Swarm Cells

Here are two swarm cells, two of a dozen or so that we found in one of our hives about five days ago.

The swarm cells were found at the bottom edge of the frames in the top box of the hive. We found a similar scene in another hive a day later and took some swarm prevention measures that I’ll describe in detail as soon as I have the time. Many momentous events have occurred. Changes are on the way.

31°C / 88°F. In Newfoundland!

3:13pm. May 22, 2012. St. John’s, Newfoundland. Temperature: 31°C. Check it out:

I had to post the photo because otherwise no one would ever believe me.

Updates: It went up to 31.1°C while I was writing this. 3:56pm update: 31.6°C. 4:25pm update: 31.9°C. 6:40pm update: It’s 25°C. The digital thermometer may have reached 32°C around 5 o’clock, but I was too busy painting hive boxes too check. The bees were out in full force from 10am to just about now. I added ventilation rims to all the hives and what passes for a screened inner cover to Hive #1, our three-deep hive that’s literally busting through the roof with bees. Today was a good day to be a honey bee in St. John’s.

Epinephrine for Beekeepers

I picked up two shots of Epinephrine today in case I, or someone near our honey bees, has an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. I don’t want anyone dying on my watch.

It’s called an EpiPen.

Basically it’s a shot of adrenalin. Remember Uma Thurman’s shot to the heart in Pulp Fiction? Not exactly the same thing, but close enough. It’s for emergencies.

I had to get a prescription for the EpiPen from my family doctor. I explained that I keep bees in my backyard and I’d like to have Epinephrine on hand just to be safe. My doctor asked me if I had any known allergies. I said no. She checked my medical file and wrote me the prescription.
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A Queenless Hive?

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:

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Hive Cam

Today, just for fun, I stuck the camera underneath our foundationless hive while it temporarily had only a screened bottom board. We’re concerned about our foundationless hive because we don’t see nearly as many bees coming and going from it as we do from our other three hives. Perhaps the two-year-old queen is failing. Perhaps it’s normal behaviour for a foundationless hive. Whatever the case may be, our foundationless hive will be the first hive we inspect once we have a good day for it. Here’s what the camera saw (it’s a 51-second video):

Comparing Hives

It’s 2pm and 20°C (70°F) in our backyard as I write this. A cool breeze but sunny. Three of our four hives are active and looking good. Hey, let’s go take a look:

Hives 3 and 4 were started from nucs last year and are doing well. Hive #1 is one of our original hives from 2010. It’s our most fully established hive. It was overflowing with so many bees that we had to add a second brood box to it a couple days ago. It shows no signs of slowing down.

Hive #2 — our foundationless hive — has also been around since 2010 and it still has its original queen. Some beekeepers say queens hit their stride when they’re two years old. Others say to requeen every year no matter what because young queens lay better and have the strongest pheromones (less chance of swarming). The reduced activity in the foundationless hive could mean the queen is failing: Her pheromones could be weak; she may not be laying well. It could mean a lot of things. I won’t know until I can do a full inspection, which probably won’t be until next week. I wonder what I’ll find…? Probably nothing.

It’s 21.5°C. It probably won’t be this warm again until July.
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Checkerboarding with Fat Bee Man

I don’t usually post videos that aren’t my own, but this video from Fat Bee Man works well as a follow-up to yesterday’s long winded post about our first checkerboarded hive. Fat Bee Man says, “When the bees get full [i.e., when the hive gets full], they do what’s natural. They’re going to multiply, so they subdivide.” That is, the crowded colony produces queen cells in preparation for swarming. And then they swarm. Adding empty frames between every other frame gives them something else to do.

Fat Bee Man’s version of checkerboarding completely splits up the brood nest. He can get away with that in a warm place like Georgia. Cold-climate beekeepers may want to stick to checkerboarding only honey frames.

The video is also full of excellent hive inspection tips for beginners. How to smoke the bees gently, how to spot real queen cells — all kinds of good stuff. Note that Fat Bee Man doesn’t wear any protective clothing. Do not try that at home. He’s apparently bred a strain of stingless bee. That’s almost too good to be true.


This is a long boring post that most first-year beekeepers can skip. You can also skip it if you can interpret the diagram below. That tells you everything you need to know. If your hives are exploding with bees, though, well…

I checkerboarded a hive for the first time yesterday. It wasn’t planned and I didn’t have my camera with me, but I whipped up a nifty little diagram to illustrate what I did — and I’m not saying what I did is right. But anyhow… I reversed the brood boxes on one of our hives (Hive #1) last week and didn’t have time to scrape off the bridge comb / burr comb that had built up on the frames over the winter. Unlike the last brood box reversal, all I did was exchange the positions of the boxes. I didn’t touch the frames. So yesterday during a brief hot spell (17°C), I decided to pull the frames, clean them up and inspect the hive while I was at it. Well, in my 661 days of beekeeping, I’d never witnessed so many bees packed into one hive, and most of the foragers weren’t even home.

The frames in the bottom box were full of brood and pollen and some honey — and drone cells packed into every crevice. The frames in the top box had some brood in the middle, but most of the frames were being backed-filled with nectar on the way to becoming honey — thus reducing space for the queen to lay. So that was it: I decided to checkerboard the hive right then and there. Otherwise the queen could become honeybound and trigger a swarm — I mean a splinter colony — and that probably wouldn’t go over well with my neighbours. So here’s what I did if you can figure it out:

H = honey / nectar frames (mostly uncapped).

B = brood frames (and some pollen).

F = foundation (empty).

D = drawn comb (empty).
Note: Imagine the frames in the box below this one packed with brood.

See How to checkerboard a hive from Honey Bee Suite for an explanation of checkerboarding.
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Reversing Brood Boxes (Video)

I performed the first full hive inspection of the year yesterday. I also reversed the brood boxes while I was at it. Next year I plan to reverse the boxes shortly after the bees start hauling in pollen from the crocuses (instead of waiting until the dandelions bloom). Whether from dandelions or crocuses, if the bees bring in pollen at a steady pace for about a week, that’s my cue to reverse the brood boxes. Had I reversed them a few weeks ago, I might have been able to avoid the disgusting mess of scraping off drone comb between the frames of the top and bottom boxes. I could have avoided splitting up the brood nest too. Check out Honey Bee Suite for more info on reversing boxes.

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