Best Time of Day & Conditions to Inspect your Hives
By: Blake Shook
This answer depends a bit on the time of year. However, here are some general rules of thumb that may be helpful:
1. The ideal time to check hives is when most of the foragers are not in the hive, as the foragers tend to be more defensive. This typically occurs mid-morning to late afternoon, however I’ll break the ideal times down by season below.
2. It is best to get to know your own hives and work around your schedule. If your hives are on the defensive side, you may want to be sure to work them at the ideal time when foragers are out of the hive. Or you may find your bees gentle and easy to work any time of day. Odds are, you will find your hives behaving very differently at different times of the year.
3. No matter what time of day it is, bees are always going to be more defensive if:
a. You don’t use your smoker properly. ( See “How to light & use a smoker”)
b. The weather is cloudy, rainy, drizzly, unusually chilly, windy or there is an approaching storm. Basically, it is ideal to check your hives on calm, bright sunny days. However, there are times this doesn’t occur, and we need to check our bees anyway. If so, suit up well, and make sure your smoker is working, and wrap up your inspection as quickly as possible.
c. The hive is Queenless, requeened with a more aggressive queen, recently jostled, mowed around, disturbed, etc. See “Why Are My Bees so Mean?” for a more exhaustive look at why your hive suddenly has become aggressive.
4. As for the time of day, and if it affects the health of the bees, they don’t particularly care. Looking at a less than ideal time won’t hurt them in most cases, it may just be more unpleasant for you. And to be clear, for the majority of hives with gentle genetics, they are relatively calm the vast majority of the time.
For specifics on when it could hurt them to do an inspection, see below as I discuss seasonal inspection suggestions.
When the best time of day into look at hives in each season:
- Spring- During most of spring, bees are often gentle as they work busily to gather nectar. The busier bees are, the less defensive they often are...they don’t have time to worry about you. That’s why bees are at their gentlest during a strong honey flow. This time of year you can look at your hive almost anytime, however, a few hours after bees begin flying in the morning, and a hour or so before they stop flying in the evening is ideal, as most foragers are out and busy.
- Summer- The first half of summer during a strong honey flow bees tend to by gentle. However, when the flow suddenly ends, bees tend to get more agitated as a surplus of older foragers have nothing to do. Working them a few hours after sunup and a hour or two before sundown is ideal. However, keep in mind, if you do an inspection during the heat of the day, you can’t leave combs out in the hot sun (90+ degrees) or they can begin to melt, and working a hive in very hot temperatures in the full sun is very uncomfortable for you and the bees. Thus, I often opt to work bees late in the day, or early in the morning despite potential bad behavior from the bees. Again, getting to know your own hive is important.
- Fall- As the weather begins to cool, and perhaps a slight pollen and nectar trickle begin, your bees will hopefully calm. Looking at hives anytime temperatures are warm, it is sunny and calm is usually fine. Mid-afternoon is still the preferred time.
- Winter- This season brings cold weather, and the bees are often clustered, and focusing on keeping their hive warm. Quick inspections during the middle of a sunny and warm day are ideal. If you are simply breaking the boxes apart to check the cluster size, or lifting boxes to check weight, this can be done even if it is freezing temperatures, as long as the hive is not open for more than a minute or two.
Check out this video where I show "How To" do a Hive Inspection