Have you ever thought about bringing your beehive to the vet's office?

Can you imagine the looks you'd get?

I'm sure it'd be very entertaining.

If you could have a vet inspect your hive, there's no doubt that beekeeping would be a whole lot easier.

However, that's not what we signed up for when we decided to 'pick up the veil'.

I'm convinced that if beekeeping was that simple, it wouldn't be nearly as fun.

Much of the joy of beekeeping comes from learning how to care for bees.

Collecting the clues, reading the signs & symptoms, diagnosing the problem, and then trying out different solutions.

This little puzzle we got going on - that's where the real gratification's at.

But, where do you start?

What kind of clues are you even looking for?

How do you take what you see in the hive, make sense of it, and put it into action?

To figure it all out, let's take a step-by-step look at a typical hive inspection.

Please check out the infographic below.

If you'd like, you can print a copy out for the next time you visit your beehive.

Before Approaching The Hive

Just like when you're sitting in the waiting room to see the vet, there's a little bit of paperwork to fill out.

Keeping track of things like dates, times and the weather can all be helpful.

By adding this information to your records, you'll be able to stay organized and start to see daily/yearly trends.

It will also help you to predict what steps you'll have to do next.

While Approaching The Hive

It doesn't take long for a vet to see if your pet is sick.

A lot of the time they can just look at them and tell.

Some symptoms show long before the vet checks their pulse or temperature.

The same can go for beekeeping.

For some issues, experienced beekeepers can tell something's wrong even before opening the hive.

As you're walking up to the hive ask yourself: Are your bees’ pollen baskets full? Are your bees angry? Are they fanning, wafting, or bearding the hive?

Beekeeper approaching a beehive with suit and smoker. On side, there's a list of questions to ask yourself as approaching.
"For some issues, experienced beekeepers can tell something's wrong even before opening the hive."

These questions may not give you a conclusive answer to what might be wrong, but you will know to keep an eye out for evidence that could line up with your suspicions during the inspection.

Let's take a closer look at some of these clues to find out what they look like and what they can tell you while approaching the hive.

Are Your Bee's Pollen Baskets Full?

A good sign that spring has sprung is if you see your bees bringing back nectar and pollen to the hive.

This means it's warm enough outside that their daytime winter cluster has broken.

As they're flying from flower to flower they'll collect nectar. They'll store the nectar in their honey stomach, where you won't be able to see it.

You will, however, be able to see if the pollen baskets located on their legs are full or empty.

Honey bees are entering a hive that has been painted teal. Many of these bees have full pollen baskets on their legs.
"See if the pollen baskets located on their legs are full or empty."

Full Pollen Baskets Could Mean:

    • New Brood - There is a reason that your bees need an abundance of pollen. While nectar is your bees' primary source for carbohydrates, it is pollen that packs the punch on nutrition. Pollen gives your bees proteins, lipids, sterols, vitamins, minerals, and also certain carbohydrates that nectar can't give. If you see full pollen baskets going into the hive, it's likely because the bees need it to feed the larva

  • Queen-Right - If the main reason for pollen is to feed bees that are in the larval stage, then it's likely you can conclude that your queen is still alive and laying elsewhere. Full pollen baskets are a sign that your hive is Queen-Right

Empty Pollen Baskets Could Mean:

    • Queen-Less - Although queens only eat royal jelly, the large majority of your bees will eat a pollen mixture called bee bread. The hungriest of these bees are always the brood. They'll eat over 800 meals a day! If you don't see pollen going into the hive, it doesn't necessarily mean you don't have brood or a laying queen, but you should try hard to find her or some eggs that she recently laid

    • Being Robbed - If you see a frenzy of bees going into your hive, none of which have full pollen baskets, it may be because those bees are there to take the pollen/nectar/honey from your hive

  • No Drones - If you don't see pollen going into the hive, it could mean that there aren't any drones in your hive. Drones are the first to be evicted out of the hive when there is a pollen dearth. If your bees aren't bringing in pollen, the hive will destroy all their drone larvae within 48 hours. To confirm you can look for drone brood as you're inspecting

Are Your Bees Angry?

Throughout the seasons, your bees will give you different responses to your approach to their hive.

