When you start beekeeping, you will likely have an inclination to visit your hives often. That deep fascination is common to all new beekeepers and form memories you will never forger. However, while watching from afar is one thing, there's a balance to be had in terms of your hive inspections.
Many experienced beekeepers only inspect once every few weeks or even just seasonally. For new beekeepers, however, the first few weeks and months are a prime opportunity to learn, learn and then learn some more. More frequent Inspections are justified – but not too often!
For experienced beekeepers, frequent inspections are not generally needed. This beekeeper likely understands the behaviors and personalities of each colony. Combining that experience with a keen eye for unusual or unexpected activity, educated and informed assessments about the status of colony can be made.
For the new beekeeper, however, that experience simply does not exist. So, how to build that?
Every time you inspect and no matter how carefully you do so, you disturb the colony. Disturb them too often and you run the risk of setting them back a little or potentially even changing their general "personality". At the worst, you will trigger their departure and they will abscond.
Early on, especially after installing a package or nuc, consider opening up your hives about once a week, weather permitting. Inspecting with this schedule allows you stay on top of what’s going on in the hive, learn as the colony develops and watch seasonal changes. You will also learn to identify potential problems and hopefully resolve them.
You do not need to spend long periods of time in the hive during these inspections. Work slowly but steadily. You don’t want to be dropping frames in your haste, for example. Keep in mind, too, that relaxed, calm movements greatly reduce the chances of an angry colony.
One perfectly valid time saver is to not worry about finding the queen. While you can attempt to spot her (easier if your queen is marked), simply finding well-positioned eggs in the bottom of cells is an indicator the queen has been laying within the last 3 days. You’ll be looking for single white eggs in the bottom of cells in your brood chamber. Be aware, though, that multiple eggs laid in a haphazard fashion in cells indicates a “laying worker” scenario that you’ll need to resolve.
Remember that honeybees can fix many problems on their own. If your during your inspection your bees are in a bad mood or you’ve been through all your frames and still can’t find that queen, don’t be afraid to call it a day. Revisiting the hive in a week, the bees will likely be in a different mindset, the light may be different, or perhaps even the beekeeper will be in a different state of mind.
For the first-year beekeeper it’s all about getting your hands dirty and learning as much as you can. And every hive is different. So inspect in moderation but often enough to learn all your bees have to teach you, especially in those early weeks.