The Meanest Bees

June 2019 Introduction: If I found a hive with this much capped brood in the top box today, I’m pretty sure I’d steal some of the brood to boost up any weaker colonies. Do the math: 1 frame of capped brood = 3 frames of bees. I found 7 frames of capped brood, which adds up to 21 frames of new bees in a colony with only 20 frames. So the thing to do there is to make more room. Either expand the brood nest by adding another deep or load up some honey supers to give the exploding population something to do. I would normally never leave a hive split up like I do in this video, but the bees were so defensive, digging into my shoes and cuffs and everywhere else, I had to bounce before they got me good.

The hive in the video has been off by itself in the woods for more than a year because the colony has always been full of the meanest bees I’ve ever seen. I have added honey supers to the hive but I’ve never inspected the brood nest, never manipulated or disturbed it in any way. I finally decided to inspect the hive yesterday, by dismantling it and rebuilding it in a sunnier spot, because I noticed the bees filling the honey super with pollen and something about that just didn’t seem right. I found seven frames of solid capped brood in the top deep of the hive (I would expect the brood nest to be in the bottom at this time of year). I didn’t inspect the bottom deep because the bees got too riled up and one bee even got inside my veil (I squished it before it could sting me).

I returned today to inspect the final deep and add it to the hive in its new location. The first frame I inspected was empty and several woodlouse were crawling around the edges of the comb. I’ve noticed woodlouse (also known as carpenters in Newfoundland) inside most of my hives; I don’t know if they’re harmful. I was unwilling to inspect more than one frame because — I admit it — I was scared of the bees. They were constantly bouncing off my veil whenever I got close, obscuring my vision at times. A standard bee hat and veil, secured by cutting edge technology known as string, seem ridiculously inadequate under such circumstances. The open hive boiled over with bees, all of them aiming for my face.

It was unnerving. I probably would have been better off leaving the bees alone. What do I care if I have to deal with a few frames of pollen mixed in with the honey? I still don’t know exactly what’s going on with the bees in this hive. I’m interested but I’m not that interested. I wish them well.

Postscript: This is the only defensive colony I’ve experienced since I started beekeeping in 2010. It makes more honey than any of my other colonies. That’s the main reason I’ve never requeened it. If I still had my hives in the city, I would have requeened the colony immediately. All of my other bees are friendly and gentle, a real pleasure to be around most of the time.

6 thoughts on “The Meanest Bees

  1. When you go back in a week and the one box has made queen cells will you let it hatch/mate this late in the year or remove and recombine? I am asking because I made 3 splits 3 weeks ago and wondering if I made them to late in the season. They seam to have all hatched. just waiting on eggs/larva to confirm mated. I am located in the okanagan valley BC. Thanks for the video!

    • Irene, I didn’t wait a week. I went back the next day and put the hive back together, but with the main brood nest on the bottom and the top deep more or less empty — basically reversing the hive. Then I added two recently extracted honey supers.

      Which means I can’t answer your question.

      However, I had some queens emerge from swarm cells and mate a few weeks ago (I think it was a few weeks ago, not long ago anyway), and although the queens are laying well, I’m not confident the brood nest will be big enough to go into winter and survive. So I plan to use them to requeen some colonies with older queens before winter. That process involves killing or removing the old queen and then adding the new queen with her brood and other bees using the newspaper combine method. If that makes sense.

  2. Irene feed the splits with some 1:1 syrup. That and some good weather you haave that should encourage rhe queens to fly. also you will probably need to feed 1:1 into the fall encourage egg laying. In early october or when temps consistant around 10°C begin feeding 2:1 to build reserve carbs for winter.

    Also later in the fall yoy coyld olace thpse nucs on a double deep to help thrpigh winter

    Good luck. I have had nucs overwinter this late in the season that mated this time of year. The trick is the critical mass to make it through the winter and reserves.

    • The new location where I keep my hives, going into my second winter now, may be the dampest place I’ve kept bees. The bees did well this past summer, but when the sun isn’t shining on the hives, it’s usually foggy and damp. My hives got soaked last winter until I installed moisture quilts.

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