hive inspection how to

Brood nest inspections made easy

Frame of bees: Simple brood nest inspections

Brood nest inspections get easier with practice. But if you’re unsure of yourself, here are a few tips to get you started.

Your very first brood nest inspection can be scary because you are not used to working with bees and you’re not sure what to do or how to do it. Here are a few tips to make it easier.

To begin a brood nest inspection

  • Know why you are opening the hive before you do it. It helps to know exactly what you are looking for.
  • Pick a warm and sunny day when most of the foragers are out in the field. The hive will be easier to inspect when it is less populated.
  • Stand behind the hive so you are not blocking the entrance.
  • Calm the bees by using smoke or a gentle spray of sugar syrup, whichever is your preference.
  • If you are using smoke, puff some into the entrance and wait a few moments for the bees to begin eating honey.
  • Remove the lid and place it upside down on the ground to use as a place to stack brood boxes and/or supers.
  • You may puff smoke or spray sugar syrup under the inner cover if you wish. Wait a few more moments.
  • Remove the inner cover.
  • If you have honey supers or more than one brood box, stack everything on the inverted lid except the bottom brood box.

Moving the frames

  • Lift out one of the two end frames, inspect it, and then set it aside in a safe place.
  • One by one, slide a frame into the empty spot, lift it up and inspect both sides, then replace it in the same orientation as before. Sliding each frame away from the others before lifting reduces the chance of rolling the queen between two frames.
  • Hold the frame over the brood box so if the queen falls off, she will fall back in the box.
  • Each time you replace a frame, slide it toward the side where you removed the first frame. By the end of your brood nest inspection, the empty slot will be on the other side of the box.
  • When you are finished, slide the frames back to their original position and replace the first frame.
  • If you have a second brood box to inspect, place it on top of the first and then do your inspection.

Know what you are looking for

What you are looking for depends on your purpose. But for a general brood nest inspection, you may be looking for:

  • Sealed brood in a compact pattern with few empty cells: a solid pattern of brood generally indicates a good queen.
  • Eggs­—the presence of eggs means the queen was present within the last three days.
  • New white comb—a sign of a honey flow.
  • Supersedure cells—queen cells on the surface of the comb may indicate the queen is failing.
  • Swarm cells—queen cells on the perimeter of the comb may mean the colony is preparing to swarm.
  • Nectar or honey in the cells.
  • Pollen stored in an arc next to the brood nest.
  • The presence of drone brood.
  • Signs of disease.

Special notes

  • If you have a top-bar hive or foundationless frames, do not hold them sideways (parallel to the ground) because the weight of the combs may cause them to break from the frame.
  • Keep your hive inspections as short as possible—an inspection is very disrupting to the hive. On the other hand, keep your movements slow and deliberate. Do not rush.
  • Jot down any notes to yourself before going into the next hive. It can be difficult to remember what you saw and where.

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  • I have 4 hives with Africanized bees here in Belize.

    I’m getting trained by various people.

    Is it important to destroy the drones?

    Should you arrange the frames in the brood boxes into a certain order?

    Should you always destroy the peanuts.

    Last week I had 2 queen cells on the surfaces in one hive, is that a sure sign of trouble?

    I’ll appreciate you advice.


    • Thom,

      I have very little knowledge about keeping Africanized bees. However, I know that, unlike European Honey bees, Africanized colonies produce huge numbers of drones–and they just keep producing more and more. Biologists say prolific drone production is the main reason Africanized bees have spread into new areas so fast. Those who keep Africanized bees often kill the drones in order to keep the bees from spreading even further. However, I would handle the drones the way your local beekeepers recommend.

      I always arrange the frames the way I found them. I would not split the brood nest with new frames or break apart the nest in any way.

      Beekeepers destroy the peanuts to prevent swarming. Africanized bees swarm much more frequently then European honey bees, so again, cutting peanuts is probably a way of controlling the spread of Africanized colonies. However, Africanized bees swarm frequently and without much provocation, so I don’t imagine cutting peanuts is particularly effective. Again, I would go with local recommendations.

      Queen cells on the surface may mean the colony is going to supersede (replace) its queen. Some bees build supersedure cells “just in case” they need them, so it is not a sure sign of supersedure if you see a few queen cells now and then.

      I imagine Africanized bees are common in Belize–much more common than even the southern U.S. I think your best bet is to get information from local beekeepers who routinely work with these strains. But thanks for writing. Let me know how you do with these critters–I’m interested in knowing more.

