In my experience, it’s important to constantly feed the bees during the first year (in Newfoundland), but it’s also important to stop feeding them at a certain point in the spring so they don’t swarm. When I find drone comb gunking up the bottom of the frames in the spring, that’s my cue that the colony could potentially swarm. Queens can’t mate without drones. That’s why the first swarms usually coincide with the flight of the first drones. I could be wrong about all of this, but from what I’ve seen with my bees, it’s true. A colony won’t swarm without drones.If the bees have two or three solid frames of honey in every box — enough to prevent them from starving — and drone comb is present, then I stop feeding. I don’t feed my bees if they have enough honey on their own anyway, and unless it’s a weak colony, I don’t usually feed past May 31st either because there’s usually enough natural nectar sources available by then (in my local climate), especially in the city of St. John’s that is heavily populated by maple trees. I also check my hives at least every two weeks until the end of June to make sure the queen has room to lay. Most beekeeping (beyond feeding) can be summed up with that one sentence: Make sure the queen has room to lay.
This is the time of year I often get a whiff something foul around my hives. It’s the stink of dead drones rotting on the ground outside the bottom entrance.
Poof! I think I just popped someone’s idealized beekeeping bubble.
Chewing out and discarding drone pupae in the fall is a disgusting no-turning-back move for the bees. They’re absolutely done with drones for the next six months. I found these drone pupae today after two days of cold wind and constant rain.
See my Expulsion of The Drones video for more information on this lovely phenomena.
Here’s a quick video I shot with my Nexus 4 Android phone using the 1080p setting. The original shot was turned 90°, so instead of the usual long and wide framing, it was tall and narrow. I cropped the frame and applied a slight Pan & Scan effect to give the appearance that the camera is moving ever so slowly. I rendered the video at 720p. Crunch the numbers and you’ll know most of the original high resolution got lost in the wash. Nevertheless, if you choose the 720p playback settings, a fair amount of detail comes through, especially in the bees’ wings (though I wouldn’t play it back in full screen mode).
I realize there’s not much to see here. This is a test to see what kind of video quality I can get from my smart phone camera, which, out of convenience, has become my primary camera.
NOTE: This post doesn’t provide much information about queenless hives (or queenless colonies). It’s an inquiry into a specific hive that I suspected was queenless. That’s all.
Well, I think we may have our first queenless hive. Or something.
I checked our one foundationless Langstroth hive today for the first time this year and saw no sign of the queen. No worker brood of any kind. Just a lot of empty cells and plenty of honey on the sides. I saw about twenty or thirty open drone brood about to be capped and some older capped drone cells — possibly from a laying worker — but not much else. No fresh day-old eggs. No sealed worker brood. Nothing. Here’s a quick video of some of the broodless frames I found during the inspection:
Click the Read On link if you want to see something semi-gross.
Unless you’re reading this through the RSS feed. Then you have no choice.
Dry sugar feeding. Bees clustering extra high again. Possibly some dead drone pupae.
The bees were gathering pollen at a steady pace for a couple weeks in April. But then the weather turned into cold, wet snow and the forecast ain’t the greatest. Always the paranoid beekeeper, I decided to sprinkle some dry sugar around the inner cover holes today just in case the bees were running low on honey. (I’ll probably give them some pollen patties once the weather warms up a bit.) This is what I found under the hood of Hive #3:
They bees are clustering above the inner cover hole, attached to the top cover as if they’re trying to build comb upwards. It’s the same colony that built some big time burr comb under the insulated inner cover a few weeks ago. I don’t know it if it means they’re just trying to stay warm or if the queen wants to expand the brood nest upwards. Either way, I think the safest bet to reduce the chances of swarming is to reverse the brood boxes ASAP. That’s our plan the next time the sun comes out.
