Beekeeping is a lot of work with wonderful rewards for your labor. There are two types of people who purchase bees: beekeepers and bee “havers.” If you don’t care for the honey bees and beehive properly, you probably won’t have bees for very long.
This begs the question: how often should you inspect a beehive?
Ideally, this should be done every 7 to 10 days for new hives, while an established hive may not need checking more than once, or possibly twice a month.
Also keep in mind that these inspections should only be conducted in the spring and summer.
Why? Because opening a beehive in the fall or winter, even if it is an older and more established hive, can chill the honey bees and cause near instant death.
In my personal experience, as long as the proper beehive inspection guidelines are followed, it does not harm to check the hive on basically a weekly basis during the spring and summer.
Why Do Beekeepers Inspect A Beehive?
Here’s a quick beehive inspection checklist, so if you’re a beginner beekeeper, you know exactly what to look for:
- To see if the bees are making honey and if there is a good nectar flow.
- To check the available space inside of the hive for the building of more. honeycomb and brood. Bees will swarm and leave a cramped hive.
- To look for signs of pests or robbers, such as varroa mites, wax moths, mouse droppings, and ants.
- To make sure a queen is alive inside the hive.
- To make sure the bees have enough food to survive.
- To see if there’s an overcrowding situation.
- To introduce a new queen – though inspect before inserting the queen and monitor the hive only from outside until it is time to release her from the container.
Honey bees might recognize you once the seven to 10-day hive inspection has become a routine occurrence. This issue is often hotly debated among keepers.
While there is no scientific evidence to either prove or disprove the likelihood that bees grow to know their keepers, some beekeeping folks staunchly believe they can and can pick up on pheromones with ease.
Honeybees possess a particularly acute sense of smell. If the little pollinators can recognize their particular keeper, they most likely do so by becoming familiar with their scent.
What Should I Expect When Inspecting A Beehive?
When a beehive is opened for inspection, the little pollinators will become quite unhappy. Even if you are raising a known docile breed, like Italians, expect some resistance when inspecting.
If a brood has just hatched, the bees will almost assuredly be more agitated than normal, or show the only aggression you have yet to witness from them.
It’s important to wear gloves and a full bee suit (including your veil) when you check your hive. Be prepared to use your smoker to give a puff of smoke – this will prevent you from being stung.
Beehive Inspection Tips
- When inspecting a beehive, do so on a day when the temperature is a minimum of 60 degrees F / 15 degrees Celsius, but not too hot.
- Never inspect a beehive on a day that is rainy or damp. This will expose the honey bees to excess moisture – which could be especially damaging to their health if the temperature is hovering only above the recommended minimum.
- Always wear the full beekeeper suit. The honey bees will be drawn to spots where any prior stings occurred during a hive inspection, and be far more likely to wage an attack during the hive checking process.
- It is best to inspect a beehive between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. so the hive has already warmed up from any morning chill, and also has time to warm itself again before the temperature takes a dip during the evening hours.
How (and How Often)to Inspect a Beehive Based on the Season
If you’re a new beekeeper, you may be wondering how often to inspect your hives depending on the season. Here’s an overview based on the time of year for beginners.
Spring and Summer
During this time period, it is important to observe the hive for any signs of swarming (common giants of swarming include overcrowding or developing queen cells). You may also need to determine if a hive needs to be split or combined for the upcoming season.
Generally, inspections should occur every 7-10 days. At this time, you will want to look for signs of disease, honey and pollen stores, and new brood.
As summer moves on, watch the honey flow.
If there is a strong honey flow during this time period, then you can take longer between inspections. This is also the best time to begin harvesting honey so that the bees can produce more as needed.
During these inspections (every 2-3 weeks), make sure that there’s enough stored honey in the hive, check for any overheating issues in your hives, and keep an eye out for any signs of disease.
What exactly does this look like?
Because bees feed off of live plants, they can potentially bring in diseases with them as they search for nectar, while parasites like wax moths may also invade your colonies.
Check for signs of any compromised health in your bees, including changes in behavior (such as becoming heavy-bodied or not returning to the hive), decreased population counts, and physical issues like deformed wings and misshapen bodies.
Furthermore, you should also be on the lookout for damaged combs or larvae which could be indicative of mite infestations or bacterial infections in the hive.
This only scratches the surface of what you should be looking out for – but if you notice any of the issues mentioned above, you may want to do some deeper digging into the potential pests and diseases that could be affecting your hive.
Once winter is approaching it’s important to make sure that the bees have enough food stored up in their hive so they can survive through winter without needing extra help from you. Wait until a warm day before inspecting your hive once more and adding more honey supers if they need them.
In general, you really only need to inspect your hives once during the fall.
This is not the ideal time to inspect your hives since cold weather can cause stress on the bees. If you must inspect them during this time period do it only once and don’t do it just out of curiosity – make sure you have a reason!
Make sure that there’s still plenty of honey available and that all of their other needs are being met before leaving them alone again until spring arrives again.
Do this inspection on a warm day with lots of sunlight. There’s a good chance your bees will be so lethargic in the cold that you won’t even need your protective gear.
What Do I Do if My Hive is Queenless?
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out why your hive is queenless. It could be due to the fact that the previous queen died, was killed by another bee, or simply flew away.
In any case, the lack of a queen will have an impact on the health of your hive since she is responsible for laying eggs. Without her presence, it will be difficult for new workers to emerge, and eventually they will die out if not replenished.
There are a few different options when it comes to dealing with a queenless hive. You can either try to introduce a new queen bee into the colony or let them “raise” their own via “emergency beekeeping.”
Emergency beekeeping involves giving the bees access to eggs from other colonies and allowing them to produce their own queens. This process may take some time and there’s no guarantee of success; however, it can be an effective way of keeping your hive alive and thriving in times of crisis.
Another option for dealing with a queenless hive is requeening with an emergency queen. This process involves introducing a mated and caged queen into an existing colony and allowing her time to settle in before releasing her into the general population of worker bees.
Requeening can be tricky because there’s no guarantee that the new queen will be accepted by the colony; however, it’s worth trying if all else fails. It all depends on the temperament of the hive and how they deal with the new virgin queen.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.