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.