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Spring is in the air! First spring inspection

Spring is certainly in the air with new blooms popping, warmer days, busy hive entrances, and a flurry of last-minute spring prep.

I’m so excited to dig into my apiary this weekend for the first time this season. We had a super warm weekend so I can’t help but think that it must have triggered some particularly ripe colonies to prepare to swarm that I’d prefer to be on the front foot for.

The first post-winter inspection is so important, for many reasons. What I’ll personally be looking out for includes:

  1. How the colony went through winter. Do they have enough food, are they bringing in nectar and pollen now?

  2. If the colony is weak I will consider if I need to downsize it to a single brood or nuc (for example) to give it a boost. Harbouring empty space in a hive can be very detrimental to their progress.

  3. A thorough pest and disease check

  4. I will be taking advantage of any opportunity to swap out old brood frames with fresh ones. It’s important to cycle out old brood frames (a 2-year cycle is best) to avoid pathogen build-up in the wax comb and small bees. I do this by taking out any honey frames on the edge of the brood and replacing these with empty new frames in the middle, where the queen will then be able to lay eggs in fresh comb.

  5. Any queen cells I can make a split with (see Swarm Prevention).

What’s part of your first post-winter inspection?

If you’re a beginner, please send through your questions.

:slight_smile: B

Important side note: suitable spring inspection time, conditions and checklists vary across different climates and locations, so make sure you consult your local experienced beekeepers on what specific practices you should be implementing for your location.


Hi Bianca, you have a great plan & I agree it is exciting times, especially right now I’m seeing lots of frames full of sealed brood right up to the top bars.

The only thing I suggest is to not reduce weaker colonies down to nuc boxes. Simply give them a full frame of sealed & emerging brood. That does wonders for a weak colony. I remember @Dee saying once that a full frame of brood will produce 3 frames of bees & I believe that to be true.

The other thing is: You don’t need to find queen cells in order to take a split. You can let the bees make their own queens. Ideally we’re trying to avoid finding queen cells by doing preemptive swarm control splits.


Just a regional note - unless you live in areas with high Africanized bee populations :wink:


It is true @JeffH :wink:

If you do the calculations, a Langstroth deep frame has about 3,500 cells per side. If it was edge-to-edge brood, allowing for a small rim of pollen, honey etc, that would be about 3,000 bees per side. When a Langstroth deep frame is completely covered with bees, that is about 1,000 bees per side, based on the surface area of a bee standing on the frame face. So a really good frame of worker brood can indeed produce 3 frames worth of bees. Amazing stuff! I reduced a weak hive this spring with one frame of brood. It made an enormous difference, probably saving the weak colony, and that is why I would always advise new beekeepers to have 2 hives. :blush:

One other thing @Bianca, when the Bee Informed Partnership studied colony survival, they looked at frame rotation. Commercial beekeepers often kept frames for up to 5 years, and had better overall survival than hobbyists who kept them for 2-3 years. There may be confounding factors in there too (inexperience, lack of feeding over winter, etc), but still worth a thought. Personally, I do 4 or 5 years.


4 -5 years rotation! I wonder what the benefits to a colony are for keeping frames for this long?

What do you mean by ‘reduced’ in this sentence Dawn? “I reduced a weak hive this spring with one frame of brood. It made an enormous difference, probably saving the weak colony.”

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Thanks Jeff, and Dawn. This is huge numbers that I had no idea of.

I’ve just had a mammoth weekend inspecting all my hives (and others) and noticed a lot of backfilling.

Since the Flow Super doesn’t allow the beekeeper to raise honey frames (or brood) from the brood box to the super to give the queen more space to lay, we are reduced to only being able to harvest honey-only frames on the outside (if any) or spare a brood frame for a colony in need. What else can one do to provide more laying space in times of need?

The main benefit is that they don’t have to draw out wax when resources are scarce - they have premade comb.

Ah, either fat finger or autocorrect error that I missed, thank you. My latest MacBook has a large touch pad, and sometimes moves text around or replaces it without me noticing! What I meant was that replacing an empty frame in a weak hive with a frame of brood from my strong hive was likely the thing that saved the colony this year. :blush:

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Ahaa I thought it may have been an error but I also thought it could have been an entirely new process I hadn’t heard of! Thanks for confirming that :slightly_smiling_face:

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Hi Bianca, your question provides me with the opportunity to promote the video “City of Bees” again. At the 13:50 mark, directly after the queens have engaged in the death struggle, you’ll see the relationship between the queen & the nurse bees. Therefore don’t ever be concerned about the queen laving nowhere to lay because the bees have back-filled the brood frames with honey.

I think it’s important for us to have an understanding of that relationship, which helps us to make decisions in relation to managing our hives. The thing to bare in mind is: as long as the bees have somewhere to move honey to, & as long as all the brood frames are not completely full of brood, there will always be somewhere for the queen to lay eggs, if the nurse bees want her to.

The Flow hive does present challenges in the area you mentioned. I encouraged @Bean19 to remove two flow frames from the center to make room for 2 brood frames, so that she could put fresh foundation frames into the brood box. That worked well for her. I think after that she started splitting, which I think also worked for her.

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I understand! Thank you, Jeff. You’re such a treasure to the forum.


Hey @JeffH, good to hear you again.
Yes I have followed Jeff’s advice over the 4 years I’ve been keeping bee’s and have to say I’ve had success with them all so far. Couldn’t have had a better mentor , thanks Jeff. The lifting of the brood frames into the middle of the flow super is not a perfect fit and requires a little bit of improvisation and
I do push the frames together to one side. The frames are up there for such a short time that the impact is negligible before you pop the flow frames back in.


