Hive inspections

Today was hive inspection day at the ranch. Inspections are necessary to gauge the health of the hives, making sure they have not gone queenless (and if they have, are they making a new one?), checking for mites or small hive beetles, ensuring they are bringing in adequate pollen and nectar, that there are larva and capped brood, and seeing if they have enough room to expand – a crowded hive is one that will swarm.

Swapping boxes


This hive is quite healthy, and one I was concerned about possibly swarming. In the top brood box, there were plenty of larva/capped brood, the foragers are bringing in pollen and nectar, and all is well. I wanted to check the lower box, so pulled the top one off. In the lower box, there were some empty brood frames, and some capped brood, along with stores. Since bees tend to move upward, I decided to swap the top and bottom boxes, putting the main action on the bottom, and leaving the top box for expansion. I didn’t find any real indicators of a potential swarm, but now that we’re moving into the real season, I’ll be keeping an eye on them, as with the others.

Future honey

This is a frame from the super (the honey storage area) on this same hive. They have drawn out the comb and this will be future honey, once the cells are filled, the liquid is dried to a certain percentage of moisture, and then they cap it.

The foundation on this frame is thinset. I hate it, and so do the bees. Fortunately, we don’t have a ton of it in use. As I find it, if possible I’ve been swapping it out for a new frame with a foundation called Rite Cell, which is plastic with a beeswax coating. I’ve found the bees will often not fully draw comb on the thinset as seen here, and that it is not sturdy enough to handle the weight of a frame full of honey, brood, and pollen. This one I could not replace immediately due to the brood on it, but I moved it into the top box of this hive, so when the brood hatches and they start using it for stores, I can swap it out (leaving the frame leaned up against the hive so they can retrieve their stores and move them back into the hive).

Thinset foundation

Once the larvae reach a certain age, the bees will cap them off. When they mature, the new bees will chew through the capping to let themselves out. On this frame, we can see some larvae in the process of being capped.

Capping larvae

The pollen the girls are bringing in is a delightful mix of colors, testament to all the various things blooming in our area.

Pollen colors 2015

Some of the pollen is neon orange – could it be from the neon cheese plants Kraft grows for their mac & cheese?

Neon orange pollen 2015

We also found a new bee breaking out of its cell.

Birth of a bee 2015

This is what we like to see: good brood (some already out, obviously), with an arc of pollen that isn’t really visible here, and the outside arc is capped honey.

Brood frame

These are queen cells – one capped off, two others in progress. Queen cells can be a sign that the hive went queenless, but not before there were eggs suitable to be replacement queens, or that there is a possibility of the hive preparing for a swarm. Generally in the case of the latter, we will also find drone comb attached to the bottoms of the frames in the upper box, and affixed to the tops of the frames in the lower. This frame, shown upside down here, had no drone comb at the bottom, only one section of drone comb on the bottom of the adjacent frame, and they seem to have plenty of room for brood and stores, so I don’t think this is an imminent swarming. It may just be a safeguard, or they may want to replace the existing queen for some reason, like poor laying. I didn’t really see any bad brood patterns in any of the boxes, but who can read the mind of the bees and what they think they want to do? What this means overall is that I’ll need to keep an eye on them and check back on them in about a week.

Queen cells 2015

The bees in this hive drew out some truly funky comb in the shape of an arc, and another piece perpendicular to the foundation. It does not appear the queen cared all that much, as she laid eggs in both and the bees capped them right off. Bees can be so weird sometimes.

Weird comb patterns

This frame had a bit of comb drawn and nectar in some cells, but was otherwise unremarkable and almost empty. I did not originally see the queen on the frame, and didn’t expect her to be there. Looking over the photos, though, she and her entourage were on the frame.

The queen and her entourage

Did you find her? Here she is (black arrow) with her attendants (red arrow). They have their butts in the air and are flapping their wings to help spread the queen’s pheromone.

The queen and her court


We looked through all the hives, and found no mites and no small hive beetles. The captured swarm hive is expanding itself nicely, and has drawn out six of the right frames in the box. The two hives I initially thought had gone queenless are both working to draw out comb in the additional brood boxes I put on them toward the end of last month. Things are looking good in the bee yard!