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Inspecting a new colony: what to look for

You have a new colony of bees. You’ve released the queen and now you’re eager to see what’s happening. But what are you looking for?

First of all, remember that honey bees are wild animals and they prefer to be left alone. When you inspect their hive you are invading their home and they won’t be happy about it. Still, there are times when you need to know what is going on inside, and to do that you make a colony inspection.

It’s generally a good idea to wait about a week after you release the queen to make your first inspection. You want to assure that the queen has been fully accepted and she is laying eggs. Here are some steps.

  • If you are using a smoker, gently puff some smoke into the entrance and wait a few moments. Then gently lift the outer cover and puff some smoke underneath. Wait a minute or two, and then gently remove the cover. Place it upside down on a flat surface.
  • Standing behind the hive, remove the inner cover if you have one. By standing behind the hive you are not blocking the entrance and the bees are less likely to get agitated.
  • You are now looking at the top of the brood box. Start by using your hive tool to loosen one of the frames near the wall of the box. Moving slowly, gently lift the frame straight out. Check both sides of the frame to assure the queen in not on this frame, then set it aside.
  • Now, one by one, slide the next frame toward the empty area and slowly lift it straight out. You want to avoid “rolling” the queen between two frames of comb, so work carefully.
  • Once you have the frame out, look at both sides. Wherever you see new comb, look inside for evidence of eggs or larvae. These are easiest to see if the sun is coming over your shoulder and illuminating the interior of the comb.
  • Always hold the frames over the brood box. That way, if the queen should happen to fall off the frame, she will fall back into the box. This is especially important if your queen has clipped wings—a queen with clipped wings can’t fly back to the hive.
  • If you don’t find anything in the entire brood box but there is a second brood box underneath, return all the frames to their original positions, then remove the entire brood box and set it atop the inverted outer cover. By turning it 90 degrees, you are less likely to squash bees.
  • Repeat the process with the second box. Once you find eggs or larvae, you can stop searching: the queen has been accepted and she is doing her job. Close the hive. Except for filling the feeder, you should leave the hive alone for about two weeks.
  • If you don’t find eggs or larvae, but find the queen, give her a few more days, and then check again.
  • If she hasn’t started laying in a few more days—or there is no queen in the hive—you need to order another queen as soon as possible.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Joni Coffman
Reply

I have a bee hive that engulfs my rather large home. it also has made its way Into the root system on my Old growth Fir tree. I was just going to let it be but the undermining is scaring me as walkway is giving in and tree may fall. The Hive just gets larger year after year and has many different honey bees. They just continue to show for the past 4+ years. I was going to make a new fruit cellar but am concerned about digging into the hive. I was under the impression Honey Bee numbers were Down and I have more than I have ever seen, so far have caused no problem. Is there someone I can talk to about this issue? And every time I try to pack the hive with water and cover up they just push out more dirt, I am afraid of tree falling.
thank you for your time
joni

Rusty
Reply

Wow, that is fascinating. I’m sure there are many beekeepers who would be interested in bees that have kept going by themselves for that long. You say they are going into the root system of an old growth fir. Where is the opening to the hive? Is it in the ground? Are you sure they are honey bees? It sounds like you are in a rural area. Do you ever notice the bees on flowers? Have they ever stung you? I’d like to know a little more; maybe I can find someone to help you.

Joni Coffman
Reply

Yes, they are honey bees. I still have them but now they will not come out! There are about seven different bees in this hive last I counted. I can even tell you what type of bees. I trust the bees. There is a reason they are hiding! Plus I have never in 25 years used a chemical on any of my gardens, maybe they know this? But regardless, taxpayer dollars will kill them. I have been forced off my property I cannot protect them any more!

John Savage
Reply

I just installed two packages. It looks like they have dysentery. Should I do anything? I am feeding them sugar water.

Rusty
Reply

John,

If it is plain old dysentery, it should clear up with the feeding of sugar syrup. But if the packages had dysentery when you received them, I would complain to whomever sold them to you. Your package should contain healthy bees with no signs of disease or distress. That is what you paid for. Always take photos when something like that happens.

Troy
Reply

Once again, great site. I will be a man with bees this spring and without exaggerating probably have 50 hours of reading your site with much more to go. Question. The day comes I have all 3 medium brood boxes full and want to do an inspection. I see some videos work from the top down, and others take the top boxes off and work from the bottom up saying it disturbs the bees less. What are your thoughts about this.

Rusty
Reply

Troy,

Funny, but I don’t think I ever though about this before. But now that you mention it, I take off the boxes first, inspect the lowest one, and then add one back and inspect that, etc. I’m not saying that’s the right way or best way, but it’s just the way I do it.

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