      • I have just read your comments on Africanized bees [in response to Thom] and wonder how you make your assertions after declaring you “have very little knowledge.” I keep 8 hives of feral, Africanized bees in Los Angeles, teach beekeeping and rescue colonies by cutouts, trapouts and swarms from conflict with humans. According to the CA Ag Commission, feral bees of the Southern CA region are all Africanized as of ’94. Most of the assertions circulating about Africanized bees are the hoary tropes of the conventional beeks, and are a very widely dispersed mythology. Regarding the several points—

        My bees produce drones in relation to the strength and vigor of the colony, though, because of our benign climate, they often do have drones all year.
        I never kill drones—they are the sink for varroa and very useful for this purpose. Varroa is a background organism in our hives like many other stressors that challenge the bee immune system, and I put nothing in the hives to change that balance. The bees here have a strong ability to control the mites through queen brood breaks, drone sinks, and pulling out infected brood.
        Bees will usually swarm in spite of the attempts of the beek to “cut out the peanuts” Swarming is a trajectory, and by the time queen cells are noticed by the inattentive beek, it is too late. You simply risk making a queenless colony.
        Africanized bees do NOT swarm more frequently or “without provocation” Like all bees that are successful, bees swarm from the nexus of several conditions—crowding, climate, time of year. The newbee who calls me and insists “they suddenly swarmed!” has simply missed all the signs of buildup and frame occupation that should be managed to open the brood nest.
        My bees vary in temperament from colony to colony, but in general are more feisty than package-bred bees. I do not wish to count mites or run a bee hospital, so I welcome their stamina and vigor and do not find it a hardship to always wear my veil and jacket. The honey production of the 8-12 colonies I have had has been spectacular in the 4 years I have been beekeeping—especially this year. All my hives are at least 3 deeps, foundationless, and have no queen excluders. The bees vary greatly in color, from gray with black stripes, to the typical yellow with black, to all black, and yellow with black tipped abdomens. They also vary in size from 4.7 to about 5.2 mm in the worker brood nest.
        I hope I have expanded your knowledge base from the point of view of someone who actually HAS Africanized bees and works with them all the time.


        • Susan,

          Please note that I was truthful about never having kept Africanized bees and honest about the fact that the points I gleaned came from others. To that end, I recommended more than once that the beekeeper learn from locals who have the requisite experience. I did not misrepresent my knowledge in any way.

          Furthermore, your description of your bees makes me doubt they are Africanized. Have you had them tested? A statement by the CA Ag Commission that all feral bees in your area are Africanized sounds bogus, a CYA kind of maneuver. Common sense will tell you that managed hives go feral all the time in Southern California. How could they not?

          A few other points:

          According to the USDA, “The AHB swarms much more frequently than other honey bees. . . . Typically an EHB hive will swarm once every 12 months. However, the AHB may swarm as often as every six weeks and can produce a couple of separate swarms each time.”

          According to Elizabeth L. Sears in her paper “Behavior Characteristics of the Africanized Bees, Apis mellifera scutellata” that appeared in Earthlife, “Africanized drones are produced in greater numbers than are European drones. . . . In European colonies, drones are produced only until their numbers have reached a certain level. Production then ceases and drones remain in the hive until the season is over. In contrast, Africanized drones are produced continuously. At a certain age, they are forced out of the colony and replaced by younger drones.

          According to the, Africanized bees “are 25% lighter, reproduce earlier, produce less honey, and have a shorter lifespan.”

          According to the University of Florida, “The survival strategy of the African honey bee is to invest resources into producing large numbers of progeny and generating many reproductive swarms. . . . The European honey bee’s survival strategy is different from that of the African bee; it defends its nest, absconds, and swarms to a much lesser extent. More energy goes into producing and storing honey needed to successfully get through long parts of the year (winters) when resources are absent.”

          According to the University of Georgia, “European honey bees are adapted to winter survival, largely because of their ability to collect large honey supplies. Africanized bees, on the other hand, do not overwinter well and respond to food shortages by migrating. European bees make large, permanent colonies whereas Africanized bees make small to large colonies that reproduce (swarm) often.”

          According to Columbia University, “Many other basic Africanized Honey Bees traits include:

          frequent swarming to establish new nests
          minimal hoarding of honey
          the ability to survive on sparse supplies of pollen and nectar
          moving their entire colony readily (abscond) if food is scarce
          exploiting new habitats very quickly and is not particular about its nesting site.
          a highly defensive nature
          responding more quickly and more bees sting
          sensing a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from their nest
          sensing vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from nest
          pursuing a perceived enemy 1/4 mile or more”

          • Way to stick to your guns and the science! I have been enjoying your blog for a few years now, and I have never left a comment; however, this time I couldn’t resist. Susan, you just got told!

  • Rusty, We are new wanna-bee beekeepers. We have had our hive about 5 weeks now and we live just north of Dallas, TX. We have an unfinished cedar Langstroth hive. The frames are wood on four sides with beeswax foundations. Inspecting the hive is our problem. Each inspection seems such an ordeal. We haven’t actually seen our queen since we first got the hive.

