Your very first hive 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 easier.
- 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 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 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.
- 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 of 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.