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Hive Inspections- Part 1

By: Chari Elam

Probably one of the most intimidating aspects of beekeeping is a hive inspection! How often is it done? Do I really have to pull all of the frames? What am I looking at? We’ve ALL asked that last question at one time or another! Because I know all too well the struggle of mastering hive inspections, for the next few months, I’ll be taking you through an “in-depth” study of what we should be doing and looking for each time we go into our bees. Let’s focus on how EASY it is with just a little understanding, removing any doubt that may hold you back from taking the best possible care of your bees!

There are 2 different types of hive inspections: ·

  • Hive Check: Bi-weekly (except for Winter months, then monthly) ·
  • Hive Inspection: Seasonal (February: Spring Buildup, May: Prior to supering, August: Dearth, and November: before overwintering) Let's detail the difference. 

Hive Check: Observe bee traffic at the entrance of the hive. More traffic should be seen in warmer weather and less in cooler weather. This makes sense when you consider “population” size. As the seasons change, days are shorter; this directly impacts the amount of eggs a queen lays. Less daylight and less forage time = less food and fewer eggs. This applies in summer dearth as well! ·

As you remove the lid – look quickly to see if any Small Hive Beetles scurry down to avoid the light you’ve let in. Are there any on the inside lid? Use the bent end of your hive tool as a weapon and smash them! Yes, this can be like the arcade game of “Whack-a-Mole” and very satisfying! 

Count the bees! Yes – count the bees! No, not one by one. :) Look down from the top and count the full frames of bees between the frames! This gives you a real indication, prior to smoking too much and moving frames, of just how large or small your population is. Ideally, in a double deep brood box you should see:

  • January – 5 + frames of bees
  • March – 8 + frames of bees
  • May – 14 + frames of bees
  • November – 12 + frames of bees

The image below would only be considered 6 frames of bees because it has 5 full frames and 2 half frames.

Propolis (Bee caulk) – only scrape off propolis if it’s excessive. Removing propolis late in the summer could cause the hive not to have the needed protection as cooler weather approaches.

Fun Fact: Propolis is also used as our bees “medicine cabinet!” Its properties are very beneficial to their health and ours! 

This next step is where the difference in a hive check and inspection really starts to show. Only pull up a frame or two! Your goal is to just peek inside and “check” on the bees to verify all’s well! Look for eggs/larvae and food stores. If those 2 components are visible – your bees are likely good! ·You’re done! Close it up and be confident your bees are well!

Hive Inspection: Start with steps 1 – 3 above, then proceeds to the following steps. ·One big difference between a hive check and inspection – You’re going to pull up most all of the frames!

This time you are looking much closer. Dig in to look for any and all positive and negative aspects of your colony! Remember – A full hive inspection is done about 4 times a year so take advantage of this time and also test for Varroa mites. I know…It’s easier just to treat than to actually do a test. But, believe me, it’s only hard the first time and then you’ll never worry about it again.

Three very important aspects of hive checks and inspections: 1. Your bees build a “nest” and rarely vary from a basic nest configuration. It’s simple really – see below:

If you don’t see the components of a nest, you likely have a problem! We’ll address that in more detail next month.

2. If you have 2 brood boxes, INSPECT BOTH BOXES! Bottom box neglect is real! Don’t let the weight or intimidation of taking the top box off to look inside prevent you from doing it. A bottom box neglected WILL eventually cause you big problems. You can do it and your bees will thank you!!

3. Lastly, return the cover to the hive. Take notes to compare against for next time, unless your memory is a lot better than mine! Hint – Using a wax China pencil works great to write quick notes on the top cover of your boxes!

You’re done! If you are a new beekeeper, it’s completely normal and necessary for you to check on your bees more often than bi-weekly – It’s how you learn! As you grow in your beekeeping journey through publications just like this, you’ll get a better understanding of what you’re looking for and be able to spot problems in time to make a difference! That’s when you can say with confidence “I am a Bee-keeper!” In part 2 we’ll look deeper into what we’re looking “at” when we pull those frames. Until then, Happy Beekeeping!


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