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Beekeeping, Brood, Honey, Honey Bees, Queens, Swarms

Now that summer’s over….

The Hive (novella)

The Hive (novella) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Not that it has ever started here in the UK.  I sit here typing this as it pours with rain.  Rain or cold or both has been the theme so far, with summer days that can be counted on two hands.

My blueberries are waiting, my cherries (I actually have them this year!) are waiting, my strawberries are waiting…for a few good blasts of sun and warmth in order to ripen.  But it just doesn’t happen.

Most of all, the bees have been waiting.  Oh, we did have some summer-like days in the distant past that helped the bees in my first hive to thrive and then, of course, swarm a couple of weeks ago last Sunday.  However, the days were not consistent enough, or did not happen on the weekend often enough for us to be able to do any in depth hive inspection in May and most of June.  I really don’t like going that long without a hive inspection (we had done one in April), but weather and work schedules have prevented anything but the most cursory checks.  And, up until June, those cursory checks told us that things were going really well, even with the second hive where we had been worried about starvation.

Swarm 9 June

My mistake was that I thought because they went into summer below fighting weight that we would have a relatively quiet summer, maybe even some honey.  I was wrong.  For on Sunday, a nice day as it happens, I heard that sound from the nightmare past of last spring:  that low, steady humming that signals the swarm.  The problem was that I couldn’t see signs of it around the hive.  We looked around in the trees above the hive but couldn’t see a clump.  The trees are pretty tall birches and pines, but we thought with the noise it would be easy to discover them.  Nope, and then it went quiet.  So, I thought that maybe they had unswarmed, and that they we all back in the box.  Our friends Tony and Jo came by, and we were all sitting in the garden enjoying the rare gift of sunshine, when the sound started up again.  And then we saw them, in a cloud above our heads.  We watched them as they made their way over several gardens to an unknown destination.

Honeybee eggs

Honeybee eggs (Photo credit: BeesinFrance)

Hive Inspection 23 June

We couldn’t very well inspect the hive then.  I knew they would be unsettled and was reluctant to disturb them further.  So we figured we do it the next weekend.  Weather and schedules meant it didn’t happen.  And so, we come to last Sunday, which wasn’t great for weather either.  Windy, cloudy, threatening rain.  But I went for it, because I was a little concerned about the main hive as it seemed very quiet, while the second hive was really looking lively.


I did the hive inspection on my own as my husband was engaged in a bit of DIY.  I suppose, in hindsight, it would have been a good idea to use the smoker, but it’s kind of annoying and the bees don’t seem to like it.  Anyway, things went ok with the first hive (the swarm hive).  They got pissy every once in a while, but I’d stop, let them calm down and then got on with things.

Hive One  (Swarm hive)
There are two supers on this hive, one storing the winter honey I left them and the other to give them something to work with at the beginning of spring, in case they increased.  This has been my only attempt at swarm management or prevention, giving them more space, and it has failed two years in a row now.

Going into the season, it had a queen that was just a year old.  Obviously, it now had one only weeks old.  I hope.

Because after going through the whole hive, I found no capped brood, no larvae.  If there were little eggs I couldn’t detect any.  The colony itself was a good size for one that had gone through a swarm.  They were full of beans, and there was quite a bit of nectar and some honey on the frames, as well in at least one of the supers.  Of course, these could be residual from the work of the sisters who had left.

I did find a few queen cells, most looking like cups but a few perhaps with bottoms that looked chewed through.  Don’t ask me if I saw the queen.  I have yet to see the queens in either of my own hives.

Queen cell

Queen cell (Photo credit: Max xx)

I am a little concerned but I still have hope.  Given the weather, two weeks may still be too soon for the new queen to start laying.  I can imagine her mating flight having been delayed.  So we may wait another couple of weeks and check back with them.  And watch the hive for pollen deliveries.

Other than that, things looked healthy.  I thought with the rain and cold, there might be some chalk brood or worms.  None of that, but a considerable amount of wood lice and a big fat spider in the cover.  Also, the colony was not dominated by drones which might have caused me to doubt the presence of a queen.

Hive Two (Starvation Hive)

It was with this hive that I regretted I didn’t have a smoker.  Deeply.  I didn’t get past the first frame before they went into attack mode. The reason, aside from not smoking, is my removal of some comb at the top of the first frame connecting it to the second one. I had to remove it in order to get the frames out. But when I tried,  at first I thouht I was seeing an infestation of moth worms, white, a bit slimey.  What it was was brood/grub. And I had essentially sliced through it, pretty much committing infanticide.

