7 May 2013

Basic Assessment notes - Part 1 : Manipulation of a Honeybee Colony

The first section covers what any beekeeper will know once they've inspected their own colonies a few times. It's straightforward stuff, and should be almost automatic but it does look an awful lot now it's written down - and this is only a fifth of the syllabus.

Please remember that these are my notes, there might be too much information for your needs, or maybe not enough - follow the links if you want to read more on other sites.

The Candidate will be aware of:
1.1 the care needed when handling a colony of honeybees; 
Calmly and without any sudden movements.
Careful handling of frames and replacing of lid etc to minimise crushing.

1.2 the reactions of honeybees to smoke;
  • Believed that, because bees are innately scared of fire, they take in honey ready for flight to a new site where they will build fresh comb for their new home. This has the benefit of making them calmer, and distends their stomach so they are less able to sting. It doesn't mean they won't sting. 
  • Smoking through the entrance makes guard bees retreat.
  • Smoking the top of the frames makes the bees move downwards, making it less likely any will be crushed when replacing crownboard and/or roof or adding supers.
1.3 the personal equipment needed to open a colony of honeybees and the importance of its cleanliness;
  • Personal protective equipment - which could be a full suit including a hat and veil, calf-length boots and gloves.
  • Manipulation equipment - which is likely to include a smoker (+lighter and suitable fuel) and a clean, sharp, hive tool.
Some people would include the following as 'minimum' equipment, others would say it isn't needed :-
  • Some people like to cover the top of the open brood box with a manipulation cloth because it keeps the bees down. Others dislike doing this because of the risk of spreading disease from one colony to another.
  • Disposable latex or nitrile gloves – either wear alone or on top of leather gloves.
  • A bucket containing a washing soda solution and a dash of bleach should be in the apiary so that the hive tool can be cleaned at the end of inspection – avoids transmitting disease and removes sticky propolis.
Cleanliness is important :-
  • Hive tool should be cleaned at the end of an apiary inspection. If disease is suspected then it should be carefully washed between individual colonies/hives within a single apiary. Wash or change gloves too. (Some say that drifting bees transfer disease as effectively as beekeepers, so careful cleaning is a waste of time.)
  • If notifiable disease (efb/afb) is suspected then all clothing and equipment should be put in sealed plastic bag to take home, and then washed in washing soda solution a.s.a.p., or at least before going near any other colonies. This should include footwear.
Also useful are :-
  • Bee brush or large (goose) wing feather - to temporarily clear bees from frames.
  • Queen cage/clip – to remove queen from frame for either marking/clipping or if, for example, shook swarm is being carried out.
  • Queen marking pen/fluid (Posca medium) and suitable scissors (Fly tying scissors) for queen wing clipping.
  • Uncapping fork to check drone brood for varroa.
  • Lidded plastic box for wild or brace comb, drone comb (for varroa control) and propolis scrapings.
  • Notebook or record sheet and pen.
  • Small pack of fondant – in case stores are unexpectedly low. Fondant doesn't go off.
  • Some people use a spray bottle containing 1:1 or 2:1 syrup instead of a smoker – this can be used as an emergency feed if needed. Add a dash of thymol so it doesn't go mouldy.
  • Frame grip and frame rack are used by some people; some people carry tools in a box that can also be used as an emergency nuc box.
  • Drawing pins are handy to mark a frame – if, say, using a test frame to check whether the colony is queenright.
Useful video http://beekeeperlinda.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/how-to-do-basic-hive-inspection.html

1.4 the reasons for opening a colony;
No matter how careful and gentle the beekeeper, an inspection can be disruptive for the colony, so only inspect for a good reason :-

