So, We Are Third Year Beekeepers. Can You Tell?
This is bee club. And the first rule of bee club? Don’t ever give the little so and so’s too much space, because they will fill it. Bees abhor a vaccum. Who knew they were so philisophical and scientific? And another question, if they had too much space, then why did they swarm which is a sign of not enough space? I could go on in the vein all day, but probably better to get on with the reports from bee club…
In the Main (First) Hive
There has been exponential population group in this hive, one of the reasons we went to ‘brood and a half’ at the beginning of April. Brood and a half is purportedly a swarm prevention technique where you use a super as an additional brood box (so the queen excluder goes on top of this, separating it from a honey super. Because I so lack confidence any time I try something new with these dames, I didn’t fill the super with frames. “I’ll just put a few frames in, and then check up with them to see how they are getting on, and add the frames later,” she said. One water-logged month later, and we hadn’t been able to do anything aside from reapplying feed buckets. My husband would peer down into the ‘half’ and say, “Yep, looks like they are working it.” (He doesn’t really talk like that, he’s from Liverpool).
Both of us totally unaware of the monster beneath, growing up from the heart of the hive.
Come the Beginning of May, It Hit: Swarm!
May 13-Second swarm about 930 on a nice sunny morning, headed in the same direction, for a tree beyond our property line in the wood. Again, too high up, right above massive sting nettle patch, un even ground.
So, two we have released into the wild. After the first swarm, we thought that we really had to open up the box, see what’s going on. Which we did on May 11, in between the two swarms.Our first impression was that there were a massive amount of bees still, even after first swarm.
Bottom (Main) Brood Box: All frames were occupied by bees, sides of frames as well as tops pretty congested (as per blurry photo) I would be guesstimating, but I would say before the secondary cast, there might have been about 50000 or over; about 6-7 frames of brood, a fair amount of drone brood, mostly at the bottom of the frames, stray ones on the face. Predominantly capped brood, very few in larvae stage. We could not see any sign of chalk brood etc, any sign of problems that way.
About 3 queen cells in the hive, with two on one frame. However, we did see one or two cells where it is possible a queen might have hatched. We left one frame with a queen cell in it.
Of course, before we could look at any of these frames, we had to deal with the monstrosity. As you can see from the photo, it sat on top of the bottom brood box frames (what you don’t see are the little substructures in back of it. Oh yes, it had reproduced). It then rose in all its evil magnificence up through the frames of the ‘half’ as if it were a frame itself. You can see from my comments above that we knew why it was there (our, or rather, my bad).
We really couldn’t leave it, could we? We were a bit hesitant because not only were there stores contained within, but also brood in various stages, including drone brood, and maybe one or two uncapped queen cells. So, we hauled out the nuc, put in a few stores frames, a brood frame, and an empty frame against which we leaned this monstrosity (in other sources, there are suggestions of affixing such a growth with a rubber band to an empty frame). I was really winging (!) this split, trying to extrapolate how to implement one from one of our bee books. Of course, we still have no idea what stage the main hive is in queen-wise, so we left frames with two queen cells in the hive, and put a frame with a queen cell in the nuc. We suspected there was a virgin queen in the main hive, but based on the brood pattern (most capped, very few in other stages), we are not sure.
Have we, or I, made a complete disaster out of things? Because, there’s no real signs of life from the nuc. However, there were more than signs of life from this hive, as the bees, who had been essentially robbed, were in a viscious mood all weekend right up until after they swarmed again on Sunday. Grass is up to my knees, my yard was demarcated at our laundry line, the boundary of which we crossed at our own peril.
Anyway, I digress.
Top Brood (‘half’ super): Not nearly as full of bees, maybe 4-5 frames and those not completely covered. We had initially put 8 frames in this one, just to see what would happen. I would say that at least 4-5 have brood on them now, but not a massive amount of brood, and pretty much all capped.
In addition, we have another super on this hive with a few frames for honey. There doesn’t appear to be much action on these frames. It could be because the feeder has been there and frames were pushed to the side, but then this was so of the other hive, and they had started to draw comb.
Everything would indicate between this examination and the second swarm that there was not a laying queen in the hive. So, presumably, the hive went off with one of the virgin queens which had chewed her way through the queen cell. Since the second swarm (Sunday), things are very quiet and although there looks to be pollen collection, not enough to assuage my concerns about more swarming or a queenless hive yet. Update: As of today, more activity, in a much better mood (I might even get to mow the lawn!) and steady pollen collection. Have we turned a corner?
The Hive Now Known as Sybil: The Second Hive
In the main brood box, at first there didn’t seem to be masses of bees, but once we started taking frames out, there were loads of bees on the sides of the frames, hive, and at the bottom (I would say at least 40000, but again a guesstimate). We were glad to see that they had finally filled all the frames, and the end ones even had the beginnings of stores (nectar). And there was at least 6-7 frames of brood (whereas last year, we rarely got above 5 with them). We saw 2 queen cells which we left as we thought the old queen was no longer there, and we were not convinced that there was an active new queen there (brood was mostly at capped phase, not a lot of larvae).
In the super, there was quite a bit of activity with drawing comb. But, very light on stores still, so will probably need more syrup.
As of today, I am a bit heartened by the amount of pollen taken in. Although not enough to stop me worrying about them swarming again, more collection than the main hive. And it has been over a week since their swarm/unswarm. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. But I am taking even very little signs as reasons for hope.
They hung around for a few days, with another clump of dead bees beginning to form on the ground below. I was pretty convinced the old queen was there, but two bee experts, CT my Association buddy and Rusty at the Honey Bee Suite (thanks both!) thought not. We brushed them into a box, and then combined them with nuc bees (the old newspaper trick). We put a grass plug to cover up entrance, which has fallen away, but things are very quiet. I was trying to extrapolate what I was reading to our circumstances (no marked queen, but some queen cells, flying bees, brood, and stores). But really we were making it up as we went along with this first attempt at a split.
I am a little disturbed by the fact that the frames of stores look so thin in both hives. It seems they have gone through pretty much all that they had. We will have to keep an eye on this and continue feeding..
I Will Leave You with Words of Wisdom. Not Mine, Of Course!
From my Association buddy (you can read Rusty’s if you click on the link above. It should lead you to a fascinating discussion about angry bees–hey! we could make a fortune with that concept!):
Lots of positive things there [He's so kind]. A couple of tips, though. Always fill supers and brood boxes with the full number of frames (11 for brood, 10 or even 9 for honey) otherwise the bees will occupy the spaces and build “wild” comb – as you discovered the other day! If you have a good reason for giving them fewer frames you need to keep the bees confined by putting in “follower boards” or dummy frames made of plywood or something similar. This will help the bees feel more secure, too.
If you can’t see brood, eggs or a queen, don’t automatically assume the hive is queenless. Virgin queens can be hard to spot as they are not much bigger than normal workers and also have a habit of hiding in nooks and crannies. Not so long ago I had a hive that appeared queenless around midsummer. It was over a month before I was proved wrong and I was glad I hadn’t acted on impulse and tried to introduce new brood prematurely.
As general advice I would suggest you get your hives shipshape, with a super on each, and then adopt a very light touch and let the bees get on with it. If you have another swarm you’ll either be able to catch it (and give it away if you haven’t got room for it) or let it go.
If you do have a queenless hive you have 2 basic choices – requeen or destroy the colony if laying workers have taken over.
Happy middle of May!