Split Shifts

Honestly, I don’t know how people who have large apiaries do it, especially those who do it as a side hustle. I suppose the more hives you have, the less you fret over each. That’s certainly been the case with us. I mean, we fret in the sense that we try to do what’s best for them, but I think we’re a little calmer about the possibility of things going wrong.

Thankfully, we seem to have settled with six colonies, at least for the time being. Still, we’ve had to split our hive checks into two days. It’s just too hard to go through six hives in one go. Hence the double wordplay in the title — it’s split shifts because our bee duties have been split into two shifts, and split shifts because four of the eight hives we’ve had this year were the result of splits.

Today, we checked 1A, 1, 2, and 2B.

1A was split from 1, taking the original queen with it. It’s our only eight-frame hive, and it’s pretty packed. If any of our hives is a candidate for swarming, it’s this one. The fact that there were eight or ten queen cups on the bottom of a couple of frames would lend weight to this possibility. With the discovery of eggs in several of those cups (turning them into queen cells), a swarm becomes even more likely.

Since we also saw the queen — and she was clearly laying well — we’d normally split the hive, but frankly, we’re running out of room and supplies, despite having spent about $400 on wooden ware in the last month.

Instead, we took out that brood-laden, multi-queen cell/cup frame to move to another hive and added another honey super because the first one is full of capped and uncapped honey and nectar.

They may still swarm, but we bought Swarm Commander to spray on the little bushes the last swarm picked. According to several people who should know, if you spray a little on a cotton ball and attach it where you want swarms to land, they’ll go there.

Apparently, nothing else does the job quite as well. I sure hope they’re right because it’s $35.95 for a 2 ounce bottle!

We moved on to 1, last checked on 20 May. There was a queen present on 11 May, but no larvae, eggs, or evidence she was laying. When we looked on the 20th, we didn’t see any either, so we’d given them a frame of eggs to make a queen if they needed one. Now, we’re questioning if we bothered to look in the super because today we did, and there was brood, eggs, and larvae. We didn’t see the queen, so we took out the queen excluder, hoping she’ll move downstairs where there’s more room.

There was also lots of honey in the supers, so we swapped two fully capped frames for some empties.

So, the good news is the hive is queen right and they’re making honey. The bad news is she’s been laying in the wrong place.

On the other hand, some beekeepers swear the bees make more honey if there’s no queen excluder to hinder their work, and I’ve kind of wanted to see if this is true.

Maybe this is our chance to find out.

One worker, who apparently took offense at our presence, stung me through my glove. I can’t blame her for being cranky. It was a hot day (mid 80s), and the hive was crowded, especially upstairs in the “nursery.” It hurt a bit, but the stinger scarcely penetrated the glove. Of course, the bee’s crankiness cost her a lot more.

There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere … something about a person’s bad temper causing them more pain than it does others maybe?

Next, we came to #2, the one where we watched the queen emerge. When we last peeked inside, we saw the queen — who was nice and big and therefore clearly mated — but no evidence she’d started laying.

We went through the bottom box … and found lots of pollen, nectar, and honey, as well as some comb they were drawing.

Thinking something had happened to the queen, we put the brood-laden frame with queen cells in the box.

I love the pattern made by the varied colors of the pollen.

It wasn’t until we reached the top deep box that we found what we were looking for — brood, eggs, and larvae, followed by a spotting of the queen.

Can you spot her?

I’ll make it a little easier for you. Here’s a couple with The Engineer’s hive tool pointing at Her Loveliness.

Are you ready for a challenge? See if you can find her below!

I’ve circled her. Did you spot her?

So, what will happen to the queen cells from the other hive? Our hope is if the bees are happy with their queen — and they have no reason not to be — they’ll ignore those eggs and let nature take its course.

Still, who knows what goes through their tiny little brains?

Last up was 2B, the hive from the swarm. We have a board with mason jars acting as a honey super for this hive, in the hope they will make comb in a jar for us.

So far, all that’s happened is the comb “starter strips” keep falling down, and the jars have gotten moisture in them, which we’ve tried to alleviate by adding a couple of sticks beneath the board and an inner cover with a front entrance to allow more circulation.

Since we had to do some repair work on the starter strips, we decided we might as well check that hive too.

We spotted the queen, as well as some larvae, eggs, and brood, and the bees have been making comb.

However, they still have three empty frames in their living quarters, which explains why they’re not interested in making comb in jars.

