Conducting hive inspections is an essential part of keeping bees to help you understand your hive’s workings.
Approximately one week to ten days after placing a new hive on your property you should undertake the first inspection. If it’s a new colony you can establish whether the queen has been released from her cage and has begun laying.
From my experience here in southern Australia, the hive should be inspected every two to three weeks during spring and summer. In fall, the hive should be inspected approximately every month and prepared for winter.
During winter, there are usually no inspections as the weather is too cold. However, if there is a warm, calm day, then the hive can be opened, and the bees checked on.
Of course, the frequency of inspections depends on where you live, your climate, and your hives’ condition.
There are many inspection checklists available online to help you remember what to look for, take note of, and to do during the next inspection. Or you can make one up for yourself.
Some of the things to look out for during an inspection can include:
- Food: do the bees have enough honey and pollen stores?
- Eggs: Is there an active queen?
- Disease: Does the brood pattern look solid or spotty?
- Space: Do the bees have enough room? Do I need to add another box?
Why You Should Inspect A Hive
You’ll Recognize Your ‘Normal’ beehive
Conducting your first hive inspection can be very daunting, but it’s a task that becomes easier the more often you do it.
Regular inspections alert you quickly to what is a ‘normal-looking’ hive and what is not. All hives have a different kind of ‘normal’, no two hives look or behave in the same way. As you become familiar with yours, you’ll develop more confidence when conducting an inspection.
As you gain confidence and come to understand your own hive, the following are some of the indicators you may observe that tell you something is amiss.
- Patchy brood pattern
- Absence of the queen
- Agitated bee behavior
- A smaller population of bees
Having regular inspections and being familiar with your own hive’s usual workings mean you will spot and help the bees remedy a situation quickly. In doing so you may prevent spreading the problem to other hives or worse still, losing the hive altogether.
You’ll Gain Confidence
As with all new and unfamiliar experiences offered we can be hesitant to try them, but the more often we undertake them the more familiar they become, and the more our confidence grows.
In my experience, I was initially very nervous. Although fully protected by my white suit, I was scared of the bees flying around me and of the loud buzzing noise they made as I opened the hive.
On some occasions, I asked for help from a more experienced beekeeper, and I was able to gain some tips from him. Those tips helped me during subsequent inspections, but I gained confidence primarily because I kept conducting regular inspections.
With time, I have become more comfortable handling the bees. My actions are generally smoother and more efficient, therefore creating less agitation among the bees. If I have to spend a longer time in the hive, such as replacing or cleaning some components, I feel more relaxed doing so.
Bees are sensitive to sudden movements we make when we feel afraid or insecure. The more often we conduct inspections, the more confident we become, and the calmer our colony will be.
You’ll See Problems Early
As you conduct hive inspections, you will learn the regular patterns of behavior of your hive and will also be able to recognize the irregular. Regular inspections allow you to monitor the colony and detect potential problems early so you can apply the right solution quickly.
Some of the potential situations you may see in the hive are:
- Patchy brood pattern
This can indicate an ailing queen who needs replacing.
- Absence of the queen
If you cannot see the queen and detect little or no brood or eggs, then it’s apparent the queen has died or left the colony. A new queen is needed quickly unless you see large queen cells on the frames, which means the bees have taken the action needed.
- Agitated behavior
There are many reasons for this: the weather, an aggressive queen, not enough nectar and pollen, or the absence of a queen.
- A smaller population of bees
This could indicate the absence of a queen, particularly if you see little brood. Action is needed quickly to remedy the situation unless the bees have begun to take the necessary steps to replace her. The bees may also have been affected by a pest or disease, so start acting immediately to fix the problem.
When To Inspect The Hive
If you are new to beekeeping, you may be tempted to peek into your hive more often than necessary. Your enthusiasm is understandable, but inspecting the hive too often is not good for the colony.
Bees are insects that have evolved to become a finely tuned and organized community that doesn’t need humans, so be sure not to look into the hive too often even though you may be tempted!
The smoke puffed into the hive can affect the bees negatively if used too much. Smoke is used to calm bees, so an inspection is easier and sends the bees down into the frames away from the beekeeper.
For a newly installed hive, leave the bees for a week to ten days before inspecting the hive. This time allows the bees to settle in and orient themselves to their new surroundings. You will want to see if the queen has been successfully released from her cage and has started to lay.
For an established hive, during Spring and Summer, the hive should be inspected approximately every two to three weeks. These seasons are when the hive is most active, and pollen and nectar are being collected. You will want to monitor whether they have enough space to grow and whether there will be honey to extract.
In Autumn, the inspections will occur less frequently. This season is for the preparation of the hive for Winter. In late Autumn, some sugar syrup feeding may be needed, so the hive has enough honey stores to survive through the Winter.
During Winter, the hive is rarely inspected. The occasional inspection may occur to check on the colony’s health and to top up the supply of sugar syrup, but basically, the hive is left alone.
I use the Winter months to check the hive hardware and repair or replace parts as necessary.
Bees do not hibernate, but they remain in the hive to maintain sufficient warmth to keep the queen and the colony alive. They will not willingly leave the hive unless the temperature is above approximately 18 degrees Celsius or 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inspecting your hive should take place on a warm, calm day when the air temperature is above 18 degrees Celsius, or 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler air will chill the brood, and the bees will have to work harder to regain the temperature required to maintain the colony’s health.
The description I have given is for southern Australia’s climate and is meant as a guide only. The timing of your inspections will vary depending upon where you live, the climate, and the state of your beehives.
Hive inspections are a necessary component of keeping bees. For some beekeepers, this task may seem a bit daunting initially.
If you are new at beekeeping, ask for help. Joining a local club will help you find many experienced beekeepers from your area, and I’m sure many of them will be very happy to help you.
Once you have undertaken several inspections, you will gain skill in manipulating the hive components. Gradually you will gain confidence as you remember what to do and learn how your hive behaves.
Conducting hive inspections is crucial to ensure you detect possible problems early. If you do them regularly, but not too often, then you will be able to solve situations that could threaten the health and future of your colony.