And Then There Were Six? Maybe!

As of today, we have five queenright colonies, and a sixth full of brood, larvae, nurse bees, and hopefully some eggs.

If you recall, we went into the winter looking like this.

We didn’t hold out much hope the little hive in the middle on the left would survive. We discovered too late that they were failing, which we put down to a weird bottom board I’d won that didn’t seal properly and ended up trapping a ton of bees between it and the screen. Whether it was that or something else, we were right, and they didn’t even make it through December.

Coming into late winter and early spring, it was clear we had three quite strong hives (the two big ones in foam on the left and the one on the far right), one sort of okay hive (the brown one wrapped in black), and one that was struggling a bit (the third one from the right).

But, when we were finally able to peek inside, all five had survived and had brood, with the weakest in no worse shape than our very first hive after winter.

The Engineer has now labeled the hives 1-5 (left to right), and on Sunday, we checked #1 and #5, and stole a frame with some brood to give to the weak hive, #3.

After discussing it, we decided to take that hive down to a five-frame nuc box to give them less space to have to guard.

That was the first task for today, and although we didn’t spot the queen, there was brood in addition to the frame we’d added. Hopefully the queen is still viable.

We’ll continue feeding it with pollen patties (just small bits, otherwise they become hive beetle havens) and start with sugar water, HoneyBHealthy, and Amino B Booster. In a week or two, we’ll reevaluate.

We used the Amino B Booster last year, and I’m not sure if it was that or just a good year, but our hives seemed to really take off.

In fact, we’re going to put food on all of them for a few weeks, just for an added boost.

Next, we got into #4, which was the hive I had mentally given three points out of five. It turned out to have quite a lot of dead bees. However, there was also a thriving population of live ones.

And I spotted the queen! In fact, I spotted the mother bees in four out of five of the hives, making it possible for The Engineer to catch each in our queen clip. In doing so, we were able to manipulate the boxes to better suit the needs of the colonies.

Here is probably a good place to explain that when I’ve been talking about checking the hives these last few blogs, you should also know this involved swapping the bottom boards for clean ones (followed by cleaning the old ones to swap for another dirty one), pulling old or moldy frames, and rearranging the frames so the queens can more easily reach open comb to lay eggs. In some cases, we moved the box with the brood to the bottom so the bees can move up into free space.

Anyway, when we finished with #4, there were still a lot of bees in the honey super, so we put in an escape board. I wrote in this post about how they work, but basically, it makes it easy for the bees to go back down into the brood nest at night, but difficult for them to come back up. Unfortunately, if left on too long, those smart insects figure it out, and you’re back to square one.

This means tomorrow, in between several appointments scattered throughout the day, we have to go into that hive and take off both super and escape board. And we need to add some kind of feeder to each of the six hives.

But today, last up was hive #2. It was loaded with brood, frames just packed with capped cells, including drone brood, and with the added attraction of multiple queen cups on the bottom of one frame.

Now, we don’t normally worry overmuch about queen cups. Our bees seem to like to always have one or two on hand. But coupled with the amount of brood, the drone brood, and the fact that we had already found the queen and put her in a clip, well, it just made sense to go ahead and do a split today instead of letting them get even more crowded and doing it in a week or two.

Next week is supposed to be a little cooler, and by the time the really warm weather returns, that hive would likely be just raring to go out and swarm.

We moved Mother Bee and a full frame of brood to the left a bit, keeping it as hive #2, then moved most of the rest of the brood including the nurse bees into a new box next door and calling it #2A.

A lot of people insist you need to move the new hive miles away or put some kind of blockage in front to force the bees to re-orient to their new home. We did the blockage thing the first time we split, but then a fellow beekeeper told us he never bothered because nurse bees haven’t been out of the hive, so they didn’t need to re-orient, and by the time they go on to be foragers, they’ll orient to the “new” hive.

In this case, the returning foragers will come back to 2A because it’s in the original spot. However, because the queen is in #2, we would expect the bees in that box to stay with her. Also, the nurse bees on the frame we left with her should also stay.

She seems to be such a strong queen; I would expect her to replace the removed bees in no time at all.

Of course, we’ll keep an eye on that hive, as well, while crossing our fingers that 2A successfully rears a queen who is able to successfully mate and begin laying.

It’s a long process — sixteen days from egg to hatched queen and anywhere from twelve to seventeen before she starts laying.

We generally give splits a month during which we don’t go into the boxes except to add food. After a month, we’ll have a look for brood. If it’s there, we celebrate. If not, we add a frame with eggs from another hive and start again.

Another alternative would be to buy a mated queen. This can be instead of allowing your girls to raise one or in the event they aren’t successful, and you don’t want to wait any longer.

Lest you think we can now rest on our laurels, I must remind you that #1 will need split soon also. Although the mother bee in that hive wasn’t laying quite as quickly as #2, she was going strong and had started laying drone eggs. That colony will need to be split in the next few weeks, and #4 and #5 may also need split sometime after, depending how they take off.

I think the best we can hope for #3 is that it will regain its strength and become a strong hive once again.

We also need to get the Long Langstroth hive outside and level, ready to take one of the splits so we can begin our adventures in horizontal hive beekeeping.

The next few weeks will be busy ones for all us beekeepers!

And then there were six? We can only wait and see.

5 thoughts on “And Then There Were Six? Maybe!

    • It’s a lot. Today we scraped and pressure washed old frames and foundation. It used to be people loved having old foundation with dark wax on it. These days, however, they’ve found comb accumulates pesticides and things, and those smart bees get to the point they won’t use it. So, we try to rotate out the frames, scrape them off, pressure wash, and “paint” with beeswax to encourage the bees to start building comb on them again. We also went into two hives we knew were getting full. Both will need to be split or thinned somehow in the next week or so. When the weather goes bad, they get stuck inside, and then are really ready to swarm as soon as it warms again. We want to try to prevent that.

      Tomorrow, we’re planning on moving the new long hive outside in preparation for moving in one of the splits.

      If we weren’t both retired, we never would have increased to more than six hives because it can be very time consuming. I don’t know how people manage big apiaries!


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