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The First Inspection

posted Apr 24, 2021, 2:36 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Apr 24, 2021, 4:03 PM ]

Generally the first inspection f the year is done in April but there may be suitable weather windows earlier in the year.  If it is your first spring, we recommend that the first inspection is done in April, on a warm day (12 – 15 degrees Celcius).

What do we need to find out?

Do not open hives unless you have good reason.  For instance, the first inspection is necessary to ensure the queen is laying good patches of worker brood, is marked and clipped (optional with more experience and fool proof swarm control) and that the hive is well provisioned with honey stores and pollen and yet there is plenty of room for the queen to lay.


Preparation is key.

Beekeepers long for the first inspection. We miss the sounds and smell of our hives during the winter and long for the day we can take a look and make sure everything is OK and know we have a great season ahead. But, on that first inspection it is easy to forget something, so make sure you have all the necessary tools.  You may want to mark and clip your queen if swarm season is imminent. We often go into winter with a marked queen and come out of winter finding unmarked queens. So, your original queen was superseded towards autumn and she needs to be marked and clipped. If you are checking more than one hive, have some washing soda solution or Milton/bleach solution, to wash your hive tool and gloves before you move onto the next colony. This helps prevent the spread of any brood diseases you may not be aware of in particular Nosema and chalkbrood, which are quite common.  Have an empty nuc box with you so when you find the queen you can put that frame to one side safely and the queen will come to no harm and you can relax a bit while completing the inspection in a timely fashion.  

Opening up:

Observe what is happening at the entrance, give a little puff of smoke and wait a minute or two. Over time, as you get used to the temperament of your colony, you may choose to just use a water mister to control the bees. Take a look at the inspection tray in those few moments, and check for fallen varroa mites. Over time, you will be able to garner a lot of information by observing pollen coming in at the entrance, or nectar exchange at the entrance and the pattern of cappings on the inspection tray, as well as the presence of mites.

Moving through the combs to completion & closing up:

Depending on your hive type, you may or may not have room for a thin dummy board at the back of the brood box.  If present, remove this first, pull back the first frame into the vacant space and lift out and inspect both sides of the comb, keeping it vertical to avoid nectar or pollen falling from the comb. Work over the brood box so that if ever the queen fell off the comb, she will fall into the brood chamber. Safeguard your queen once you have located her and proceed to remove, inspect and replace all remaining combs in a timely fashion.  Scrape away any brace comb and save it in a bee proof container for rendering later. Replace the frame the queen is on (make sure she has not left the comb and walked onto the side of your nuc box) in its original position, making sure the queen is on the central part of the comb and not wandering around on the edge where she might get crushed. Write up your notes: date & “REDDS” (Room, Eggs, Disease – chalkbrood, varroa, note and open any suspect cells, Development- how many frames of brood, any swarm preparations yet? Are there drones hatched or drone brood?, Stores- nectar, last ears honey/syrup stores, pollen fresh or last years?)  Add a queen excluder and super if bees are on all but two frames and/or if you converted what was a double brood box system over winter, down to one, having found less than 8 frames of brood and excess sealed stores (or empty old frames), which are best removed until you are making new colonies. Return in two weeks and expect to start inspecting weekly from the first week in May. Take note of any equipment you may need for the next inspection (frames of drawn comb or foundation, queen marking kit, a super, a repaired piece of equipment, a clean floor etc). Extinguish your smoker safely, clean your hive tool and gloves and give one final glance at the hive to make sure everything is back in place correctly.