October 11, 2016

What to Look for When Inspecting a Hive

When inspecting a hive there are several things that you should be looking out for and these are summarised below.

Evidence that the hive is ‘queen right’

Queen right is the term given to describe a colony of honey bees where the queen bee is present and laying eggs. When inspecting your hive  look out for the queen, but if you cannot find her don’t worry. It is not always easy to find the queen especially if the hive has many boxes and large numbers of bees. Ideally you should have your queen marked, which will help you to find her and also to confirm that the queen you have found is your original one and not a replacement.

If you cannot find your queen, look for eggs. If you find eggs you know that your queen was at least in your hive a couple of days ago. If you cannot find your queen and you see no eggs, then you have a problem as either the queen is dead or she has stopped laying or is defective in some way and cannot lay.

As you remove a frame for inspection, be sure to hold it over the hive, in case the queen is on it and falls off. If you are holding it over the hive then she will fall back into the hive. If the queen was to fall onto the ground outside the hive there is no guarantee she will be able to find her way back in.
Presence of all stages of brood
It is important for the colonies survival that there is plenty of brood at all stages of development and in particular plenty capped or sealed brood. You should also as the season progresses see a marked increase in the bee population, which is essential if the bees are to gather enough to produce the honey that you and they need.
Check for any abnormalities
This gets easier with experience and after a while an experienced beekeeper can tell at a quick glance whether there are any real problems or not. You should be looking in particular for any sign of disease (e.g malformed larvae) or pests, such as varroa or wax moth (refer to our pests and diseases section).
Check for sufficient honey and pollen stores
The amount of honey stores will depend upon the time of year, but if you feel that there is insufficient stores then you should feed your bees. The bees will usually store pollen near the brood areas as this is where it is most needed.
Check that there is enough space
Again this depends upon the time of year. In spring and early summer it is important that the queen has plenty space to lay if not you increase the likelihood of losing most of your bees and honey as the colony will swarm. Always add supers in plenty time for the main nectar flow if you are to maximise your honey crop.
You should also  ideally keep a written record of what you have seen in each hive as it is not as easy to remember from inspection to inspection as you might imagine.