Inspecting Commercial Bees on Cranberries

Inspecting Commercial Bees on Cranberries

I can make the big announcement because now it’s official!  I have been hired by the state of Massachusetts to be the Bee Inspector for Essex County.   This job will be fascinating as I get to see honey bees in all types of situations, help out fellow beekeepers and observe many different management styles. Plus, you all know how much I love bees, so what could be better than hanging out with bees all day long!

As my first foray into inspecting, I spent a day with the state inspector going through large-scale commercial bees pollinating the cranberry bogs in MA.  The cranberries were just starting to come into bloom and most of the bees had been there for less than a week. These bees live and work hard and are responsible for feeding the mouths of everyday Americans.  Without them we would have a pollination crisis and our food supply would dwindle.  The state inspector and I  visited three yards and inspected some 40 plus hives.

Cranberry Bog

Cranberry Bog

Two yards we visited had swarms.  Can you spot the swarm in this picture? It’s small and hard to see but there.

Bees on Cranberries. Can you spot the swarm?

Bees on Cranberries. Can you spot the swarm?

Here is a close up picture of the swarm. The queen was walking around the outside and easily visible.  You can see her in the gallery pictures below and also in the video at the end of this article when I zoom in.

Bee Swarm. The queen is right in the middle can you see her?

Bee Swarm

We took alcohol washes to check for varroa mites.  Varroa mites are harmful to bees and a bane to beekeepers just about everywhere.  Alcohol washes are a great way to get an accurate mite count on your hive and work much better than doing screen bottom board mite drop counts.  I will demonstrate how to do them in the future, but basically you take a quarter cup of bees and wash them in alcohol using a special screen.  You drain the alcohol through a coffee filter and count the mites. More than 5 mites in a quarter cup of bees indicates a threshold where you may want to do something for them, if that is how you manage your bees.  You can see a red varroa mite on some drone brood in this picture.

Varroa Mite on Drone Brood

Varroa Mite on Drone Brood

Here is another apiary we visited. We did not inspect these hives that day, since the bees were very active and we did not want to start a robbing frenzy. Plus, we didn’t bring a ladder to reach the top of those pallets (just kidding). These commercial bees will be unstacked and easier to inspect soon, so we will be going back shortly to see them.


Without gloves I only got stung 4 times (there’s nothing like a little apitherapy on the job) which I think is pretty good for the number of bees we looked through. Most of the bees had a fairly good temperament.


The video below is a minute long compilation of scenes from different yards.  So many bees were flying and the air is so thick with bees, I had a hard time seeing through my veil and camera.  The bees in this last apiary had a strong disdain for my camera and stung it quite a bit, and my hands along with it (3 stings were from here). Although they did not hate my camera nearly as much as Dee Lusby’s bees.  Click this link to read about Dee’s bees in Arizona.

All in all it was a very interesting day to say the least.  To see more pictures click on the gallery below. Just click on any picture and the gallery will open, then click the pictures to scroll through the gallery. Click the x in the upper left hand corner and the gallery will close. If you are reading this in a reader or by email you may have to view it on my website for the gallery to display correctly. Enjoy!

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Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist and former state bee inspector who maintains 100 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Connect with Anita on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook here.


  1. Congratulations on your new appointment! I can hardly wait to read more of your fascinating posts.

  2. Looks interesting, but I don’t think I would want to have bees in that kind of operation. Congrats on the new job.

    This is going to be a job that provides stories for you for the rest of your life…. 🙂

  3. congrats!

  4. I’m new as of 2013. I really value your site, as a neophyte bee keeper. My bees & I are in Nebraska. I have mostly guys here who have been doing it for a while. It’s hard to ask questions w/o feeling awkward. It’s good to have a different voice from a strong experienced keeper.
    I’ll follow the website more closely this year now that I’ve found you.

    Happy New Year 2014

    • Thanks Susan and congrats on your new beekeeping journey! It is always a learning process and I’m glad you found my website helpful. Just keep asking questions and reading and learning as much as you can and you will get the hang of it in no time.

  5. I live near cranberry bogs on the Oregon Coast. Since you are inspecting bees in the bogs there, what exactly are you looking for? Don’t the cranberry farmers spray with neonics? Is there a certain time after pollination is over that they spray?
    I have a hard time asking the farmers around here…they get real defensive about it.

  6. Hi Pat,

    I was inspecting the bees to make sure they were free from disease. These bees had just been dropped off and had only been there for a week or so. The farmers do spray while the bees are there and it is very hard on the bees.