Opening The Hive
Before approaching the hive, make sure your smoker will not go out just when you need it.
Move quietly: any bumping or jarring (dropping a hive-tool or smoker on the roof, perhaps) is communicated to the bees as vibrations through their feet, causing instant alarm. Puff a little smoke in the entrance, wait a minute, then standing behind or beside the hive, carefully lift off the roof. The roof is usually placed upside down nearby to act as a container for parts removed later.
Loosen the inner cover with your hive-tool, lift one corner or slew it a little and puff some smoke in the gaps. The smoke causes bees to run into the open cells and start gorging themselves with honey, making them less aggressive. You must gain control of the bees straightaway and maintain it with a gentle reminder from time to time. Once a cloud of bees has roared into the air, it is too late. Knowing when and where to smoke is learnt by experience and by watching an experienced beekeeper or perhaps painful mistakes
The cover / crown board / inner roof is removed and stood askew on the upside down roof, which avoids hurting bees on its underside. If there is a super on the hive, it and the inner cover could be removed together. Make a gap between it and the queen excluder, puff in some smoke, and lift off. Puff smoke across the excluder to drive the bees down, lever it off, shake off the bees over the brood box, and put it aside. To shake off the bees, hold the excluder firmly with one hand and bit that wrist a sharp blow with the other hand.
There is always a little spare space in a brood box, so the next step, if you have the Hoffman frames, is to lever the whole block of frames to the far side of the box with the hive-tool, so allowing as much room as possible for withdrawing the first frame. Loosen the ends of the first frame in turn, put the hive-tool somewhere handy (later you will be able to hold it as well), grasp the frame lugs with thumb and forefinger and lift it slowly up, trying to avoid rolling bees against the next comb or the hive-wall. Once it is clear, adjust your grip with your palms against the side bars. You can now study the side of the comb nearest you.
Brood combs must never be held flat; when they are warm and heavy with brood and stores the whole comb could drop out of the frame, and honey drips everywhere. To turn the frame round, a series of movements is used which keeps the comb vertical at all times. See Frame examination
Outside combs seldom contain brood. This being so, you can shake all the bees off the first frame and prop it against the side or front of the hive where you will not kick it. This gives much more room for removing and replacing other frames without damage to the bees. Each frame is examined in turn and replaced in its former position so that the exact formation of the brood nest is maintained.
The frame being handled should always be held over the brood box. A laying queen is heavy and unwieldy, and if she fell from the frame into the grass she would seldom regain her hive. Also, workers will clear up any honey which drips on to the frame tops, but any dripped outside the hive attracts wasps and robbing bees. A queen is particularly liable to damage if she is on the wooden frame, rather than the comb, when it is being replaced, so check this.
A beginner examines the combs to familiarise himself with the normal appearance and development of brood, and to learn to recognise the different castes of bee, pollen, and honey.
t may seem impossible to pick out a queen among so many bees but, once you have seen one, a queen is unmistakable, and facility in spotting her comes with experience.
She is most easily found when the colony is small in spring, and usually on the central combs. If there is a laying queen there will be eggs, looking like tiny white dashes in the bottom of the cells. Light reflection can mislead, so tilt the comb a little each way as you search for them.
Learn to distinguish capped brood and capped honey: brood will occupy the centers of the combs, honey the top outside corners. Between the two will be a ring of cells filled with pollen which may be green, yellow, orange, brick red, and even black, according to source.
Drone cells with distinctive domed cappings tend to be in the lower corners of the outermost combs. Later, when the novice has a full-sized stock, this will be examined comb by comb in the same way for signs of swarming. Even a nucleus may have to raise a new queen if its own is injured. Queen cells are not always as obvious as might be thought, because workers often cluster thickly over them and they are often cunningly sited just inside the frame bars. At a certain stage in swarm control, when every cell must be found, the bees must be shaken from each comb in turn to allow a thorough search to be made.
When all combs have been examined, replace the first frame if it was left out, the same way round as before, lever the whole block to one side to push them close together, and then centre it to leave an equal space each end.
Puff smoke over the top, and replace the excluder, checking that it is the right way up if there is a difference. Put back the super and inner cover, and the roof, checking that they are exactly straight to avoid gaps. Collect the smoker, hive-tool and so on before leaving. It is worth making a box to carry your tools, including the smoker after it is cool, also spare fuel, a notebook and pencil, and later on such things as drawing pins and queen cages. Beginners can usefully make more comprehensive notes of anything seen during examination, rather than the word or two an experienced beekeeper puts on his record card. Something not understood at the time often becomes clear later, in the light of other developments. One can work out at leisure what has happened or will happen and look for the confirmation next time.
Tags: Inspection, Looking, Opening The Hive