A Simple but Efficient System for Working the Hive

By Dennis Brown, Lone Star Farms, www.lonestarfarms.net 

Editor’s Note: Bee-ginners often ask how to work the hive. Dennis explains an efficient approach for doing so.

  1. Always pry up the second comb closest to you first. The first comb is usually anchored to the side wall in several places by the bees and it is much harder to remove first.

  2. Once you remove the second comb, hold it to the side and look at the face of the third comb for the queen. You will be able to locate the queen much easier if you adopt this system because you are always looking ahead to the face of the next comb. (Don’t worry about looking for the queen on the comb in your hand first, because if the queen is on it you already have her.)

  3. If you don’t see the queen on the face of the third comb, then inspect the second comb (the one in your hand). After inspecting this comb for all of the things you should be looking for, stand it on its end up against the back of the hive to avoid kicking it. By leaving this comb out, you have provided more space to work in. (In the bee catalogs you can find a new comb rack that hooks onto the side of the hive and gives you a place to rest the combs if you don’t want to put them on the ground.)

  4. Next, remove the third comb and hold it to the side while you inspect the face of the fourth comb for the queen.

  5. After inspecting the third comb place it next to the first comb which is still in the hive next to the wall.

  6. Remove the fourth comb and hold it to the side and inspect the face of the fifth comb for the queen. Note: If at any time during the inspection you find the queen, you should inspect her carefully and slide the frame back into the hive. Never place the frame that has the queen on it outside the hive no matter which frame you find her on.

  7. After looking at the face of the fifth comb inspect the fourth comb. After inspecting the fourth comb, place it back inside the hive next to the third comb.

  8. Remove the fifth comb and hold it to the side and inspect the face of the sixth comb for the queen.

  9. After inspecting the fifth comb place it back inside the hive next to the fourth comb.

  10. Remove the sixth comb and hold it to the side and inspect the face of the seventh comb for the queen.

  11. After inspecting the sixth comb place it back in the hive next to the fifth comb.

Keep working the hive this way until all of the combs have been inspected.

Always place the combs back in the exact position they were in when you started. The last comb you remove should be placed back where you got it. Then, slide each of the other combs into their original position. Remove the first comb, which is still on the side wall, and inspect it and place it back on the wall. Take the second comb, which is outside the hive, and place it in the second position in the hive. At this time all of the combs are back in their original position and the inspection is complete.

Get in the habit of looking for the queen herself, not the colored dot on her back. Beekeepers who order their queens to be marked always get in a habit of looking for the colored dot instead of the queen herself when they inspect their hives. Sometimes this dot fades and is not visible. Sometimes the same queen you started with is not there any longer, and the new queen doesn’t have a colored dot. Use the colored dot as a secondary means of locating the queen, not the primary means.

You will know you have become skilled at opening and working a hive when you find the queen still laying eggs in the cells as you watch. That means that you have performed the inspection with very little disruption to the hive, which is what you should strive for.


Dennis is author of “Beekeeping: A Personal Journey”, available from Kelley’s.

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