Sometimes a hive will be relatively calm, at other times that same hive may be considered angry or aggressive.

If they are aggressive, please don't immediately think that you did something wrong. There are many factors to this that may be out of your control.

Close up of a hand that has an index finger sticking out. A honey bee is stinging the finger.
"There are many factors to this that may be out of your control."

A Calm Colony Could Mean:

    • Queen-Right - A beehive that is calm can signal that they aren't in the middle of a meltdown. This can point towards a Queen-Right hive

  • Pollen & Nectar Flow - With pollen & nectar coming into the hive, it means that everyone has a job to do. Highly distracted with their jobs, they might not even notice you're there

An Aggressive Colony Could Mean:

    • Lousy Weather - Just like humans, the bees can have a short fuse when the weather heats up. You may notice that they are quick to anger when you open the hive in the middle of the summer. They also do not want their hive opened when it's windy, it's below 55 degrees outside, or there's any amount of rain happening

    • Season Change - The transition from summer to fall is also a time period where bees get more defensive. As fall approaches, they know you and the rest of the world are seeking their honey

    • Inspecting Too Often - Opening the hive breaks apart the propolis that your bees use to hold it all together. Whenever you inspect your hive, the bees need to put things back into place after you leave. The rule of thumb is that every time we check on them, it sets their progress back a day. That's why we should try to limit ourselves to opening the hive once every 7 to 14 days - ideally every 10 days

  • Heavy Smoking - The reason beekeepers use smoke is twofold. One reason is to disguise the alarm pheromones that bees release to warn one another of uninvited guests. The second reason is that smoke encourages bees to gorge themselves on as much honey as they can just in case they have to abandon the hive. It doesn't take much smoke to produce these effects. Over smoking them can make them angry
A Beekeeping Smoker That Is Lit and Is Smoking An Open Hive. Heavy smoking can frustrate your bees over time.
"It doesn't take much smoke to produce these effects. Over smoking them can make them angry."

    • Your Smell - One of honey bees' best senses is their smell. If your bee suit smells like the alarm pheromone, has stingers still stuck in it, or you're wearing heavy perfume they'll likely be disturbed by your approach. The fix is simple, just wash your suit every now and then, take out the stingers when you find them, and try to not have an odor

    • Rough Treatment - It's a good idea to move soft and slow. Try not to drop items or cause vibrations. You want to move around the hive unnoticed by your girls

    • Queen-Less - When a beehive doesn't have a queen, they're facing a bleak future. They tend to be extremely stressed and upset while Queen-Less. This stress can lead to aggressive behavior

    • Genetic Traits - If your bees are consistently angry, maybe it's in their genes? Some species of bees are more aggressive than others, especially if they're Africanized. I wouldn't jump to conclusions about their genes, but you may need to requeen if the problem is always present. For beginning beekeepers, the most recommended bee for your first colony are the Italians. The Italian Honey Bee is considered to be the friendliest and easiest to handle

  • Recently Robbed or Attacked - If the bees are robbed by other bees, they can be easily upset by your presence. If your bees are attacked by a skunk, opossum, or raccoon at night, they'll still be agitated during the day. A trail cam can help you diagnose this issue
Beehive being robbed has numerous bees in the hive surrounding the front entrance. No bearding, empty pollen baskets, and bees on the ground.
"If the bees are robbed by other bees, they can be easily upset by your presence."

    • Pollen/Nectar Dearth - When there aren't any resources going into the hive, the bees become defensive of the honey they've stored up. You'll also find that bees are being robbed left and right during these times

    • Large Population - Large colonies tend to be more aggressive and defensive of their hive

Are Your Bees Fanning, Wafting, Or Bearding The Hive?

It isn't out of the norm to see any of these three actions.

It is good to know what they might mean though.

A smooth-running colony will fan their hive to circulate the air within it.

This is an essential job role that helps to dry the nectar into honey and brings fresh air in.

While you're approaching the hive, you'll often times see your bees standing on the bottom board's ledge and fanning their wings.

If they are fanning in the entranceway of the hive, they are circulating air. If they are a few inches away from the entrance, it's likely they're wafting.