When we took the jars off to repair their strips, we discovered the ants had moved in. We’ve been ignoring ants around the hives ever since we learned they produce formic acid (the same stuff we use to get rid of the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites). Still, nesting in our experimental comb honey jars before the bees even got in them was pushing it too far, so we used the old cinnamon trick to discourage them.

In writing this just now, I’ve had the idea that perhaps we should steal some brood from the crowded hives, say 1 or 1A, and put it in this one to give them a little boost. I’ll have to discuss that idea with The Engineer to see if he agrees.

In summary, today we checked four hives and either saw queens or evidence one had been busy laying in all of the colonies.

Later this week, we will check 3A and 3B. 3A should have a queen because when we split the hive, we moved her into that colony. 3B is the tall nuc, which may or may not have a queen yet. If they do, she’s probably not started laying.

After that, hopefully sometime next week, we’ll treat the hives, probably with Formic Pro since most of them have brood.

Welcome to the OH Honey Apiary!

From left to right, we 1A and 1 (checked today and currently sporting heavy beards), 2 (also checked today), 3B (tall, skinny pink nuc we will check later in the week), 3 (on picnic table), empty nuc box (in case a hive wants another option to swarm to), 2B (swarm hive with comb honey setup).

Other than that, we’ve enjoyed seeing Tears for Fears and Garbage (a Christmas gift from Darling Daughter) at a nearby venue. We were very grateful DD sprang for pavilion seats (for us oldies) because it poured buckets as soon as we got out of the car.

I’ve exited the shower drier than I was when we got to our seats. Fortunately, it was warm so it didn’t spoil the evening.

Two days later, we went camping for four nights where we dined on such delicacies as pie iron samosas.

Once again, we snagged a site by the river, so fell asleep to the rippling of the water.

It was delightful.

Although we left the kayak at home (we were driving to Columbus and didn’t want to leave it in a hotel parking lot overnight), we hoped to rent one for a days paddling. Unfortunately, the river was too high, so we spent two days cycling a nearby rail-trail

Near one of the trailheads, there’s a grass strip. We paused a moment to envy the pilot who was using it.

It’s a nice bike path. I recommend it if you’re ever near Mansfield, Ohio.

After camping, we threw all our gear into the van and went to Columbus. There, we ate gyros with Darling Daughter and Partner. It was so pleasant to see them again … and to enjoy dining in their screened-in porch.

We were in town to see the Beach Boys, who were performing a free concert at Columbus Commons, (another outdoor venue, but one without pavilion seats). Disappointingly, a major storm came through just as the gates were supposed to open. Because it was significantly cooler than the previous concert night, and we’d already had our outdoor shower for the week, we decided to skip the concert.

Instead we enjoyed the novelty of a bed that wasn’t the ground and food that hadn’t been cooked outside.

It rained all night, so this decision turned out to be the right one, at least for us.

On the way home, we were passed two R-Vs. Both had unusual spare wheel covers, although I was only able to capture a picture of one.

In our twenty-four hours at home, we managed to get the camping gear unpacked, although not re-packed, and The Engineer cleaned the van. I got in a fast visit to my mom, did the laundry and made a dish for the Memorial Day picnic we were attending.

I made this super-easy and delicious cinnamon cheesecake. I’ve seen a similar recipe made with lemon, which I’ll try sometime, but I don’t usually have lemons on hand, so it will wait until we’re not quite so busy.

The picnic was yesterday (another hotel night — thank heaven for The Engineer’s points from all his nights away before retirement), with lots of delicious food and good company.

Thankfully, this week we have no plans that involve overnights away because, in addition to bee work, we want to try out the kayak on our local lake, get some house work done, and prepare for our garage sale.

I’m looking forward to having two days with nowhere to go but inside a garage full of our cleared out stuff!

Minus One, Plus One

Well, I’m not going to bore you with the details, but when we inspected Hive 2A (the split from #2), we discovered it had the original queen. This was the hive where we ended up doing a “walkaway split” by putting frames with eggs in both the original box and the split and leaving them to it. We did this because when we went through the original box, we didn’t see the queen.

Having found the original queen, we took the hive down to one box and called our friend MJ to take it for the nuc we promised her.

We also have another friend coming on Sunday for a nuc, which would take us down to five hives, but after MJ took hers, we were temporarily at six.

Today, we inspected the hives with new queens to see if there were eggs. When we finished, our apiary looked like this.

Yes, we have seven hives.
Again.

You see, we looked inside Hive #1 (second from the left), which we last left nine days ago with a new queen. Today, we found no queen, no eggs, and no larvae. Either she didn’t mate successfully, the bees didn’t like her and killed her, or she just hasn’t started laying and we missed her.

