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Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Inspecting a Hive Part 2

Inspecting the Hive Part 2

Hi! We are David and Sheri Burns with Long Lane Honey Bee Farms and it has been so fun putting together these lessons! And, wow! So many people have called, emailed, visited our shop and purchased hives and have told us they love these online lessons. Great! I welcome your questions, as it helps me know how to incorporate the answers in future lessons. We train hundreds of beekeepers a year here at our new beekeeping educational facilities. Click here to see the classes we are offering.

Also, by all means, tell your friends and buddies about these lessons. Invite them to read them or subscribe to them, so that each time a new lesson is released you'll receive it in your Inbox in your mail program. Thanks so much!

Before we talk about inspecting a hive, consider purchasing one of our Winter-Bee-Kinds to help your bees have enough nutrition for winter. They provide upper insulation and an upper vent for cleansing flights in colder weather. They come completely filled with 4-5 pounds of protein and carbohydrate.

In our last lesson, we approached the hive from the back, smoked it, and lifted off the outer cover and inner cover. Now, we are ready to inspect what is inside. Since this is a beginning lesson, we will assume that you have installed your bees, and now you are ready to inspect you hive. What time of the year plays an important part in how you inspect your hive. For example, a fall inspection is much different than a spring or summer inspection. Check out our fall inspection by clicking here.

How soon should you inspect your hive after installing your packaged bees? It is hard to wait, but you should wait 5 days. This will help the bees accept the queen. After 5 days, you'll want to open the hive and check to see if the queen has been released from her cage. To do this, the first thing you'll look for is the queen cage you installed between the frames. It is common for bees to be on the queen cage, and it is very common for the bees to build comb on the bottom of the cage too. When pulling up the queen cage be gentle as it is possible that your queen may be on the comb attached to the cage. Look to see if you see the queen, and if you do, brush her off onto a frame. Once there is no queen present on the cage or comb, shake off the bees and discard the queen cage and the comb. I save the comb that is attached to the queen cage and use it in my school talks. Kids love to hold bee comb and look at it up close.

Bee Hive StandNow, start by pulling out the frame that is closest to one of the sides. It is usually less populated with bees and has less honey, pollen or brood. Just set that frame temporarily on the ground, or you can purchase our hive stand that has frame holders built in to the side.

Also, in the picture are the complete hives that we sell and make right here in Illinois. Take a look at our complete line of hives. We know you can go to the box stores but when you purchase from us it allows us to keep producing valuable lessons like this one! Thank you in advance.


Once you pull out this frame, you now have more space to slide each frame back into that space. This helps you have the room you need to separate the frames that the bees have glued together with propolis. Using your hive tool, separate the frames and slide them apart.

Once the frames are free, you can choose which one to lift out and examine. It is best to start next to the wall of the hive body. If you start in the middle, you could risk injuring the queen or never finding her. Remember, GENTLE MOVEMENTS! No clanging and banging. Bees are alarmed by sudden vibration. Also, work with confidence. It is easy to lift out a frame with your hands, by loosening it first with your hive tool, then use your fingers to get a good grip on each end of the frame. DO NOT DROP A FRAME full of bees. Get a good grip. Then, slowly lift out the frame.

It might seem that you are smashing the bees or hurting them but they are used to being crowded together. You may also see them "holding hands", hanging on to each other and as you separate frames, it may appear that they will not let go of each other's legs. You might think you are going to hurt them, but they will finally let go. As you pull up the frame slowly, the bees will have time to move out of the way.

Frame GripIf you are uncomfortable using your hands to pull out a frame, you can also purchase frame grip like the one in the picture. It is a spring loaded hand grip frame puller and does work well. The difference between a frame puller and using your bare hands is that with your bare hands you can feel the bees, so as not to smash any. With the frame grip, it is hard not to kill several. If I am not rushed, I use my bare hands.  These frame pullers that we sell are very durable and handy. You probably want to have a pair handy when you inspect your hives. Now here you are, holding a frame full of comb and bees! Good for you. If only your friends could see you now!

Brood patternWhat do you do now? LOOK! Rely on what you see. You are actually looking to observe any abnormalities. Don't become paranoid. Some new beekeepers can become a little suspicious of any and everything!  You're going to observe everything that is supposed to happen in a hive. It may look and appear unusual to you, but it will probably be a normal thing. Believe me, I answer beekeeper's questions every day, and most of their concerns are no big deal. But, when I first started, I thought everything I saw was a problem.

On this frame, you are looking a sealed brood. This is what beekeepers call a "good brood pattern." It's pretty complete. We see a few dotted spots sprinkled throughout the frame, which could be caused from the queen not laying an egg in that spot or the bees have a strong hygienic trait, which caused them to pull out a larvae that had a mite inside the cell or maybe these bees recently emerged.

Some beekeepers ask how to tell the difference between sealed brood and sealed honey comb. By color, texture and content. Color: Sealed brood is usually a tan brown color whereas sealed honey comb is light, sometimes very white or slightly yellow. The texture of sealed brood is more velvety while honey comb is smoother. Finally, if you still can't tell the difference you can open up a cell, and you will either see a developing bee and you'll know it is brood, or you will see honey, and you'll know it is honey comb.

Look for the queen. If you do not see her, do not panic. Many beekeepers have trouble finding the queen. She is much easier to find in a small hive, say within a week of installing your package. But, in a few months, when there are 40,000 bees on 20 drawn comb, it is hard. You should have your queens marked with a dot of paint. Not only does this help you find her, but it also confirms the queen you are looking at is your original queen. Sometimes they replace her by raising their own.

Open broodIf you cannot find your queen, look for eggs! Here's a picture of some larvae and a recently laid egg. When you find eggs, you know your queen is okay and was at least in your hive a couple of days ago. If you cannot find your queen, and see no eggs, then you must begin to see what is wrong. Either the queen is dead or she has stopped laying or is a defective queen and cannot lay. Or they recently replaced her and you may have a virgin queen that is not mated yet.

When you are holding a frame for inspection, be sure to hold it over the hive. This is so that in case the queen should fall off, she would fall back into the hive rather than in your hard. If she falls into the grass away from her hive, she will not find her way back in. Also, when you have finished looking at a frame, place it back in the hive the same way you took it out.

In summary, here's what you are looking for when you inspect your hive:

*The presence of the queen, either seeing her or seeing evidence of her by observing freshly laid eggs

*Sealed brood and honey

*Increase in bee population

*Ample supply of frames for the growing colony that contain eggs, larvae and sealed brood

*Any abnormalities

Brood PatternIt is typical for a frame to have a rainbow shape of stored nectar, pollen and brood. Usually the brood will be toward the lower part of the rainbow, and next to the brood will be pollen, then the nectar and honey will be stored on the outer or upper part of the rainbow shape. You can see this, somewhat being started on this frame in the picture.

Pollen in a cell is usually orange or yellow in color but can be many different colors depending on the flower source. It can sometimes look like dry powder in a cell, but sometimes it is moist.

Now that you've seen all that you need to see, place the hive back together and remember to place the inner cover and outer cover securely on the hive. Also, please place a heavy rock on top of the outer cover to help hold down the hive on windy and stormy days. Don't let your hive be blown over.

In our classes we teach on how to detect diseases and pests when inspecting.

Thanks again for joining me for today's lesson. I've had a blast, and I hope you have learned a few things too!

Check out my new ebook: Getting Your Bees Through The Winter

Ebook on beekeeping