Another sign they're wafting is if they are exposing their Nasonov glands. You'll be able to tell because they'll stick their butts up in the air while fanning.

The Nasonov pheromone tells other bees from the colony where home is after orientation flights, after finding a new home, or when the queen is coming back from her mating flight.

Generally speaking, fanning and wafting are normal activities and aren't something to worry about.

Bearding is also normal, but depending on the clues, can be a sign they're about to swarm.

Three Pictures That Show A Fanning Bee Drying Nectar, Wafting Bee Spreading Pheromone, And Bearding Bees Cooling The Hive.
"It isn't out of the norm to see any of these three actions."

Fanning Bees Could Mean:

    • New Nectar - Usually a hive that is being fanned is one that has new nectar. Fanning the hive gets the moisture out. The nectar needs to have below a 19% moisture content for it to be considered honey. Once the bees notice that the nectar is at this point, they will cap it with beeswax

  • Hot Hive - You may also see the bees fan the hive to cool down the hive. More often than not though, they'll beard the hive to beat the heat rather than fan the hive

Wafting Bees Could Mean:

    • New Queen - Worker bees will often waft when the queen leaves the hive on her mating flight so that she knows exactly where to come back to. Queens go on their mating flights within the first two weeks of their life and won't leave the hive again unless they are swarming

    • New Drones - Drones need to go on orientation flights before they go off to mate. Learning how to fly can be tough and sometimes the worker bees are nice enough to waft their pheromone out so they can find their way back home

  • New Home - You'll often see bees wafting when they are being transplanted into a new home or if you just caught a swarm. These bees are telling the other bees in their colony where they are at

Bearding Bees Could Mean:

    • Cooling the Hive - Most often, bearding bees, are a sign that means your bees are getting too hot in the middle of the day. This can take time away from their honey production in order for them to cool the hive. One way to fix this could be to add a shelter that shades the bees through the hottest part of the day but allows for full sunlight in the morning and evening

    • About to Swarm - Here's what you should ask to determine if they're about to swarm. Is it considerably hot outside? Are your other beehives also bearding? Are the bees fanning as well as bearding? Are you in a nectar or pollen dearth? If yes to any of these, they are probably just bearding and not about to swarm. Other questions to consider are: Is it swarm season? Do the bees have extended abdomens? Is there a bunch of activity in the hive while the beard is calm? Did you find a swarm cell that has an egg in it? Yes to these answers are possible swarm signals. If you think they are about to swarm, check if the queen is still there, if so you might want to quickly split the hive

  • Need Another Super - One way to make a hive population less dense is by adding a medium super to the hive. This can help spread the heat, cool the hive, and put the bearding bees back to work

On The Frames

If you're new to beekeeping, the following video by UoG Honey Bee Research Centre will be extremely helpful for you.

While this article explains the conclusions you can make from the clues you've gathered, this video shows the process of opening your hive and handling frames.

After watching the video, read on to learn about what you should be looking for on the frames.

"This video shows the process of opening your hive and handling frames."

On A Scale Of 1 - 5, How Is The Brood Pattern?

The way your queen lays her eggs can lead to a lot of different conclusions.

Using a 1 to 5 scale will help you be able to pull meaning from the frames.

Keep in mind that once the queen has found a frame to lay on, she'll start in the middle of the frame and spiral around towards the outer edges.

It is completely normal to see frames that have a large center of missing eggs. This is because they are the first to hatch.

On the other hand, inevitably, she'll miss some cells, but you should keep an eye on the brood pattern to figure out if there's an action you need to take.

Three Pictures That Show The Difference Between Good, Spotty and Bad Brood Patterning.
"Using a 1 to 5 scale will help you be able to pull meaning from the frames."

