Healthy Hives

How to inspect for a thriving, growing bee colony.




The honeybee, or apis mellifera, is what we call a pollinator. Flying from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen for their colonies, these pollinators accidentally transfer pollen from one source to another—fertilizing fruits, veggies, and flowers. They are responsible for fertilizing approximately one third of the food we eat.

Honeybees are incredibly important to food security. Beekeepers work to ensure hives have plenty of food, sufficient space to grow, a thriving queen, and a disease-free environment. During routine hive inspections, we start by checking the front entrance of our hives. This is the first indication of hive strength. Do we have lots of foragers (worker bees acquiring pollen and nectar) flying in and out of the hive? Are there plenty of bees guarding the front entrance? A strong colony should have lots of activity at the front entrance during the height of spring and summer.

Next, we open the hive by removing the hive top. A quick indication of a healthy hive is when honeybees peer up at you from between the frames. This curiosity without aggression lets us know they don’t mean any harm; and their calm demeanour typically means the queen, the most important member of the colony, is present. Without a healthy queen, the hive will slowly deteriorate.

A Langstroth-style hive box is composed of 10 frames. The centre is where you usually find the brood, the babies. This is where you really get a feel for the health of a colony. The frames are pulled out, one at a time, and both sides are inspected. You want to see a consistent brood pattern, that is, larvae in almost every hexagonal cell. A spotty brood pattern may be an indication of a struggling or diseased colony, or perhaps a poorly mated queen.

As hive inspection continues, you should see frames with eggs and young larvae. These are best seen by holding the frame in the air with the sun at your back. If you peer into the bottom of the cells, you should see white juicy larvae swimming in a shiny liquid called royal jelly. Discoloured or dry larvae may be an indication of disease. The presence of eggs and young larvae confirm that a queen is present, even if not directly spotted. Continuing through the hive, you should see frames with diversified pollen, nectar, and capped honey. A hive should be filled with bees, but have plenty of room for continued growth.

When happy with the hive inspection, all frames are placed back into the box and the top is closed. Each element of an inspection is integral to identifying the health and strength of a colony. Creating a routine schedule will allow you to stay on top of hive expansion and potential disease outbreak.

With beekeeping there is always plenty to do and learn. If you’re interested in becoming one, you will need the following items to get started: hive equipment, live bees, and a course (or two) under your belt. The best resources for courses can be found through local bee clubs or the Ministry of Agriculture’s apiculture department. Equipment and live bee suppliers can be found through the BC Honey Producers’ Association, as well as your local apiary inspector—both of which will be helpful throughout the entirety of your beekeeping journey.

If you have any questions, send us an email at In the meantime, happy beekeeping!

Rachel Halliwell is a beekeeper and owner of Home Grown Bee. Head over to the website for more information: