Make regular inspections of your bee hives
While it is important to make regular inspections of your bee hives, you can also learn a lot about the condition of the colony by just sitting and looking closely at the front of the hive and the entrance. Observing the hive from the outside minimizes the disturbance that occurs on the inside when they are opened for inspection. It is also a good way to do a « quick check » of the hive if you are short on time. Plus, I enjoy being able to sit and spend time with my bees without having to interrupt their daily work!
The hive entrance
As I watch the hive entrance, the first thing I notice is the hive’s reaction to my being near them. A normal hive will pay little or no attention to me and go about their normal business. If the keeper bees approach me, or act aggressively, it means there is a problem with the colony that needs to be investigated. It may be that problems with the queen are making them more « cantankerous, » or that nighttime intruders such as skunks or raccoons are causing the hive to become more defensive. Scratch marks near the entrance are a sign that animals are the problem.
Observe The Entrance of your hive For Signs
Then I look at the bees at the hive entrance. A strong hive will have bees stationed at the entrance – the guard bees. These bees are checking bees returning to the hive to make sure they belong to that hive, and are not intruders from another hive. The guard bees also watch for other intruders such as wasps, hornets, mice, etc.
The hive entrance should be a busy place; you should see many bees taking off from the hive entrance while others return with nectar and pollen. Speaking of pollen, it is sometimes possible to get an idea of which flowers the bees are visiting by looking at the color of the pollen they are bringing back. It will vary in different areas, but in our area maple is pale yellow, blackberry and raspberry are grayish, and white clover is a dark yellow.are bringing to the hive, and by being aware of what is blooming in your area, you can get a good idea of what plants your bees are visiting.
If you are looking at the front of your hive in the late afternoon, you may see large groups of bees « hovering » in front of the hive. They may be moving up and down or moving in a « figure eight » pattern.These are newly hatched bees that are « orienting » toward the hive entrance. If a hive is producing a lot of bees, it is a good sign that there is a healthy laying queen in the hive.
There are also some things to look for that are cause for concern. One of these is robbing behavior. Robbing tends to become more common in the fall when nectar becomes scarcer and the bees are trying to prepare for winter. Signs of robbingThere are bees fighting and struggling at the hive entrance, and bees aggressively circling the hive looking for ways in. If you see robbing taking place, it is important to take action to stop it immediately. The hive being robbed could be weakened to the point that it will not survive the winter. For tips on how to stop robbing, see my previous blog. « Bees and robbing » .