Basic Hive Inspection

An integral part of a healthy and sustainable beekeeping practice involves inspecting the Hive. The process needs to be conducted regularly, but not so often that it disrupts the routine of the hive.

For normal practice, an inspection every 7 to 10 days during spring and summer is a good target. Inspecting more than weekly will make your bees unhappy by disrupting hive activity and setting them back a day.

Inspections is best conducted on a moderately warm (at least ~15°C), dry day. Avoid wet, cold days for inspections as this will stress the Bees and most likely they will be more aggressive than usual.

Inspecting a beehive is the process of systematically smoking and removing each box until you reach the bottom layer, carefully inspecting the frames inside the boxes and noting what you see before reassembling the hive.

Generally, the key features to keep in mind whilst performing an inspection are as follows:-

  1. Is the queen present?

  2. Does the brood look healthy?

  3. Are there signs of imminent swarming?

  4. Are there any indications of mites?

  5. How is the colony reacting to your presence?

  6. Are honey stores growing nicely?

  7. Is it time to add more space, by adding a box?

Identifying stores and brood on the Comb

In order to complete the checks shown above, the Beekeeper needs to know what they are looking for. The image below shows examples of the stores and brood on the comb:-

Step 1 : Preparing for an Inspection

The preparations for inspecting a Hive begin with putting on your Bee Suit or Veil, lighting your Bee Smoker and ensuring you have all required tools to hand (for instructions of how to light a Bee Smoker, see - Beekeeping Tools).

Step 2 : Open the Hive

Direct smoke by the entrance in front of the hive, to confuse the guard bees. Lift the outer cover slightly and direct a few puffs of smoke underneath it. Let the cover back down gently and wait for one to two minutes for the smoke to take effect.

The reason smoke is used is that it sends a signal that there is a fire nearby, which makes Bees instinctively gorge on honey. While they're gorging, they're not worrying about the big, white-suited animal that is messing with them. When you see their heads line up at the top bars, looking at you, it's time for more smoke.

Step 3 : Remove the outer cover

Remove the outer cover and carefully set it on the ground upside down. Direct some smoke into the hole in the inner cover, if you have one. Wait a minute or two for the bees to react to the smoke.

Step 4 : Remove the Crown Board

Use your hive tool to gently pry up the Crown Board and remove it. If there is wax or propolis on the Crown Board, use your hive tool to scrape it off. Set the Crown Board on top of the outer cover on the ground, being careful not to injure any bees.

Step 5 : Remove Honey Super (if present)

Pry up the Honey Super using your hive tool. Lift off the Honey Super and set it on top of the Crown Board.

If the hive has a second Honey Super, smoke and remove this box, as well. If the hive has a Queen Excluder, remove it with the hive tool,check the Queen is not on it, and set it aside.

Step 6 : Smoke & remove top Brood box (if present)

Gently puff smoke into the top Brood Box (if present). The top Brood Box is one of two boxes that hold the brood colony. You will start your inspection with the bottom Brood box.

Step 7 : Remove first frame for inspection

Begin your inspection with the bottom Brood Box. Direct smoke in between the frames, then remove the dummy board (if present) then the first frame and inspect it, taking care not to injure any bees. When complete, replace the frame and move onto the next one. Finally replace the dummy board.

Step 7A : Inspecting frames

Holding and inspecting an individual frame the proper way is crucial. Be sure to stand with your back to the sun, with the light shining over your shoulder and onto the frame. The sun illuminates details deep in the cells and helps you to better see eggs and small larvae.

The following instructions show how to properly turn the frame to observe both sides:-

1. Hold the frame firmly by the tabs at either end of the top bar.

2. Turn the frame vertically.

3. Then turn the frame like a page of a book.

4. Now smoothly return it to the horizontal position, and you’ll be viewing the opposite side of the frame.

The diagram below, shows these steps visually:-

Step 8 : Replace the top Brood Box & Honey Supers

With the bottom Brood Box inspected, proceed to the top Brood Box, inspecting the frames, and then restacking the boxes together.

Replace the Queen Excluder, if your hive has one, then replace the Honey Super. To do this, position the box with the edge on the back edge of the hive, then slowly "bulldoze" it forward, moving slowly to avoid injuring any bees. You can use the smoker or bee brush to gently move the bees out of the way.

Step 9 : Replace the Crown Board

Slide on the Crown Board using the bulldozer method: Start at one end and slowly slide the board across the box. Use the smoker or bee brush to move bees out of the way, as needed.

Step 10 : Replace the outer cover

Gently replace the outer cover on the hive. Finally, record your observations in your bee notebook or journal. Do this right away because it's too easy to forget the exact date and the details of the inspection.

Put your smoker where it can burn out safely, then clean and pack it away. You can then take your suit off and store it.

The video below shows an in depth Hive Inspection, showing the key features to look for:-