Hi Jon, good to see you here.
Let me start out by saying that if you have a question, it is usually not obvious. From the way you have written your questions, you have done your best, and that is all anyone can ask. Based on that, I am more than happy to try to help.
We are a bit lazy about telling you that, aren’t we? Well, there are many sources, but you need to have been a beekeeper for several years, and/or have several hives to have these little pots of gold. I only ever use “drawn comb” from my own hives, never from anyone else.
The comb either comes from uncapping and spinning honey out of honey storage frames, leaving only empty cells behind. Or more sadly, it comes from when a hive absconds, dies etc, but isn’t overtly diseased. I always freeze such empty comb as soon as it is empty, to kill off wax moth and small hive beetle. Somebody else’s comb carries a risk of other diseases, so I never risk it.
Brilliant question. Here is what I do:
- Buy an extra flat roof (the gabled Flow roof is pretty, but won’t work for this). Buy an extra brood box at the same time, if you can’t lift a full brood box (at up to 25kg, I can’t do that on my own).
- Put the flat roof upside down on the ground next to the hive you are inspecting.
- Put the inner cover/crown board inside the rim of the inverted flat roof. That will give some bee space below for what comes next.
- If you can lift the whole box that you have just inspected, put it on top of your inner cover/crown board/roof assembly very slowly, giving bees underneath time to move away. If you can’t lift the whole thing (like me), put your empty box onto the roof and inner cover, then load the frames one by one into the empty box as you inspect them. Then instead of lifting 25kg at once, you have lifted 3kg at a time, and still done everything you needed.
- Reverse the process to put the hive back together.
Don’t sweat it. My queens are all marked and we have been keeping bees for more than 30 years. I see the queen less than 50% of the time, unless I really need to find her. Even then, 5% of the time I can’t, and I have to use less gentle methods. If you see eggs, and/or uncapped larvae, you have had a mated queen in your hive less than a week ago.
This is a very “hands-off” approach. If you are at all worried about swarming (neighbour complaints) or diseases, most people would say that inspecting at least every 2 weeks during a nectar flow is essential. I aim for weekly, because then I can prevent swarming (mostly), but I don’t always achieve that. In winter, monthly or less may be just fine.
I am now going to hit you with more info than you need. If you definitely don’t want your hive to swarm, but they want to, you will have to split. The way to know is inspecting for queen cells. These are two long articles. Don’t try to understand all of the info now. It took me about 20 readings to get much of it, and every time I read them I see something new. However, if you start to see true queen cells, they will help you greatly in deciding what to do. The first document tells you how to recognize different types of queen cell. The second document tells you what to do. i usually do the method on page 17:
Thank you for the smart questions. You have obviously done a lot of homework. I wish you and your bees much success, you deserve it.