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.