We inspected our beehives Sunday afternoon for the first time this season. Most beekeepers evaluate their colonies based on visual evidence: Are the bees active? Is the queen laying a nice brood pattern? How much comb have the girls drawn out? How big does the colony appear to be?
Those things are all worth considering, but I can usually determine the relative health of a colony the instant I open the hive cover.
A weak colony has a pungent, acrid odor that overpowers the natural smell of beeswax and honey and worsens in the presence of opportunistic parasites such as wax moths.
A strong colony, on the other hand, is the most intoxicatingly fragrant thing on earth. It smells of honey and beeswax, of course, but stronger, and with headier scents — exotic flowers, freshly mown grass, and something subtle and indescribable — mixed in. If somebody could replicate the smell of a healthy colony of honeybees, that person would almost certainly put Yankee Candle right out of business.
I knew as soon as I opened the outer covers Sunday afternoon that we had three very healthy colonies. We went ahead and opened the inner hive covers and pulled a few frames, just to confirm my evaluation for Ron, whose sense of smell isn’t quite as sharp as mine. Our findings are below the fold.
Burr comb. Inconvenient — and unfortunate for any larvae that might be growing in the comb stuck to the bottom of a frame, as these poor little babies were — but still a fairly positive sign, as the girls are obviously drawing out plenty of comb and raising plenty of young’uns. Burr comb on the bottoms of the frames is a side effect of using shallow supers on top of deep ones. We’ll probably stick to the bigger frames this year.
Nectar flow seems to be terrific this spring, as evidenced by all the honey the girls are already putting up. If they keep going at this rate, we should be in for a nice harvest this summer.
Most positive sign of all: Check out that spectacular brood pattern. The queen in our younger Buckfast hive is doing magnificent work. Can’t wait to see what kind of honey her colony produces this season.