Disease or abnormal laying pattern
Better to look carefully for what may be wrong, than look at each frame checking for BIAS.
  • Laying pattern - is the colony Q+ or does it have a drone layer or laying worker?
  • Signs of disease or abnormality, including varroa and dwv, chalk brood, nosema, efb and afb etc..
  • To check status if non-notifiable disease suspected at last inspection.
  • To treat for varroa
Queen status
  • “Queenright” – if queen not seen, then evidence of eggs or young larvae (BIAS)
  • health - the right amount of brood/eggs for the time of year
  • anticipation of, or previous evidence of, swarm preparations or supersedure
  • sufficient until next inspection
  • if have taken feed/syrup in prep for winter
  • to lay and/or for stores – do they need a super, does any super need clearing and harvesting
Reason for inspecting (removing roof / opening hive) more than once in 7 days could be :-
  • because another beekeeper is checking for disease or queen status. (Mentor/bee buddy or RBI/SBI)
  • because additional feed was needed and not available last time
  • incident at apiary – damage / vandalism / flooding etc..
  • to remove supers that were being cleared.
  • checking whether test frame has produced a queen cell (3 days after inserting frame)
1.5 the need for stores.
Check to ensure the bees will not starve before next visit – which could be a week during the swarm season / bad weather, or several weeks over winter. June gap – when there are fewer plants in flower.

Bees need :-
Pollen = protein, needed for developing larvae
Honey = carbohydrate, energy

  • Many beekeepers offer 2:1 syrup as a supplementary feed in late summer/early autumn (NOT if heather is being brought back to hive – will contaminate honey with syrup), some offer a block of bakers fondant (a block of near solid sugar and glucose)
  • An overwintering colony will need about about 2/3 Langstroth brood box full of stores. Depending on location, temperature, hive insulation, breed of bee, a colony can consume between 15kg and 45kg (33lbs - 100lbs).
1.6 the importance of record keeping.
  • There is a statutory requirement to maintain treatment records if using vet-meds (Apivar/Apistan/Bayvarol)
  • To know what to expect when you open the hive; and to know what you did last time (last year) and the outcome; to plan ahead. – Plans are easily, and quickly, forgotten on the journey between hive and car/kitchen, let alone in the week between busy-season inspections.
  • To check with another beekeeper if you think there is something wrong – a well experienced beekeeper will probably be able to spot what is wrong simply by checking your (my) hive records.
  • Mood/temper - could be relevant for re-queening or during the swarming season (keep or increase stock from colonies with preferred traits). Bad temper could be sign of stress/disease; could be sign that the colony is being robbed; could be a sign of approaching thunder.
  • Date/time; weather/temperature. (Is/was it too cold or too late in the day to inspect?)
  • Record what is planned for next inspection, or after a given period of time.
  • Good records will enable another beekeeper to take over the colony in an emergency – in case of illness/incapacity/holiday.
Use your records - check them BEFORE an inspection.
Hive records can be stored online at Beebase.

The Candidate will be able to:
1.7 open a colony of honeybees and keep the colony under control;
  • Observe entrance – are they behaving normally for time of year – bringing in pollen etc. Are they calm etc.
  • Gently smoke – at entrance, through open mesh floor or through crown board – leave for a couple of minutes.
  • Do not stand in front of the entrance – you'll be in the way and the bees don't like it.
  • Explain why standing at either side or rear of hive – direction of frames/personal preference etc. Could refer to “warm” or “cold” way – terms largely irrelevant with advent of open mesh floors. Saves twisting back when lifting frames.
  • Remove roof and place upturned, either on the ground, an upturned crate or on an empty hive stand.
  • Remove crown board and check for queen, then place close to entrance.
  • Observe, for a moment - how are the bees behaving, do they sound 'normal'?
  • Remove any supers and place on upturned roof – some then like to cover supers with crown board to limit numbers of flying bees.
Brood box :-
Observe, for a few moments. (My hives have acrylic crown boards, so this quick check can be easily done.)

