There is a certain amount of planning required any time you head out to check your hives. It is not a chore you can tick off your list just casually walking by and thinking "oh yes, I meant to reverse those brood boxes today". So you stop, pop off the cover, change the position of the brood boxes, slap the lid back on and head back to your La-Z-Boy. Although most of the tasks involved in keeping bees are not especially difficult, it does require some forethought.
I try to have a mental plan for everything I need but it is not uncommon to find I have forgotten something critical. My hives are a short walk from the house, but far enough that I don't want to run back and forth every time I need something. Most beekeepers have their hives away from the house, some are even miles away. A good plan in the form of a written checklist can be most helpful.
To help myself and all the other forgetful beekeepers out there, here's my new checklist for heading to the bee yard. These are not in order of priority.
1. Spare frames. While going through the hive I may find that frames are damaged or need to be replaced. When comb becomes very dark, it is time to swap it out for fresh foundation.
2. Hive tools. One to a person. These flat metal tools are indispensable for prying loose boxes, covers, and frames. Hive tools can be used to scrape off unwanted burr comb. I also use them to squish any small hive beetles I find.
3. Frame lifter. Most of the time I pull up the frames with my fingers for inspection. Sometimes if I can't quite get a grip on a frame or if it is heavy with bees, this tool really helps.
4. Feeder. Depending on the time of year, I may use a liquid feeder or a spacer to hold patties. My favorite is a top feeder because it hold mores, is easier to fill, and seems less disruptive to the bees. For further discussion about 3 types of feeders see my post on feeder styles.
5. Feed. What good is a feeder with nothing to put in it? Spring time finds me giving the girls a boost with a 1:1 sugar syrup.
6. Empty honey super. During the summer honey production months, throw in an extra honey super full of empty frames. If I find that a colony is ready for it's first (or second) honey super, I'll be ready.
7. Smoker and extra fuel. Although I do add syrup to my top feeders without using smoke, if I plan to go any deeper in the hive, some smoke helps keep the bees from setting off the alarms. Depending on how many hives are being inspected I may need to replenish the fuel in the smoker. Don't forget a lighter or matches in case the fire goes out.
8. Pest control supplies. Each beekeeper needs to develop a plan for treatment of at least Varroa Mites and small hive beetles. This may include some beetle traps or some powdered sugar. I prefer the natural approach whenever possible. An earlier post discusses options for treating mites.
9. Camera. Every time I open a hive, I snap a few pictures or take a short video to help me remember what is seen. Plus it's just fun to watch.
10. Inspection sheet. Even with photos or video, it is a good idea to have a standardized inspection plan for each hive. Some time ago, I posted an inspection sheet that I modified for our use.
Of course this is only a starting point and each beekeeper needs to develop their own checklist. I'm hanging mine on the shelf where all the bee supplies are kept. Having a plan in place will make your trip to the bee yard much more enjoyable.
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