Internal hive inspection

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Note: Most of the content was retrieved from the books "Beekeeping Manual for beginners" by Holeta Bee Research Center and the APIRE project [1]. and from "Advanced Beekeeping Manual by Ethiopian Beekeepers Association and Netherlands Development Organization (SNV-Ethiopia).[2]

Internal hive inspections work for movable frame hives but not for traditional hives with fixed combs. Regular inspection is an important management practice to assess the status of the bee colony. Based on the findings during the process, corrective measures and further management steps are planned. Among others, the following checks are the most common ones:

  • Check if the hive needs more or less room
  • Check the food supply of the colony
  • Check for swarming signs
  • Check the colony's health status
  • Check if the time is right for queen excluder
  • Check if the honey is ripe and check if it is time to harvest the honey

Depending on the used bee species, their strengh or the season, bees are more or less aggressiv. Therefore, necessary preparations should be made to take care and to prevent injuries.

1. Protective gear is recommended and should be cleaned regularely. Bees scent bee veno from the distance and this may irritate them. The color of gear may also play a role. Prefer light colors.

2. If working with aggressiv bees, is is necessary to wear clothes under the protective gear. Make sure, that the zippers run all the way through. Wearing clothes that are too light or thin may lead to stings. Also make sure, that the bee veil is not too close to the face, otherwise stings get through. The smoke for the internal inspection has to last through the whole operation time.

3. Choose good weather conditions on your target day. When inspecting beehives, the weather should not be windy, cold or rainy. Do not wear perfues or other strong smelling cosmetics. Sweat and body odor may also affect the bees.

4. If a human gets stung by a bee, gently remove the sting from the body and wash the affected body part with water. Otherwise the other bees get alarmed and become more aggressive. People with minor allergies to bee venom show symptoms of itching, body swelling, breathing problems and vomiting. People who have a serious allergy are affected very quickly by the venom. In addition to the mentioned symptomes, they will have a higher heart beat and body sweating. Those people should be transferred into a hospital quickly.

5. Avoid loud noises, disturbances and fast movememts.

6. Standard beehive opening procedures:


The top lid should always be removed. Stand on the side or behind the beehive and blow smoke into the colony. Use a chisel or a knife to liod the cover and blow smoke on the sides and into the beehive. Completely remove the lid and blow smoke into the hive to led the bees move away, If the inspection takes place in the lowest chamber, place the other chambers on the upturned lidcover; do not place them on the pure ground.

7. Avoid the exposure of larvae or brood from draft and sunlight, avoid robberies by other bees. If the inspection takes place during the day, the inside of the hive should not be exposed to the sun longer than necessary. Weaker colonies should be inspected prior to strong colonies to avoid robbing.

Management procedures


Supering: During flowering season, the bee colony size increases rapidly. The bees need for space in the hive, otherwise they split and swarm. Providing more space to the colony leads to more space for brood rearing and in the end to increased honey foraging. If the colony in the bottom box is overcrowded, supering at the right time is necessary. External observations indicate a great number of bees passing the hive entrance; in the evening, many bees cluster at the hive entrance; internal inspection results in frames and bee lines covered with bees or half of the frames are full of eggs. If observed, adding a new chamber is important. Do not add another box, if the apicultural season is already over and most of the plants ceised blooming, because this will have no or a negative effect on the colony. If the bottom box and the first additional box are crowded, a second box can be added to the hive.

Process: Open the cover of the beehive which needs an additional chamber. On top of it, place the new chamber which contains frames with wax foundation and align it properly. To make sure that the bees do not avoid the new chamber, take 3-4 frames containing brood from the existing box and bring it up in the center of the new box. If the colony is too weak, bees will eventually not go up and the eggs/larvae die.

Installing of queen excluders: if the beekeeper decides to use queen excluders to guarantee a brood-free honey chamber, the right timing is essential for installation. Queen excluders should be mounted in a strong colony during flowering season. Some beekeepers install them during they add a super.

Process: Open the top cover and use smoke to let the bees move down. Replace the frames: frames containing honey and sealed brood (pupae) are transferred to the upper box. The brood needs to be placed in the center of the box. Those frames containing open brood and pollen can be placed in the lower chamber. Place the queen excluder on top of the lower box and align it correctly. Add the upper box and also align it carefully. After honey harvest, the excluder should be removed.

Reproductive swarming: During flowering season, the bee colony size increases rapidly. The bees need for space in the hive, otherwise they split and swarm. This can result in decreased honey harvest. Improved beekeeping practice emphasizes the control of bee reproduction and colony splitting.

  • Offer enough space in the hive.
  • If a colony is crowded 2-3 frames containing eggs and open brood should be replaced by wax foundations. The frames containing brood can be used for weaker colonies.
  • Inspect the overcrowded colony every 10 days and check for queen cells. All queen cells must be destroyed.

Honey harvest

  • sweet nectar smell in the apiary's surrounding.
  • the number of bees passing the hive entrance decreases as they have enough food
  • in the evening, bees tend to cluster at the hive entrance
  • to assess the ripeness of honey, an internal inspection must be conducted.

Supplemental feeding: during drought seasons, weaker colonies need supplemental feeding. This will prevent absconding and starvation of colonies. The provided food should be of good quality. A shortage of honey is replaced by carbohydrates such as sugar and a shortag of pollen will be bridged by protein sources like corn-, soy-, or chickpea flour.

Sugar: The most common way to feed sugar is in form of a sugar solution (a mixture of water and sugar). The relation between sugar and water should be either 1:1 or 2:3 (for example during winter in temperate climate). In case of the 1:1 solution, 1 kg of sugar is added to 1 l of hot water. The cooled down solution is fed to the colony. Outdoor feeding should be avoided due to robbing organisms. The internal feeding requires specific containers that are placed in the hive. For details, the beekeeper can watch YouTube videos by using the keywords "bee feeder" "feeding bees".

Pollen substitute:' Substitutes may be prepared of pulse and cereal flours (beans, peas, soy, chick peas, barly, ...). Pulses and cereals are first roasted and grounded to flour. The flour may be put in a weather protected container near the hive. Do not provide too much flour. The bees would not use it in time and this may affect the aroma of it. Moisture may affect the flour and lead to to mould which bees bring in the hive.


  1. Holeta (unknown date). Beekeeping Manual for beginners.
  2. Ethiopian Beekeepers Association & SNV (2011). Advanced Beekeeping Manual. Express Printers PLC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.