How To Get Started For Your Bee Hive Inspection


You are your own personal investigator and observer for your beehive. Think of hive inspections as looking in on your kids to make sure everything is okay when they’re being too quiet. You don’t want to be loud and let them know you’re coming; you just want to take a peek to make sure everything is going as it should.

A good inspector is one who is neither seen nor heard, is careful not to disturb the investigation area, and take good notes. As your hive develops and your bees start doing what they do best, your involvement will become less hands-on and more just observing.


Timing Is Everything



While it’s true that you can inspect your hive at any time of the day, it doesn’t mean you should. The best time to snoop around in someone’s house is when they’re not there.

So, when your bees leave to go to work, that’s the best time for your inspection. There will still be plenty of bees inside the hive, but not all of them will be home.

Each hive is different, but pretty much all honeybees forage from sunup to sundown. Consider these their work hours. This would be the best time of the day to perform your inspections: a bit after the sun comes up until just before dusk on a clear, beautiful day.


Times You Don't Want To Inspect Your Beehive



- When it’s dark, because all the bees will be at home (unless you think something is gravely wrong with the hive).

 - When it’s raining, because all the bees will be at home (unless you think something is gravely wrong with the hive).

- Early in the morning, because most of the bees will be at home.

 - In a high wind, because most of the bees will be at home, and when you take the cover off, they will be blown away .

- When it’s cold outside, because bees need their warmth and opening the hive will let the cold in and could actually kill them.


When To Take Your First Peek



If you bought a pack of bees, or if your queen was packaged separate from your bees, you will want to inspect your hive within three days of installation to make sure the colony has released her. If you bought a nuc or full hive, it’s better to wait one week before you do your first inspection.




How Often Should You Inspect The Hive?


This is the big question. You will get a lot of variation in responses to this, so I’m just going to share with you what I do. 

The first thing to remember is that when you inspect a hive, you are intruding in the bees’ home. They won’t always be happy to welcome you in. Say it’s your cleaning day, you have your music jamming, and everyone is cleaning their respective rooms. 

You’ve got laundry going, dinner in the oven, you’re pushing the vacuum, and then suddenly someone comes to the door and wants to come in for a visit. Are you happy to see them? Well, the bees are busy in their home doing what they do, and you are their uninvited guest.

When you’re first getting your beehive established, you will need to check on it a touch more often than you will once the bees are properly settled. 

If you bought a caged queen, you will need to check on her within the first three days. Once you know the queen is free and active, you can reduce your inspections to every two weeks for the first two months.

What about after that? When I was in my beekeeping class, my mentor told me to inspect the hive once a month, if needed, and never in the winter. That is the practice I’ve always followed. 

My approach to many things in life, including beekeeping, is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I don’t perform bee inspections just because the calendar says it’s time to do so. 

Once I know my hive is established, meaning it has been a few months since the bees settled in to their new home, then I just observe from a distance.

Some beekeepers advocate performing hive inspections every week or every other week; while other beebeekeepers, like ones who have Warre hives, rarely inspect their hives.

I still haven’t answered “how often?” My answer is once a month from spring to fall, unless the temperature drops below 40°F during the day. 

That’s because bees cluster when it gets to be around 40°F, which means they gather in a clump in the middle of the hive to maintain their temperature.

Opening the hive when they’re trying to keep warm can give your bees a chill or possibly kill them. Of course, this is not guaranteed, but it could happen. 

There would need to be extenuating circumstances for you to open the hive when it’s cold out—for instance, if they ran out of food during the winter. If your bees are starving, by all means, open their hive and give them bee food.

Inspecting your hive doesn’t come without risk. Every time you open the hive, you are disturbing the bees’ way of life. The possible negative effects of hive inspection include:

  • Bee agitation.
  • Squishing the bees.
  • Inadvertently killing the queen.
  • Breaking their seal of protection (bees seal their hive with propolis to protect themselves from drafts and predators).
  • Letting cold air in the hive and killing the bees.
  • Damaging the comb.
  • Hurting brood cells.
  • Inviting in predators.
Please don’t confuse inspection with observation. While it’s true you are observing when you are inspecting the hive, it is completely possible to observe the hive without inspecting it. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to observe the hive daily.