    We got a 4 frame nuc that was very full and strong. Our first obstacle was that the nuc was deep frames and our hive boxes were mediums. We built a ‘frame extension’ and it worked well, but now our first box has some deep frames and some medium frames hanging in it. To makes matters worse, we goofily messed up the order of the nuc frames, thinking it smart to intermix long and medium frames. The bees were easily perturbed, but within 2 weeks it became clear that we needed to add another box, so we added a medium box on top of the existing mixed box.

    Just after this time, due to bearding and washboarding, we changed the bottom board and made a new roof/top to allow more ventilation. The bearding stopped. Washboarding got worse. The busy washboarders covered the entrance and almost 2 complete sides. A look inside showed bees covering every square inch. How could there be any room for the washboarders to go inside? Even though the comb in the newest box was not ‘built out’, the bees were solid and hard at work, so, we added another medium box. Within 48 hours the washboarding stopped (maybe coincidence?) and everyone seems to now live happily inside the 3-story high complex.

    Whenever we open the hive, there is always comb on top of the frames and between the frames, and between the frames and the box. Our first inspections and bottom and roof changes made the hive very angry. We were new and they were unsettled. They are much happier and settled now, but our inspections seem to always have some crisis. In the last one, as we lifted one frame out, the frame below it was ‘combed’ to it, and the frames started coming out together. Trying to lift the entire box as a unit made it worse. Manhandling the frames to break them apart and then cutting the comb that was built between upper and lower frames became such an ordeal for the bees and for us that we didn’t end up doing a proper inspection or seeing the queen…. again.

    On every video the beekeepers seem to easily lift out the frames. Ours are all super-glued with comb to everything around them. What about the crazy comb building? Is it common? Before we put in the new roof top ventilation they built the comb on the roof like they thought it was a top bar hive. We have a pile of comb we’ve cut from all over the hive. It takes so long and is so invasive that we stop short of thoroughly inspecting. Is comb cutting and breaking just standard operating procedure for hive inspection?

    The first frame out usually has so much comb on the bottom that setting it aside means crushing the comb on the bottom…. or cutting it off. Sometimes the comb we cut off has honey in it, sometimes it is clean and yellow/white, sometimes it looks dirty, sometimes it has bees that look adult-ish but they are struggling to get their head out of the comb. Sorry to take so long to spit this out! Please give us your advice! And thank you so much for your honest and informative writings! I see from your writings that beekeeping is not an exact science, and even the best beekeepers have difficulties. I don’t know why this is comforting, but it is.

    Thank you, so very much!

    • Kathleen,

      I don’t know if I can even begin to answer all these questions, so I’ll try just starting at the top and taking them in order.

      First, you keep mentioning you haven’t seen the queen. Do you need to see her for some reason? She’s obviously there, since you have brood. Why worry about seeing her? It’s just stressing you out. And every time you tear apart the hive, you run the risk of injuring her.

      The bees are probably building a lot of burr comb because of the various sizes of frames. You need to get rid of the deep frames if you are going to use medium boxes. Check carefully for the queen, then cut the bottoms off of those deep frames so they fit in a medium. Use a saw or whatever; just make sure the queen is not there. This will leave you with frames with three sides. Once they come empty naturally, you can get rid of them.

      Burr comb varies with species and with individual bees; some make more than others but it sounds like you have too much. Just start by getting rid of the empty spaces.

      As far as I know, no one knows what causes washboarding, so it is not logical to blame it on overcrowding. They do it; we watch in amazement. Don’t worry about it.

      Before you start any inspection, have a clear idea of why you are doing it. I suggest writing it down. State the purpose and also the steps you will be taking. Inspecting a hive is very disruptive and potentially hazardous to the queen. Unless you have a purpose or a need, I would keep the number of inspections to the bare minimum.

      Those bees that look adultish but are struggling to get their heads out of the comb are just hatching. That’s what happens: they become adults and then they hatch—not something to worry about.

      Your worse problem seems to be a lot of burr comb. Just clean it off the best you can, and try not to kill too many. It will slow down when the nectar flows are over. And like I said, some do it more than others, but finding things glued together is a beekeeping fact of life.

      You need to relax. If you did absolutely nothing from now till the end of summer, the bees would most probably be fine. Try to enjoy them more and control them less.

      • Ooold thread, new comment: the less I manage to stress out as the progressing newbee I am, the less the bees, too, seem to stress out. Maybe we both communicate stress as well as calm.

        Removing swarms from established nests has become less stressy for me too, as, at least it looks like it, after an initial attack, calmly working on (even when stung) makes the bee’s defense motivation collapse at some point as if they figure out when resistance is futile. I admit that I even talk to them, but in a low voice. Maybe it doesn’t do anything in the process, but they definitely hate when I talk loudly to a bystander in the distance, as l noticed.

