First Hive Inspection After Installation

Pinterest Hidden Image

A timely first hive inspection after installing bees can be a great way to avoid disaster – but you have to know what to look for. Use this guide to help you have a good first experience. It will help you get past some of those first time jitters and ensure that everything is progressing like it should.

Beekeeper performing first hive inspection after installing bees.

One lesson I learned early in my beekeeping career is the importance of routine beehive maintenance. Unlike wild bees – we are managing colonies in man-made boxes – that requires some oversight.

Preparing to Open the New Colony

After months of anticipation, your honey bees arrive. Perhaps you installed a package of bees in their new home. Or you may have chosen to install a nuc colony – either way is great.

You did it! All you have to do now is sit back and wait for the honey crop – right? No, not hardly! That new colony will need some supervision-if you want it to grow into a healthy, productive unit.

Necessary Tools and Equipment

Before opening any hive – especially if you are a beginning beekeeper – check to see that you have what you need close at hand.

It is a fact that you can never really know what is happening in the hive without looking inside. You don’t want to have to leave and go look for something you need.

The goal for this first hive inspection after installing bees is to be gentle, swift and check the most important factors.

Timing and Weather Considerations

Many beekeepers do not have the luxury of an open schedule to wait for the best possible time to open a hive. However, your new colony is in a tenuous time as they adjust to their new home.

When to Inspect the New Colony

It is common for the over-anxious beekeeper to really want to look inside every day or two to see what is happening. Avoid this urge. The new colony needs to feel peaceful and secure – you may cause unnecessary problems for your bees.

Waiting 7-10 days after package install to inspect the hive is the most common recommendation. Though some resources suggest a shorter period of time. I suggest you at least wait 4-5 days.

Nuc colonies are not as tenuous as packages. Still, leaving them in place for a week to let them settle is good advice. Especially if you saw good brood – bee eggs when you put them in the box.

Join Our Beekeeping Community

Free "Secrets to Successful Beekeeping" plus weekly newsletter with info about bees, beekeeping and more...

Weather Conditions

The ideal time to perform you first hive inspection of a new colony is on a warm day in early afternoon. Warm temperatures help to avoid chilling bee brood during the inspection and many of the forager bees will be out working.

If the weather is cold – or it is raining, delay opening the hive until better conditions return. It will be difficult to do a proper gentle inspection and the colony of bees will be more aggressive in bad weather.

Approaching the Hive

After lighting your bee smoker and putting your protective wear on – approach the hive. Do not stand in front of the hive – you will be in the way!

Stand to the side and observe the front entrance. Do you see bees coming and going? No more than a few dead bees out front? No sign of fighting (wrestling) at the entrance – this could be a sign of robbing bees.

You can learn some things from casual observation. But, you can’t know the whole truth without checking the frames inside the hive.

Give a gentle puff of white smoke at the hive entrance and a puff under the top cover – wait a minute or so before opening the top.

The basics of how to inspect a beehive as a routine task – is the same regardless of how the colony originated. Now, I will explain how this first hive inspection after installing bees differs somewhat between a package vs a nuc.

First Hive Inspection for Package Bees

Most of us (all of us) are very excited to see what is happening inside the hive! However, one of the major mistakes made by beekeepers – especially beginners – is bothering the bees too much.

Your first new hive inspection for package colonies can take place about a week after install. This is a minimal inspection and we want to be as calm and gentle as possible.

This is not a time to marvel over each bee in there. Be brief, there will be plenty of time to watch your bees later. Do what you must and close the hive back out so the bees can get back to work.

Checking queen cage for release during new hive inspection.

What to Look For

  • queen status
  • any brood
  • food coming in – or need to feed

Is the Queen Released?

Package queens come in some type of cage. The workers in the package don’t recognize her as their queen at first. They need a few days to get used to her personal queen bee pheromones.

The main purpose of your first hive inspection is to make sure the queen is released. Usually, the cage is empty by day 7 – sometimes sooner..

Remove the cage, use your hive tool to scrape away any excess or burr comb on the frame. Then gently push the frames back together. Leave any extra space in the hive divided on each side.

You may not see the queen but that’s okay. If you see evidence that she is present and laying all is likely well.

Honey bee eggs and larvae inside honeycomb cells.

Looking for Bee Brood

Don’t stress the bees by a long search for the queen. Finding eggs or young bee larvae is a good sign that she is present and laying.

Eggs look like small pieces of thread or white rice (hard to see) but young bee larva (baby bees) look like small white grubs.

