The last thing any beekeeper needs is an ill-advised, late-season swarm. Ditto for an overwhelming Varroa mite infestation or failing queen—particularly right before winter. That’s why, if you have your own hives, a late-summer (or early fall) hive check so important.
I recently looked in on my top-bar beehive first through its observation window and later, smoker in hand, one frame at a time. I wanted to see:
In my top-bar hive, the bees had to build all of their own comb. I supplied wooden slats painted with a little bit of beeswax along the bottom edges to help get the bees started, but that was all.
It takes several pounds of nectar to make a single pound of beeswax. So I was impressed to see that they’d not only built out much of their hive this year, but that their stores are at pretty respectable levels, too.
They need about 60 pounds of honey to make it through winter. I probably could’ve gotten away with taking a little bit of honey for myself. But I decided they should keep it all. (We’ll talk again this spring!)
My bees now occupy more than 20 full frames. They still have a little room towards the back of the hive to grow.
That’s good news, since hives with large populations and very successful queens can be tempted to swarm even though our nights have begun to cool. (Swarm control is extra important this late in the season, since building up a new hive now would be an uphill battle for a just-issued swarm.)
I didn’t see any swarm or supersedure cells during this check.
If I don’t spot the queen but I do see fresh eggs, I surmise she was laying a few days ago. You can also tell a lot from the type and configuration of brood.
Is the pattern uniform or spotty? Mostly drones? Do the capped brood cells look normal?
I didn’t see my queen this time, but I did find eggs, larvae, capped brood and a lot of pollen. Also, the bees acted and sounded purposeful—another good sign.
Finally, I didn’t see obvious disease, deformity or Varroa mite explosions during my late-summer hive check. With fingers and toes crossed, I just might make it to winter with a large number of healthy bees.
Capped brood and queen photos (included in video) by Waugsberg (Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0).