Any of these possibilities is as likely as the rest.

We stole a frame with eggs from 1A to put in. If they are queenless, they can make a new queen. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Having a break in eggs hatching might be a good thing for that hive anyway. They are still very full.

Then we looked in Hive #2 — the hive where we watched a queen emerge. We didn’t see any eggs there either, but we did see the queen. She is gorgeously big, which should signify she’s mated successfully and just hasn’t started laying. So fingers crossed for that one too.

Last, we opened Hive #3. It was full of brood and bees, likely from the eggs and larvae that were in it when we last checked. But we didn’t see a queen or eggs, and it was full(!) of queen cells. Like, maybe 25 of them?

So, clearly if they have a queen, they’re not happy with her. And why would they be if she’s not laying?

The question was what should we do with all those bees, brood and queen cells? If we did nothing, we would almost certainly end up with another swarm on our hands.

The logical solution was to split the hive (again), putting brood and queen cells in both, along with honey, pollen, and nectar for food.

The only problem is, we’re now back up to seven hives, and will only go down to six instead of five when we give away the split.

In the end, I expect this situation will resolve itself because I find it hard to imagine we’ll have six hives going into winter.

The problem is we’ve been waiting to treat the hives because I’ve heard it’s pointless to treat only part of an apiary because bees do sometimes “drift” into neighboring hives and can take those nasty Varroa Mites with them. I’ve also heard it’s not good to treat when they are in the delicate process of making and/or accepting new queens because the smell of the Oxalic or Formic Acid can mask the queen’s pheromones.

Unfortunately, we are stuck playing the waiting game. In a week or ten days, we will check the hives again, but I’ve given up trying to predict what we’ll find. We may have to just treat them no matter what state they’re in. This is the time of year when Varroa can really take off, but you sometimes don’t see the problem until August when it’s too late to do anything about it.

In other news, we went to Michigan for a concert and came home with a tandem kayak.

This is not quite as impetuous as it sounds. Because we enjoy canoeing and kayaking, we’ve been considering making such a purchase for several years. We just didn’t plan on acting on the idea this week!

However, we were cycling on a riverside path in Ann Arbor, and the people in the water looked like they were having so much fun! We discussed the idea again, and when we got back to our motel room, I looked at the REI website because I have a 20% off coupon for their yearly anniversary sale.

The ones we liked were a little more than we wanted to spend, so I looked on Craigslist. Lo and behold, twenty minutes away there was this beauty being offered complete with life jackets, paddles, and scupper plugs for what seemed quite a reasonable price.

We made an appointment to see it, found there was an REI store within two miles of our hotel, and bought what we needed to strap it to our luggage rack.

It was as good as it looked online, and the deal was struck.

Yesterday, we drove to the Watercraft Agent and registered it.

I can hardly wait to get it on the water!

Lots of Queens

When we called our friend, MJ and told her we had a swarm if she wanted it, she was so happy. We were too because we knew she was anxious to get another colony started.

So, The Engineer carefully shut the openings and put mesh over the vents on our plastic nuc box for transporting.

This morning MJ came over to pick it up.

We gently loaded the box into her car, careful not to jostle its contents, and MJ drove away.

About twenty minutes later, I got a phone call.

“It’s a good thing I was so careful driving and carrying that nuc box,” MJ said. “When I opened it, there were three bees inside.”

What the heck?! Sometime yesterday, those crazy girls must have returned to their original home!

We recently learned this happens sometime and usually means the workers left without a queen. Oops!

On a positive note, we have hope that at least one or two of our three splits will soon have a viable queen so MJ can take it as a nuc.

Meanwhile, in an effort at preventing any more swarms from that hive, we did a complete check, intending to remove all queen cells except the two biggest.

There were many, some open and some closed.

And then, The Engineer noticed this!

A queen was emerging from her cell!
It’s a very in and out process!

You can watch video of it here. Because it takes a while, I also did a time-lapse video, which sped up the action so much you can hardly see what’s going on. 😦

When the new queen was fully emerged and had scampered on her way, we moved on to Hive #3, the one we planned to split on Monday.

Now, we generally cover open boxes with a towel when we’re not working on them, and today when I lifted the towel on the second box, I spotted the queen … who promptly flew away.

$#@%&! Had we lost the queen forever?

All we could do was make sure both the split we were making and the original hive had eggs to make a new one.

But, then we found another queen, larger than the one I saw. So, she was probably the original queen. We put her in the split.

There weren’t any queen cells, and the many queen cups we saw last week hadn’t developed further, but maybe we missed one that resulted in the flying queen. The bees would have to make a new queen from an egg.

