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Home > Tip of the Month – Hefting a hive

To check the amount of stores available to a colony, Beekeepers are often advised to “heft” their hives to check how much food is within. Hefting involves simply lifting one side of a hive to get a feel as to the weight and therefore whether stores are to the level needed.

 However, hefting needs some experience.

Until you get a handle on hefting, it is not difficult to weigh hives and can be carried out pretty accurately using a luggage scale and a piece of wire.

First make a hive weighing wire about a meter long.  Wire from an old coat hanger or similar piece of stout wire is ideal.  Put a screw into the hive floor on opposite sides of the hive. Attache the wire to one side at a time and then, using a luggage scales, weigh each side and add the two figures together to obtain the total hive weight (this procedure works if the fulcrum pivot is at either extreme edge of the hive – it does not work if the hive is pivoting in-board of the edges on e.g. a central brick support.

 The aim is that a full-size colony should have 18-20kg of food available as it enters winter at the beginning of October. If light, feed strong syrup – 1kg sugar to 550ml water. A reasonable overall weight for a single brood box National (including the equipment itself – box(es), floor and roof)) would be 28 – 30 kg.  Allow proportionally more if you have a  14×12 or brood and a half set-up. Polystyrene hives will be a bit lighter due to the reduced weight of the equipment  itself (approx. 4 or 5 kg less). If light, feed strong syrup – 1kg sugar to 550ml water and keep measuring until the weight comes up to the desired level. This could take a week or so.

Over a period of time you’ll be able to judge the weight of a hive to dispense with the above (not accurately but well enough to judge whether a hive is ‘OK’ or ‘too light’).

Always remember – a heavy hive may well have a lot of stores available but it isn’t a guarantee that the colony cluster is in a position to make use of those stores. Frequent measurements will tell you if stores are being used (it will get lighter) and from that you can decide whether food needs repositioning so that the cluster can get access to them. Opening the hive up in winter is not ideal due to the loss of heat such an activity will involve but is preferential to the bees starving.