        • Johan,

          “I admit that I even talk to them, but in a low voice.” I talk to them, too, which I think destresses me as much as them.

  • Kathleen AND Rusty – Thanks for both the questions and the answers. It just sounds like a very vigorous colony that likes the environment you’ve given them.

    It does bring up a question. If you had a strong queen (seen or unseen) who laid a lot of brood at once, wouldn’t the simple fact that a large percentage of the workers had matured to wax production at one time tend to produce a lot of comb building? And if there is space available, it would be burr, wouldn’t it?

    And one more note, Kathleen … I have had to scrape off burr comb that had larvae in it. That hurt.

    Thanks again,

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, KY

    • Good point, Nan. Lots of wax producers make lots of wax, and if there are spaces available, they will fill them up.

  • Couple of questions from a new beekeeper:

    I just got my first nuc less than a week ago, and I had 5 frames of brood placed in a 10 frame box. One piece of advice given to me was to eventually ‘part’ the 5 frames of brood, and place one of my empty frames in the middle, so the queen would begin to fill it. Then I should continue this process until I have place each of my 5 empty frames into the ‘parted’ brood frames. I was also given the advice to start feeding them 1 to 1 mix to help them have the ability to draw comb on the foundation.

    Does this advice seem sound? If so, then what duration of time should I wait before I disturb them to ‘part’ the brood frames and insert an empty frame?

    Also, they have been sucking down a quart of 1 to 1 in less than a day. Should I increase the syrup available to them, or is this sufficient for now since there is little to no pollen flow right now?

    Thanks for your time.

    • Robert,

      You don’t say where you are writing from, but as a general rule, it’s tough to get a nuc ready for winter at this late stage. Especially if you are in a nectar dearth, you’ve got to feed, feed, feed. If there is no pollen, I would give them a substitute for that as well.

      You can probably get away with expanding the brood nest because it is warm. But basically, you don’t want to stretch further than there are nurse bees to cover the brood. If you put in two “blank” frames between existing brood, you essentially have three mini nests instead of one big one. Like I said, if it stays warm where you are, you can probably get away with it.

      Even then, I would probably not insert more than two blanks in the nest. If you get that many drawn out, you are doing well. It’s often hard to get them to draw comb this time of year, even with plenty of syrup. They know fall is coming (the days are getting shorter) and they know they need to store food.

      I’m not saying your guy is wrong, but I would do it differently. I would leave the brood nest intact and put the empties to the outside, feed lots of syrup, provide pollen, and guard your entrance against the robbers and wasps who are going to detect the existence of that syrup.

      Anyone else with advice?

  • Thanks for the advice. I am in North Carolina. I have no problem feeding them some 1 to 1 until they are wintered! Do you feel that the brood will be formed ‘outward’ if I do not ‘spit’ the 5 frames of brood?

    Also, we got slammed with rain today (about 8 inches in a few hours). Everyone thought that all pollen would be washed for the next few days. As I approached my hive, I noticed bees coming in with nice stores of pollen that was dark orange. “Where is this coming from right after an intense rain?”

    Thanks for your time!

    • Robert,

      Brood nests do not expand in late summer and fall, they contract. Some colonies have almost no brood in fall, which makes it the ideal time to treat for Varroa mites. So I don’t see your five frames of brood becoming six frames of brood, for example. Trying to trick bees into doing something when their biology is saying the opposite is generally not going to work. This is why I wouldn’t try to expand the brood nest this time of year; why make it harder for the bees? At the same time, by putting the empty frames on the outside of the nest, they certainly can expand if they want to.

      As for pollen, new flowers open every day. Flowers that were near to opening during the rain would not have lost their pollen. So the rain stops, the flowers open, and there it is. Dark orange pollen could be dandelions, among other things.

  • “Africanized colonies produce huge numbers of drones–and they just keep producing more and more. Biologists say prolific drone production is the main reason Africanized bees have spread into new areas so fast. Those who keep Africanized bees often kill the drones in order to keep the bees from spreading even further.”

    Yet most beekeepers using foundation want only workers, surely then the way the hives are managed here in uk is detrimental to the species by design. Also the killing of the drones for verroa control also goes against the theory. Surely if we want better bees and more of them we also should be embracing and harnessing the effect of more drones and not less?

    • Dave,

      I agree. We have done everything we can to maximize gentleness and honey production to the detriment of the species. Drone suppression by foundation and Varroa control reduces mating opportunities and limits genetic diversity in a mating population. We want to maximize the number of matings for our queens but we want to reduce the number of drones so we are working at cross purposes.

