Summer in the city: urban hive inspections
Note: Today’s post was written by Karen Peteros, a beekeeper and beekeeping instructor in San Francisco. Karen took issue with my post, “Is too much hive inspection a bad thing?” and wrote a dissenting opinion. Her arguments are both articulate and valid. I thought it would be useful, especially for new beekeepers in urban and suburban areas, to read her opinion.
Thanks, Karen, for your contribution to Honey Bee Suite.
I very much enjoy your blog posts but I do feel that your latest, “Is too much hive inspection a bad thing?” is unique to (1) your beekeeping location which I assume is somewhat rural given your reference to the landscape where you keep bees, your swarm catchers posted on various trees etc; and (2) the fact that you have a few years of beekeeping experience in your location under your belt.
A different perspective — If you were beekeeping in a densely populated suburban area or in an urban environment, you would need to significantly modify your practices or you may find you have neighbor, community and legal problems on your hands. Regular and thorough inspections, particularly for swarm control, is very important. Losing more than 50% of your bees to swarming is bad enough, but reliable queen mating in a suburban/urban environment can be lacking. This can result in a queenless colony that becomes pissy (e.g., hot). Moreover, rotted trees are not generally allowed to persist in densely populated areas, even in urban parks, due to public safety and liability concerns. Therefore, the nearest cavity a swarm is likely to find would be in someone’s wall or attic via a small area of dry rot. Not surprisingly, colony removal is an unwelcome cost to homeowners.
Accordingly, we urban beekeepers must balance the responsibilities of being good stewards to our bees, but also being good neighbors. I regularly teach classes for beginning beekeepers and, after having taught such classes and mentored beginners for a number of years now, I recommend that they get into the hive not less than every other week after the first 3 weeks of installing a package or a swarm, through September. As a point of reference for San Francisco, our primary swarm season is March-June, but swarming can begin as early as mid-February depending on the weather and can continue into September (primarily, congestion swarming). I tend to recommend this frequency of inspections for at least the first year of beekeeping. But I also recommend this frequency of inspections through the second year because the biological goal of a colony following the year of establishment has shifted from survival to reproduction. Otherwise, newer beekeepers simply do not gain enough experience in their first couple of years of beekeeping to understand the significance of what they are seeing, on the frames and within the hive as a whole, as it changes through the seasons and the life cycle of the colony. Unless newer beekeepers can gain this understanding through hands-on and observational experience, they are less likely to be able to manage for the success of the colony and their beekeeping experience.
I also keep bees in Ashland, Oregon on a rural property, and my practices there are much more akin to yours. However, in my (and other people’s) San Francisco backyards where I also keep bees, my intrusions into the hive are much more frequent and regular out of the necessity to balance the somewhat competing responsibilities to my bees and immediate and nearby neighbors.
San Francisco CA