Getting Ready For A Hive Inspection



Are you ready to witness the most well-oiled machine on the planet? From their communication skills to their honey production, honeybees truly are amazing insects. Now you have a front-row seat to this miracle. 

You get to observe the inner workings of these amazing creatures, watch how each of the different roles is performed, witness baby bees developing, and see honey being made—not to mention, the precise construction with which the bees build their comb is a sight that will never grow old.


Be Calm!:
Here’s the thing: You are going to be scared at first when working with your bees. You may even be a little bit terrified—especially if you’re allergic, like me. 

But here’s the tricky part: You need to stay calm. Just as dogs can sense the tension in the air, your bees will react to your mood. I know suiting up like you’re going into an infectious disease lab and surrounding yourself with thousands and thousands of bees that have the ability to take 

your life is a bit intimidating. No worries, right? Despite everything I just said, I want you to try to remain calm. Doing yoga on a sunny beach with a light breeze calm.

Increased breathing, sudden sharp movements, or anxious behavior can send the wrong signals to your bees and put them on edge. So think happy thoughts, calm your breathing, move slowly and intentionally. 

Before you know it, you and your bees will be very comfortable around one another. In fact, in time you might even enjoy one another’s company.

When performing hive inspections, it is important to approach your hive from the side or the back, but never from the front. This little tidbit of information is good to remember when you are choosing your hive placement. Make sure you’ll have enough room around your hive to access it from all sides.

Bees establish flight paths to and from their home. They know where they are going and how to get there. If you are standing in their way, you’ve now rerouted their GPS.

In addition to taking them off course, you may be mistaken for a predator trying to attack their hive, causing security bees to take proactive measures.

Remember, their entire mission in life is to protect their hive, and they will give their lives to do so.

Approaching your beehive from the side or back will reduce the chance of you getting stung, and you won’t interrupt the bees’ daily commute.




All About Your Smoker




A smoker is an essential part of a beekeeper’s tool kit. The smoker provides protection for you and aids in inspections.

A bee smoker works in two ways. First, it helps mask the warning scent bees emit when they feel there is danger and want to sound the alarm. 

Second, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. When bees see smoke, they think there is fire. If the bees were in their natural habitat of the forest and there was a fire, they would start eating large amounts of honey in preparation for losing their home and starting over. 

Just like humans, when bees eat a large meal they become lethargic and lazy. So, when you’re smoking, the bees are more concerned about losing their hive than paying attention to what you’re doing. 

While the smoker isn’t always necessary, it is important to always have it lit before you begin your inspections. It takes time to get the smoker lit, and it’s better to have it ready and not need it than to need it and not have it ready.


How The Smoker Works:
A bee smoker is basically a can where you make the fire, a bellows to keep the fire going, and a spout where the smoke comes out.

You put some fuel in the can and build a little fire, then you pump the bellow to push oxygen through the fire, and the smoke comes out of the spout.

You’ll need something to get the fire started, like a piece of cardboard, newspaper, or a pine cone. Use a match to light that, then toss the started fire in the bottom of the can and start adding light, thin kindling material.

Wood shavings, pine needles, dried leaves, and straw are some of the possibilities for kindling. But they all burn up quickly, and you’ll need something that will keep burning longer. 

Small twigs or wood chips are good choices. Just make sure you don’t pack them too tightly, or you won’t be able to draw air through your smoker and the fire will go out. 

Pump the bellows after each addition to help the new material catch fire. Whatever fuel you use, make sure it’s 100 percent natural and untreated. 

Whatever was in the fuel will end up in the smoke, and you don’t want your bees (or you!) inhaling any chemicals.

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