Healthy Colony Checklist Takes the Guesswork Out of Hive Monitoring

Over the past three decades, Varroa destructor, Acarapis woodi, Aethina tumida, numerous viruses, and a variety of other stressors, have presented increasing challenges to honey bee colony health. The result, in recent years, is that colony health can change dramatically over a short period of time. Therefore, monitoring honey bee colonies is essential.

To efficiently and effectively protect and improve colony health, it is essential to monitor colonies more frequently, even as often as weekly. While this seems like a heavy lift at first, there are several tools and methods available to beekeepers to make weekly colony assessments as easy, fast, thorough and meaningful as possible.

One of those tools, the Healthy Colony Checklist (HCC), is an easy-to-use document for quick assessments of hives, particularly at the end of winter, though it can be used anytime. Developed by Bayer Bee Care researcher and apiologist Dick Rogers, the checklist helps beekeepers keep track of current colony health status and plan aid for management needed immediately or in the near term.

"The Healthy Colony Checklist is a tool all beekeepers can use to make more frequent colony assessments and better management of honey bee colony health achievable," Rogers said.

1. Use the buddy system when you can.

One person to observe and another to record are preferred, although one experienced person can observe and record when only a small number of colonies need to be inspected. Audio recording for later transcription may work for some, as well.

Beekeepers Around a Hive

2. Know how to access each of the six conditions of colony health.

There are six conditions a honey bee colony must satisfy if it is to be considered “healthy.” Use checkmark if a condition is satisfied, X if not. If unsure, note this and learn how to assess this condition accurately and with confidence.

Beekeepr Holding Honeycomb with Bees

3. Take concise notes.

In the box to the right of the each Condition description, record a note of what needs to be done to correct any deficiencies (i.e. condition not met) before next assessment. No need to be elaborate or overly detailed while you are recording your data.

Closeup of Bees in a Hive

4. Record any general notes and observations of each hive.

Use the box at the bottom of the HCC for more general notes.

Queen Bee

5. Transfer your findings into your HCC database.

At the end of the assessments for the day, record the findings for each colony in the HCC summary spreadsheet. This spreadsheet is available upon request from dick.rogers@bayer.com. The sheet is currently fully functioning; however, guidelines for use are still being developed. Feedback and questions related to the HCC or the summary spreadsheet are encouraged. In the spreadsheet, hiding the “Condition Met” columns will provide a simple task list by colony.

A Beekeeper Inspecting Her Hive

The HCC is available for free to download and use here. Whether you use the HCC or another preferred method of observation, weekly assessments of your hives is an essential part of proper hive management and will help yield impactful results in the quest to find solutions for problems facing honey bees.

Download the Healthy Colony Checklist