Hive #1 has been looking crowded, with a lot of bearding (as you can see in yesterday’s blog), which is weird because when we split it, we put the queen in the split. This means they don’t yet have a laying queen. We weren’t even going to check for one until nearer the end of the month, but it seemed so full, we decided to put on an extra honey super to allow bees a little more room.

This group of bees were clustered on the inside of the telescoping (outside) lid. To me, they looked like they were saying, “I’m not going out there! You go!”

When we looked inside, we were surprised to see a queen! She also had to be quite newly emerged because there were no eggs, no larvae , and only capped brood. Since we split on 22 April, this makes sense. It takes about sixteen days for a queen to develop, and another week or two to really start laying well. It’s only been about twenty-eight days.

Evidently, we must have left in quite a lot of eggs and larvae when we split because the hive is bursting at the seams. When she begins to lay, we will need to get on a second brood box posthaste!

We also found a queen cell on a frame in the honey super, which we set aside to put in the now queenless Hive #3.

So, after we closed up Hive #1, we moved back to Hive #3, opened it, and went to put the queen cell inside, only now there was also a queen on the frame. Perhaps the one that flew off?

The OH Honey Apiary

Now, we have (left to right) Hive #1A (laying queen, split from Hive #1), a very crowded Hive #1 (new queen, needs another brood box very soon), Hive #2A (tall nuc split from Hive #2), Hive #2 (aka the “swarmed hive,” newly hatched queen and queen cell), Hive #3 (freshly split with queen and a queen cell), Hive #3A (laying queen, split from Hive #3), Hive #2B (swarmed from Hive #2, probably has a queen).

With Hive #2B, we are attempting to get the bees to make comb in a jar. It’s supposed to be difficult to get the bees to start building comb on a glass surface, but it sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a shot.

All the hives with new queens (#2B, #3, #2, and #1) will need to be checked to for eggs in a week or so. If there are eggs, the hive is “queen right.” If there aren’t, we give it another week, and then it will need another queen from somewhere.

Since we really don’t want seven hives, we hope to be able to give a queen right hive to MJ and possibly another acquaintance as well.

What an exciting couple of days in the bee yard!

Her Egg-cellency

Being retired means not having to check all our hives in one afternoon, which sometimes felt like a marathon. Also, we only know the location of two queens, which means there are only two hives we are willing to disturb by doing a full hive check.

This is because we didn’t spot the queen in one of the hives we split last week, so we don’t know which of the resulting colonies is queen right and which is (hopefully) making a new queen. Erring on the side of caution, we’ll leave both alone.

Thus, our beekeeping duties felt light this week. We looked through one hive on Friday and one today.

I should admit right now I’ve given up on trying to think of clever names for our hives. With all the combinations and splits and iterations of colonies in our beeyard, it’s become impossible to keep up the practice.

For lack of a better idea, we’ve begun referring to them as “The Palace,” or “The Eight Frame,” “The Palace split,” “The Nuc,” “The Hive 2nd from the Right,” and “The Hive on the Right.”

Catchy, right? But, together, they form the OH Honey Apiary.

As you can see, graphic design is not my forte.

Anyway, The Palace was up first, called that because it’s our new eight-frame hive, freshly painted and beautiful. It’s the one on the left.

We’ve been feeding this hive because, although it has the queen, it is to the left of the location of the original hive. When you split a hive, the foragers tend to return to the original location, and we wanted to be sure The Palace had plenty of food to tide them over until new brood was reared to replace the nurse bees who then would become foragers.

It’s true they used much of the food provided, but we also noticed foragers returning to this hive almost immediately. Through the week, the number increased, and we decided they would be fine without the supplemental food.

We removed the jar, which was housed in the top two boxes, and left one super filled with frames for them to use for honey storage. Two of those frames were the ones we removed last week because they were filled with drone brood. In theory, the workers should clean out those cells and use them for honey.

That’s what we hope, anyway.

Also, since we (The Engineer) spotted the queen on another frame, we were able to move the final super frame with brood up into the super box. There, the workers can care for the brood, but the queen excluder will keep the queen from laying any more eggs in the honey super.

No bees aren’t usually quite that fuzzy. It’s my less than stellar camerawork. (And if you think this is bad, you should see the video I took of the queen — about 2 seconds of her back and then a quick upside-down view of our yard culminating in about 10 seconds of my finger).

The girls had made some beautiful comb on the bottom of that last super frame, which we scraped off.

Comb is a marvel of engineering, I think.