This had to be what set them off (yah think?)  They spent a good deal of time harrying me even away from the hive, to the extent a few were able to work their way into the hood/veil. I was stung at the bottom of the neck and around my ears, but not really seriously as it was coming through the material.

I had to throw my husband his suit.  He got the smoker fired up and went back and closed the hive.


BEE ATTACK! (Photo credit: Guudmorning!)

A thoroughly disappointing and disheartening session.  I hate upsetting them like that.  On the positive side, at least I know that queen, about a year old, is laying. While I am glad the queen is laying and the population is building up, I am concerned about where she is doing it.  She laid in weird places in the hive last year as well.  I don’t know if this is a sign of a problem, her particular thing, the location of the hive or what.

Anyway, I didn’t get a chance to look at the rest of the hive.  I told my husband he has to do that if we have a clear day this weekend.  But I am not betting on it!

No original photos this week.  Just didn’t have the energy or time, dodging bees.  So thanks to the Media Gallery for livening things up a bit.


9 thoughts on “Now that summer’s over….

  1. Darn that queen for laying where she wants and not where you want. If only bees could read we could install “maternity ward” signs to clarify things 🙂 Take heart that she is laying and that the bees are defending the next generation. As for upsetting them, I’m sure they’ll get over it and you’ll be besties soon!

    As for your next hive adventure I can only say, SMOKE. Even if you don’t use it, have your smoker there just in case. Or are you really that brave?

    BTW, did you notice the bees clustering on the comb you cut through? I am getting better at spotting where a lot of brood is just by watching where the bees hang out. Frames with brood have masses of bees clinging to them to regulate the temperature. I avoid disturbing those frames unless I am specifically looking for eggs and larvae (to check hive health) and then those are the frames I target.

    Good luck with both hives, I know it was harder than you’d hoped, but nothing you wrote above is reason for concern try not to be too disappointed.

    Posted by Laura Rittenhouse | June 29, 2013, 1:58 am
    • Not brave. Stupid, maybe. Lazy definitely. I have learned my lesson! Yes, they were clustering around it. But it was the very end frame at the top, so I didn’t initially think anything of it. Again, lesson learned. I’ll start at the other end if I see something like that. After I have smoked the living daylights out of them.

      I do feel heartened by the fact that at least that hive had brood, and they were feisty. I hate getting them into such a state though. I feel like I have reneged on out ‘live, and let live’ contract. Thanks, though, for your words of support. They make me feel a little less like a crap beekeeper!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | June 29, 2013, 10:24 am
  2. How I enjoyed reading this – not your suffering, but someone who goes through the same things as me! I don’t know if it is the weather, difficult spring-summer or what, but our No. 1 hive is so bad tempered each time we visit and I’ve been stung around the ankles on our two last visits (have problems getting wellies on). We are very new to this and not sure what a queen looks like and when you are being dive bombed its hard to take a quiet inspective look! Love your blog.

    Posted by beekeeperwife | June 29, 2013, 8:01 am
    • And I enjoy yours! So, the weather in France has not been much better? Bad news for my friends who visit regularly each summer. As to bad-temperedness, I always feel like they are bad-tempered for some legitimate reason-clumsy beekeeping, honey theft (they don’t forget that easily), infanticide (they seem to forget that sooner than the honey theft. We were able to mow the lawn today without being fully suited). But then my husband reminded me that, yes, sometimes they are just not in the mood for a little home invasion.

      So, they get right down into your willies and sting your ankles?

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | June 29, 2013, 10:28 am
      • No – my problem I was not wearing wellies – as you say lesson learnt! I agree about it being our problem – and interesting just read that we should have washed our suits as the furry nomes were there to tell them to attack!
        Smoke, wellies, newly washed suits and a caaaaalm attitude.

        Will see how it goes next time. Summer is due tomorrow we are told and temps due to get to top 20’s next week.

        Keep it up

        Posted by beekeeperwife | June 29, 2013, 10:45 am
      • Thanks! It looks like summer just might have arrived her (she says with both fingers crossed)

        Posted by mylatinnotebook | June 30, 2013, 12:46 pm
  3. Sorry to hear that you had such a bad time.

    I think just giving the bees more space is not enough to override their natural instinct to swarm. 3-4 weeks after hatching is quite normal to take a new queen to start laying. Any longer than that and you should be worried.

    I’ve damaged brood accidentally when moving comb before without the bees having a big reaction. It may have been the lovely windy/cloudy/threatening British weather that set them off. Yucky weather puts me in a bad mood too!

    Posted by Emily Heath | June 29, 2013, 9:12 pm

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