Ranking Your Brood Pattern as a 4 or 5 Could Mean:

    • Queen-Right - If you see eggs, 90% of the time it means you're queen is the one laying them. Eggs only last for 3 days, so you can deduct that she's been there recently

    • Queen Laying Well - Having a good brood pattern means that your queen is well-mated and has some pretty good genes in her

    • Young Queen - Good brood patterns may indicate a new queen. A queen does her best laying in her first couple of years. For this reason, there are many beekeepers that will requeen their hive every two years

    • No Diseases - If you have all your cells full of brood, then it points towards a healthy hive. Many of the diseases and pests that beehives have will destroy brood. Once destroyed, the bees will clean the cells out, which can end up looking spotty

Ranking Your Brood Pattern as a 2 or 3 Could Mean:

    • Cell Was Occupied - Seeing a spotty pattern isn't always a terrible sign, sometimes it just means that the cells were occupied with pollen, nectar, or a batch of late bloomers when the queen passed over it. She works quickly and doesn't pause to wait on a cell to be cleaned. It could also mean that the brood has already hatched. They'll hatch from the center first

    • Hygienic Behavior - Some bees have a hygienic behavior. This means that they are hyper-aware of pests like Varroa Mites or dead larva from chalkbrood. They've been known to uncap cells and remove the pupae that have these problems. This prevents the further spread of the issue but can make a hive look spotty

Entrance of a beehive that has dead brood scattered alongside chewed-off wax cappings.
"Some bees have a hygienic behavior. This means that they are very aware of pests like Varroa Mites or dead larva from chalkbrood."

Ranking Your Brood Pattern as a 1 Could Mean:

    • In a Dearth - Sometimes brood will die in the cells if they don't have the right amount of nutrients. At these times, it'd be best if you fed them sugar water or a pollen substitute

    • Winter Is Coming - The queen will limit her workforce down to about 5k to 10k workers when winter is approaching. This is completely normal but may result in a brood pattern that should be scored as a 1. If it is September or later and you start to see this kind of patterning, it's likely she's slowing down her rate at which she lays eggs

    • Old Queen - An old queen could be coming to the end of her life cycle. There is a possibility that she is running out of the sperm in her spermatheca that she received during her mating flight

    • Queen-Less - If you don't see any new brood, it may be the case that you don't have a queen. In these cases, you should look thoroughly for the queen or eggs elsewhere

Is There Food In The Hive?

Food is another thing to look for on each frame.

Ideally, you want to see that your bees are stocked with numerous cells full of food.

While inspecting, it's very rare to find a frame that doesn't have a bit of honey on it.

Most frames have a margin of honey directly under the top bar. Some frames, like the ones in Medium Honey Supers, are fully dedicated to honey.

In the same places that you'd find honey, you can also find nectar. This makes a lot of sense given that nectar is turned into honey once it's dried a bit.

Pollen will be scattered throughout the hive. The colony will use it to feed the worker bees and the brood.

The cells in this beehive have a wide range of colors. Almost every color of the rainbow is on this frame.
"Pollen will be scattered throughout the hive. The colony will use it to feed the worker bees and the brood."

Pollen in the Hive Could Mean:

    • New Brood - You might come across a frame or two that is entirely dedicated to pollen, but in general pollen is most often found on any frame that has brood in it. This habit makes it easier for nurse bees to grab the food and feed it to the brood when they need to. In order to help ramp up the population, many beekeepers will feed their bees pollen in February or March. Beekeepers will also feed their bees pollen in the August dearth to make sure that your queen makes great winter workers

    • No Need to Feed - If you see pollen in their frames, it's likely they don't need any extra help collecting it. There's no need to feed them pollen supplements

    • Balanced Nutrition - You want to see lots of different colors. Much like humans, bees need a balanced diet. The more colors and types of pollen you come across, the wider the variety of nutrition and vitamins they will be getting

    • Producing Drones - Drone larvae in the hive indicates that you have new pollen coming into the hive. Bees won't make drones unless fresh pollen is being gathered

Nectar in the Hive Could Mean:

    • Future Honey - Nectar in the hive more often than not means that it will soon be turned into honey

  • Making Beeswax - New nectar can sometimes be an indication that your bees are building more comb. The beeswax that your bees produce can be stimulated by new nectar being brought into the hive. This is one of the main reasons why swarms happen most often during a heavy nectar flow. With more nectar in the area, the new colony would have plenty of resources to start building its new hive
Bee facing away from us. We can clearly see the beeswax being produced on its abdomen. Another bee will collect it to use it.
"The beeswax that your bees produce can be stimulated by new nectar being brought into the hive."

