Having externally monitored our beehives over the winter months, beekeepers will soon be able to open them for a clearer look within. Once the daytime temperatures get into the mid-teens on a sunny day, we can don the bee suit, light the smoker and get on with the job.

So, why do beekeepers need to get involved in trawling through the bee’s nest? There are several reasons for doing so. Producing honey requires management in order to maximise the possibility of collecting a crop of nectar which will be turned into honey. This management consists of ensuring that the queen is performing well and has sufficient honeycomb available to her where she can lay eggs.


Old dark honeycombs, in which brood had been reared the previous year, are removed and replaced with fresh wax sheets. Bees turn these wax sheets into honeycomb which may be used for brood rearing or honey storage. Old dark honeycombs may harbour pathogens and their removal acts as a health check. Since eggs, laid by the queen, turn into larvae, beekeepers will scan the honeycomb, checking that they look nice and white, be in the shape of the letter “c” and their segmentation is visible.

Queen problems

Sealed brood is the stage following the larval period. Bees seal over the larval cells with a wax cover known in beekeeping terms as “capping’s”. Beekeepers pay attention to how the capping’s look, in relation to shape and colour. This is also the stage where one can easily see if the brood pattern is uniform or not. Queen problems or disease can show up where honeycomb cells are empty and certainly where the pattern is hit and miss.

The production of brood in both quality and quantity is a perquisite to getting honey. Breeding queens with the right attributes can improve one’s stock and make beekeeping more pleasurable. Not every beekeeper will breed their own queens, preferring to buy them instead. For some, it may be the case that they don’t have colonies of breeding quality. Irrespective of having good colonies from which to breed queens, we are always at the mercy of the drone population within miles of our hives, unless of course we have access to, or, the equipment to do AI.

Native Irish Bees

Having Dark Native Irish Bees, it is important that the queens, on their mating flights, are not mated with non-native drones. Beekeepers only become aware of this problem during hive inspections, when they notice bees with different abdominal colour banding. These bees result from the egg being fertilised with semen from a non-native drone. Queens, on mating flights, mate with anywhere in the region of 14 drones and when laying an egg, can choose to fertilise it or not. If she fertilises the egg, as it is being laid, it is a lottery as to which drones’ semen is used. Such variation in colouring within the hive from the various drones, indicates “sub families” which are either sisters or half-sisters. One cannot breed with success in the face of non-native bees being present.

Good honey production depends on good progeny.