  • Rusty

    I am new to beekeeping. I started about a year ago. 5 days ago I noticed large quantities of bees clustering on the outside surface of one of my two hives. I also noticed a huge number of bees clustered in a cone-shaped formation under my hive. I have two pallets placed one on top of the other. My hives set on top of the pallets. My brood chamber consists of 3 medium 10 frame boxes. I then have a queen excluder and an additional super. I noticed the super was almost completely full of honey yesterday and I have replaced it with an empty one. The cluster beneath my hive extends from the bottom of the hive bottom board all the way to the tarp upon which the pallets sit. About 10 inches. The bees cover between 1/2 and 2/3 of the bottom board. I had hoped by replacing the full super with an empty one, that the bees would move back in. They did not. This morning the swarm beneath the bottom board is even bigger than it was yesterday. I have considered trying to split the hive and have obtained additional supers, frames, a top board and a bottom board.

    My question is how is the best way to get the bees from the bottom of my hive and into a hive? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Lee,

      First of all, here is a post about bearding, which is what you have.

      But how to split those bees is a hard question. I see the problem: they are hanging down through the pallets where you can’t reach them. Maybe try working on ventilation and see if you can get them inside—perhaps give them another brood box and a screened inner cover or an upper entrance. Then, after they go in, you can split the colony into two hives, each with two brood boxes.

      Anyone else have an idea?

      • Thanks for the response. I read the post on bearding and you are probably right. It was probably caused by being overcrowded. Our days have been warm mid to upper 70s. Our nights get down to the mid to lower 40s. I am in South East Idaho. The bees never go back into the hive. In the early morning when it is the coldest the cluster is the largest. It goes all the way down to the ground. During the day the cluster is about 1/3 smaller. I have thought about building a bee vac which would gently suck them into either one or two supers containing frames. I thought I would put a couple of frames of honey and 3 or four frames of brood into a one of the supers and then suck them into the supers and keep them shut up for a couple of days before putting the supers on a bottom board and put a top board on top.

        Another thing I was thinking of was adding another super beneath the queen excluder thus giving me 4 medium supers as brood boxes. If the bees go back into the box I would later split the have using two existing medium broods boxes and one additional one on each hive. The bees don’t look like they are going anywhere, they have been stable for over a week now.

        Someone told me that I may have a new colony using the bottom board and the pallets as a kind of top bar hive. I haven’t had a chance to look into my supers to see if they are blocked up. I haven’t been able to find my smoker. I have borrowed one today and hope to use it either one night this week or on Friday.

        I would appreciate your feedback on whether I should use the bee vac. I have it pretty much built using some guidance I found on youtube. I would also appreciate comments on whether my plan for splitting the hive makes sense. I am fairly new to this. So any advise you can give would be welcome.

        • Lee,

          I don’t know that sucking them up and forcing them inside would do much good. When my bees want to beard, I let them. I can’t see that any harm has come from it. If you want to do a split, you can do that without a vac as well. You can manage bees, but you can’t tell them what to do and when to do it because they have their own agenda.

          Does anyone else have an opinion on this?

          • Rusty. I think you are right. I plan on adding an additional brood box and making sure I have adequate ventilation. I am pretty sure I am OK with the ventilation. I have a 5/8 inch hole in each of my boxes. Over crowding is a very likely possibility. I fed them fairly well when they started buzzing around the hive in late February. I think that stimulated laying. I then only had one super above the queen excluder. When I checked the bees last weekend, that super was completely full. I replaced it, but I did not examine the brood boxes. I would guess they are fairly full as well.

            I don’t plan on using the vacuum. I will see if they move back into the hive at least during the night when it is below 50 degrees. I imagine in the best case scenario the vacuum would be somewhat traumatic for the bees. And probably would not solve the problem.

            Thanks for your advice. I will let you know how things are going in a week or so.

          • New development. Tonight I fired up a smoker and inserted a medium super full of frames between the lower and middle brood boxes. I did notice several queen cells in the area between the middle and upper brood boxes. After I reassembled the hive I decided to look a little closer at the bees under my bottom board. I thought I might coax them into the hive if I blew a little smoke on them. What I found instead was at least 4 sets of freshly made comb hanging under the bottom board. I took a few pictures. I would include one, but I am not sure how to do this.

            Should I just leave the bees alone or is there some way to move the comb into a regular super. I am stumped, so again any advice would be appreciated.

            • Lee,

              How cool! It may be a completely different colony under there (as I mentioned in an earlier comment). That would explain them not entering the hive.

              At this point I would treat them as a separate colony. First prepare a new hive and then, one-by-one, carefully cut the combs off at the top where they are connected. Tie each comb into an empty frame. You can do this with rubber bands or just take string and wrap it completely around the frame a few times (vertically) to make a cage-like enclosure and then slip the comb in. It will be loose, but the bees will soon attach it at the top and eat off the string.

              Keep an eye open for eggs, brood, or a queen so you can figure out what you have.