    • Found Flowers - It's great to see nectar flow, especially with a first-year hive. It means that your bees have found flowers to forage. It is highly recommended that when you first get your hive you feed them sugar syrup for the first couple of months. They eventually ween themselves off of it due to better nectar choices. But when they first get there, they have no idea where to find nectar and haven't orientated themselves to the hive yet

    • No Need to Feed - If you see nectar in their frames, you might be able to stop feeding them sugar syrup. If you're getting close to adding on a medium honey super, you'll definitely want to stop feeding. Otherwise, your honey will just take like sugar

Honey in the Hive Could Mean:

    • Winter Ready - Your hive having honey is a great indicator that they are preparing for winter. Honey is the preferred food during winter because it doesn't freeze. There is also quite a large difference between winter worker bees and spring bees. Winter bees have the ability to gain all their nutrients from the honey, whereas spring bees need bee bread

    • Possible Harvest - If you see a hive full of honey it usually means that you have a harvest in your future. It is not recommended to take honey from a first-year hive because you don't know what they're capable of consuming during winter. However, if you have 2 Deeps and 1 Medium Super full of honey, then it's a safe bet that you can take anything more than that

  • Healthy Hive - Honey can be an indication of a healthy hive. If you don't have much honey later in the year, you'll need to feed them a thicker sugar syrup that is 2 parts sugar and 1 part water

Is There A Large Number Of Drones Or Multiple Eggs Per Cell?

Many beekeepers see drones as expendable.

Even the worker bees see them this way.

If you notice a large number of drones in your hive it could be a problem.

The following two signs are something you should keep in mind while doing an inspection.

A Large Number of Drones in the Hive Could Mean:

    • Excessive Bee Space - Often times you'll see drone comb hanging down in-between frames. While seeing drone brood here isn't a bad thing and somewhat inevitable, you should be aware that honey bees will put comb anywhere they can. They look for a spacing that is between 1/4" and 3/8". Any smaller than 1/4", they will fill with propolis. Any larger than 3/8", they will fill with comb

    • Pollen Intake - When bees are taking in a lot of pollen, you'll see more drone comb in the hive

    • Laying Worker - If the only capped cells you see in the hive are drone comb, it's not conclusive that you have laying workers
    • , but you should be sure to check for your queen. When the queen leaves or dies and there is no replacement, the worker bees take it upon themselves to start laying eggs. Unfortunately, the workers didn't take a mating flight and are incapable of laying fertilized eggs. The fertilized eggs are what turn into worker bees, unfertilized eggs turn into drones

Seeing Multiple Eggs in a Cell Could Mean:

Close up of multiple eggs in a beeswax cell frame. Usually a sign that you have laying workers
"Multiple eggs in a cell is the tell-tale sign that you have laying workers."

Are There Supersedure Or Swarm Cells?

It's likely that you already know the difference between what a worker bee cell looks like and what a drone cell looks like.

There are two other types of cells that you should know about though.

They mean very different things, but will both produce a queen.

One is the supersedure cell which is produced in emergencies and when there is an issue with the queen.

The other is a swarm cell which is fairly normal to see but can be an indication that your hive may be splitting soon.

To read all about these two cells you can check out the section regarding queens in The Life & Death of a Honey Bee Monarchy (Click Here)

Two Pictures. One of supersedure cells that could mean an emergency. The other is a series of swarm cells which are normal.
"There are two other types of cells that you should know about though. They mean very different things, but will both produce a queen."

Supersedure Cells Could Mean:

    • Nothing's Wrong - Seeing a supersedure cell doesn't necessarily mean something's wrong with the hive. If there is an egg in the supersedure cell though, it should make you think about what the next steps you want to take are. Sometimes it's a good idea to let your hive requeen. Sometimes, especially if you have a brand new queen and you still see her alive and laying, you might want to squish the cell

    • Unaccepted Queen - Queens that are new to the hive have a chance to be quickly replaced by the hive. It's not that there is anything wrong with the queen; it's more so, that the worker bees want immediate results and don't allow her to have time to start producing like they want. In these cases, it's okay if you squish the cell and don't allow them to requeen - be sure that the queen you do have is alive and laying first though

