The Bee Inspector Calls

The bee inspector contacted a friend of mine, I’ll call her Louise, towards the end of last summer asking to inspect her bees for disease (EFB) as there was some in the area.  Louise has one hive, a Warré, with bees descended from wild stock.  The colony gave every appearance of being healthy and had settled itself down for the winter, sticking everything together with propolis and moving honey stores to the top of the hive.  Louise really did not want to undo the work that the bees had done by opening the hive and she was very concerned that a full inspection, comb by comb, would trigger robbing by neighbours’ bees and wasps.  After some negotiations, the bee inspector agreed to defer an inspection until the spring when the majority of the stores in the hive would have been consumed and neighbours’ bees would not be in a robbing frame of mind.

The bee inspector contacted Louise about 10 days ago and a date was set for his visit.  Louise asked me to perform the actual manipulations.  The appointed day was sunny and warm.  The bees were flying heavily, bringing in nectar and many colours of pollen.  I noticed that nearly all the bees were dark, with just the odd one having a leather colour on the front of the abdomen.

We could see through the observation windows that the bees occupied two boxes of the Warré.  The boxes were fitted with top bars, which had been primed with small wax guides but nothing more and the bees had not been disturbed since they occupied the hive as a swarm. So we were slightly concerned that we would find a lot of cross-combing.   I lifted and carefully rotated the top box through 90 degrees (keeping the combs vertical) so we could look up at the combs from below.  We saw eight parallel combs aligned with the top bars and without any hint of cross-combing.  The bee inspector commented that the combs looked better than many of his that are drawn on foundation.

It was clear that there was brood in both the upper and lower boxes, so we set the top box to one side and rotated the lower box to look up at the combs in that box.  These too were all beautifully aligned.  We then inspected the lower box one comb at a time, first cutting any side attachments with a Warré knife.  I held each comb above the hive (being careful to keep it vertical) while the inspector looked into the brood cells. All the brood was healthy in the lower box. We then moved on to the top box and found the same story; all healthy.  So we put the top cloth and quilt box back on the hive, and watched the bees at the entrance for a while before leaving them to the last of the afternoon sun.  They were settled and quiet throughout our inspection and made no attempt to resist our actions.  I made sure to be especially gentle and even removed my veil after the first 30 seconds when it became apparent that the hive was even tempered.  Clever bees!  And a much relieved beekeeper.

As a footnote, the NBU  have the technology to sample bees from the hive entrance to check for disease but as yet it’s not ‘policy’. Perhaps the day will come when routine opening of beehives to inspect for disease will be consigned to history: a disruption of the bee organism that we no longer feel is necessary.

Gareth, Cotswolds

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3 Responses to The Bee Inspector Calls

  1. salp111 says:

    I’m very glad to hear the colony was strong & healthy. I expect it was a huge relief to have it over & done with. It is something I would not be happy about doing or have done at all, in particular with some of the log hives where it would be extremely disruptive, to say the least, even though I have designed them with a potential inspection in mind.

    With regard to notifiable diseases, I was sent this link: It is about Kenyan bees that are resistant to many diseases. Well worth reading.

    In a similar vein, I have also seen a video about African beekeeping for honey where a honeyman resisted the urge to burn when his colonies were exposed to AFB. He was very apprehensive but didn’t burn , left it for a while & eventually the hives, all but one, recovered & he was able to continue trading.

    He put it down to a large, uninterfered-with gene pool, resulting in strong, disease resistant bees.
    Quite unlike our poor beleaguered bees who have been cut & chopped for years in the name of better beekeeping.
    Having said that, I did attend a conference last year where a prominent BBKA member/speaker (sorry, can’t remember his name) was extolling the virtues of drones as valuable sources of genetic input, so there’s light in the tunnel!!

  2. solarbeez says:

    I wouldn’t have been so calm about opening up my hive either, especially pulling the combs out and holding them up one by one. If I had a bee inspector called on me, I’d probably freak out! I’ve got some cross combing or at least did in my first Warre. What is the problem with cross combing? I thought with a Warre hive, you treated each box as a comb.

    • simplebees says:

      “I thought with a Warre hive, you treated each box as a comb.”

      You do, until the inspector calls. Some parts of the country (I’m talking about the UK) never see foul brood. Hence you are very unlikely to see an inspector. In other areas FB is more likely, as is an inspection visit. Inspectors have a legal right of entry so, if one calls and you don’t want them to inspect your hives, the conversation gets quite interesting.

      Even with cross combing, it is possible to look up from the base of the box and see quite a bit of what is going on. Patchy sealed brood would suggest a problem. An even spread of sealed brood would suggest all is well. One can always cut a sample of brood from a comb with a longish knife and test any larvae with a lateral flow device (looks like a pregnancy test kit).

      As I said in the post, sampling of adult bees at the entrance is also possible but not yet policy. This would be the ideal as opening hives comb by comb disrupts the wholeness of the organism in the same way that operating on an animal does. It takes time to recover and the stress caused my trigger exactly the ‘disease’ one is seeking to control!


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