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Impact of hive inspections on bee colony

One of a common questions among new beekeepers is how often do I need or can inspect my hive? Although I believe that the only way to learn practical skills is to “go there and do it”, we also need to take into account how inspections affect a bee colony. Here is an interesting data from research conducted by V.I. Lebedev:

Correlation between strength and productivity of colonies and frequency and duration of inspections.

Frequency of inspections Weight of bees in colony before main nectar flow, kg Honey collected per colony, kg
Every 6 days 3.3 20.3
Every 12 days, with detailed inspection of every frame 3.6 23.1
Every 12 days, without detailed inspection 4 24.9
4 times per season 4.4 29.2

As we can see from the data, the correlation is quite obvious. Inspections, particularly detailed when beekeeper removes every frame to check it, disrupt colony function quite significantly. As a result, colony produces less brood and collect less honey.

Does it mean that a new beekeeper must avoid often inspections? I do not think so. It is the way we learn beekeeping. But be prepared to pay for this knowledge by having a weaker colony and less honey. Later, with more experience gained, frequency of inspections could be reduced to a number really required for servicing colony. But for a beginner, I believe, knowledge is more valuable in the long-term.

Also, it pays to learn how to evaluate colony condition by observations at hive entrance and by inspections without pulling every frame out.

A good book on external observations: At the Hive Entrance: Observation Handbook by H. Storch.

Questions from me to everyone. What other sources of knowledge on the subject we may add to this book? What techniques do you use to minimise colony disruption during inspections?

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I’m a proponent of ‘less is more’. Also, one of the early tips I picked up from Dawn here on this forum was to use tea towels to gently cover open box tops during inspections or hive splits. I refer to tea towels as the flat-woven, linen/cotton type without a terry cloth texture of a regular towel for drying off. I like being able to minimize light and air disturbance by incrementally folding back the tea towel as needed.

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I think a colony should only be inspected for a specific reason. For example: The colony is getting strong enough to do a preemptive swarm control split during spring. Another example would be if the colony swindles & we need to see what’s causing it.

With all going well, 4 full inspections of a hive per season is probably all that’s required.

I often get asked how often to do inspections. It’s a hard one to answer without going into great detail. A simple answer leads to more questions.

I tell people to be aware of the status of a colony at all times. Then get an understanding of bee culture with lots of study.

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Currently I use a towel in cold weather too. But back in “good ol’ days” old we used a piece of canvas permanently positioned on top of frames and covering whole hive opening to improve thermal insulation. Eventually this canvas was impregnated with propolis creating a barrier almost impervious to air and moisture. During inspections it served the same purpose as a towel, and a spare one allowed to cover frames on other side.

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I think we have to be careful with partial data like this. It seems none of the uninspected hives swarmed? or if they did it had no impact on colony weight or honey production?

For many beekeepers it is important to limit swarming, both for production reasons and for good neighbourliness reasons.

If this is important to you, frequent inspections during the swarming season are a necessity.

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Lebedev is a science director of Russian Research Institute of Apiculture. PhD. Professor at Ryazan State Agrotechnological University. Published approximately 450 scientific papers. I would trust him in dealing with experimental outliers :wink:

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Under my conditions, 4 brood inspections maximum per year sounds reasonable…I try to complete multiple tasks during a single inspection such as removing broodbox honey frames to give the queen more room, making nucs, adding pollen patties, and adding varroa controls…all at the same time. It takes a bit of organization, but I set up a table outside my beehouse and layout all my materials on this collapsible table…and some extra help comes in handy…especially when you have to find the queen in numerous colonies…that’s always time-consuming.

Later in the season when removing honey above the queen excluder, I look down through the excluder into the brood box below and confirm there is capped brood…no need to disrupt the brood area at that time of the season for me. My area isn’t conducive to heavy swarming pressure…unless I’m behind…which if that is the case, my workload has just exploded. I don’t actively check for queen cells…but it takes decades of experience to be aware of certain nuances and environmental conditions to prevent a situation from getting out of hand.

Removing honey above a queen excluder isn’t neccesarily a detriment to the colony like an in-depth brood box inspection…often the effects of honey removal stimulate the colony…especially when wet frames are placed back on the hive.

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I am not questioning Lebedev’s qualifications.
I am asking for more complete information of his experiment to better understand the conclusions that you presented.
Can you present a link to the full report where you got this information.

This condensed table comes from a textbook for… I guess, Agricultural Colleges will be the best analogy in UK educational system

More comprehensive description of the experiment they ran in 1975-1976 could be found in journal Пчеловодство (Apiculture), 1978, vol. 1, pp 2-3. It also includes data on wax production and pollen collection.

I don’t have a link, but the journal itself. I can share a scan of the article if you don’t mind to read it in Russian.

If you want go deeper and see a copy of the original research paper, I guess, you need to contact research institution itself.

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@Doug1 “especially if wet frames are placed back in the hive.”
By that comment Doug, are you talking about “sticky frames”?

Yes…we call them wet frames here

@Doug1 I thought that’s what you meant, all these new beekeeping terms, my head is about too burst.
Yes I have even resorted to painting wax onto the plastic frames, then also doing the same with some sugar syrup in an attempt to get the bees interested, after having a one and only plastic frame untouched for 3 weeks, even with all the other 7 frames close to being full. I hope they take to them now, I’ll see in about 2weeks time​:crossed_fingers::crossed_fingers::crossed_fingers:.

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