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How do you inspect a hive with multiple boxes?


Before I get to my question, I want to thank everyone for their help over the past few months. I love getting to suck all of the knowledge out of ya’lls brains.

I realized that after 2 bee classes and a few bees books. I don’t think anyone has explained how to inspect a hive that has more than 1 box. Maybe I haven’t heard an explanation because it is pretty simple, but still, once again, the fear of the unknown has driven me to post on the forum.

Assumptions: You inspect the hive from the top down. Checking one or more frames per box. When the first box is done being inspected, use your muscles to set the box off to the side and start on the next box.


  • Don’t the bees hate when you take a box off of the stack and put it back on?
  • Do most people inspect every box, or just the brood box that is likely to contain the queen?
  • If I have 2 brood boxes and 1 super, and I inspect 1 frame per box, doesn’t that make my inspections take a bit too long? What if I had 5 boxes in total, would that be a lengthy and troublesome inspection?
  • I am already finding it difficult to put my cover on the hive without squishing a bee… isn’t bee squishing even more difficult to manage when re-stacking heavy boxes?
  • Having to mess with box stacking seems like a downside to the langstroth design, and a pleasant upside to the top bar hive. Is there a hive type that is sort of a hybrid between langstroth and top bar? I hive in which the expansion would be horizontal and you could use langstroth frames and the flow frames (and maybe even a queen excluder)?


Generally, I prefer to use very little smoke.
You can use a water spray if and only if it’s warm. I like the hairdresser spray bottles as they produce a finer spray than a garden spray.
When you check two boxes you take off the top box, put it aside and check the bottom box first. Then replace the top one and check that.
Queen cells are very very often made on the bottom bars of the top box so you can have a quick look for them simply by tilting the top box forward and looking underneath. This takes seconds and is what the commercial guys do.


What a great set of questions! When you ask questions like this, it can help hundreds of people if they are browsing in the forum and are new to beekeeping. :blush:

One thing about this. If the box has brood in it, think carefully about where you are going to put it. You don’t want the queen to fall on the floor, and if nurse bees fall out, they may not find their way back to the hive. You know that I like to keep extra hive equipment. One of my favorite things to have is a spare telescoping cover and inner cover. For inspections I put a flat-style roof upside down next to the hive I am inspecting. One like this:

I put an inner cover inside it to give a bit more bee space. When I am finished with inspecting a box, I put the box onto the upside down roof assembly, then cover it with a an old pillow case (or tea towel, or canvas cloth) to keep the bees a little calmer.

They are not thrilled, but generally if you are slow, smooth, calm and gentle (no rapid jerky movements), they don’t get too upset. Especially if you have used a little smoke first. @Dee has already given you a good description of askew positioning when you set the boxes down - I won’t repeat it. :smile:

As @Dee says, inspecting every brood frame/box is important. I only inspect supers if I am getting ready to harvest and want to make sure they are capped, or if I see wax moths causing problems in the hive.

Why would you have 5 boxes? How many of those would be brood? Anyhow, now you know that detailed inspection is only needed for brood boxes. For traditional honey supers, you can get a good feel for how close they are to being harvestable just by hefting them. No need to pull out every frame if the super is light, unless you suspect other problems.

Yes, but if if you move slowly and calmly, using the askew and slide method, you will minimize bee casualties. :blush:

I can’t discuss top bar hives - I have never had one. However, I have heard several experienced beekeepers local to me say that they are not the best choice for new beekeepers. The frames can very difficult to lift out, and the comb is inherently fragile as it is only attached at the top. Very easy for a new beekeeper to damage or destroy during an inspection. Doesn’t @Horsehillhoney have some horizontal hive variant? There is quite a nice article by Rusty Burlew on a horizontal hive variant here, and the plans for it are available if you want to build one:



Top bar hive combs are very often attached to the side walls too making it even more difficult to look


I wouldn’t want 5… However I have seen pictures with people who have some that high. And… now I wonder… it must be a pain in the butt to work with a hive that large.

Seweet!!! That is what I was envisioning. I think I will make one for my next hive. It will be three 8 frame langstroth boxes wide. And modified to fit flow frames. One question though… Would it be a good idea to build a queen vertical queen excluder? Do those exist? I imagine they would be easy enough to make.


I think my tallest ever hive was 5 boxes. It only got that tall because I didn’t have time to take off the honey supers, so I just put an empty one on top. Wouldn’t do it routinely though, and with the Flow hive, my max will only be 4 - 2 brood, Flow super, and perhaps one traditional super on top of that for comb honey. :wink:


You don’t want to exclude the queen horizontally though, do you. You let the brood nest extend that way. What you do need is a division board so that you can split the hive in two and you need an entrance for each half.


