Inspecting Your Hives
It's important to inspect hives for many reasons:
* You want to see that the queen is laying, and laying a strong brood pattern, so that the colony will have enough foragers to build up winter stores (and fill honey supers, if that's one of your goals). Otherwise, you may need to re-queen.
* You also will want to inspect your bees for signs of disease or parasites like Varroa mites.
* Finally, you will want to inspect your bees to know when to put on a 2nd deep body: bees will swarm if they feel crowded. Once they have drawn comb on 7 of 10 frames, it's time to add that 2nd box.
It is good to inspect about every 10-12 days, weather permitting, in "swarm season," spring & summer. A queen takes 16 days to hatch out, & a potential swarm cell is difficult to spot at the egg stage.
(FYI: reasonable beekeepers can & do disagree about timing inspections: many believe that every 10-12 days is too often to invade the hive & pull frames. You will do best to take a class and/or read and/or come to workshops to talk to beekeepers, then make your own best decision.)
Conducting Hive Inspections:
Hive inspections are best done at midday, when many bees are out of the hive foraging. The temperature should be 50F.+ degrees (some say 55+). Avoid inspecting on windy or rainy days to avoid chilling brood.
When inspecting, move slowly & deliberately. Avoid fast, jerky movements. Go gently with your bees to avoid alarming them. Hold frames over the hive box (if the queen is on a frame, you don't want to shake her onto the ground by accident). Tilt frames gently as you look at them and do not tilt them past about a 45 degree angle: this avoids shaking out any eggs or larvae. Also, if tilted too far, the sphericles through which bees breathe at the egg stage can become filled with fluid, killing the egg.
Many use smokers to encourage bees to dive down into the hive, exposing frames. However, this makes bees think a fire is happening: they will ingest honey & set back their food strorage. Many beekeepers now spray a 1:1 sugar/water solution on the bees (a gentle mist, not a drenching): this promotes bees' grooming each other, does not traumatize them, & accomplishes the same purpose of getting bees less focused on you, the inspector.
A frame holder that can be hung over the side of the hive box is very helpful: you can move outer frames with little or no drawn comb out of the way & get a better view of what is going on with built-up frames.
Covering the how-to details of hive inspection is beyond the scope of this site: if you're an LCBA member, we encourage you to come to a hive inspection mentor workshop & see how the process works.
To make good decisions about managing your bees, it helps to observe & record patterns in your colonies. You may not remember everything you see when you inspect. How many frames had brood? How many frames had drawn comb? How many frames had stored honey? etc. It helps to keep records. Some do this with a hand-held voice recorder & make oral notes throughout the inspection; others write down notes. To help you with your own inspections, click here for a hive inspection form developed by LCBA VP Dave Gaston.
Covering the how-to details of hive inspection is beyond the scope of this site: if you're an LCBA member, we encourage you to come to a hive inspection mentor workshop & see how the process works!
Above, LCBA President Norm Switzler leads mentor workshop in Randle, April 2014.
Above, queen cells developing on a frame from a nuc hived at a colony removal, May 2013.
Visit LCBA's photo gallery to see slideshows of hive inspection workshops:
Click here to see a slideshow from the fall management workshop in Winlock, September 2013.
Click here to see a slideshow from the fall management workshop in Randle, September 2013.
Visit the main Mentors & Classes page to see images from the hive inspection workshop to test for disease & parasites, June 2013, and images from the workshop on removing honey supers, August 2013.
Above, excellent brood pattern in a top bar hive frame: note white honey layer across the top, with tan brood cells below. The side-by-side filled cells suggest a high-volume-laying queen: the holes suggest recent hatch-outs. This is not a "shotgun" pattern, which can indicate a poorly laying queen. (Photo by Kaye Gaston)
Below, LCBA President Norm Switzler uses hive tool to scrape burr comb from tops of frames. Bees tend to glue frames together, but this makes inspecting more difficult. Slow & gentle are the keys to removing burr comb without injuring bees:
Below, close-up of capped honey, which appears whitish or yellow, with some cells translucent. Contrast this with how capped brood looks (next photo) and larvae (photo after that): Below, close-up of capped brood ~ note its color, ranging from orange to brown, & its texture, raised by comparison with the above honey frame:
Below, curled-up white larvae are tended by nurse bees; note the colored pollen in nearby cells, used to feed baby bees (photo, TalkingWithBees.com):