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A hive check or hive inspection is an important part of beekeeping. This is when you visit your beehives and look for signs that something may be wrong or that your bees need your attention.

Checking on your hives in the summer is especially important because this is when they are most active. There are several things you should be looking for during a hive check. In this blog post, we will discuss these things and how you can keep track of them!

How often should you do a Hive Check of your Bees?

It is an excellent idea to do a hive check/inspection at least once a month and more often during the summer when bees are more active (we do a weekly hive check in the summer and fall).

You may also need to check your hives more often if something seems wrong or you are experiencing problems with your bees. Likewise, inspect your hive more often when the bees produce a lot of honey. If you miss them filling up a box, they are likely to swarm, and you could lose a significant portion of your hive.

Checking your hives is a great way to learn if you are a beginner beekeeper. If you check regularly, you’ll understand the cycle your bees go through each season and become better at spotting things you need to track in your hives.

Just getting started? Click here for our beginners guide to getting started with beekeeping.

What equipment do you need to do a hive check on?

To do a hive check, you will need a few essential pieces of equipment. You will need a bee suit and veil, a smoker, a hive tool, and your inspection checklist (and a pen or pencil to make notes). You can also bring your cell phone to take pictures and document what you see.

While advanced beekeepers may be able to get away with wearing just a veil over their heads, we always recommend a full bee suit for the most protection possible. Honey bees are usually quite harmless, but you will be invading thousands of their homes. Better safe than sorry, we say.

You’ll use the smoker to calm the bees and the hive tool to pry open the hive and check the frames. The inspection checklist will help you track what you are looking for during your hive check.

You may also want to bring a super (a box above the lower deep) with you and some frames ready to go. If the bees have filled or almost filled their deep or a super on top of that, you’ll be ready to add a new one.

checking hive frames to see how much honey is capped off
Checking the frames for capped honey is part of the hive check.

What to look for during a hive check

When performing a hive inspection, using a Hive Check or Hive Inspection Checklist is helpful. This list reminds you what to look for each time and can help you to keep track of changes over time. You can also use it to jot down things you need to look out for or the next steps in your beekeeping process.

Can you find a queen?

A healthy and thriving queen is one of the most important components of a healthy beehive. You should look for her during each hive check or inspection you perform. How can you tell if your queen is there?

One option, of course, is finding the queen bee herself. You can recognize her by her larger size and the fact that workers usually surround her. If you search your entire hive and cannot find the queen, the next thing to do is look for signs of her activity instead.

Are there eggs or larvae present in the hive?

Queens produce eggs, which will be visible as white grubs in capped cells. There should also be evidence of brood production, such as young bees or larvae. Eggs in your beehive look like small, white spheres. When they hatch, the larvae will be tiny and precise with a black head.

If you see eggs or larvae in your hive, this is a good sign that all is well. If you look at these presents, it is a good sign that the queen is doing her job. If no eggs or brood are present, it may indicate that the queen has died or been replaced. In this case, you will need to take appropriate action.

Do you see evidence of “Supercedure” or Queen Cells?

Supercedure is the process by which bees create a new queen if they are unhappy with their current one. It happens typically in response to issues such as poor egg production or a lack of pheromones produced by the queen.

If you see supercedure cells, this is not necessarily bad news for your hive. This is simply the bees trying to replace their queen with a new one. However, if you see this happening too often in your hive, it may indicate something else. If you see the supercedure cells, but no new queen is produced, this may be a sign that your hive has become “queenless.”

Are there bees storing pollen and nectar?

Pollen and nectar are the two primary food sources for bees. This is a good sign if you see evidence that your bees are storing pollen and nectar. It means they are healthy and have enough food to sustain them.

If you see it in the hive, you will know that your bees are storing pollen and nectar. How can you tell? Pollen looks like yellow or orange dust that bees store in honeycomb cells. Nectar, on the other hand, is a clear substance stored inside these cells.

Do you see any capped or uncapped honey?

Capped honey simply means that the bees have started to put a wax cap on the cells to seal them. How will you know if there is honey in your hive? You can tell by looking at the substance’s color in each cell. If it’s clear and has no capping, it’s probably nectar.

If it’s a darker color with capping, then it’s honey. How much honey should you be looking for? How much is normal? The amount of honey in your hive will depend on the time of year and other factors such as weather conditions.

You will start to get to know your hive and watch as honey production continues throughout the warmer season. If you see honey production suddenly stop or slow down, this can be a sign that something has happened within your hive.