My “Jumbo Langstroths” have no more than 9 frames and a dummy board, so :-

  • Remove dummy board/frame, check for queen, use frame (or cover cloths) to partly cover frame tops or place near entrance so bees can walk into hive.
  • Check outermost frame for stores – do not hold any frames horizontally, especially during wax building - turn/rotate frame through 90 degrees at a time using wrist movement.
  • Replace first frame against side or at the front of brood box (so dummy goes back into on opposite side of box).
  • Check for eggs and brood – notice stores upper corners, drone cells lower corners, worker brood centre of frame.
  • A good brood pattern has no gaps, no (or few) drone cells amongst worker cells, total brood area will form a rugby ball shape across the frames and throughout the hive – narrowing towards the outer edges of the brood area. Outer frames will only have a small patch of brood central to the frame, inner frames will have frame almost full of brood.
  • Are there Queen cells? - If so, are they for supersedure or swarm preparations? - Discuss with examiner.
  • Are there too many drone cells in an irregular pattern? - Could mean a laying worker.
  • Are there large patches of only drone brood (no worker brood)? - Could indicate a drone-laying queen, one that has run out of viable sperm.
  • Is there only one egg per cell? - More than one egg per cell, with the egg on the side wall, may indicate a laying worker (her abdomen cannot reach base of cell).
1.8 demonstrate lighting and the use of the smoker;
A bit late to do this after opening the colony!
  • Put a scrumpled up piece(s) of paper in bottom of smoker, top up with a shallow layer of other material (egg boxes, dry shredded cardboard, dried grass, dry pine cones, dried, shredded wood, dry, rotten wood).
  • Light paper using barbecue lighter, long matches or blow torch, then hold the smoker at an angle, with the incoming air vent lowest and squeeze bellows until there's a good flame.
  • Top up with some more material, push down but not too firmly, top up with more fuel. Check it is still alight, and finally add a layer of grass – this cools the smoke.
  • Check it's still burning and then close the lid.
  • Puff bellows a few more times to be sure it's still lit, and puff smoke over back of hand to check temperature.
1.9 demonstrate the use of the hive tool;
  • Keep in hand all the time – if it's put on the ground it will vanish for ever, if it's put in a pocket the sharp end will cut the fabric.
  • Use straight (chisel) end of hive tool to move frames to one side. Use curved or J end to separate propolised frames and to lift edge of frame from side of brood box. It takes practice.
  • The sharp, 'chisel', end of hive tool can also be used to remove wild comb and propolis – scrape into plastic box rather than letting it drop to the ground.
1.10 remove combs from the hive and identify worker, drone and queen cells or cups if present, and to comment on the state of the combs;
  • Check above at point 1.7 and below at points 1.12 – 1.13
  • Queen cells are generally found either fairly central to the frame, in which case the bees are raising a new queen for the colony and want to be sure it is kept very safe, or towards the outer and lower edge of the frames. In this position is suggests preparation for swarming and the beekeeper should take action.
  • Very useful booklet from WBKA “There are queen cells in my hive - what should I do?” www.wbka.com/pdf/a012queencells.pdf
1.11. identify the female castes and the drone;
  • Queen – largest bee, usually only one per colony. She is the egg layer. Her pheromones keep the colony both happy and calm. The queen will sting, and kill, other queens but will rarely sting a human.
  • Workers – The smallest bees in the colony, which perform all tasks from mortuary duty through comb building, brood rearing, queen grooming and feeding, pollen and nectar gathering and honey production. These bees can sting.
  • Drones – huge, stingless, with rounded abdomen, large eyes and muscular thorax – to fly long distances and see the queen they want to mate with.
1.12. identify brood at all stages;
  • Use a magnifying glass to see eggs – which should be central to the cell, at the bottom. If not, there could be a laying worker.
  • Young larvae are white, c-shaped, floating in a bed of white liquid.
  • Older larvae fill the cell – are white, c-shaped.
  • Brood are sealed to allow the next stage of development – cell capping is a light coffee colour, deepening as the larva develops.