We removed the comb because the last time we tried to save comb our bees made, they used it for drone brood, which is a magnet for Varroa. So, it’s not that we don’t want drones. We just don’t want a whole hive full because that would mean we likely had a whole hive full of Varroa as well.

Sadly, this piece of comb also some new eggs in it as well (which you might see if you look closely).

At least now that hive is set up with the queen downstairs where she has space to lay eggs that won’t be all drones.

We hope.

There’s a lot of hoping involved in beekeeping.

Today, we inspected the hive we considered the weakest of the three that made it through the winter and were pleasantly surprised.

It was full of bees, brood, larvae, and eggs!

And I spotted the queen!

Here she is. At least here’s her abdomen: Queen bees move around very quickly laying eggs, and it can be hard to get a good photo.

Can you see her?

I’ll make it easier for you.

We also noticed a lot of queen cups, many of them clustered together.

This frame had six, all near the bottom of it, which may or may not mean they’re preparing to swarm. I kind of think they are because, although our bees always seem to like to have a queen cup or two around, they generally don’t have this many together on the bottom of a frame.

Consequently, we’ll be checking this have again in five or so days and splitting if these cups become full-fledged queen cells.

If you’re not sure of the difference, go here. There are several pictures of queen cells in the post where I explain how we learned the hard way why it’s a bad idea to scrape off queen cells, especially when you haven’t seen the queen.

Just for the record? It’s always a bad idea to scrape of queen cells. If you have a good queen, split the hive, and put the cells into the new hive [s] for the bees to raise. If you don’t want another hive, give or sell it to another beekeeper.

For now, however, we are happy beekeepers. The hives we split have calmed down now that we quit rearranging their homes, and today’s hive was so chill, we only used smoke a few times to move them off old ugly frames we were replacing with new. The dandelions are out, and the flowering trees are beginning to bloom, so there’s plenty of pollen and nectar for our girls to forage.

The Palace split was even bearding today.

Maybe warm weather is finally here.

We hope.

The Sting

Well, it happened again. I got stung, this time on my forehead above the eye. And you know how I always say honey bees are uninterested in humans? That they don’t sting out of sheer meanness, like, say, yellow jackets?

For the most part, this is true, and we’ve got thousands of bees living just behind our house to prove it. However, every so often, you come across a bee that just seems to have a gripe with the world.

Well, for me, today was that day.

There was a bee stuck between the two slding doors that open onto our deck, so I was outside to trying to help her to freedom when along came another bee flying right at my face.

Out of sheer instinct, I waved at her, trying to get her to fly away — exactly the thing you’re not supposed to do.

Suddenly I felt that searing sensation on my forehead that told me I’d been stung.

I brushed at my face with my hand — another thing one shouldn’t do when there’s a bee around — and she began flying around my head and face, so perhaps her barb didn’t enter or leave her body completely.

Who knows?

I began scraping at the area, trying to make sure the stinger wasn’t still under my skin pumping in more venom, and yelling for The Engineer to make sure she was off me.

Then, I swore a lot and called that bee many profane names. I could feel the venom moving through my veins and was afraid my eye would swell shut.

After a minute or two, I found the sting kit I keep with our bee gear. It contains several different antihistamines. A nurse anesthesiologist spoke at our beekeeping club this winter, and these were part of the protocol she advised, along with icing the area.

Here, among my wrinkles and grey hairs, you can see where I scraped at what I thought was the bee stinger.
A few hours later

You can see the antihistamines and ice did their job. The area is puffy and sore, but not nearly as bad as it could have been.

I’m still annoyed at that bee though!

Once it was clear I wasn’t having a major reaction to the sting, we went outside and split the second big hive.

Unfortunately, we didn’t find the queen, so this was a true “walkaway” split, where the beekeeper divides the hive, making sure both the new colony and the old have eggs to make a new queen. The hive with the queen will let the eggs develop normally; the hive without a queen will make one or more from the eggs.

At least that’s the plan. It remains to be seen if the bees fall in with this plan or not. It takes sixteen days to raise a queen from egg to adult, and even longer before she begins laying eggs, so it will be a while before we know if the splits are successful.

Our new set up: (l to r) 8-frame hive with a queen, 10-frame split with no queen, Nuc colony that may or may not have a queen, 10-frame hive that may or may not have a queen, and 10-frame hive with a queen.

Right now, four out of our hives are a little riled because we’ve been moving their houses around. We won’t be messing with them for a few weeks, but the hive on the far right (the weakest of the three that came out of winter) should be inspected again soon.

And that’s all the news from the OH Honey beeyard!

