Well 10.00am 16th April and the temperature is only 5 degrees so I'm not opening up yet!
Later today it might be warm enough to do a quick inspection but the air temp really needs to reach 15 degrees for 3 consequtive days before you should feel confident about a deep examination. The bees will often fly out at much lower temperatures but that's not a sign to taske your hive apart! They will lose all the core heat in the cluster, the brood will chill and probably die and you'll set your hive back by several weeks. If you need to check a particular hive, then lay tea towels or similar heavy cloth over the brood to keep as much heat in as you can and only expose the frame you are lifting out. Best to do in sunlight and not stand between the sun and the hive. There's quite a lot of heat in that sun now and it will help prevent the hive getting too cool.
Heft regularly - this will give you an indication of stores in the hive. But be aware that ivy honey from last year may well have set and be inedible for them. This makes you think the hive is full whilst the bees are starving. Fondat or a sugar syrup feed is a good idea. I have put Candipolline (fondat/pollen mix) on our hives already and a liquid feed and they guzzled it down in no time!
The light winter we have had has meant our colonies have come through the winter quite strong - some had 10 seams 3 weeks ago and I'm already considering putting supers on. I'm leaving it a few more days before I do as I dont want to store the sugar syrup they had last week, only the nectar they are bringing in.
As soon as I can I'll be swapping out old comb - moving to the edges of the box until brood all hatched and then replacing it with fresh foundation. Some brood boxes and roof need a bit of attention too - repairs, repaint etc so I'll be getting that under way too.
We had a maintenance day at the Branch Apiary this week and have made up 40 frames, re-sited a stand for the improvers - who now have 2 hives ready to go for their evenings - cleaned up some old equipment, sorted out all the bee suits and had a bit of a tidy up. Even found time for a cup of tea in the middle!
This will take you through the steps of your first inspection of the season
Late February and early March has already seen warm balmy days when the bees have been out collecting pollen and going on cleansing flights. Don't be fooled though, this is not quite the time to start feeding to stimulate the queen. We could easily have some very cold days (like today in fact - hardly got over 6 degrees 6/3/21)
Towards the end of this month then. we should be getting some warmer days and some gentle feeding will then stimulate the queen to lay more and colonies to start growing from their current slow pace.
Inspections should really only start when 15 degrees C is a regular temperature and 3 days in a row is a good sign. If you like horticultural reminders when the flowering currant is in bloom it is usually time to begin!
So what to look for on your first inspection -
Last years records so you know what you left - and start new ones for the new season
Eggs - preferably day old eggs so you know the queen laid today
Queen cells, and play cups
Quality of your comb - do you need to change any, or all of it
Clean up any winter rubbish - dead bees in bottom of hive, propolis around the roof and frame tops, wild comb
Stores - feed if low especially if you are expectibng them to draw new comb
Disease - do you have any that needs attention, or are they busy and healthy
Size - how many bees, not actual numbers, but seams.
Below 5 is weak, and might do better in a nuc
5-7 moderate for early spring - feed to boost
8-10 you're in for a problem if you have sealed brood - get a super on or consider splitting by artificial swarming
The first inspection is always a lovely start to the year. What you haven't got ready by now will soon tbe too late so get your equipment up to speed and ready for the off!