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How often should you inspect your beehive?

How often should you inspect your beehive?

Today we continue to look at hive inspections and how often they should take place. If you missed it, look at our previous post, Importance of Hive Inspections which is a great introduction to this topic. Since hive inspections cause stress to your bees, let’s look at the conditions that determine how often you should inspect your hives.

Inspections are important because if something is wrong, you need to know about it in a timely manner.

How Often Should Hive Inspections Take Place

The frequency of inspections will vary from location to location and from season to season. In the US, beekeepers should inspect their hives on a monthly basis, at the very least, although every other week is preferred. Think about this ... a queen develops from egg to adult in 14-16 days. This means that if your hive is preparing to swarm or if your hive’s queen has been superseded, you missed the window of opportunity to prevent swarming activity if you only checked your hive on a monthly basis.

If you live in an area of the country where Africanization is an issue, then you’ll need to commit to hive inspections on a much more frequent basis – weekly! Africanized bees first appeared in the US in Texas in 1990. As of 2012, swarms have been found in most of the southernmost states including Texas, Arizona, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Florida and Arkansas. The northward migration of Africanized honey bees has slowed, most likely due to cooler temperatures which they find unfavorable. Because European honey bees can interbreed with Africanized honey bees, any colony may have a certain percentage of African honey bee genetics and yet not be classified as Africanized.

You’ll find out pretty quickly just how important twice-monthly hive inspections can be if you find yourself dealing with issues such as:

New hives and newly split hives should be inspected weekly for four to six weeks to make sure that everything is going well and to ensure that a good queen is present and laying eggs in the hive. (Why? Workers don’t always accept a new queen and may kill her.) After this time period, you can reduce the number of inspections unless you suspect a problem. Problems that may necessitate more frequent hive inspections include:

  • Evidence of robbing activities
  • Bees becoming more aggressive
  • Less bees and flight activity at the entrance of the hive

Hive Inspections and Queens in Newly Installed Hives

If you purchase a package of honey bees, such as a NUC (our NUCs are still available at 2020 pricing), a mated queen and a few of her attendants arrive in a plastic or wooden queen cage that has a white candy plug. As the bees eat the plug, the colony is given time to adapt to and accept the queen. Your first hive inspection should take place 4-5 days later to make sure she has been released and to remove the queen cage.

Although it can be tempting to look for the queen to make sure she is okay, the colony is still settling into their new home and don’t need the stress of you searching every frame for the queen. Remove only the queen cage, push the frames together if you had to push them apart to fit the queen cage between them and close the hive.

If for some reason, the queen and her attendants are still in the queen cage, check back again a few days later on day seven. If at that time she is still in the cage, go ahead and release her. Sometimes, the white candy plug can become too dry for the bees to eat through in a timely manner and will need your assistance. Don’t release her earlier than this. New colonies and those being re-queened need time to adjust to their new queen.

If you find a new queen dead in the cage, you may have a queen loose in the packaged bees. If this happens, you will need to make a more thorough inspection, even with newly installed colonies and requeened colonies. Inspect the frames, looking for the queen or signs of a queen – eggs and larvae.

If you don’t see any brood or a queen, wait an additional 3-5 days before looking again for eggs or larvae.

If there is still no evidence of a queen at this time, you must act quickly. A queenless colony’s population can drop quickly with no new bees to replace the older bees that die. You must provide a new queen and/or fresh eggs to repopulate the colony while their numbers are still high, or the colony will fail.

Hive Inspections to Prevent Swarming

If your colony is strong and you’re concerned about swarming, you may need to check weekly during the spring and early summer to stay on top of swarming activity. Watch for queen cell development and crowded conditions. The presence of queen cells means the colony is preparing to swarm and action will need to be taken.

We’ll cover swarming activities in more depth in our next post. See you then!

Previous article The Beekeeper's Guide to Swarm Prevention
Next article January Beekeeping Tips