I guess the question ‘what are the benefits of frequently rotating the frames’ should also be asked for balance. :wink:
Feral bees don’t rotate their comb.:face_with_hand_over_mouth:


Sure, I’d love to. My understanding and beliefs on the benefits of rotating frames in a brood box include:

  • removes the build-up of pathogens in the comb
  • acts as an aid for AFB management. I find it to be a good strategy for avoiding potential dormant AFB spores in the wax/comb (less than 8 spores). This is basically a personal theory that I believe has truth to it (and it’s AFB, why not be extra careful)
  • it resets the cell size for worker bees, avoiding smaller worker cell sizes
  • it supports the general health and longevity of the queen/colony by avoiding potential toxicity build up in the comb. This may be particularly important for beehives close to agriculture farms or other environments where hives are exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

All of these reasons I see to be relevant for modern beekeeping as the health of the poor global honey bee population is being hit left right and centre from human impact.

However, I love hearing other peoples opinions so please go ahead and let me know what you think. The more informed we are, the stronger our opinions will become, right? :grin:

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Thanks Bianca, so cycling out old brood frames basically remove pathogens and to reset the worker cell size.
So then, should we cycle out Flow frames to remove possible pathogens? :wink:

I think there’s a place for cycling out frames however like all things beekeeping, local conditions vary so yes, it is good, and healthy, to hear different perspectives.

Hi Skeggley, feral hives don’t have the advantage of being managed by a competent beekeeper. A well managed hive can go on indefinitely, whereas a feral hive won’t necessarily go on indefinitely. When you do the maths, you’ll see what I mean.

Just assume that a colony swarms once a year. There is about a one chance in 7 that a new queen will fail. This is according to the first bee book I purchased. I have found that to be the case myself. One in 6, one in 7 is about right. Therefore, on average a feral hive should last around 6-7 years before it fails. This is where wax moths come into the picture. They turn a failed beehive into a pile of dirt, dropping to the base of a tree, leaving the cavity nice & clean, ready for a new swarm to move in next season. Remember I’m talking “on average”.


Such a great feeling Bianca when “spring is in the air” and as a beekeeper I think that puts us even more in touch with seasonal nuances…exciting!

This is a great idea and I’ve experienced it working many times. My conditions are such that 3 frames of bees in a 10 frame Langstroth coming out of spring is a recipe for disaster if left in that large space. Place those bees in a 4 or 5 frame nuc box and they often thrive.

If conditions are right this will work…but I’ve seen this management practice fail resulting in a chalkbrood outbreak if not done correctly. There are a host of requirements to be met…then it will work.

This is so important…allows for many options later in the season.

In my area, studies also have shown that bees winter more successfully on dark comb. But I build out most of my foundation each year in the brood chambers, not the honey supers. And by the time winter rolls around, the bees have had several cycles of brood in this new foundation.

My conditions are so different than yours but I rely heavily on box manipulation earlier in the season, in addition to frame manipulation…i.e so in early spring I’ll place an additional broodbox under the single brood chamber…then in a week to 10 days, I reverse the brood boxes. During that 10 day period some of your best queens will be laying down below in the recently provided box…some not…but they polish cells in that bottom box like crazy…this acts as a queen magnet. After reversal, all queens seem to go up and lay in this new area of polished cells. Then you have an broodnest in 2 brood boxes. About six weeks later, I go back to a single brood box…using the Taranov method. It sounds like a lot of work but it’s not especially when considering the other advantages. I rarely inspect a hive for queen cells. The first photo is of hives at first spring inspection ready to have a box placed underneath…second photo…the wonderful Taranov method:

When ever I see the brood area backfilled with nectar, I become concerned. Unless it is just prior to winter, in which case that is when I want them to backfill the brood area as much as possible.

I have never experienced my bees moving feed out of the way…making room for the queen…during spring buildup conditions. If I place a frame of feed in the middle of a broodnest, that mostly intact frame will still be there 3 weeks later acting as a barrier…with the queen laying on both sides.

Yes agreed…I think you are right. I’m a fan of doing this but really can’t explain definitively how the benefits of rotating comb works…but in my mind it does. I’ve not used antibiotics for AFB/EFB for 8 seasons now…which is quite a feat for my area. I also haven’t seen one chalkbrood mummy during that same time. Also, each time a frame has brood laid in it, the structural integrity of the comb improves.


It looks like I bombed out every time :frowning:
Adding a frame of sealed & emerging bees to a weaker colony has never failed me yet. I swear by the strategy… Please list the host of requirements that need to be met for this strategy to work.

The point I was making, which probably wasn’t clear enough is that bees backfill the brood with honey because that’s what they want at that particular time of season, assuming that the queen is still ok & laying well.

I’m seeing evidence of bees moving honey so that the queen can lay, currently on a daily basic. I’m finding brood frames full to the top bars that would have had a reasonable honey arc above the brood a couple of months ago. I’m also finding brood right out to the side frames that would have been full of honey a couple of months ago.

As recently as yesterday I inserted a frame mostly full of honey towards the middle of the brood box, fully expecting the bees to move the honey, in order for the queen to lay in. I’ve done this many times in the past, resulting in the honey being replaced with brood.

The only debate would be: Do the bees remove the honey & store it somewhere else, or do they consume it as they go. My gut feeling is a mixture of both, depending on how many eggs they want the queen to lay.


Thanks Doug for your great methods and insights. Very true, our beekeeping conditions are SO different, so for anyone located in Canada, follow @Doug1 for suggestions!

Can you please confirm the second photo is what you say it is? I’m so confused by it.

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What you have implied as bees moving honey to give the queen more laying room (which I can say I am not familiar with) may have been as you say “consume it as they go” (which I am familiar with). And you know if you spent years beekeeping here…and I spent years of beekeeping in Australia…we both would be much the wiser.

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Bianca if you do a forum search for “Taranov” you will see a post I made on May 27/2021.

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