The only way to know exactly what is going on in a beehive is to actually take a peek inside. This can be intimidating, especially to a new beekeeper, but it doesn’t have to be. And experienced beekeepers can get sidetracked by all that is going on in a hive and forget to check on things they wanted to check. Using a beehive inspection checklist can help the beginning beekeeper have confidence in the inspections and help the experienced beekeeper stay on track during inspections.
A beehive inspection checklist will also act as a record for you so you don’t have to try to remember all that you observed in the hives. This record will enable you to notice trends or patterns that are happening with your beehives. The more hives you have, the more important it is to take notes and use a beehive inspection checklist. However, even if you only have one hive, I’d still recommend taking notes and using a checklist every time you inspect your hive.
Hive inspections will be a little different depending on what kind of hive you have; Langstroth, Warre, or top bar beehive. If you have a top bar beehive you take the cover off and can immediately start checking frames. If you have a Langstroth or Warre hive, you will need to unstack the boxes first, making sure you remember what order they were in and start your inspection with the bottom box.
Whenever you inspect a beehive, you’ll want to have on your complete bee suit, gloves, and veil. Even if you’re just going to have “a little peek” – take my word for it. You’ll also want to have your smoker, hive tool, and your beehive inspection checklist.
Remember to be gentle as you are removing boxes and moving frames you don’t want to smash any bees. Also, be sure to put everything back just as it was, you wouldn’t want someone coming in and rearranging your house while you were distracted.
What Does a Beehive Look Like Inside?
Once you get into the hive you’ll want to start inspecting the frames. Take each frame out of the box, one at a time and look for the queen, eggs, larva, and signs of pests.
The queen will be easier to find if she’s marked. But if she’s not marked, look for the large bee that has other bees hovering around her. If you just cannot find the queen, don’t panic, just look for signs that she’s there.
If there are eggs in the comb that means the queen was there within the last three days. The eggs will look like little grains of rice in an empty cell. You might need to tilt the frame a bit to see them.
Look for brood in capped and uncapped cells; brood is larva and eggs. There should only be one per cell. If you notice more than one egg in a cell that means one of the worker bees is laying eggs. The workers will take the extra eggs out of the cells so there will never be more than one larva per cell.
You’ll also want to look for any signs of pests such as wax moths, mites, and ants. Notice the odor of the hive, too. It should smell like honey and beeswax; if it has a bad odor the hive might have foulbrood.
While you’re gently looking around, it’s a good time to see how many frames in each box are full. Once about 70 percent of the frames are full you will want to give the hive more space. This means you will add a new box with frames for a Langstroth hive or harvest some honey from a top bar hive.
Last, you’ll want to make notes on the environment. Keeping notes on things like the temperature and rainfall can help you evaluate what’s going on and even give you an idea of what to expect as the season goes on. It’s easy to say, “Last year the hive swarmed in August.” But was it really last year? Or was it the year before? Was it August or was it really the end of July or beginning of September? Without notes, our memory will only get us so far.
How Often to Inspect Beehives
Every honey bee farm its own guidelines of how often to inspect a beehive. One thing to remember is that every time the hive is disturbed it sets the hive back by one day. While a hive inspection is necessary, it does disturb the hive. As a rule of thumb, new hives should be inspected every seven to 10 days. Once you believe they are well established you can lengthen the time between inspections to every four to six weeks.
In between official hive inspections, you’ll want to observe the outside of the hive for signs of signs of health. For instance, are workers leaving the hive to forage and coming back with pollen on their legs? The more you observe your hives, the more readily you’ll be able to detect when something is not quite right.
If the idea of handling a hive, smoker and writing notes seems daunting, you might want to use a printed beehive inspection checklist as a guide but use your phone’s digital recorder to record your notes. Once you get inside, you can fill out the checklist and write notes based on the recording.
Cooking and making medicine with honey and filtering beeswax for projects are some of the fun benefits of beekeeping. But we also have a responsibility to the bees to care for them, using a beehive inspection checklist and doing hive inspections is a great way to fulfill that responsibility.
Do you use a beehive inspection checklist during your hive inspections?