You may also see some uncapped honey. This is not necessarily bad, but it means the bees are still working on it!

How many frames are full of capped honey?

If you see a lot of capped honey in your hive, it is a good sign the bees are doing well and are progressively filling frames with honey. As you see one of your boxes looking almost full of capped frames, it is time to consider adding a box to your hive. This will give the bees more space to work and store their honey. You will do this progressively throughout the summer.

If you see exceptionally few capped frames, this may be a sign that the bees are not doing well or insufficient food is available. In this case, you may need to take some action to help your bees out, especially if winter is coming soon and you need to make sure they have enough food stored. You can boost honey production for your bees by adding a frame of pollen substitute or feeding them sugar syrup.

What kind of hive activity do you see? Do you see swarm cells?

Bees swarm when they leave their hive to create a new colony. This can happen because too many bees are in the hive or because they need more space. How will you know if your bees are swarming?

If you see swarm cells, this is a sign that the hive may be preparing to swarm soon. Swarm cells look like queen cells and are usually located on the bottom of frames at one corner facing outwards. How can you prevent your bees from swarming? If space is the issue, the best way to help prevent your hive from swarming is by adding more space for them by adding another box of frames.

Bees may also decide to swarm if there is no queen or if the quality of the existing queen is poor. How can you tell? If you see swarm cells but no new queens are produced, it may be a sign that your hive has become “queenless.”

In this case, the bees must create new queens to survive. Your option here is to either wait and see if the bees produce a new queen (look for signs of Supercedure) or to replace the queen yourself.

Do you see signs of Illness, Disease, or Pests in your hive?

(Note that we will not be able to cover all signs of illness, disease, and pests in this article. You’ll likely need to do more research on your specific issue. This guide from Penn State Extension has some great images to help you understand what you see.)

If you see any signs of pests or diseases in your hive, it is important to immediately take action. How can you tell if your bees are sick? One sign is that the bees may be “absconding.” This means they are leaving the hive en masse, which usually happens when the colony is diseased or lacks food. How can you tell if this is happening?

You will see many dead bees around the hive entrance and little activity inside the hive. If there is not enough food available for them, adding more honey supers or providing syrup may help to keep them in their hive longer until they can find more food.

Another sign of illness or disease is if the bees are “dying out.” How do you know if this is happening? You will see dead bees all over the hive and on your frames, with no activity inside.

If there are a lot of dead bees around your hive, it may be a sign of poor genetic quality or disease. Replacing the queen may help with poor genetic quality and is one option for addressing the issue. However, you’ll also want to check for signs of hive diseases like foulbrood and mites.

You may also see signs of Pests in your hive. How do you know if there are pests in your hive? One pest is the Small Hive Beetle (SHB ). One sign that the SHB is present is that you will see a lot of honey stored in the brood nest. This is where the SHB likes to lay its eggs. How can you prevent this from happening? If you see signs of the Small Hive Beetle, it is essential to take action right away by using a trap to capture them before they lay eggs and multiply.

How is your hive doing overall or in comparison to last year?

Finally, you should keep track of how your hive is performing overall. How many new frames did they build this week? How much honey do they have stored up now compared to last year? How many of those frames are full of comb, and how many contain pollen or nectar only?

By keeping track of these things, you will be able to see if there is anything wrong in your hive that needs attention right away. If you see a trend of declining hive health, you can take action before it’s too late!

How to keep track of your hive’s progress and concerns:

Keeping track of what you find and see during your hive checks will not only help you maintain your hives, but it will also help you become a better beekeeper. It will help you keep track of your learning and better spotting issues sooner each time you check on your bees.

One way to track your hive’s progress and concerns is by using a hive journal or inspection checklist.

Another way to track your hive health is to take pictures yearly. This will help you see changes in the hive over time. It will also help you track what certain things “look like”—brood patterns, supercedure, evidence of disease, etc. If you do notice something wrong, it will be easier to go back and look at your pictures to try to find out what may have caused the issue.

Performing regular hive checks is an essential part of beekeeping. By looking for signs of disease, pests, and lack of food, you can troubleshoot any problems and keep your bees healthy and happy. Best luck, and here’s to happy bees and happy humans!

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Carrie Williams Howe is an educational leader by day and an aspiring homesteader by night and weekend. She lives on a small homestead in Vermont with her husband, two children, and a rambunctious border collie. She blogs about her family's homestead life at The Happy Hive.

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