              By the way, I would not put an empty super between the two brood boxes in the original hive. You should always keep the nest together, especially with the evenings still being cool. You can spread the nest by inserting some empty frames in it, but a whole box is too much: it may cause the brood to become chilled.

  • Rusty & Lee,
    I think my opinion is that something odd is afoot!

    I’m thinking that as bearding, Lee’s Oddity doesn’t quite fit what I’m used to seeing with my hives. Like Rusty described, I get some number of bees hanging off the front of the hive in one or two locations and usually not too much depth; as opposed to the fairly solid mass of a hanging swarm. Very seldom do I see many beards actually spend the night outside, possibly a small clump once in a great while.

    So, I’m a little suspicious of Lee’s Oddity.
    Suggested things to check:
    1) The other hive, check the population level of it, there is an active laying queen, any sign of recent swarm cells.
    2) Check the contents of the hive box over the Oddity for the same as above.
    3) Pull the excluders.
    4) Add either the pulled super or an empty for more room inside the hive.
    5) Prop the lid up about 3/16″ with a shim or stick between the inner cover and the lid, if you haven’t already, to get some ventilation through the hive boxes.

    If Lee’s oddity is bearding, getting the access freed up (removing the excluder), more room and more ventilation should result in a notable change in any bearding.

    If the Oddity is either a swarm from either, or an abdication from the other hive, then a fresh hive box would be a good thing. Treat the outdoor clump as a swarm and put them in a new box. It’d be odd and unusual for this to be the case, but I’d not rule it out just yet either.

    Kent, WA

    • Nick & Lee,

      These are all good suggestions. Unlike Nick, however, I’ve had beards hanging under the hive for many days, seemingly never going inside. However, they have always been in the dead of summer–really hot–not at times with cool evenings. Nick is right about this being unusual.

      Maybe it’s a swarm from elsewhere. I’ve had swarm traps where one colony moved in and another colony hung on the outside, underneath the trap. Are you sure those bees belong to the colony inside?

  • Last night I opened up the brood bodies of the hive in question for the first time this year. The top or third (I have 3 medium bodies for brood) was very heavy. As I removed the upper body, frames from the middle body stuck to it and I pried them loose and back into the middle body. Same story with the middle box, although possibly not quite as heavy as the upper body. In the top of frames on the lower box I saw 3 or 4 what I think are queen cells. They were white in color and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch long and about the diameter of a standard cell. I placed an empty body with frames in the number 2 position. Other than when the frames in the bottom body stuck to the bottom original middle body, I did not disturb the bottom hive body.

    After I had reassembled the hive, I still had a reasonable supply of smoke coming from my smoker, so I decided to blow some smoke on the bees hanging under the hive. They scurried about and revealed at least 4 columns or rounded conb-like structures of fresh comb. It looked like pictures I have seen online of top-bar comb structure. The first three were bright white with a little tint. The cells looked mostly empty. There might have been some pollen in the first, but I am not sure. I did take a few pictures. The 4th structure was significantly darker and looked like the cells were full.

    I am not sure if the bees are from the same colony as the hive above them, but I think they are. There is a continuous cluster of bees (beard?) that extends from in and around the hive entrance down into the bees that are on the comb structures below the hive.

    Bees in my second hive are active. I did not open it up, but during the day there is a constant flow of bees in and out of that hive. They are not bearding like the first. I might note that earlier in the spring, late February early march, the 2nd hive was significantly more active that the first. Last year this 2nd hive seemed to be the weaker of the two.

    As far as ventilation, I will try and prop up the lid, but at the suggestion of the local honey farm where I obtained my bees, bodies and frames, I have drilled 5/8 inch holes in each of my bodies for added ventilation. Bees seem to use these holes as additional entrances as well. Most of the bearding I see on the sides of the hives are focused around these holes.

    I would appreciate any advice as to the best way to get the bees under the hive into a Langstroth hive. I do have a few additional bodies, structures that I can use to start a new hive.

    • Lee,

      This morning, in another answer to you, I explained how to get these new combs into a hive body.

      Also, your description of queen cells doesn’t sound right. They sound like queen cups, perhaps. A completed queen cell is roughly the size, shape, color and texture of a peanut shell.

  • Rusty, I am sorry that I didn’t see your reply before sending my last post. I am at work where I don’t have access to my regular e-mail so my wife forwarded the notifications e-mails. I red the reply from Nick and your reply to him and was responding to that. I must have skimmed down to far. I will follow your instructions. It looks like I will need to get some wooden frames to do this. I currently only have the plastic frames. Thanks for all of your help.