We reversed the brood chambers in Hive #2 today (our one foundationless hive). I was convinced the foundationless colony was only living in the top brood chamber and was running low on honey. But when we pulled the top box off, we saw just as many bees in the bottom box, at least on the top bars. I’m always concerned that reversing the boxes will split up the brood nest and kill off some baby bees, but in our urban environment, swarm prevention is always a top priority, even if it means chilling some baby bees to death. The photo on the right shows the hive after we reversed the boxes. (The third deep super on top is sheltering a jar feeder.) Reversing the boxes took maybe 10 minutes. It was a smooth operation, no smoke involved, and the bees were well behaved the whole time. Here’s how it went down:
I removed the top cover and inner cover. I could see bees covering at least 7 out of 10 frames. I couldn’t tell how much honey was left in the frames, but when I lifted the box off and put it aside, it was heavy. That’s when I noticed the bottom box full of bees too. I couldn’t tell if the brood nest was down in the bottom box, but when I lifted the box, it felt much lighter than the top box. The bottom board looked like this — some dead winter bees, pieces of old pollen patties and dried up sugar:
I put the bottom aside and replaced it with a clean bottom board. I could have just scraped off the mess, but I wanted to install our homemade combo bottom board. I really love the design of that thing. It’s so simple and cheap and I think it’ll work perfectly. I may paint the corrugated plastic floor with some wax so the bees can get a better grip on it, though at the moment, the bees in that hive hardly use the bottom entrance anyway.
We the put the boxes (or brood chambers or deep supers, whatever you want to call them) back on the bottom board but in the reverse order. The top box is on the bottom and bottom box is on the top. The lighter (and probably emptier) box on top helps prevent swarming as the brood nest expands upwards. It was too windy to do a full inspection. We didn’t pull a single frame. But maybe that’s a good thing.
ADDENDUM (April 02/14): Here’s a Gmail reminder that arrives in my Inbox on April 2nd every year: “Reverse the brood boxes as soon as the CROCUSES have bloomed or whenever the bees are bringing in pollen at a steady pace . This should happen by mid-April. DO NOT wait for the dandelions in May. By then the population in the hives could be through the roof and drone comb will fill the spaces between the boxes. Thus the frames in the bottom box — that are glued to the frames in the top box with drone comb — will come up when the top box is lifted. It’s a horrible disgusting mess when all that drone comb is split apart. Reverse the boxes before it gets like that. IF the between-the-boxes drone comb can’t be prevented, carefully and slowly twist the top box — to break apart the drone comb — before lifting it off. The other trick is to reverse the boxes (or deeps) by transferring the frames in the top box to a new bottom box right next to the hive and so on. That way you can reverse the boxes (which may or may not help prevent swarming), re-arrange frames if necessary, and get a full inspection in while you’re at it.”
Another book I read while stricken with the flu is Increase Essentials by Lawrence John Connor, a short and easy read that’s probably the definitive book on nucs — it’s comprehensive. It’s mainly about increasing hives by creating splits and nucleus colonies from established hives. Beginner beekeepers or backyard beekeepers who are happy with two or three hives don’t need to concern themselves with it. Laidback beekeepers who want to create nucs for themselves but don’t feel the need to earn a PhD while they’re at it can simply read Why every beekeeper should have a nuc at Honey Bee Suite. I didn’t read every single word of the book (I did some skimming), because I don’t need to know everything it covers just yet. But I do plan to expand our four hives to eight this summer, and continually expand every summer after that as I secure more land for our hives. That means I eventually need to learn the basics of creating nucs and rearing mated queens for the nucs. I’ll take on queen rearing next year. This year I’ll start with making my own nucs.
Most of the following notes (and there aren’t too many) address swarming and queen mating issues. To delve into the main details of the book would take too long. Suffice it to say there is a huge amount of information in this small book, and it all seems sound. I know I will constantly reference Increase Essentials when I decide to create mating nucs and expand our hives further next year.
We have four Langstroth hives in our backyard. Each hive consists of two deep supers (or boxes). Our plan is to expand up to a maximum of eight hives this year by splitting the hives we already have. We’re hoping the population of all four hives will explode to fill three deeps per hive by sometime in June, and if that happens, I think we might be able to reach our goal of eight hives and still get a half decent honey harvest from at least two of the hives. We’d be happy with that.
It should go without saying that our plan is likely to have little resemblance to what actually happens. The bees will not always do what we want them to do, and we’ll just have to deal with it. But beyond the basic notion of expanding up to eight hives, we’re not planning to do anything too complicated because things will get complicated enough on their own.