It’s Splitting Time!

Today we finally(!) had temperatures warm enough to split a hive.

This is the same hive that briefly had two queens last summer. When we checked it earlier this month (before all the cold weather), it had a lot of brood, so we decided it should be the first of two we plan to split.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but we over-wintered all our hives with honey supers this year. That’s the smaller top box (the proportions are skewed in this picture because of the angle from which it was taken) which was quite full of nectar and honey last fall.

During the summer, we place queen excluders between the brood boxes (the bigger bottom ones) and the honey super to keep the queen from laying eggs around the honey.

Many people prefer not to use queen excluders, calling them “honey excluders,” but we have found them useful. Maybe sometime we should experiment by leaving it off one hive and see if we get more honey.

In winter, we take the queen excluders out to allow all the bees access to the extra food, even though we knew we might end up with brood in the honey at the start of the spring nectar flow.

That’s exactly what happened, so when we checked the hives for the first time, we put the queen excluders back. We’d seen the queen in the hive that’s not as strong as the other two, so it was only in the two strong ones that we needed to remember the queen might have gotten caught upstairs.

I actually thought if she did, it might actually make it easier to split the hives. Supers are smaller, so there would be fewer bees, ergo the queen would be easier to spot.

As it turned out, she was in the super of the hive we split, and I actually spotted her. Me! The woman who has only ever spotted the queen one other time in a hive in my life!!!

This made splitting the hive much easier. We just moved the frame with the queen into the new eight-frame box* and filled the rest with a couple of frames of brood and some honey. We know most of the hive’s foragers will return to the orignal hive because they’re oriented to it, so we’ll be giving sugar syrup to the new split (with the old queen). This syrup is a ration of 1:1 sugar to water, with some Honey B Healthy added to encourage them to feed. I also added Honey B Healthy’s Amino B Booster, which supposedly helps with brood rearing.

We also discovered the wax foundation frames we experimented with last year were full of drone brood — not necessarily a good thing because Varroa love drone brood because its growth cycle is similar to the mite’s. Ugh!

I’m not sure if you remember, but we tried a couple of frames of wax foundation last year because we heard the bees really like it.

Newsflash! Ours didn’t. They dismantled it and rebuilt it with their own wax cells, which they decided should be drone cells.

The queen obligingly filled every one with drone brood.

We removed one to freeze (Try to look upon this as euthanising a few drones to benefit the hive because that’s what it is), which will take care of some of the problem, but we probably should have done both. Maybe we can find a moment to pull it when we work the other two hives.

The other issue is there is now a short super frame in a deep box (because it had the queen on it and we don’t have a great record of managing to move queens anywhere without damaging them). You can bet your life the bees are building comb on the bottom of it even as I write this post.

So, we’ll have to get that out too and replace it with a regular deep frame.

Still, it was a fairly easy split.

Of course, since the queen had been laying in the super, that meant all the eggs were up there, which meant we had to put the super back on the original ten-frame box so the bees could make a queen from the eggs.

Alternatively, we could buy a new queen to introduce, which would be faster because she wouldn’t have to be raised and then do the whole mating flight thing. However, a new queen costs upwards of $40, so we usually let the bees at least try to make their own first.

Obviously, we didn’t put the queen excluder back in because we don’t want to infringe the bees movement in any way while they are at this delicate point, nor do we want to separate the new queen from the rest of her hive if they are successful in this operation.

We know there were queen cups, but we’re not sure if they had eggs in them or not. So, they may be working from scratch, which could result in a smaller, weaker “emergency queen.”

In the past, we’ve only split after seeing queen cells in our hives, but we’ve learned that’s cutting it fine and risking a swarm. However, by splitting sooner, before there are full-sized queen cells, we may be taking the risk of them raising a not-so-great queen.

It’s sort of a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario, as seems to often be the case in beekeeping.

On another note, some people say if you split a hive, you need to move the new colony two miles away. But, we’ve learned otherwise. As long as you make sure there are plenty of nurse bees in the new hive, it will be fine. The foragers will mostly return to the old hive, but the nurse bees have never been outside, so they’ll stay and raise the young.

From one hive into two! Original, now queenless, hive is on the right, and the new hive with the old queen is on the left.

As you can see from the photo above, the bees are confused for a little while after the split, but they settle down pretty quickly.

We also took a quick peek in the super of the other strong hive to see if there was evidence of a queen, i.e, new eggs or very small larvae. There wasn’t, so she’s down in the brood boxes where she belongs.