  • Really appreciate this info. Will be in my ‘favorites’. New to beekeeping and really enjoying their presence and beauty. I am currently concerned that I have disrupted the bees brood box. Seeing the center drawn out and most active, I moved the empty frames on the sides to the center and those in the center to the sides. My logic was that most activity takes place in the center so place your empty frames there. Is this wrong? After reading, it appears that their order should be maintained, and not do this. I think I confuse myself too by resting frames on the shelf holder and then not remembering the order after gazing at them. Hopefully they can remedy my interference if I have made a mistake by scrambling them. With that, should frames of honey be placed in the brood box on the sides?
    Looking to add the second deep soon. All 10 have comb drawn on them but yet some empty in the corners. Add? or wait until all ten fully drawn? Thanks!

    • Christopher,

      You should not split the brood nest and move it to the sides. On a really cold night, the bees may not be able to keep both halves warm. They may end up caring for half and abandoning half. Sometimes you can spread the nest by adding an empty frame in every other position, but you shouldn’t completely cut it in half.

      As far as the order goes, don’t worry so much about that. Keeping them together is more important than changing the order, all things considered. Your frames of honey can go in the outside positions, next to the box walls. I like to add a second deep when seven or eight frames are drawn out in a ten-frame box.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I am very new to beekeeping and am finding your site very helpful. I am taking over a singular hive in Costa Rica. The previous beeks had 15 hives, all but one of which disappeared or died in the past year. When I first arrived a couple months ago, I personally watched the second to last one become overrun by army ants, who carried the dead bees (not sure if they killed them, or if the bees were already dead) away with them. The remaining hive seems to be fairing ok, it’s in two deeps, the top one is filling with honey. We’ve just entered into the dry season here in the last two months, and I am wondering if you have any advice on helping this hive survive (and possibly splitting it once it becomes strong enough). I am aware that most bees in this area are africanized and that you are not specifically familiar with them, but any advice is appreciated. I plan to do a more thorough hive inspection in the next few days and am hoping to feel more prepared.

    Thank you and happy new year!

    • Liz,

      It would be helpful to know why all the other hives died. Even though your bees are probably Africanized, I think you should check for mites, because that is the most common reason for lost hives. Also, in the post “Bad ant advice” readers have submitted dozens of ideas for dealing with ants. You may want to try one or more of those. Once the nectar dearth deepens, ants will be more aggressive and will be an issue for you. Try to keep your colony strong because, if it is strong, it has a much better chance of overcoming any problems that arise. So feed if necessary and take measures against predators that you may find.

  • Hello, I am new to beekeeping. We bought a farm in September that came with three hives. I have been reading all that I can to give myself a crash course. As you can imagine, I feel like I started the sprint race 5 seconds after the gun went off and am struggling to catch up. I do not know the age of my hives. All have two brood boxes that seem to be filled with honey (I can’t lift them without struggling a bit.) Here’s my complex question(s). I’m in Kansas and it is too early to begin thinking about splitting a hive due to the cold weather and obviously nothing blooming right now. I would LOVE to do a hive inspection however, there is so much propolis I can’t get the frames loose. I attempted this last week when the weather was >40 degrees and I couldn’t get a frame loose. That made the ladies a bit mad to say the least. If you were in my shoes, where would you begin? I believe all three colonies are strong (seem to be well populated but I haven’t done anything in regards to mite control or treatment). Any advice or pointing me in the right direction would be GREATLY appreciated.

    • Jen,

      I would wait until 50+ degrees before any type of hive inspection because you don’t want to chill the brood which will be your next generation of bees. When the time comes, you will just have to deal with the propolis. Start with an end frame to minimize injuring the queen and rock it, twist it, pry it loose from the sides, whatever, until you get it out. You might want to use a paring knife, pliers, or whatever you have in your tool box to help you. Once you get that first one out, then begin on the next. Once loose, slide into the open space, and so on. Propolis is brittle when cold, and sticky when warm, so few more degrees may help with that as well.

