Having established that my bees were – in spite of everything I’d failed to do over the winter – still alive and apparently thriving, my next step was, once again, to do nothing. According to the literature, this is round about the time when I should be inspecting them once a week, but as of this afternoon, I still hadn’t done anything approaching a proper inspection.

Excuse #1 was that I hadn’t yet got to grips with using the smoker. Without a smoker, a hive full of bees is, frankly, more than a little scary, especially when you’re dealing with it on your own, and I remembered how useless I’d been with the smoker last time I’d tried it.

Excuse #2 was – no, there weren’t really any decent excuses, actually.

So today I thought I’d try firing up the smoker and getting stuck in. I fired up the smoker. It went out. I fired it up again. It went out again. I fired it up a third time. It seemed to stay alight. I put my rubber gloves on. The smoker went out again. I tried lighting it wearing the rubber gloves. It briefly stayed lit, before fizzling out just as I took the crown board off the hive. I gave up on the smoker.

However, this is what the hive looked like:

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and this is what the crown board looked like:

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I had two reactions to this.

Reaction #1: Whoops. Better get a super on quick.

Reaction #2: Whoa. That’s a lot more bees than last time I looked.

At this point, the combination of smoker failure and reaction #2 brought the inspection to a close. Yes, I know there are people who happily dive in without a smoker, but this lot of bees seemed to be on the aggressive side and I need a bit more practice to get back into the swing of things. Oh, all right. I’m a wimp. Have it your own way.

I put the crown board and lid back on, and decided on a plan of action:

1. Learn how to use the sodding smoker.

2. Make up the frames for the super.

and, contingent on 1 and 2:

3. Do a proper inspection and put the super on at the same time (thus avoiding upsetting things too much).

So I looked up how to use the smoker and found this site. I liked the opening sentence:

Probably one of the hardest tools to use properly in beekeeping is the humble smoker.

But I practised with using hay as a suitable smoker fuel and – lo and behold – it stayed lit. It started to go out after a few minutes, so I added a bit more fuel and pumped the bellows. It still stayed lit. Amazing what can happen if you try doing something properly.

Tomorrow I’m going to make up the frames for the super. And then we can really get started. I can’t help feeling, though, that the bees are getting on pretty well without me.