Congratulations on your decision to keep Honey bees. Whether you’re fostering a strong pollination system on your farm or seeking their delicious, golden honey, keeping bees is a noble task, considering the enormity of hive collapses across the U.S. Survival can be tough for bees, which face acres of monoculture crops and pesticides harmful to their health. By creating a nurturing environment on your farm for these dependable pollinators, you are helping to create a healthy and sustainable food system.
However, the very nature of bees as wild creatures that don’t submit to human boundaries can pose a challenge. Even if your farm has committed to natural or organic production, your bees might be exposed to threats that can introduce disease or contamination into their hives. Regular checks of the hive and ensuring bees have adequate food supplies throughout the growing season and winter will help keep your hives—and bees—healthy.
When performing a hive check, beekeeper Bill Varble, of Lexington, Ky., recommends looking for these five signs of a healthy hive:
1. Hive Traffic
When simply approaching the hive, you should notice bee activity. Bees might be circling the hive after pollen collection, or they might be gathered at a hive entrance. This activity tells you that the hive is well and active.
As bees fly about the hive, you might notice pouches of yellow dust on their legs. This is the pollen that they’ve gathered from nearby plants—and evidence that they’re hard at work. The bees will mix the pollen with a substance they secrete to form bee bread, which is then fermented into the honey that both we and the bees feast on.
Bees will store their honey reserves in the upper chamber of a hive, so if you see honey there, you know they’re well-fed.
The queen lays her eggs in the comb cells of a hive, which later develop into brood, or bee larvae. You might actually be able to see the white worms within the comb, or the cells might be capped over, meaning the mature bees will soon emerge. Either way, evidence of brood means the queen bee is alive and doing her job.
Seeing the queen bee during a hive check is an added bonus and extra assurance that the hive is in sync. If you don’t see the queen, though, don’t fret. The other signs listed above point to a healthy and active hive.
Watch the video below to follow Varble as he performs a hive check, noting the signs of healthy bees.