I took snapshots of each step of my most recent hive inspection to document each basic step that should to be taken during this process. The pictures below aren’t extremely focused or detailed, but give you a general idea of what steps to take. Keep in mind that your frames may not look exactly like mine. You may or may not see your queen. You may have extra little steps or techniques that you find helpful. Thats ok! What is important is to get to know your hive and identify the various components.
Start your smoker! I use a combination of cut pieces of burlap and dried leaves laying around the yard. The burlap burns long a and slow. The leaves burn easy and fast. Click here to find out more about how to light a hive smoker.
Walk to the side of your hive and tip the nose of your smoker right in the hive’s entrance and puff a few good ones in their front door. Let it sit for a second to allow the smoke to make its way up through the frames in the hive.
Remove your top cover and inner cover, using your hive tool if things are sticky with wax and propolis.
Puff a little smoke on top of your hive.
Carefully remove the second frame in your hive. I have found that removing this frame first reduces chances of pinching, smooshing, or “rolling” bees. Inspect the frame and set it aside. From here remove your frames in sequential order and place them back in that order as you go. It’s important to keep a colony’s brood nest in the original configuration.
Look for nectar (which is shiny and glistens in the sunlight) and honey (which is capped over with wax). This tells me my bees are successfully foraging for nectar and starting to store up energy (honey) for winter.
Look for eggs. This picture isn’t clear enough for you to see the little eggs. But, they look like tiny, tiny, (I MEAN TINY!!!!) grains of rice in the bottom-center of the cells. Black foundation makes the white egg stand out because of the color contrast. Identifying eggs tells me that my queen has been present in the last three days, as it takes eggs three days to hatch into little larvae.
Look for larvae (little crescent moon shaped worms) and capped over brood, as show in this picture. A solid pattern, as shown, with few empty cells tells me that my queen is performing well! A spotty or inconsistent pattern tells me my queen is not performing well and needs replaced.
Identify your queen! My husband, Sam, is pointing to her in this photo. She is marked bright pink. Finding your queen is exciting and fun. Just be sure to very carefully replace this frame into your hive as to not injure her. Physically spotting your queen isn’t totally necessary. Seeing solid patterns of eggs tells you that she was recently present.
Identify pollen. Pollen can be easily identified because of its’ bright colors of yellow, orange, red, and sometimes even violet! This tells me that my worker bees are successfully foraging and storing up needed pollen for the upcoming winter.
Remove burr comb, which is built up/excess wax that your bees will build in all empty spaces – on top of your frames, on your inner and top covers, everywhere. Removing this with your hive tool now makes accessing your hive for inspections easier in the future. This is something I do throughout my inspection.
Move all your frames back into their original configuration, placing your second frame (that you pulled out first) back into your hive last. Some of you may have multiple hive boxes. If this is the case, you can remove your top box to inspect the lower box of frames.
Feed your bees! All new hives (and those in early-mid spring) should be fed a 1:1 sugar/water ratio. This encourages your new hive to build or draw out the wax on the new frames in their hive, giving them space to store nectar, pollen, and honey as well as giving the queen space to lay eggs. I find in-hive feeders easy to use.
Place your inner and top covers back on your hive!
After inspection task: Record what you saw during your inspection. Trust me that you won’t remember everything, and it helps to you see the growth and development of your hive.
Did you see pollen, nectar, and honey?
Did they draw out more wax on the frames since the last inspection?
Did you see eggs, larvae, and capped brood?
Did you find the queen? If so, was she marked? What color?
Did you see anything bizarre or anything you didn’t recognize? Take a picture and do some research.
Learning to intentionally work with your hive and see the growth and changes allows you to manage your hive successfully. Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!