“Colony 47 is queen right with eggs and larvae, there are 10 frames of bees, I got sealed brood at 5,8,11,15,21,29,23,21,17,16, 9, and 5. The brood pattern is good and there are no diseases…” This is an example of dialogue between Bee Team members calling out observations from hive inspections and colony assessments in the field.
As we gear up this fall for sampling of potential breeders, hive inspection and colony assessments are always a large part of the field work that compliments sample collection. We will try to sample a minimum of 100 potential breeder colonies from each of the 16 queen breeders we are working with in northern California. The information collected from the hive inspections, assessments, and the results of our Varroa and Nosema tests will be available to the queen breeders to provide a snapshot in time as they begin the selection process of colonies they will use to breed next year’s queens.
Observing and recording the number of frames of bees in colonies throughout the year gives a much clearer picture of a colony’s overall health by providing a seasonal history of its strength, and size based on fluctuations in adult bee populations. So how does one estimate frames of bees? The answer is as simple or as complicated as one wants to make it, the key to it all is consistency.
Estimates amongst different colonies or estimates from the same colony at different times of year cannot be compared to one another if the estimates are not made consistently. To be consistent, estimates of frames of must be done the same way each time (perhaps even during the same time of day) and the inspector must also take into consideration hive body size and the number of brood boxes if they want to compare frames of bees in hives with deep brood boxes to frames of bees in hives with medium brood boxes.
I feel it is best to estimate frames of bees in the brood boxes only because they are the rib cage that house the heart and soul of a hive and come fall and winter when adult bee populations are most important the bees will cluster in the brood nest around the queen. It is also very important to remember that each frame has two sides and that both sides of one frame completely covered in bees equal’s one frame of bees. If only one side of the frame is completely covered then it is only considered ½ a frame of bees. Furthermore, if a single frame has bees covering only a ¼ of the frame on one side and ¼ of the frame on the other side it is considered 1/4 of a full frame of bees.
Estimating frames of bees should be the first thing you do when you begin an inspection of your hive. For a simple estimate of a hives adult bee population, crack the lid and smoke the top box gently. You want to be sure not to use too much smoke because it will drive the bees down making it harder to estimate adult bee populations. After the lid is removed and you have located the top brood box begin counting the number of frames covered with bees. In some cases, this can be accomplished without having to remove any of the frames, simply look between each frame counting the frames that are entirely or mostly covered with adult bees. On your way down to the bottom brood box check the underneath of each brood box above it to see if the bees are covering the entire depth of the frames. Do this for each brood box and add them together to get an estimate of the adult population of a hive expressed as frames of bees.
Sometimes estimating frames of bees does require that you remove some of the frames to get a better idea of “bee coverage” on each of the frames. Since a hive inspection requires that you pull out the frames to look at other hive attributes anyway this should not be a problem. Estimates of frames of bees can always be revised if the “bee coverage” is more or less then what you surmised from a quick glance between each of the frames in the brood boxes. If the bees are not covering a few frames entirely or they are spread out across all of the frames it may take a little imagination to consolidate the bees on the frames to get a more accurate reading that may translate into fractions of a frame. For example if there are ten frames in a deep brood box and 8 of them are completely covered with adult bees then that brood box would have 8 frames of bees but if it had 6 frames in the middle that were entirely covered in bees (6 frames of bees) and 1 frame with bee covering one side of the frame but not the other (1/2 a frame of bees) and another frame that has bee’s covering all of one side of the frame (1/2 a frame) and only a 1/2 of the other side (1/4 of a frame of bees) then your total for that brood box would be 6 + ½ + ½ + ¼ = 7 ¼ frames of bees.