Here’s a slo-mo and a time-lapse video of the girls bringing in pollen, which I took before we got busy with the split. I love to watch them come in loaded with beautifully colored pollen!

Next we need to turn our attention to the other big hive and do a check of the not-so-busy one too.

I’ll keep you posted!

*In an effort to keep The Engineer’s back healthy, we are trying to shift our hives from ten-frame to eight frame.

OH Honey Apiary: We Make Mistakes So You Don’t Have To!

If you recall, we spent much of the end of August and start of September treating our hives with Formic Pro. Sadly, halfway through this treatment, we were dismayed to learn from a company rep who spoke at the End of Summer Classic that doing the one-strip treatment doesn’t affect the mites in the capped brood.

Since killing the mites under the the caps is one of the reasons we use Formic Pro, this was quite a letdown, and we’ll be re-thinking our treatment in the future — possibly trying the two-strip method again. (We switched to one strip after having lost multiple queens when we did the two-strip in the past. Apparently, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.)

But this week, we were finally able to have a look inside our hives.

It was a coolish morning, so we waited until early evening (the warmest part of that day) and started with the original OH, Honey hive. This is the colony that made it through last winter, the one from which the other two hives were split, and the only one we got honey off this year.

Because fall is setting in, we are trying to take all the hives down to fewer boxes and decided to begin by removing the second honey super.

We took it off, brushing the few bees that were on the frames back into the hive and set the box on the deck, planning to go back to it later. For some reason, neither of us completely thought through the consequences of this action, but if you’re a beekeeper, you’re probably cringing because you can predict what happened.

Everyone else will have to read the rest of the post to find out.

We finished reviewing all the frames of that hive, cleaned out all four of the beetle traps, and sprinkled DFM on the top of the frames.

It’s a strong hive with plenty of bees, and if it doesn’t have as much honey as we’d like to see … well, there’s time yet before it gets really cold. In addition, it still has a lot of brood. At this time of year, that causes the niggling concern of it possibly also having a large Varroa load, as well as the worry of going into the winter with more bees than the hive has food for.

Still, we plan to start feeding this weekend and treat one more time with Oxalic Acid in October or November (when the queen has stopped or greatly reduced her laying). Fingers crossed these actions will address those issues.

On to Split #1. This is also a strong hive, as you can see from the pictures below.

Here’s a view from the side.

There are actually clumps of bees, where they are buzzing around on top of one another.

We spotted our beautiful golden girl (the queen).

I’m not going to point her out. By now, you should be able to recognize her. 🙂

This hive was in a similar state — lots of bees, brood, and not as much honey as we’d like to see.

But they’re still bringing in nectar and a surprising amount of pollen, and as mentioned before, we’re going to start feeding them.

We were finishing up with the beetle traps and DFM when we began to realize there were a lot(!) of bees in the air around the hives, and they were starting to ping our veils.

There was also a some air combat between bees and other bees, and bees and Yellow Jackets.

Realizing what was happening, we immediately closed up the hive, and started to put away the gear.

It was then we noticed the box we’d put on the deck.

It seems the bees had noticed it too because it was surrounded by a cloud of buzzing insects.

We had broken a cardinal rule in beekeeping: Don’t leave honey or nectar sitting around because it will result in a robbing situation!

I didn’t take pictures because, well, even if you’re a beekeeper, tens of thousands of bees flying all around you can be a little distracting.

How could we have been so stupid?

And not only had we left the box out, there was also a bag of dirty, dark, old comb sitting in our deck box. With the deck box lid open.

We’d cleaned some frames the day before, and The Engineer was going to burn the mess that came off them after we finished our hive check. He’d put the bag in the box to protect it from the bees, but forgot to close the box.

Did I mention the foundation we’d cleaned and pressure-washed was draining on a bench on the front porch?

Well, yes, dear readers, it was. There were interested bees around it too.

Not only had we put out a super full of nectar to tempt neighborhood bees (including our own), we’d also offered several side dishes.

It was, as we say in the aviation world, a Charlie Foxtrot.

There were bees everywhere, fighting each other to take that delicious nectar back to their hives.

What did we do? What could we do, but start brushing the bees off the main attraction, and tucking those frames one by one in a closed box. Of course, a few bees ended up in the box, but we dealt with that later.

Then, we moved the bag of old comb to the front of the house and covered it with a bucket, covered the clean(ish) frames with a towel, put away all our tools, went inside, and let the crowds disperse.

Clearly, our plans for grilling out were off the table. Dining out was now on the agenda because, frankly, the idea of trying to cook was not enticing after such a tense experience.

Amazingly, neither of us got stung, and the three bees that followed us into the house were caught and released to go home.

