Let me start by saying that there are an infinite number of ways to perform an inspection: there are as many ways as there are beekeepers. That said, I will tell you what I do. Each beekeeper will find their own method and will figure out what works for him or her. Personally, I need to keep notes for each inspection.
You are generally looking for the following: number of frames of brood, presence of eggs (this indicates the presence of a queen and thus your colony is “queen-right”), capped brood (see the banner at the top of the page), frames of honey, pollen, the overall number of bees and how “packed” it feels. You also want to pay special attention to the number of unworked frames, this indicates how much space they have to expand.
Reading about bees you will inevitably realize that disease and pests are another thing to monitor. Looking for mites is hard when you’re in the middle of an inspection. You can certainly see their effects if you see deformed wing virus on the workers. You’ll also note any hive beetles, try to squish them before they fly away! I crush cells in my eagerness to kill those things since the bees will repair any damage.
If you’ve been following along you will have noticed that I include certain bullet points in my summaries, namely: how many boxes (the hive-set-up) make up each hive, how many frames are being worked per hive body, the number of frames covered by bees, if I spotted the queen, # of frames of brood (good to denote if you’ve seen capped or open brood). I may throw in the number of frames of honey/sugar syrup as well.
I include an “Overall Impression” really for my own benefit to keep everything in perspective. Sometimes I think a hive is doing well only to find that it’s pretty much the same as last time.
As I write my update for the blog I review the information and can get a sense of whether I should have done something differently and what I need to change next time. This part falls under the “Plan” portion of my summary. There always seems to be something I overlooked or just didn’t do. For example, when we made the nuc, I later decided to add a 1/2 pollen patty to each hive under the ventilated cover. These patties were left over from last year and I wanted to use them up. After checking on the patties over the next few days, I realized I should have added them over the brood nests but at the time didn’t want to disturb them twice on the same day. Always add pollen patties either right above the brood nest or between if you have 2 brood boxes. Live and learn.
This is why I keep a blog, otherwise I would never remember what I did with the hives or when. There are online programs available for beekeepers as well (such as Hive Tracks and Beetight, there are others), I haven’t used them but some are compatible with iPhones or Blackberrys which is handy dandy.