I think what he meant was a veeeery long langstroth box, which may contain the 20 frames you’d normally had stacked. Plus the super NEXT to the brood frames. So you would need a vertical excluder. For checking and harvesting you don’t have to lift off heavy boxes. You just open the “roof” and have all your frames neatly in front of you. If you’d build your long box with groves to slide an end cover or the ends of your vertical super in, you can vary the lenght according to season.


OK I see
Well I know that in a long hive the bees put the stores to the outside frames.
You would have to have access to the flow frames all along the side of the hive to accommodate their position in relation to the size of the brood nest.
Far too complicated for me…I like simple beekeeping


I like simple too. But, I do a lot of woodworking, so, simple for me might not be simple for others. If I did do it, I would want to find an elegant way to allow regular frames and flow frames to use the same space (which might not b possible). Before I mill the first board, I’ll have a design that I run by y’all for advice.

Probably won’t get to it until next year though. I have a lot of projects I am behind on right now.




Thanks for the link! “Bee Bed”… " Sleep with the bees" hahahaha. You know your friends think your bee sh#t crazy when you own a bee bed. Hahahaha.


Finally I have found one thing @jape and @Michael_Bush have in common. They both were voted most likely to sleep in a bee bed. I hope both of them find this comment flattering and not offensive.


If you look up ‘Omlet Beehaus’ you will find an idea of how to make your langstroth long hive. You can add supers above the brood nest with a queen excluder. When you need to inspect…just slide the supers aside. No lifting brood boxes or splitting the brood. The Beehaus takes 14"x12" frames which equate to a langstroth deep frame though not the same shape…and the hive takes 20 frames. You have a hive divider which has an area to insert a queen excluder. You can use this to divide the hive to make increase or swarm control. I have been thinking about making a langstroth long hive using the Beehaus as a model. I want to make it out of several poly brood boxes though for an insulated hive.


You can keep bees in a single 5 frame nuc box if you wish. I have some hives that I keep in nuc boxes and add box to during the flow. They’ll swarm but so what. If I wanted honey just for me I would probably just keep nucs. I’ve already proven to myself that I can keep them alive through our New Jersey winters. Check out "Fat Bee Man on YouTube and you’ll see that he keeps mostly nucs.

Here’s a nuc in the dead of winter surviving with a feeder rim on top. I keep fondant in contact with the cluster and manage the mites.


Can you explain your flippantness (is that a word?!?). Why would swarming qualify as “so what”? I am sure you have a good answer, but, to myself, as a novice, that sounds terrible.

EDIT: “Novice” is a mistatement… “Completely ignorant newbie” is more accurate.


Swarming, like storing honey, gathering pollen, and rearing brood, is a normal, natural, bee behavior. When my nucs swarm, it’s no big deal because the colony is small (in comparison to my giant hives) and I haven’t lost that many bees plus I’ve gained a fresh queen, broken the brood cycle which breaks the mite life cycle, and before you know it, the nuc is exploding with bees again. Remember, if keeping a few nucs, honey is not the end goal, but just a by-product.


Keeping bees in nucs is a great way to bank queens but if you live in an urban area you don’t want swarms as it alarms the natives. In my nucs I constantly rob brood and give it to one of the big hives. It keeps the nuc small, and reduces swarms, as well as boosting my production hives.

It would be a handy way to boost a Flow Hive when there is lots of nectar around and you want it in your flow frames.



For a serious thorough inspection, I would set all the boxes off, clean off the bottom, put an empty box on the bottom and move each frame back to the empty box as I look for the queen. Once I through all the brood, I’d probably just set the remainder of the boxes back on.



That’s a good way to do it if you are doing a very thorough inspection. I do those a couple of times a year to check for brood disease.

I think it is irresponsible to just let your colonies swarm without control if you keep your bees in an urban environment. They will likely end up in somebody’s chimney. Here in the UK most rural swarm colonies don’t make it through the winter.

When inspecting the five things you are looking for are
Is the queen there or is there evidence of her? (you don’t have to spend half an hour looking for her unless your manipulation that day necessitates that you do (say if you are marking/clipping her or are performing an Artificial Swarm (and then there are ways of doing one without finding her)
Has she got room to lay ?
Is the colony building up in the early season and if later are there queen cells?
Is there any disease present? If you get used to having a really good look at the first brood frame you pull at every inspection you will likely spot disease early. You still have to do a thorough check of all the frames but not at every inspection.
Have the bees got enough stores to last till the next inspection?

So you see you don’t have to look for all of these every time and practice will get your eye in