Archives for posts with tag: what not to do

A little more than a week after installing the queen, I opened the hive to ensure she had been released. She had. All had calmed from the prior week’s mayhem and the bees were peacefully about their bees-ness within the hive. But the peace had come at quite a cost. All of the honey that had been stored for the winter was gone. I was thankful to have harvested in May because I think that, had it still been on the hive, it would have been taken as well. All that remained were a few frames containing some pollen stores. I don’t know if this is normal for a year when we received less than half our usual rainfall. On my most recent beekeepers’ meeting people were already talking about feeding, but others have mentioned that my area is still having something of a nectar flow. So it seems like this occurrence was unusual and likely linked to whatever it was I had witnessed, whether that was robbing, or an attempted takeover, or something else.

With all the honey resources gone, I need to supply them food again to ensure they can feed themselves and the new bees needed to rebuild the colony’s strength. I had placed a feeder on the top when I locked them in since they were already low on honey at that point; most of the damage had already been done. When I checked the feeding station, I was shocked to find an unmarked queen wandering on the board. How had this happened? I don’t know for certain, but I may have missed this one when searching, she may have recently hatched from an unseen queen cell, or she had recently returned from a mating flight. Clearly, my inspection technique needs improvement and I really need to be able to see eggs, since that is the hallmark of a queen-right colony; I’ve been skating by on seeing young larvae and it is not sufficient. Marc recently purchased me a magnifying glass, which should help with the eggs immensely. The rest, I hope, will come with practice…and probably more mistakes like those I’ve made over the past two months.

But what does that mean to find this wandering queen? Primarily, that my bees had not been queenless when I installed the new queen, which may have been the reason for all the turmoil. She may still have been in her cell growing with the few remaining bees caring for her, and the bees would have been reluctant to accept the new brood and bees I introduced from Andrea’s colony. It was odd to find her in the upper chamber because I had used a queen excluder so I wondered if she had hatched and then been trapped above, possibly leaving her a barren queen if she had not been able to conduct her nuptial flight, which is the one time she mates and collects all the sperm she will use for her lifetime of egg-laying. I caught her and a few others in my queen clip, which Andrea kindly bought for us after our last misadventure in trying to catch a queen.

Queen in a clip

Once I observed bees flocking to her without intending her harm, I decided to leave her in the upper box to see what she would do. Everyone was peaceful inside so it seemed she had been accepted along with the White Queen. However, she apparently had other ideas. When I returned with the refilled feeder, she calmly walked to the upper entrance and flew away. So far, never to be seen again.

I added a pollen patty a few days later and used my new magnifying glass to verify there are eggs. I also removed the empty honey super after finding wax moth larvae in it, a sign that there is too much space for the bees to defend from invaders. At this point, my plan is to stay out of the colony except for adding pollen patties and sugar syrup or fondant as needed. There really isn’t much I can do for them except keeping them fed and avoiding disrupting their brood nest. I’ll inspect it again in mid-August when I do another mite check for Mite-A-Thon.

I mentioned last week a wee problem in the hive that needed to be rectified, and that problem was burr comb, which is one of a few names for comb built in places you wish it weren’t. As I discovered when I looked in the hive today, I had placed the inner cover on upside down and that gave the bees an extra gap between the cover and the frames. Combined with the spacer I’d been using, they had about a 1 inch gap.

The beginning of the inspection. The full, unclipped version can be found at: full: https://youtu.be/KF732JJE6GI

Much like nature abhors a vacuum, bees do not like unfilled space. The basis of the Langstroth hive (the type of hive I’m using) is beespace. Langstroth found that bees would fill with comb any space larger than 3/8 inch; smaller than that, and they’d fill the gap with propolis. The hanging frames in a Langstroth hive are sized specifically to be sandwhiched together and allow enough width for comb on each side and bees to move freely, while not exceeding that 3/8 inch limit. With a 1 inch gap or larger, I had a huge violation of beespace. Last week they had only managed to make a few nice pieces of comb that were filled with honey. I should have fixed the problem immediately, but didn’t know exactly how to accomplish it quickly, so I put it all back together and decided to wait a week. That was not the best decision.

Couple my beespace violation with the bees’ preference for building willy-nilly free-form versus within the forced structure of foundation, and I had a mess after leaving it for another week. Who could really blame them? Free-flowing coloring outside of any lines is far more fun than coloring within them!

This shows only the bottom pieces of comb, not the larger pieces that adhered to the top cover. By the time I realized how much was attached to the top, the hive had been open for far longer than I’d wanted and I’d spotted the queen in the mess, so I didn’t snap any photos until the end and just got the job finished.

In the intervening week, the bees had constructed multiple small combs across the top where the syrup feeder rests. There was also a ball of bees on the underside of the inner cover and, as I feared when I saw the tight grouping of a lot of bees there, I found the queen amongst them. Ack! Not good! But I had made a plan, and I thought it would still work: take two empty frames without the foundation that the bees use as a template for building comb, add rubber bands to hold the odd bits of comb, and insert them into the hive on opposite sides of the brood nest. I pulled out two frames to make room for these, one of which had old comb on it and I thought might be the source of the wax moths.

I gently scraped each piece of comb from the base, carefully working around any bees gorging on honey, and then affixed the comb on the frame between the rubber bands. I had done this for all the small bits before I realized how large the other bits on the underside of the cover were and before I discovered the queen in the ball of bees. My time would have been better spent focused only on the larger pieces. For the queen, I carefully scraped off the piece she was on when she was near the top of it so that I wouldn’t inadvertently injure her. I placed it as the top of the brood nest frames and encouraged everyone with her back inside. Once she’d safely moved below, I added that piece of comb to my construction.

I’m not quite sure if this will work. When I’ve seen this done in videos or photos by experienced beekeepers it is usually a single, larger piece of comb placed on each frame. I hope I’m successful in rescuing at least some of their hard work and resources. Either way, I removed the spacer and flipped the inner cover the right way around so I shouldn’t have this specific issue again. Fingers crossed.

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