If you’ve been learning about beekeeping even for a short amount of time, you understand the importance of beehive inspections. You should inspect your beehive on a regular basis to understand how the colony is functioning.
You want to be sure you are caring for your bees appropriately, but you don’t know if you’re inspecting the hive too much or not enough. To be successful in beekeeping, you must routinely inspect your hives. If an issue arises that bees can’t fix, it’s your job to know about it. Bees become stressed after an inspection and too much stress can lead to them killing their queen or leaving the hive.
But how much is too much? Well, it depends. Factors can include the bee species, nectar availability, and the weather conditions. Opening a hive is one tool to gain more knowledge about your colony, but don’t overdo it! Be intentional with every inspection to make it worthwhile.
How Often Should I Inspect My Beehive?
If it’s a new hive, plan an inspection once a week for the first few weeks. Once things have settled, you can plan to inspect your hive once a month unless you suspect that there is a problem.
It’s important to have a schedule for inspections. There is no concrete schedule that fits for all hive. Different hives will have issues that need to be handled at different times. Strong hives may only require a handful of inspections per year. While other hives may need a weekly inspection to recover from diseases or parasites. Here are general rules of thumb to opening a beehive:
Late Winter to Spring
Every 7-10 Days
Observe the hive for any signs of swarming (overcrowding or developing queen cells)
Determine if a hive needs to be split or combined for the upcoming season
Late Spring to Late Summer
Every 3-4 Weeks
Routine hive inspection to determine the health of the hive
If there is strong honey flow, take longer time between inspections. Begin harvesting honey to allow the bees to produce more
Early Fall to Winter
Before wintering the hive, ensure your bees have enough food for the winter.
Don’t open the hive during the winter to check on their food supply. Instead, carefully life the hive on one end and check the weight.
During your first year of beekeeping, you will open your beehive more than normal. You must get hands-on experience to grow into an experienced beekeeper. The most important thing to remember is that there is a balance that can only be found with practice. Too few inspections can lead to swarming, but over-inspecting is hard on the bees. Ultimately, the goal is to open your hives as little as possible while still tracking activities and changes throughout the season.
Is It Bad To Inspect A Beehive Too Much?
Yes. Try not to inspect a hive more than once a week because it’ll make your bees unhappy. Remember that every inspection disrupts their routine. Understandably, new beekeepers want to open their hives and look through every frame. It’s the best way to learn about honeybee behavior and the layout of the hive. Over-inspecting can compromise a hive’s integrity more than necessary. While it’s important to inspect each frame for diseases, refrain from doing it too often.
Most of the time, you will be able to determine the health of the hive by observing it. Overtime, you’ll learn how bees naturally behave and you’ll be able to quickly identify when something isn’t right. You’ll get to know their sounds, temperament, daily routine, and population. If you observe less bees leaving the hive, dead bees around the hive, an odd odor, or abnormal aggressive behavior, you’ll know that you need to take action and open the hive.
When Should I Not Open A Beehive?
Only open a beehive when the weather is optimal. Bees are very picky. They don’t like weather that is too hot, too cold, windy, or rainy. Don’t open a beehive if a thunderstorm is approaching because bees will experience stress.
Plan to open the hive when the weather outside replicates the conditions inside of the hive. The weather should be warm with no wind or rain.
What Do I Need To Inspect A Hive?
Before you open a hive, you’ll need a few items to protect the bees and yourself.
The full beekeeping suit is an essential item for beekeeping. The beekeeping suit is a popular choice for beekeepers because they are protected from head to toe from any bee stings. The suit provides a level of assurance that allows them to work closely with bees. Beekeeping suits are made of different types of fabrics that can affect durability, protection, and ventilation. Check out our list of the 10 best beekeeping suits for any beekeeper!
The smoker is an invaluable tool that calms down irritable bees. For bees, the smoker resembles a forest flower and prompts them to prepare for a potential move. Smoke also masks the internal communication in the hive and minimizes the defense reactions of the colony. A smoker will calm bees before you perform hive inspections.
If you want to explore alternatives to beekeeping, see our article about how to calm bees without smoke.
The hive tool is crowbar-like tool that is used to pry open the boxes in your beehive that often are stick together with beeswax. It also allows you to detach combs from the sides of the hive.
A bee brush is a simple device used to gently move bees off combs or any other inconvenient places. This is an essential tool for hive maintenance. Bees do not like the brush and will begin to sting so it is advised to use the bee brush sparingly.
What Does A Routine Hive Inspection Look Like?
During the first year of beekeeping, the bees will have a lot of work to do. They will build combs, populate the hive with even more bees, and store food for the winter.
When you inspect your hive, there are a few key things to look out for.
As a new beekeeper, you will need to check on your queen. If it’s the first inspection after installation, you’ll need to check to see if she’s still in her cage and if she’s been accepted by the colony. Our article on how to requeen a hive has more information on how to add a queen to a hive and how to check for signs that she’s been accepted. Once you’ve confirmed that she’s been accepted, you don’t need to find the queen every time you inspect the hive. Checking for new eggs and larva will confirm that she is still there.
Look at the brood nest to see how your hive is reproducing. Check for different stages of development in the brood nest. This will help you understand how the new queen is performing. If you are seeing eggs and larva, the new queen has been accepted. Then you’ll want to see if the brood pattern is healthy.
Signs Of Swarming
Colonies have a higher chance of swarming in the spring so you should take the time to inspect the hive for any signs. Always check the frames and see how many are covered with bees. Look to see if the hive is overcrowded or if queen cells are being developed. See our article on bee swarming signs to learn more about how to predict a swarm before it happens.
Pollen & Honey
In the beginning of the season, you want to see if your bees are bringing in pollen. Over the summer, check the supers and see is your hive is producing honey. If not, is there enough nectar in the area? Perhaps you need to feed your bees. Look for other signs that your bees may be under stress.
Diseases & Pests
You will need to check for any signs of diseases or pests in your hive. Diseases and parasites have become such a big problem that beekeepers have to actively help bees fight them off. If any diseases or parasites are present, you may need to clean the hive, add traps or barriers, and even give chemically treatments to extinguish any threats.
During your first year of beekeeping, you will be inspecting your hive more than usual to ensure your bees are adjusting to their queen and their new home. Opening your hive too much will interfere with your bees’ daily routine and cause them stress. Only open your beehive when necessary. Many times, you can inspect your hive through observing bees’ behavior from afar.
Remember, the ultimate goal of beekeeping is to open your hives as little as possible while still tracking activities and changes throughout the season.