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Inspecting your beehive should be done on a regular basis. For beginners, every seven to ten days during spring and summer is not unusual or too often. Inspect more than weekly, and your bees won't be happy. Remember that every inspection disrupts their hive activity and sets them back a day.
First you'll need to gather your beekeeping supplies: smoker, hive tool, and if you will be refilling feeders during inspection, have them ready to refill. You'll want to don your bee suit, or jacket... and veil. And you'll want to have your smoker lit and pumping out nice, cool smoke for the bees.
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Open the Hive
Your supplies are on hand and you're ready to open up your beehive. Smoke in front of the hive, by the entrance, to confuse the guard bees. Then crack the outer cover and direct a few puffs of smoke underneath it. Let the cover back down gently and wait one to two minutes for the smoke to take effect.
People often say smoke "calms" the bees, but what it really does is give them the signal that there is a fire nearby, which makes them gorge on honey. When they're gorging on honey,... they're not worrying about the big, white-suited weird-looking animal that is messing with them. When you see their little heads line up at the top bars, looking at you, it's time for more smoke.
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Remove Outer Cover
After waiting for the smoke to calm them a bit, remove the outer cover and carefully set it on the ground upside-down. Now you can direct some smoke into the hole in the inner cover, if you have one. Again, wait a minute or two for the bees to get the message.
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Remove Inner Cover
After removing the outer cover and directing smoke into the inner cover hole, you can use your hive tool to gently pry up the inner cover and remove it. If there is wax or propolis on the inner cover, use your hive tool to scrape it off. Set the inner cover on top of the outer cover on the ground, being careful not to smush any bees.
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Remove the Super
If you have a honey super on your hive, pry it off using your hive tool and set it on top of the inner cover.
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Smoke the Deep Hive Box
You will now gently puff smoke into the second hive box, or second deep, if you have one. If you have three medium boxes instead of two deeps, you'll just repeat this twice until you get to the bottom box. You will start your inspection with the bottom box.
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Remove Second Deep
Remove the second deep and place it gently on top of the super or inner cover. You will inspect it later.
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Smoke Bees and Remove First Frame
Direct smoke in between the frames in the bottom deep hive box. Remove the first frame and set it either in a frame holder, or gently on top of the other hive boxes or the inner cover, taking care not to smush bees as you do so.
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Carefully pry each frame free using your hive tool. Hold it up and inspect the frame:
- Look for brood: capped and uncapped larvae and eggs.
- See if you can identify the queen - easier if she's marked, but still possible if she isn't (look for the circle of workers around her and her long, slender, unstriped abdomen). If you can't find the queen, it's important to find eggs, because then you know she was there within 1-3 days.
- Check for any parasites or pests - mites, wax moth larvae,... foulbrood, etc.
- Check how many frames are drawn out. When 7 of 10 frames are drawn in the bottom deep, it's time to add the second one. When 7 of 10 are drawn in the second deep, add a honey super. If the honey super is close to full, add another one.
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What Larvae Look Like
This is a beautiful pattern of developing, uncapped larvae to show you what you're looking for in your beehive inspection.
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Identifying eggs is the most important part of the beehive inspection for the new beekeeper. But many new beekeepers find it really difficult to see eggs! So here are some tips as well as a good photo of what eggs look like inside the cells.
Eggs look like thin grains of rice. There should be one per cell, laid in the middle of it. If you have more than one per cell, you have laying workers - consult an experienced beekeeper about this situation
The best way to see eggs is to hold the frame at an... angle, not vertical and not horizontal but tilted up toward the sky at about a 30-degree angle. Have the bright sun shining over your shoulder. And (and I wish someone had told me this!) hold it slightly to the side of you so that the shadow pattern of mesh from your veil doesn't obscure the eggs! If you hold it right in front of you, the shadow of your own veil can get in the way of identifying the eggs.
Using reading glasses or a magnifying glass can also help. I stand there and tilt the frame back and forth and experiment with the angle of the sun and of the frame until I see them. Also, looking toward the bottom center of a frame is often a good place to positively identify eggs.Continue to 12 of 14 below.
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Replacing the Frames
As you inspect each frame, put it into the open space left by the first frame you removed. Push each frame to the one in front of it as you replace it - gently! You don't want to squish any bees. Using a bee brush or smoke helps move the bees out of the way, especially at the frame ears where they are likely to get squished.
Inspect frames in order and don't change the order of the frames during inspection. When you get to the final frame, push the whole set of frames together, using your... hive tool, as one single unit, making space in the front for the first frame. Replace it, then use your hive tool to even up the space on either side of the first and last frames so that the set of frames is centered in the box.
Replace the second hive box and inspect it now, using the same method you used for the bottom box. Then replace the super if you have one. Use the bulldozer method: start with the box on the back edge of the hive, sliding it forward slowly so as not to squish any bees. You can use the smoker or bee brush to gently move the bees out of the way, especially at the end when you are almost done sliding the box on.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
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Replace Inner Cover
Slide the inner cover on using the bulldozer method - start at one end and slowly slide the cover across the box. Use the smoker or bee brush to move bees out of the way as needed. Be careful!
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Replace Outer Cover
Gently replace the outer cover on the hive. Congratulations! You're done. But - one more thing! Make sure to record your observations in your bee notebook or journal. Believe me, you will forget the dates and details more quickly than you think.
Remove your suit, put away your smoker safely, and take a deep breath. You did it!