Bee Season: Inspecting Your Comb

The first reason to examine the comb is to check the overall health of the hive.
Related To:
Healthy Comb Pattern

Healthy Comb Pattern

Here's a healthy comb pattern. When comb is damaged, it can cause brood (baby bees) to decrease and can also impact honey flow.

©2013, Image courtesy of Boston University; photo by Cydney Scott for BU Photography.

2013, Image courtesy of Boston University; photo by Cydney Scott for BU Photography.

Here's a healthy comb pattern. When comb is damaged, it can cause brood (baby bees) to decrease and can also impact honey flow.

Recently, I attended our local beekeepers’ meeting. The speaker was Clarence H. Collision, professor emeritus of Entomology at Mississippi State University and contributor to Bee Culture.

As a new beekeeper, opening the hive makes me nervous. Will I hurt the bees? Break something? Get stung? Evidently a lot of inexperienced beekeepers feel the same — and it’s not uncommon for us to assume that if bees are flying, the hive is healthy. But Dr. Collision’s lecture on inspecting comb changed my mind on that.

Some basics on comb: It’s where bees reproduce, store food and nutrients, and form a winter cluster to stay warm. When comb is damaged, it can cause brood (baby bees) to decrease and can also impact honey flow.

The first reason to examine the comb is to check the overall health of the hive. As Dr. Collision said, a new beekeeper and an experienced one have very different ideas of a healthy hive. I thought my hive was strong the first summer, but now that I’ve seen the bees multiply over the second, I’m in touch with Dr. Collision’s metaphor for a healthy hive: one that is “boiling over” with bees.

The second reason to examine comb is to check for the queen. If you bought your queen, she’ll likely be marked with a spot of paint to make her easier to identify. Listen for a gentle hum and look for eggs – a single egg in a cell shows that the queen was there in the last 3 days. Then look at the pollen – the bees’ food source. Is it fresh, or old and glossy? Bees won’t forage for pollen if there’s a problem with the brood or if the queen isn’t laying eggs.

The third? To examine the brood pattern. It changes seasonally but, in general, a solid pattern is good.

Laying worker bees have vestigial ovaries and can lay eggs if a colony is queenless, but can only lay unfertilized eggs. If you see multiple eggs in a cell that means you’ve got laying workers.

Finally, check for signs of common bee diseases and pests, such as foul brood, varroa mites, nosema or hive beetles. Examine the cappings (color, holes not in center of cell, scattered pattern, sunken caps), color changes in larvae and pupae (white is healthy) and look for mummies (dried larvae).

If you find any of those and don’t know how to deal with the issue, your local beekeeping association or your state apiarist can help.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Bee Season: 4 Must-Have Tools

In this HGTV feature, learn which beekeeping tools are must-haves for beginner beekeepers.

Got Bees? Become a Beekeeper

Learn how to get started in beekeeping and reap the rewards.

Bee Season: A Basic Hive Setup

Start your hive hobby off right with this list of what to do first.

Bee Season: Can Backyard Hives Save the Bees?

Our reluctance to use chemicals on our hives is building a stronger strain of bees.

The Bee-Beauty Connection

Beekeeper Cassandra Lawson heralds the benefits of keeping bees. A number of natural beauty companies are also extoling honey's beauty benefits.

Animal Diaries: The Bee

Hives and head gear: Take a peek at what constitutes a bee's life.

Bee Cool: Learn How to Be a Beekeeper

Beekeeping experts share their insider tips.

The Life Cycle of Bees

Here's an inside look at the life of a bee.

13 Ways to Help the Bees

Our gardens used to buzz with bees; now these useful pollinators are disappearing. Find out what to do.

Attracting Beneficial Bees

Bring on the buzz. Invite bees and other pollinators into your garden with these helpful tips.

On TV

Island Life

6:30am | 5:30c

Island Life

7am | 6c

Island Life

7:30am | 6:30c

Fixer Upper

8am | 7c

Fixer Upper

9am | 8c

Fixer Upper

10am | 9c

Fixer Upper

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Desert Flippers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Desert Flippers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Desert Flippers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

4:30pm | 3:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

5:30pm | 4:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

6:30pm | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

House Hunters

8pm | 7c

House Hunters

8:30pm | 7:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Flip or Flop Vegas

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

House Hunters

3:30am | 2:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.