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Hive Inspections

Steps

  1. Smoke the entrance and under the cover of your hive with 2-3 puffs of smoke.

  2. Remove the cover and look to make sure the queen is not there, set it on the ground or lean it up against your hive.

  3. OBSERVE how the bees are acting. Are they calmly walking around or are they defensive?

  4. Smoke the top of the frames to cause the bees to move down and then scrape off any comb that has accumulated.

  5. Use the hive tool to remove the frame closest to you and inspect it while holding it firmly from the top ends at eye level. The first thing you do is scan the perimeter of the frame and then the centre to see if the queen is there. Flip it over and scan again. Once you determine whether or not she is there, then continue to look for the following:

    1. Brood in all stages: eggs, larvae, and capped pupa

    2. Food stores: honey, nectar, pollen, and bee bread

    3. Signs of disease, pests or other problems

    4. Queen cells: note if they are supersedure (centre of frame) or swarm (bottom).

  6. Place that frame and the next on a frame rest or leaned upright next to the hive on the ground or stand.

  7. Continue gently and slowly prying apart the frames and inspecting as above. Keep the frames together so that you can push them all back in place as a whole so as not to crush the queen or other bees. 

  8. Replace the first two frames and adjust the spacing so that the two end frames are equidistant from the walls.

  9. Remove that box by prying it firmly with your hive tool. Set it on the ground sideways with the frames perpendicular to the ground, or upright on the lid.

  10. Continue with the remaining box (es). 

  11. Make notes of your observations list in 5 as well as anything you want to look at or do the next time you inspect. 

Reasons for Inspections

  1. To determine the queen present and laying well

  2. To assess colony health

  3. Is the colony building up as expected

  4. Gauge amount of room available for expansion

  5. To look for swarming behaviour

  6. To check for pests and parasites

  7. To gauge sufficiency of food and stores

 

Queen

Find the queen if possible, this is easier if she has been marked on her thorax with the colour for her year of birth.

 

If the queen is unmarked (e.g. following an autumn supersedure), mark her in the spring if this is your preference. Some beekeepers will clip the queen’s wings in spring to deter swarming.

 

The queen is more readily identified in spring when the colony is small.

The presence of new eggs in a vertical position – looking into cells with the sun over your shoulder increases the chance of seeing eggs easily.  Use reading glasses or a magnifying glass if needed.

Examine the laying pattern, which should not be spotty or irregular.

 

Brood Expansion

In a steady state where the colony is neither expanding or diminishing, there will be twice as much sealed brood as larvae and twice as much larvae as eggs.

If brood is not expanding, the queen could be a poor layer or disease could be present.

 

Food Reserves

When the hive is low on stores, add food:

  • Liquid feed stimulates the queen to lay; the colony must have pollen reserves, pollen forage available or the beekeeper can add a pollen patty.

 

Adequate Room

An expanding colony needs space to build up – this should not be a problem in early spring. The onset of a spring flow will require additional space for processing of nectar and storage of honey; a super may need to be added.

Add additional brood space when the brood is on 8 frames.

 

Disease

Examine adult bees and brood for signs of disease. Check varroa mite levels in early spring and treat. Signs of disease include:

  • Poor colony build-up

  • Deformed bees

  • Soiling of frames and hive entrance

  • Unusual looking brood

 

Queen Cells

Queen cells may be present if the queen is:

  • Injured

  • Died or been killed

  • Failing

  • Has run out of sperm

  • Workers are planning a supersedure

  • Swarm cells

If this occurs in spring, drones will not be available to mate with a virgin queen and the colony must be united with a queen-right colony or have an over-wintered Nuc based queen introduced safely.

Inspection Calendar

 

If it’s a new hive, plan an inspection once a week for the first few weeks. Once things have settled, you can plan to inspect your hive once a month unless you suspect that there is a problem.

 

It’s important to have a schedule for inspections. There is no concrete schedule that fits for all hive. Different hives will have issues that need to be handled at different times. Strong hives may only require a handful of inspections per year. While other hives may need a weekly inspection to recover from diseases or parasites. Here are general rules of thumb to opening a beehive:

 

During your first year of beekeeping, you will open your beehive more than normal. You must get hands-on experience to grow into an experienced beekeeper. The most important thing to remember is that there is a balance that can only be found with practice.  Too few inspections can lead to swarming, but over-inspecting is hard on the bees. Ultimately, the goal is to open your hives as little as possible while still tracking activities and changes throughout the season.

It is important to keep a record of observations and beekeeping activities such as feeding, treatments, adding/removing insulation etc., particularly if you have many hives.  This can be recorded free-hand, in a pre-printed template or book or in a spreadsheet.

Timing

Late Winter to Spring

Every 7-10 Days

 

Observe the hive for any signs of swarming (overcrowding or developing queen cells)

 

Determine if a hive needs to be split or combined for the upcoming

season

 

Late Spring to Late Summer

Every 3-4 Weeks

Routine hive inspection to determine the health of the hive

If there is strong honey flow, take longer time between inspections. Begin harvesting honey to allow the bees to produce more

Early Fall to Winter

No Inspections

 

Before wintering the hive, ensure your bees have enough food.

Don’t open the hive during the winter to check on their food supply.

Instead carefully lift the hive at one corner to assess the weight.

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