains

Typical hive staining.

A few bees defecated on the hives when the weather was too cold to fly. But that’s not unusual. There aren’t any

  • large accumulations or clumps


Time to light the smoker and give each entrance a light puff of cool, white smoke.

Hefting is a method used to access the total weight distribution of a hive. And determine whether a it needs feeding. It’s accomplished by grabbing the rear of a hive, usually by the rear hand hold, and lifting it 2″ to 6″ high.

Hefting is definitely in the art part of beekeeping. All those factors that make beekeeping so local also pertain to hefting.

  • time of year
  • management style
  • type of bee

Hefting isn’t hard to learn. It just takes experience.

  • 2 hives are good
  • 1 hive is light
  • 1 hive has most of its honey on one side

Opening Them Up

I could leave now. The light hive is good for anther 2 to 3 weeks. The others will make it a month or more.

But the weather is holding. Let’s open them and take a quick look inside.

  • a light puff of smoke at the entrance
  • use the hive tool to gently separate the back edge of the boxes
  • gently raise the back edge of the top box an inch
  • use the hive tool free any frames stuck to frames in the top box
  • set the top box on it’s end behind the hive
  • take a photo
  • fill the feeders
  • gently smoke the bees off the top and bottom bars
  • look for trouble
  • close them up

Light Hive

light hive

Light weight hive.

Here’s the light weight hive. No wonder it’s light weight. That’s a bunch of bees for a Wyoming March hive.

  • the feeder is empty
  • there’s sealed brood
  • no visible mites
  • no deformed bees
  • the hive has a healthy smell

This hive will require watching. As brood rearing accelerates, starvation is a possibility if the weather turns bad.

Lopsided Hive

lop sided hive

Lopsided hive.

An abnormal weight distribution often indications a hive has a problem.

  • the feeder is full
  • there are 5 full honey frames near the top box’s outside edge
  • the cluster is large, has sealed brood and is problem free

Like so many things beekeeping, I don’t know why they ended up snuggling up to their neighbor. Maybe they liked the extra warmth. Or maybe the winter winds caught them at an unusual angle.

Weaker Hive

weakest hive

Weaker hive.

This is my weaker hive. It’s:

  • feeder is empty
  • top box is full of honey
  • the cluster above average size, has sealed brood and is problem free

Although this hive’s population is half that of the other hives, it’s still a strong hive.

If left alone, I suspect this hive would become honey bound and quickly swarm. When the weather turns warm, I’ll probably do a little frame swapping with it’s light weight neighbor.

Strongest Hive

The strongest hive has the large bee population of the light weight hive, and the massive honey stores of the weaker hive.

I’d show you a picture of it, if I had one. But I don’t. It was just too full of bees, feed and health to photograph without giving away all my overwintering secrets.

Actually, it was the last hive I worked. Somehow, in my haste to get everything buttoned up, I forgot to take a picture. Can you image that?

So much for overwintering secrets. 🙂


I’ve dodged the overwintering bullet. After going to small cell, and then learning to keep bees naturally, this kind of overwintering became the norm. And I became complacent.

Then, after returning from Florida and retrieving my hives plus high viruses loads from a commercial beekeeper, I experience slow motion Colony Collapse Disorder.

I didn’t recognize it. And as a result, got to experience the multiple year decline and demise of my bees. But that’s old hat to anyone who has been perusing this blog.

So it’s been awhile since I’ve had this kind of positive overwintering experience. I don’t take it for granted anymore, even with just 4 hives.

But, for many reasons, it’s certainly one I needed this year. And I’m thankful for it.

The Challenge

Keeping such strong, healthy colonies, in just 2 deep hive bodies, is going to be a challenge. Earlier, I’d overwinter these kinds of hives in 3 deep hive bodies. Then I could checker board them during this first yard check by:

  • placing the middle deep box with the cluster on the bottom board
  • take the bottom box with it’s pollen and mostly empty combs
  • and taking the top box which has full frames of honey
  • then alternating the full and empty frames in both boxes
  • and set them above the cluster box on the bottom board

Barring any additional rare feeding or queen problems after this check, checker boarded hives are essentially good to go. They:

  • have plenty of feed
  • lots of usable comb space
  • experience few swarming problems
  • and require little colony manipulation

But with just 2 deeps of drawn comb, I can’t checker board until the weather is much warmer. And by then, in Wyoming, it’s usually too late. They:

  • will quickly become honey bound and swarm
  • starve during the June dearth
  • require almost weekly inspections which causes much disruption

Wyoming March

These bees are going to keep me on my toes. In Wyoming, March is still more like winter with a hint of spring. The first spring pollen is still at least two weeks away. And in another 2 months dandelions will bloom to put things into perspective. But that’s Wyoming’s climate!

But for now, it’s still warm enough. And there’s enough light left for another season’s first. Barring a weak motorcycle battery, I’m going to fire up the bike and take it for a spin.


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