Honey bees live and die by their queen, but in order to understand why that is, we have to look at what the queen does: She lays a lot of eggs. If a colony doesn’t have a healthy, egg-producing queen, they don’t have healthy brood, and a colony without healthy brood is not a colony that can survive.
So, when you become a beekeeper, you have to learn how to recognize healthy brood in order to best care for your bees. It starts with inspections.
Fact: You can’t know if you have healthy brood if you aren’t looking at your hive. Assessing the health of your colony starts with quality inspections. An in-depth inspection provides beekeepers with a baseline for their bees.
Yes, your colony may behave differently than the colony across town, so it’s vital you know your bees. If you can recognize health in your hive, it’s easier to recognize if things start going south.
Learn what to look for in your hive and inspect regularly.
So, what do you look for when you inspect your brood? Brood patterns. But first, let’s briefly review what brood is.
Brood is a catch-all term for baby bees in various stages of their development cycle, from egg to fully-functioning adult. When the queen lays an egg, it stands upright for 24 hours before falling onto its side. It remains an egg for three days total, then turns into larva for six days before a worker bee seals, or caps the cell. Capped cells are anywhere from cream to brown in coloration.
At this point, the bee is a pupa, spending the next 12 days transitioning from a pearlescent white grub-like creature into a worker bee, ready to emerge from its cell and contribute to the survival of its colony.
That’s a grand total of 21 days from egg to worker.
During the bee baby’s time as a larva, nurse bees feed it brood food, surrounding its c-shaped body with a milky, nutritious goo. Then, they cap the cells so the pupa have time to develop. Worker cells have a slightly raised appearance; drone brood is capped even higher, resembling a pencil eraser.
In order to assess the health of your brood, you need to look at brood patterns.
Healthy brood is consistent. If you pull out a brood frame from your hive, you will see brood cells, one after another, spanning large portions of the comb. Queens are somewhat meticulous about how they lay and they don’t jump around the comb if all is well. Unhealthy brood may show a scattered, or, shotgun, pattern.
Additionally, you will want to look at the shape and coloration of your brood cells. For example, chalkbrood has a distinct, chalky appearance. Furthermore, American Foulbrood can be characterized by sunken or concave brood cells. Remember, the cells are supposed to be convex, or rounded outward from the surface of the comb.
Let’s take this a step further. There are three additional signs you can look for to assess whether you’ve got healthy brood.
There are three things you can look for in your hive to tell you if your brood is healthy and they don’t involve looking at brood patterns.
First, look at the entrance to your hive. Bees are industrious and if they notice an infection, like chalkbrood, they do their best to take care of it. You may see mummified, infected pupae discarded by the entrance of the hive.
Second, do a smell check. Yep. Certain infections, like American Foulbrood, have a distinct odor, in this case, of fish. If your colony stinks, take a closer look at your brood.
Finally, look at your adult bees. When colonies are infected by Varroa mites, you may notice adults emerge from their development cycles with deformed wings or literal mites feeding off of their bodies (they like to chow down on fat, bee abdomens). If you notice this, look at your brood.
Healthy colonies have healthy brood and you can be ahead of the curve by knowing what to look for. If you have a consistent, healthy brood pattern, lots of workers, and an egg-laying queen, congratulations! You’ve got a healthy brood. When you do your inspections, look for the warning signs above, and if you notice any abnormalities, bee ready to act.