    • Emergency - Supersedure cells can be a bad sign. It can indicate that the hive is trying to form a new queen out of one of the worker brood eggs. Queens are the largest bee in the hive so the workers will expand a normal-sized cell to allow the queen egg to grow inside of it

    • Diseased Queen - Worker bees will sometimes preemptively mutiny against the queen. They will overthrow her if they are not satisfied with how she is doing, if they know she is diseased, or if she can't produce eggs as well as she once did

Swarm Cells Could Mean:

    • Nothing's Wrong - Like little escape pods, bees will keep swarm cells around just in case they need to make a quick escape. Seeing a swarm cell is very common. They'll keep making them over and over even if you squish them. So just leave them and check them to see if they have an egg or some larva swimming in royal jelly

    • About to Swarm - If you do see an egg or larva in the cell then it means that your bees are about to split. It could be the case that they already have swarmed and you just can't tell because there were and still are so many bees. When you see a swarm cell that has an egg or larva in it, find your queen. If the queen is still there you have three options. You can squish the new queen to prevent your hive from swarming and losing half your bees. You can let your bees swarm and help out your local environment by giving them one more wild beehive in the area. Or you can split your one hive into two

  • Can Split - If you find that your old queen is still in the hive, then you can try splitting one hive into two. In short, you'll take the frame with the new queen cell along with 2 more frames and put them inside their own beehive

Do You See the Queen?

Finding your queen can be a fun game of hide-and-seek.

It's enjoyable, but also when you do find her, it is extremely relieving.

If you're looking for tips on how to find your queen, here is a great video from UoG Honey Bee Research Centre to explain how it's done.

"Looking for tips on how to find a queen?"

Finding Your Queen Could Mean:

    • Queen-Right - When you find your queen, you can be rest assured that your hive has hope

    • Laying Eggs - It's unlikely to find the queen on the first frame you check. This being the case, did you see eggs on the other frames? If so, this would mean that after you find her that you can confirm her to be alive, mated, and laying

    • Marked or Unmarked - If your queen came marked and now she's not, it's likely that you have a new queen. Sometimes the old queen is killed and replaced by the colony. Other times, the old queen and half the colony swarm away a few days before the new queen is born

Can't Find Your Queen Could Mean:

    • Nothing's Wrong - It's more than likely that she's still in the hive, you probably just missed her on your first pass-through. In an average beehive there's over 40k bees, which can make finding your queen pretty difficult

    • Find Eggs - If you don't see her, did you see eggs? If so, it's likely she's in there and you'll undoubtedly get better at finding her with some time

  • Mark Her - Once you do find her, mark her to make things easier on you next time. Most beekeepers mark their queens with a set of POSCA Paint Pens. The color that you choose to paint her can help you remember what year she was born. Beekeepers usually use White for years ending in 1 or 6, Yellow for years ending 2 or 7, Red for 3's and & 8's, Green for 4's & 9's, and Blue for 5's & 0's. The acronym Will You Raise Great Bees? should help you remember the order
Beekeeper using a tool to hold the queen still while marking her with POSCA pens. Marking can make her easier to find.
"Most beekeepers mark their queens with a set of POSCA Paint Pens."

    • Swarmed - Your bees swarming away is a less likely option, but could have happened nonetheless. Maybe answer these questions to help you figure it out. Do you have any queen eggs? Are there fewer bees than before? Is it swarm season? Do you have to save the hive by putting a new queen or a frame of worker brood in?

  • Died - It is also possible that your queen may have died. It's likely that you would find a supersedure cell with an egg inside. If it was too late for your hive to save itself, you can either get a new queen or put in a frame of worker brood and the bees will make a supersedure cell out of one of the eggs on that frame

Overall Hive Status

This section describes the clues that will help you answer the question that we are most frequently asked.

"How do I know when to add on another honey super?"

In order to answer this question, you'll need to know how full your hive currently is and how quickly it's growing.

The way to tell this is by "counting your seams" and noting any big changes in population.

Let's break this down.

How Many Seams In The Top Box Are Full of Bees?

"Counting your seams" means to look at your top box, or any box for that matter, and see how many spaces between the frames are full of bees.

Depending on how many seams you see, you could be adding, adjusting, or removing boxes.