  • I love your website! It’s the easiest one to follow that I have found! We bought a house in August that came with beehives. I don’t think he followed traditional methods. He only has deeps- five of them. Three in one stack, two in the other. The hive with two deeps didn’t make it through the winter. He said it was a weak hive to begin with. He caught a swarm and he didn’t think it had a queen. Otherwise, from the sounds of it, he was just buying a new pack of bees every spring and taking all the honey in the fall. We got the house in August and I left honey for the winter and they made it! The hive seems to be going strong right now, but I’m still pretty clueless. I don’t get a lot of time to sit and read (I have five kids under the age of 9 and I homeschool), although I dabble on your blog as much as I can while I’m rocking the baby to sleep. I’m wondering if 1. You can recommend a documentary that would be helpful for a beginner to understand honey bees that I could watch with my kids. I’m starting to learn vocabulary and make sense of what I read most of the time, but looking at photos online hasn’t helped me really grasp what everything is. 2. In the 2nd deep of the healthy hive, he didn’t have all 10 frames in there. I think there are 7 with a wide gap in the middle. The bees have built comb there, although I’m not sure what’s in the comb. What do I need to do there? 3. I have never done a full hive inspection. I figured since I don’t know what to look for yet, disturbing the hive seemed pointless. The two bottom deeps are full and busy. I put the 3rd deep back on a few weeks ago and they are already working hard in there. Should I be worried about a swarm? Without knowing what I’m doing yet, should I just do a walk away split and hope for the best? I have two more deeps that I can work with that are right next to the healthy hive. If I do that, since the bees that lived in that hive died off, is there any kind of disinfecting that needs to happen with the old frames before doing a split? I’d love to say that I’ll learn all I need to in the next few weeks so that I can do a thoroughly educated split, but we have a huge garden we’re in the middle of planting, baby chicks we’re working with, work that needs to be done in the orchard (yes, sometimes I feel like I’m in over my head! I’m hoping after the learning curve, everything feels more manageable!) and family coming into town for my son’s baptism. I want to become an educated, responsible bee keeper and instill a love of bee keeping into my children, despite that our beginning here is not ideal. Thank you for your help!

    • Danielle,

      Thank you for the compliment, but it would take six days to answer your questions, and I too have a busy schedule and I can’t do it now because of other commitments. I’m going to post this in the hopes someone can chime in with some helpful advice.

  • I’m in Florida and by the symptoms described I think I may have had an Africanized colony a couple years ago. I attracted a swarm to a bait nuc and they didn’t seem aggressive at all at first. Then I transferred them to a full size hive and as the colony grew quickly in size they got touchier. At least a couple would follow you a hundred yards or so with little provocation. They were also great honey producers until one day they were all gone, every last one, kit and kaboodle.

    • Amathonn,

      Well, Africanized bees are certainly known for absconding. I wouldn’t be surprised if your bees had a good dose of Africanized genes.

  • With re: to washboarding, my guess is that the hive is content and the bees have nothing to do, like a ‘rest time’. My bees usually washboard after the honey flow when the hive is full of nectar, the times are changing from nectar flow to dearth, work is settling down for the bees and they are ‘bored’. Just a thought.

  • Hi Rusty, Thank you so much for this blog. It has answered a lot of my questions. I agree with you about not over inspecting, let the bees be bees they have been surviving for millions of years without our interference. However in our hives behaviors are so different from one to another.

    My concerns are simple. I am writing from Central Ontario Canada. I am a second year beekeeper (rookie). I started last year with a TBH but they swarmed on Aug 14 and left the rest to die. So this year I repopulated the TBH with the comb that had been built out. I forgot to mention I took your advice and waxed in a popsicle stick into the Bars and let them build out naturally. I wanted to experiment and learn with 2 Langstroth (L1 & L2) hives. We had a late spring. So my TBH was installed on June 9th. They have been working well and I have 22 bars in stalled of which they have filled 14. L1& L2 were installed the following week with a 4 frame deep nucs. They started out well and filled the empty frames I had started with the waxed in popsicle sticks. When they reached 80% build out, I added the 2nd deep brood box July 4th. Foolishly I put in play empty frames with waxed in popsicle sticks and the girls saw the open space and began to build from the bottom up. it was not a mess but very uniquely shaped comb with honey. So I went out and bought some beeswax foundation and filled the frames with every second frame being empty in L1 and in L2 I filled all frames with the wax foundation. What I have is a solid buildout in L2 with the beeswax foundation, and in the L1 empty frames the girls have built from the top down in loops from the center with space on the ends, but have filled that space by extending the comb from the frame before the empty one. I created a checkerboard scenario of BW foundation and empty frame with waxed in popsicle stick. That experiment is not doing so well. I am not to concerned, because those two deeps will be for them so they can manage their build. However I am stuck on this brood pattern. The queen is doing well I think as I walk by and observe everyday, listen and watch as you suggest, but I opened the top today to see if its time to add the super, and have decided to leave it for another week or so.. But with it open I I thought I should check the brood. I noticed on the various frames there are easily 60% honey stores and some empty space with brood filling maybe 30% but only on a few frames. So for a queen who can lay 1500 eggs a day I might be seeing a few hundred at most including larvae and capped cells in truly a light pattern but tight. I have compared to what I have seen online with frames after frame of capped brood right dead center many rows deep, and I do not have that. So any advice would be helpful. And when should I add the super. I have added the wax foundation into the medium frames of the supers to help them build out. But that’s it. I am sure you will have more questions because I missed something, but again thank you for all that you have done with this blog. Its July 17, and not sure when the colony will start to decline. A whole heard of drones just hatched, the top brood box weighs about 30 pounds. I did not disturb the bottom box. No signs of queen cups super or swarm…….