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Inspecting Bee Hives | Tips & Tricks - Part 1

Inspecting Bee Hives | Tips & Tricks - Part 1

Hive inspections are always important, but as the weather warms up, you’ll find that they're more important than ever. As we leave the cold of winter behind and head into warmer weather which translates into swarming season, every beekeeper needs to be vigilant, keeping a good eye on their hives. They also need to be prepared and ready to take action should any evidence of swarming activities be seen.

Hive inspections should be timely and performed on a regular basis. (See blog post, How often should you inspect your beehive?) Consider this ... a queen develops into an adult from an egg in as little as 14-16 days. Therefore, if the bees in your hive have created swarm cells and you have not inspected the hive during this time period, you will have missed your window of opportunity to prevent the hive from swarming. Monthly hive inspections may not be enough, especially this time of year when swarm cells tell you that swarming activity is imminent.

Tips and Tricks for a Hive Inspection

Let’s look at a few tips and tricks that'll make your journey as a beekeeper easier and more enjoyable. These tips and tricks are divided into sections. We’ll begin today by covering tips and tricks for general topics and then smokers. We'll move on to other specific topics in our next post.

General Hive Inspection Tips and Tricks

  • Once you begin a hive inspection, don’t stop to talk on your phone or look up what a normal brood pattern should look like. Keep your inspection time as short as possible — get into the hive and perform the inspection as quickly as possible. The quicker the inspection, the less stress your bees will experience. (Stress can cause bees to swarm.)
  • Brood includes eggs, larvae and capped pupae. A good brood pattern contains all of these stages interspersed with a few empty cells. Same-aged brood should be located close together. Brood is capped at day 9 or 10 when the larvae no longer need to be fed. When capped, the larvae are in the pupal growth stage — being transformed from larvae to adult bees. Brood pattern should contain some drone cells, but worker bee cells should be much more numerous. The presence of supersedure cells or swarm cells means that you need to take immediate action.
  • The queen is the key factor to having a good brood pattern, although other issues can cause poor brood pattern such as mites, foraging conditions and time of the year.
  • A visual inspection only for varroa mites is insufficient. The only way to get a true estimate of the mite population is through proper testing.
  • Pollen stores often look like stained-glass, having many shades of color including yellow, gray, green, blue, orange, red, etc. The color is dictated by the plant from which the pollen was collected.
  • Cells that appear wet may contain water, or they may be open honey and/or nectar stores.

Hive Tools and Hive Inspection Tips and Tricks

  • The first inspection after a long winter can be more difficult because the propolis (bee glue) the bees set down can make the frames hard to remove. Use a hive tool to carefully dislodge frames that are glued into place with propolis. (This video shows you how to loosen a frame for removal, demonstrating with both the standard hive tool and the J-hook hive tool.)
  • A frame perch or frame rest is a handy accessory to temporarily hold the first couple of frames during a hive inspection. A frame perch will keep the frames off the ground and out of harm’s way.

Hope you’ve enjoyed these general tips and tricks for hive inspections and will use a few of them to make your beekeeping journey a little easier. Join us next time as we dive a little deeper into this topic, covering tips and tricks on specific topics during hive inspections such as queens, drones and smokers.

General Questions About Inspecting Bee Hives

How often should I inspect my beehive during the swarming season?
During the swarming season, it is recommended to inspect your hive every 7-10 days. This frequency helps ensure you catch any signs of swarming activity, such as the presence of swarm cells, early enough to take preventive measures.

What specific actions should I take if I find swarm cells during an inspection?
If you find swarm cells, consider splitting the hive to reduce the likelihood of swarming. Another option is to remove the swarm cells, but this should be done cautiously and may not always prevent swarming if the hive is already determined to swarm.

What are the signs of a failing queen during a hive inspection?
Signs of a failing queen include a scattered brood pattern, presence of multiple eggs in one cell, a significant decrease in the number of eggs, and the presence of supersedure cells. These indicate that the hive may be preparing to replace the queen.

How can I test for varroa mites effectively during an inspection?
The most accurate methods for testing varroa mite levels are the sugar shake test or the alcohol wash method. These involve collecting a sample of bees and using either powdered sugar or alcohol to dislodge and count the mites.

What precautions should I take when using a bee smoker during an inspection?
When using a bee smoker, ensure the smoke is cool and not too dense to avoid harming the bees. Use gentle puffs at the entrance and over the top of the frames. Always light the smoker well in advance to ensure it is producing steady, cool smoke before starting the inspection.

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