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Honey Bee Hive Inspection | Tips & Tricks - Part 2

Honey Bee Hive Inspection | Tips & Tricks - Part 2

In our last post, we looked at a few tips and tricks you can use to make your beekeeping journey easier. Understanding the importance of timely and regular hive inspections, you'll find these tips and tricks will make future hive inspections easier.

Last time we covered general hive inspection tips and looked at a couple of tips for the hive tool and frame perch. Today we’ll target smoke, queens, drones, and how to calculate the number of bees you have in your hive.

Smoke and Hive Inspection Tips and Tricks

  • Disperse cool white smoke over the hive after removing the top to “calm” the bees. Use additional smoke whenever you notice the bees are starting to become agitated.
  • If during your inspection, the bees begin to line up between the top bars and appear to be watching you, it’s because they are ... time to use more smoke without delay.
  • Interestingly enough, smoke doesn’t really calm the bees. Instead, it sends a signal to them that a fire is nearby. Instincts set in, and they prepare to evacuate, should the need arise, by gorging on honey. While they’re busy doing this, they’re not worried about you.

Queens and Hive Inspection Tips and Tricks

  • It’s not always necessary to see the queen when performing a hive inspection. The presence of eggs and larvae tells you that a queen has been actively taking care of business. Eggs hatch into larva in approximately 3 days, so if you see eggs, the queen laid them within the last three days. (If you have trouble spotting the queen and need or want to find her, check out our post, Finding the Queen before your next hive inspection.)
  • Spotty brood pattern with many empty cells and/or an occasional cluster of cells with brood indicates that your queen may be sick or old and requires replacement. If this is the case, look for supersedure cells. If no supersedure cells can be found, you may need to quickly find a new queen to ensure the hive’s viability.
  • The presence of swarm cells indicates that the bees are creating new queens and preparing to swarm. You need to act quickly to try to prevent the bees from swarming. Despite your best efforts, the bees may still swarm. This is why it’s important to have swarm prevention supplies on hand and ready to use to capture swarms when they occur.

Drones and Hive Inspections

  • Drones are pretty useless in the everyday happenings of the hive, but when a new queen makes her maiden flight, the drone is invaluable. Therefore, you should see drone cells in your hive. Capped drone cells protrude from the cell wall with a profile that is often described as “bullet-shaped.” When drone cells are grouped together, they may take on a cobblestone appearance. Drone cells are natural and should be present when the temperatures are warm. You will typically find them on the outer edges of the brood nest and especially on the lower edges of the frame.
  • If there are a large number of drone brood cells and little to no worker brood, the hive likely has a failed queen. The colony may replace this queen on their own — you will see queen supersedure cells, but if they don’t, you’ll need to install a new queen or move supersedure cells from another hive into this hive.

How Many Bees are in Your Hive?

  • Since a normal, healthy hive can have between 30 and 60 thousand bees, determining the exact number of bees is impossible. There is an easy way, however, to get an approximate count to determine if the hive is maintaining its numbers. Before removing any frames, look down into the super or brood box to see how many spaces/seams between the frames are full of bees. Count the “seams of bees” in the supers and brood boxes. Use this method to determine if the numbers of bees in the hive are increasing, decreasing or remaining steady in your hive from one hive inspection to the next.
  • If you’re looking for a number that is a little more exact, it’s reported that a deep frame fully covered by bees holds approximately half a pound of bees which equals around 1750 to 2000 bees. Use frame fullness to estimate the number of bees when doing an inspection and multiply.

There you have it ... the last of our tips and tricks for hive inspections.  Join us next time when we discuss the top DO NOTs of hive inspections.

Remember to keep an eye on your hives. We are right in the middle of swarming season. Check out the beekeeping calendar for activities you should be doing now that warm weather is here to stay.

General Question About Honey Bee Hive Insection

How can I tell if I am using too much or too little smoke during a hive inspection?

Use just enough smoke to see a visible response from the bees. If they start to become agitated or form lines between the top bars, add more smoke. Avoid using excessive smoke as it can stress the bees and affect their behavior. Aim for a light, consistent puff rather than continuous heavy smoke.

What should I do if I accidentally squish a bee while inspecting a frame?

If you accidentally squish a bee, remain calm and continue your inspection. Use smoke to calm the hive if the bees become agitated. Try to handle frames gently and deliberately to minimize the risk of injuring bees during future inspections.

How can I distinguish between swarm cells and supersedure cells?

Swarm cells are typically found on the edges or bottom of the frames and are more numerous. Supersedure cells are usually found in the middle of the frames and are fewer in number. Swarm cells indicate preparation for swarming, while supersedure cells indicate the colony is trying to replace an old or failing queen.

Is there a specific time of day that is best for hive inspections?

The best time for hive inspections is during the middle of a sunny day when most of the foragers are out collecting nectar and pollen. This reduces the number of bees in the hive, making the inspection process easier and less disruptive.

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