  • Capping should be clean and not perforated, greasy, or sunken.
1.13. demonstrate the difference between drone, worker and honey cappings;
  • Flat cappings for workers; raised/domed capping for drones. Capping semi-permeable - allow waste gases out, clean air in.
  • Worker cells usually central on frame, drones usually lower corners and below 'drone trap' frame - but can depend on size of foundation or previous use of cells.
  • Honey upper corners, wrinkled capping usually whiter than brood, and different texture. The capping is not permeable.
  • Pollen usually in an arc between brood and honey/drone cells.
1.14. identify stored nectar, honey and pollen;
  • Pollen is coloured, should not be mouldy
  • Pollen cards can be used to identify flower being harvested, but printing of colours is often inaccurate.
  • Nectar is runny, uncapped, can drip out of cells if the frame is held horizontally.
  • Honey is not runny, if seasoned (water content reduced to less than 20%) it will be capped with thin layer of light/pale coloured, slightly wrinkly, wax (depends on honey source and breed of bee)
1.15. take a sample of worker bees in a match box or similar container;
  • Seal entrance for a moment (or a few minutes, depends on season and level of activity).
  • Collect bees leaving the hive, or catch returning bees that have gathered outside entrance.
1.16. state the number of worker bees required for an adult disease diagnosis sample;
  • 30 bees to test for disease – afb or efb, nosema, acarine etc.
  • 300 bees to test for suspected poisoning.
1.17. demonstrate how to shake bees from a comb and how to look for signs of brood disease.
  • Remove two or three (the books say 'central', but should it be frames of stores?) frames, shake frames hard downwards – may need to be done more than once to clear the frame … first of all make sure queen isn’t on the frame to be shaken, because shaking can hurt her.
  • Shaking isn't a good idea if the frame is to be transferred to another colony to test for queen presence, because shaking can damage both eggs and larvae.
  • Can remove bees using a brush, by breathing on them or by placing hand near to the frame. (Brush bees upwards, brushing downwards can catch their bodies in the cells and cause injury).
  • Scan empty cells - in a healthy colony uncapped cells on active frames should contain either pollen, nectar, eggs or larvae ... or should be being prepared to do so, and will be 'polished'. Too many empty cells could mean the colony is too small for the space it's been given.
  • Empty cells should not contain any debris, if there are signs of black liquid it could be foulbrood.
  • Bees often leave cells near frame wires empty.
  • Check cell cappings – there should be an even pattern across the frame, cappings should not have holes and should be 'uniform' in appearance. Cappings should not be discoloured or sunken.
  • Check condition of larvae – they should be c-shaped, lying sideways in the cell.
  • Anything different could mean disease.
See also section 5 of the syllabus, link below this post.
  • Chalk brood infected larvae are hard, rattle in the cell and drop out when it's turned upside down.
  • Slipper shaped larvae = sacbrood (read more on The Hivemind and Me)
  • Can remove capped drone brood (from drone cell trap area of frame) with an uncapping fork to check varroa load.
AFB and EFB are notifiable diseases.
Who to notify :- https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/public/Contacts/contacts.cfm

Symptoms of AFB :-
The characteristic disease signs of AFB include some or all of the following:
Symptoms of EFB :-
  • An infected colony may show some or all of the signs below:
  • Erratic or uneven brood pattern
  • Twisted larvae with creamy-white guts visible through the body wall
  • Melted down, yellowy white larvae
  • An unpleasant sour odour
  • Loosely-attached brown scales
  • Unlike AFB, the remains of larvae that die from EFB do not rope when drawn out with a matchstick.
  • How to spot EFB https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/beebase/public/beekeepingFaqs/europeanFoulbroodEfb.cfm
There are 'notes' for each section of the 'Basic Assessment' syllabus:
BBKA Basic Assessment : Syllabus 2013
Basic Assessment notes - Part 1 : Manipulation of a Honeybee Colony
Basic Assessment notes - Part 2 : Equipment
Basic Assessment notes - Part 3 : Natural History of the Honeybee
Basic Assessment notes - Part 4 : Beekeeping
Basic Assessment notes - Part 5 : Disease and Pests
BBKA Basic Assessment notes : On the day


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