Don’t be alarmed if you do not see brood yet. Bee eggs are hard to see and easily over-looked. And, sometimes it takes a while for the queen bee to start her role as egg layer.

If a brief inspection shows the queen released but you see no brood, close up the hive. Return again in 5 or 6 days and perform another search for larvae.

At that time, an absence of brood should be addressed with a replacement queen. Yes, it is possible to need to requeen a hive, even during the first season. Not every queen is a good queen and it is impossible to know until they are in the hive.

Frame of comb from hive with worker bees and pollen and nectar labeled.

Nectar or Pollen in Comb

Right away bees start collecting resources needed by the colony. You may see clear nectar in some wax cells and even colorful pollen or (bee bread).

For package bee colony, it is often a good idea to provide sugar water for your bees for a short time. They have a lot of work to do and feeding can give them a big boost.

Closing It Up

Don’t spend too much time with the box open or frames outside – especially if the weather is cool. Once you have checked the key concerns, gently close up the hive. Placing frames back where you found them and pushing the close together.

First Inspection for Nuc Hive

When purchasing a nuc of bees, you are starting off a step ahead of a package in terms of colony growth. However, nucs are not always better and have challenges of their own.

The new colony started with a nuc has some frames of honeycomb, brood and food stores. The queen is already laying and known to the bees in the box.

You should not have to worry about queen acceptance because she is already accepted. However, there are still some first hive inspection things to check.

Queen honey bee located in brood nest area surrounded by workers.

What to Look For

  • queen check
  • brood pattern
  • pests or disease

Perform a Queen Check

The most important thing to look for is the presence of a laying queen. About a week ( 7 days) after install, you hope to actually see the queen in the brood nest area.

You want to ensure that the queen is still alive. She could have been harmed during the move or installation.

Care should always be taken when transporting frames with bees – you never know where the queen might be.

If the beekeeper wishes, this may be a good time to mark your queen bee. The colony already knows her and there should be less risk of causing a problem.

Nice area of capped brood found during inspection of hive.

Evaluate the Brood Nest

We you installed your nuc colony, you should have seen some brood of all stages. If you did not have any brood in a new nuc colony, you may have not received what you paid.

During the first hive inspection after install, you should see new eggs and tiny larvae. Also, this is a good time to evaluate the brood pattern.

If your queen doing a good job?. However, keep in mind that brood problems are not always the queen’s fault.

Check for Pests or Disease

Because nucleus colonies come with drawn comb and brood, you want to do a quick check for any pest problems in the hive.

Do the bee larvae look white and healthy? Brown twisted larvae signal death and possible diseases of honey bees.

With dead larva, our biggest concern is American Foulbrood, however there are many reasons for larva to die and it is not always a big disease issue. Don’t panic if you see a small area of dead larva.

Small hive beetles and wax moth larva found in new hive after installation.

What about honey bee pests? A few pests here and there is no reason for worry-it is near impossible to keep them all out. As long as the colony has a good population-you are okay.

A couple of beetles is no cause for panic. However, a large infestation of Small Hive Beetles calls for quick action.

Likewise, spider web like webbing is an indication of problems with Wax Moths. Don’t worry over a bit of webbing or a moth larva here and there – a healthy hive can deal with them.

Close Up the Hive

If all looks well inside, close things back up and give the bees another couple of weeks to get to work. The importance of feeding bees is not as critical with nuc colonies but it doesn’t hurt either.

New Hive Inspection General Checklist

  • queen present or evidence of a queen (eggs, larva)
  • all stages of brood
  • honey and pollen in the comb
  • bees are busy working – not lethargic
  • brood (larva) is white and healthy
  • no obvious sign of disease
  • few or no obvious pest problems

Expert Tips

A few tips to help you become faster and more thorough as you inspect your new hive.

FAQs

How long should you keep a beehive open?

Try to spend no more than 15 minutes with the top off the new colony. This is a tenuous time for the bees in their new location.

How often should I check my new hive?

For a new hive, brief weekly inspections are the general guideline for the first month or two. Be gentle and quick to minimize bee stress.

When is the ideal time to perform the first hive inspection after installing bees?

The optimal time for the first hive inspection is typically 5-7 days after installing bees.

Should I be concerned if I don’t spot the queen during the first inspection?

No, you do not have to see the queen – you should see evidence of her being in the hive – eggs, larvae etc.

A Final Word

Looking inside the colony can be very educational. No beekeeping class or book can prepare you for the wonder and mystery of seeing the bees working on the comb. When a colony is new, be especially careful and know what you hope to accomplish with each peek inside the hive. The first hive inspection is just the beginning.