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Ever wonder why beekeepers are either reluctant to give advice OR you end up with multiple suggestions in response to the same question?

One reason is because seldom does the beekeeper being asked have a full picture of the issue being discussed. The problem and visual is clear enough in the mind of the person asking the question but usually their assessment isn’t clearly presented to the mentor or bee buddy. So what often happens is the mentor steers clear of guessing to avoid giving bad advice OR they venture a guess based on inadequate data. Since it is inadequate data it isn’t too difficult to wonder why multiple answers are sometimes suggested.

Good assessment data increases the odds of getting accurate suggestions.

So, as above, it always starts with Assessment.

APIE – Assessment, Planning, Implimentation, Evaluation

I worked in a hospital setting much of my work career. When it came to people’s lives I didn’t guess before administering treatments, care, medications, or interventions. I either was assured of my initial assessment or I stopped and re-assessed before proceeding further.

Measure twice; cut once! Well, sort of…

Of course beekeeping doesn’t quite have the same level of accountability and errors are not as devastating as in healthcare. However, the same methods can be applied which, if followed, should result in better outcomes for the bees and beekeeper. Until one Assesses how can they make a suitable Plan? And how do I decide on the proper Implimentation until a Plan is developed? And if I am to learn anything at all in this process I must Evaluate my results. Otherwise I make the same mistakes over and over, year after year, never understanding why.

But, again, it all starts with Assessment.

A Google search will yield many assessment sheets and data collection tools. Use them especially when first starting with bees. At some point it’s likely they will become second nature. And by second nature I mean you’ll do them without the need for prompting with a piece of paper. Let’s look a some things you may want to consider with regard to Assessment:

It’s easy – look, listen, smell! Touch and taste – not so much…

Approaching the hive:
Are they flying? Is the temperature such that they should be flying? Are they guarding the entrance? If not ask yourself, why not? Is the exterior of the hive marked up with bee poop? Are there dead larvae on the landing board? Dead bees? If so, was there a cold snap or is it appropriate cleansing, chilled brood, drone evictions? Are some hives flying and others not? Are there bees circling any hives looking for entrances? Are there bees fighting on the landing board? Are the foraging bees launching themselves into the air on departure? Are bees coming back to the hive heavy or with pollen? Are there yellow jackets, flies, or other pests hanging around the entrance? Do I have an appropriate entrance guard on based on the bees ability to guard? Any signs of dead bees in front of the hive? Any signs of wax cappings under the hive? Any moth or spider webs? Isn’t this easy – you haven’t even suited up yet!

Entering the hive:
What’s your idea on weight when you lift the hive from the rear? Is the number of boxes as expected for the time of year and history of the colony? What is the reaction to a puff of smoke at the entrance? What is the reaction to removing the inner cover? What does the hive smell like? Are there SHB inside the inner cover? Any sign of other pests? Is either the bottom or top box empty of bees? Do the bees run down between the frames when you give them a gentle puff of smoke or fly away? Are they unusually testy? Does what you are seeing, smelling, hearing correspond correctly with the season and temperatures? Does the top bars of the uppermost box have an appropriate amount of bees on them? Is there burr comb on the inner cover?

Frame examination:
Is there a well defined brood area? Where is it located within the hive (upper boxes? bottom boxes? chimney?) Is the capped brood density appropriate or spotty? Any cappings perforated? Appropriate worker brood to drone ratio? Is there a band of pollen over the brood and honey above that? Can you locate the queen either by sight or based on brood area? Is she where you want her? As you work, is the colony tolerating you? Are they giving you a roar to leave? Any signs of pests? If so how bad is the pest level? Any signs of PMS? Is the size of the colony in bee population appropriate for the number of boxes you have? What is your impression of the bee density and the number of frames covered with bees? Can they guard the amount of comb space you have given them to guard? Is there adequate stores? white wax? good brood pattern? Is the open larvae swimming in food? Is the hive functioning as a fine tuned machine?

And always, the follow-up question to the unexpected is, “Why?”

And so it goes with many many more questions that sometimes have different answers based on temperature, weather, seasons, bloom, dearth, and so forth. But it costs you nothing to ask these questions of yourself. Ask away and take note of your answers. And when the answers don’t add up to what you expect, are out of sync with season, or other hives, or just not what you expect look further for more questions to ask. Be the detective. Re-interview the witnesses and suspects. Get to know them well enough to spot the odd response or presentation.

If you think this is going to take years, you may be right. But I do think we get a little better every year. Keep asking questions of yourself and the bees until you see patterns and you know what follows various presentations.