I got an email from a first-year beekeeper today asking if she should reverse the brood boxes of her hive before winter. Assuming she’s working with the standard configuration of a Langstroth hive (two deep supers for the brood chamber), I said no, that I have no idea why anyone would reverse the brood boxes before winter.

The bees usually cluster close to the bottom of the hive as the weather turns cold in the fall. They gradually move up to the top of the hive throughout the winter as they eat through their winter stores of honey. Some beekeepers reverse the brood boxes (the deep supers) in the spring in an effort prevent swarming. That means the top deep, containing the brood nest that has worked its way into the top of the hive over the winter, is moved to the bottom of the hive, and the deep that used to be on the bottom, and is now empty of bees and honey, is placed on top, above the brood nest. The empty comb in the new top deep above the brood nest supposedly, in theory, more or less, or so we’re told, frees up space for the queen to lay and thus reduces the likelihood of swarming.

But that ain’t necessarily so. Just because the bees spend the winter moving to the top of the hive doesn’t mean they don’t have enough sense in the spring to move back to the bottom where there’s plenty of room for the queen to lay and for the workers to start making honey. That’s what natural colonies living in a hollow tree do. That’s what colonies living in Warré hives usually do. And I’ve heard from numerous beekeepers who say colonies living in Langstroth hives are no different and that reversing the brood boxes in the spring does little to prevent swarming. I can’t argue with that because in the three years that I’ve been reversing my brood boxes, I’ve had exactly 50% of those colonies swarm on me.

Most of my swarms have occurred for one reason: Neglect. That and my own idealism. I don’t buy into the “let the bees be bees” mantra, but I probably still hold on to a few idealistic notions when the cold hard facts would serve me much better. (I doubt I’m the first beekeeper to be defeated by their idealism. Nothing is more idealized than beekeeping.) Ideally, I don’t like to disturb the brood nest if I don’t have to. But I’ve learned through experience that the bees prepare for swarming in my area around the month of May, give or take a week or two — and THAT is when I shouldn’t hesitate to disturb the brood nest if I have to. That’s when I should check for swarm cells. That’s when I might try some checkerboarding. That’s when I should add empty comb to the brood nest to give the queen immediate space for laying, or empty frames to give the worker bees something else to do other than prepare for swarming. With the right timing, it’s not too difficult to reduce the chances of swarming. But I’m not sure reversing the brood chamber is the answer.

However, for me at least, it’s not a bad place to start because it gives me a chance to do the year’s first (and only) full inspection of the colony, and it makes most of the subsequent inspections of the year much easier and less invasive. Allow me to elaborate…
Read on . . . »

July 22nd, 2014

The bees in one of my hives are making the thickest combs of honey I’ve ever seen.

I usually put 10 frames in a honey super, but I had to knock that down to 8 frames just to make room for the ridiculously thick honey comb these bees are building.
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I was surprised to find honey supers full of nectar today. In two of my colonies, every frame in the honey supers was a variation of this (click the photo for a better view of the glistening nectar):

The brutally cold winter and spring of 2014 killed off two of my colonies and came close to snuffing out the rest. When I added honey supers (that is, medium supers full of drawn comb) to my four surviving colonies a while back, I had no hope that they would begin to make honey any time soon. The last time I checked about a month ago, there were hardly any bees in the hives and not much capped brood either. The situation looked grim. But I guess a lot can happen in a month.
Read on . . . »

June 15th, 2014

I tried using the video camera on my cell to inspect one of my hives — and it worked.


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April 25th, 2014

This is me reversing the brood chambers on an early spring honey bee hive to prevent swarming. But really it’s an excuse to do the first full hive inspection of the year and give the bees some honey.

P.S.: This video has been post-dated to April 25/14. It was originally recorded when Mud Songs was closed.

March 29th, 2013

One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos and Why My Honey Bees Died for more details.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.

Dead cluster on a frame near the brood nest. (March 10, 2013.)

But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had.
Read on . . . »

I discovered one of my honey bee colonies dead about a month ago. (See A Winter-Die Off and this video for the details.) My guess was the colony starved to death because it didn’t have enough honey. Judging from what I saw during the post mortem examination I did today, I was right.

Starved out / dead bees in honey cells. (March 10, 2013.)

P.S.: I would have had a more detailed post with photos and a video uploaded by now, but I just spent the last three hours trying to get my Picasa web albums to display photos like it always has for me. I had a simple, streamlined method of posting photos through Picasa that’s worked perfectly for years. But a recent effort by Google to integrate photos into Google Plus (their version of Facebook) has messed up the whole thing. I don’t like Facebook but I do like Google Plus, so it’s too bad they had to blow it. Anyway, I’ve managed to get to everything back to normal, but I don’t know how I did it and I don’t feel like wasting anymore time on it. I have little patience for constant upgrades that usually fix things that aren’t even broke. I might post a video next weekend when I’m in a better mood. In the meantime, here’s a slide show of what I found:
Read on . . . »

February 6th, 2013

A BRIEF POSTSCRIPT WAS ADDED ON FEB. 08/13.

The fount of beekeeping wisdom that is Mud Songs will dry up someday. I give it another two years, tops. I’m already running out of original material. Exhibit A: Here’s a long video of my visit last weekend to the six hives we have on a farm about 30 minutes from our house in the city. It’s more or less a repeat of my Mountain Camp video.

Here’s a break-down of what the video has to offer:
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February 4th, 2013

It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.

I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of our hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes.
Read on . . . »

August 22nd, 2012

I’m still on vacation from the internet, but here’s a quick video we shot last week showing some baby bees emerging, chewing their way out of their brood cells:


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