Yesterday I wrote about listening to the hive by placing my ear on the brood box and finding out where the cluster might be. This determines where the cluster is located and how far they have risen in the brood box. Leading to the next question: are they going through food reserves at an expected rate? We should try these low tech methods in getting a better idea of colony health. By sitting at the side of a hive during any season with a coffee (or cool ale) we can assess each hive’s unique characteristics. For example, what colour pollen is entering, is there any pilfering or is it full scale plundering and warfare by wasps or other bees. If it is, fighting will be noticeable and you will see a large number of dead bees close to the entrance. As fighting continues a large amount of alarm pheromone is released by the defending bees (fanned at the entrance) which attracts more intruders, more defending bees arrive and more pheromone…you can see where this is going! The small entrance reducer maybe needed to help the defending bees.
The number of bees entering and leaving the hive per minute will also give us an idea of colony population. Count the number of bees returning per minute.(example: 275 bees per min. x 30 x 0.0005 = 4.12). The thirty minutes assumes the amount of time needed for any bee to make a return trip. The results will give you the number of deep frames of bees in your hive. Most frames have around two thousand bees each. Results may vary depending on the time of day and season.
Other clues to interpret: is there dysentery on the outside of the hive box? Do any of the bees have deformed wings? This deformed wing virus desease (DWV) is common in hives that have a higher than normal concentration of varroa mite infestation. This would lead to an inspection in the hive for further mite treatment.You can also observe if there has been any disturbance at the hive entrance. Is it scratching on the ground from visitors at night? Are there muddy paw marks on the front of the hive? Skunks and racoons love eating dead bees on the ground. Their continual visits can lead to an aggressive hive colony. If the bees are aggressive it could be a sign that nectar is in short supply, or a storm is imminent.They would have switched into protection mode. Perhaps they are queen-less and this will need an inspection later for recently laid eggs and larvae. At times its best to leave them a day or two and revisit. Wait till they have a better disposition and analyze why they may have a bad temperament before entering the hive. Always inspect the hive with a clear set of objectives, having decided what you want to accomplish before opening the cover. Never open a hive when the bees are testy, it is raining, during a major honey-flow or on a cold windy day. Speaking from experience, at night is not good either! The bees do not communicate when they have a problem, but as owner of the hive it is still our responsibility to manage well and alleviate possible distress.
These are a few points I have observed during my coffee/beer break at the side of the hives. I would love to hear of yours. Overall, I think the bees are like everyone else. They work very hard and spend their spare time gossiping with friends over coffee at the water fountain…
Image source: unknown, with thanks.