How to “Read” a Frame from Your Hive

On Sunday, we checked our hive to see if our queen had begun laying eggs in earnest yet. The honeybees had clearly been intent on demolishing the pollen patty I had made them a week and a half ago, so that was a good sign. When we inspected the frames, I saw what looked like capped brood in the center. While I was thrilled, I am also neurotic when I feel less than confident in my abilities or understanding of a topic. I knew that the brood would be in the center of the frame with pollen and honey spreading out in a rainbow arc over them, but as an inexperienced beginner, I didn’t know for sure how to determine the difference between capped honey and capped brood.

As I continued to move slowly and methodically frame by frame, I started running through all those miserable what-if kinds of questions and worst-case scenarios: What if my queen didn’t lay eggs correctly? Why can’t I see any larva? What if my queen had died? What if my bees were only storing honey and not making any new bees? (Yes, that would actually a bad thing right now!)

I knew that my ability to “read” a frame would be an important skill to add to my nascent beekeeping repertoire because it’s imperative for me to know if my hive is healthy, so I sat myself down with youtube and google so I could acquire that skill. Although I know it’s not in the best interest of the hive to open it for inspection daily, I hadn’t learned what I needed to from the inspection on Sunday, so I opened it back up again on Monday to reinspect it. This time, when I pulled the frames from the hive, I knew exactly what to look for. I am happy to report that the hive is thriving!

For those who are curious how to read a frame of bees, here are some pictures and explanations I took from my hive this week.

frame of bees with text

Capped brood are creamy yellowish-tan in color; capped honey is white. As I mentioned earlier, capped brood will appear in the center of the frame while honey and pollen will appear in an arc around the brood. Pollen can be many different colors. You can see a few cells of pollen in the lower right of the picture; they look like darker cells, and a single bee is near them.


Most capped brood will be a little over the height of the comb; a few brood will seem to pop out over the rest. Those cells contain bees other than worker bees. The bee I’m pointing to in the picture will be a drone, which is a male bee; it almost looks like the cell is overstuffed. A queen’s cell will be even larger than a drone’s cell, almost like a peanut. Luckily, I don’t have a picture of those to show you (which means my hive is doing well!).


The larvae are harder to see; they look a little like white c’s curled up in the bottom of the comb. They would be (and were!) easy to miss as I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for. What I particularly enjoy about this picture is how you can see the different sizes of the larvae as they age. In the lower left, you can see what the original foundation looks like before the bees draw the comb out.


This picture is a close-up of the brood cells. I am very much enjoying this process, and I’m glad people are as interested in learning about my bees as I am!


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