Beekeepers should count the number of seams between frames that are full of bees to determine when they should add a box.
"Counting your seams means to look at your top box, or any box for that matter, and see how many spaces between the frames are full of bees."

6 or More Full Seams Could Mean:

    • Add Another Box - When you're adding on a Medium Honey Super to your hive, the general rule of thumb is to make sure that your boxes are at least 60% full. If your bee box has 6 or more full seams, then you should add another box on

    • Swarm Caution - When too full of a hive the bees will tend to swarm. Add a box on before they make this decision. If you don't want them to swarm, first check it the current queen is still there. Then squish all the swarm cells. Then add on another bee box. Check back in 7 days because adding a box doesn't immediately satisfy their need and she may have made more swarm cells in the meantime

4 or 5 Full Seams Could Mean:

    • Wait It Out - With 4 or 5 full seams it looks like your bees are moving their way up into the new box. It may be the case that if you give them another week, then they'll be ready for a new box. When thinking of adding a new box, do consider the rate at which they are growing and if there is a pollen/nectar dearth about to happen

  • Try Checkerboarding - With the deep brood box, there is an organizational pattern that would be disturbed if you were to move the frames around. However, with medium honey supers, there is no real organization pattern. This being said, you can rearrange the frames to have the empty ones in between the full ones. Checkerboarding can promote quicker and more even comb building
A hive that has frames that alternate between new fresh frames and old filled frames is called checkerboarding.
"Checkerboarding can promote quicker and more even comb building."

0 to 3 Full Seams Could Mean:

    • Added Boxes Too Early - Adding boxes too early can cause issues. To name a few, your bees can end up with a lack of focus, slower productivity, gnawing away the beeswax on the foundations, and it can make them more vulnerable to predators or being robbed by other bees. If you see this, you may want to remove it until a later day

    • Try Checkerboarding - When you decide to checkerboard make sure you're not trying to put a medium frame into the deep box. This would allow for too much space and you may end up with a lot of burr comb attached to the bottom bar of the frame

  • Box Placement - If you're having issues with getting your bees to move up. A more extreme technique than the checkerboarding method is to place your new box in between two of their filled boxes. This forces the bees to move in between the empty box. They'll see the empty frames and fill them. You'll likely want to use a Queen Excluder with this method

Is There A Big Population Change Since Last Inspection?

Another way to tell if you should add on supers is by taking the growth rate into account.

This method can be a little more accurate, but also a little more difficult for new beekeepers to do.

This video helps explain this school of thought.

"Another way to tell if you should add on supers is by taking the growth rate into account."

Keeping track of when your booms in population happen can also help you become a better beekeeper.

It allows you to understand when you'll need to add boxes on, feed your hive, or how much honey you can expect through the years.

If you know that your bees are moving at a quick pace, it isn't unheard of to add a couple of medium honey supers at once.

A Population Boom Could Mean:

    • Add a Super - If you're beehive is booming it might be time to add a medium honey super. If it's going quick enough, then you might try adding two (not recommended for first-year beekeepers)

    • Knowledge for Next Year - If you knew when your hive was going to grow fastest, you'd be able to estimate how many boxes and bottles you'd need for honey next year

A Slow Growing Population Could Mean:

    • Need to Feed - If your bees aren't building up their population quickly, it may be the case that you're in a pollen/nectar dearth. If this is the case, you'll want to feed them

In conclusion

Many beekeepers have told me that they've been doing this for decades.

In their wisdom, they tell me they're still learning how to communicate with the bees.

For this reason, I'm passing on this advice.

Find joy in learning how to care for bees. Not in their productivity.

From the man who arguably knew most about communicating with bees and who discovered the 'Waggle Dance', Karl von Frisch.

“The bee's life is like a magic well: the more you draw from it, the more it fills with water.”

Drink up, my friends.



Continue Your Bee Journey!

The following articles could be very helpful in taking your next steps.

Recommended First Hives

If you haven't yet purchased your first hive, we recommend one of our Starter Hive Kits. Each kit comes with all the essential parts of a beehive and the accessories you'll need for your first few years of beekeeping. We consider them "Nuc Ready" which means they come with 5 frames and are ready for the 5 that you buy when you purchase a 5-Frame Nuc of bees.