Within an hour, life was pretty much back to normal … except all through the next day, foragers were checking out our deck, hoping for another smorgasbord.

It was our own fault. Bees are preparing for winter now, and although they are still out foraging, the pickings are much slimmer than earlier in the year. Beekeepers have to be extra careful not to offer any enticements to would-be robbers.

We are normally very careful about this — covering the comb and propolis we remove from the frames, placing it in a container and not just dumping it on the ground, cleaning up any honey, sugar water, or nectar spills.

But this time, we messed up.

Unsurprisingly, it was with some trepidation that we approached our third hive when we checked it today.

We went through the super, brushing the bees off each frame, and tucking those frames into a closed box.

Then, we removed the top box, covered it with a towel, and began to look at each frame of the bottom box. We were glad to see they’d begun to cap some honey — more than either of the other hives — and there was less capped brood. This probably indicates the queen’s laying is slowing, and the bees are turning their attention toward winter provisions.

By the time we got to the top box, our girls were beginning to dive bomb our veils. They were obviously done with our ministrations.

We took a quick peek at a single frame upstairs, cleaned the beetle traps, sprinkled the DFM and got the heck out.

You see, we learn from our mistakes. If you’re a beekeeper, hopefully you can too, instead of having to make them yourself.

They’re still bringing in pollen!
Guess which hive we inspected today! (That’s The Engineer beside it, swatting Yellow Jackets).

All Hives Are Queen Right Once Again

But first, the bad news. On Sunday, The Engineer had to put a screen over the entrance of the Kremlin because it was being attacked by robber bees. Today, when we checked the hive, we discovered the assault must have begun while we were gone. It was devastated, with few bees remaining — certainly not enough to grow into a viable hive in time for winter.

So, we are down to three hives, all of them originating from last spring’s Saskatraz package.

The good news is all of them are queen right.

Eager for a lift of spirits after the disheartening discovery in the Kremlin, we turned to OH Girls Split #1.

This is the hive that had two queens when last we looked.

Today, we — and by “we,” I mean The Engineer — spotted only one. I suspect the original dented one who began this dynasty is probably dead.

Thankfully, her good genes continue their reign in each of our three hives because each is queened by one of her daughters.

Here’s one of her beautiful offspring in OH Girls Split #1.

The residents of this hive have been toiling hard while we were gone, building comb on the new frames we gave them before we left. There was even capped brood on one of them already!

I love the way new comb looks — so fresh and perfect.

Below, you can see one of the hive’s many frames of capped brood.

Next, we turned to OH Girls and OH Girls Split #2. The split was made at the end of June, and we weren’t sure which hive ended up with the queen. We checked the original OH Girls first.

It’s big, two deep brood boxes and three honey supers. There were a lot(!) of bees. With a hive this size and well-populated, it almost seems like they are just boiling up out of the hive.

It was also filled with many frames of capped brood, which means it is queen right. Yay!

I admit I’m pathetic when it comes to spotting queens, but I don’t know how anyone can find them in a hive this full.

But Engineer found this one too. She’s golden, so might be the queen from OH Girls. Or, maybe she’s just another golden queen.

Here’s three photos of her. Can you find her in all of them? (And don’t go all smug on me if you do. It’s easy when you’re only inches away and it’s a still photo.)

So … did we also find a queen behind door (hive) number three?

No, we did not. However, we found something almost as good. Capped brood, and lots of it!

This is what I mean by bees just kind of boiling up. It’s like they coagulate or something!

In other good news, all three hives have begun storing honey in the corners of some of their brood box frames.

We hope to see more of this as they prepare for winter, even if it means they pay less attention to the honey in their honey supers.

OH Girls still has three of these smaller boxes, and many of the frames are nearly fully capped. We didn’t pull any of them today, opting instead to wait and see how it goes.

Now that we have three queen right hives, I’m sure something else will pop up to torment us.

Oh. Yeah. Winter is coming. Guess it’s time to start worrying about that.

I’ll leave you with this photo of OH Girls Split #1 after we checked it. I’m not sure why they all decided to cluster around their two bottom entrances, but I’m sure they have a reason.

Dual Queens

Remember the dying queen? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. With all my talk about queens, even I find it hard to keep them straight.

Anyway, it turns out the dying queen isn’t dead. This is quite a surprise because when we checked that hive (the first split from OH, Girls this year) on 4 July, we were very happy to find the beautiful new queen the workers bred to replace her. Here’s her picture from that inspection.

Today, when we checked that hive, The Engineer once again spotted New Queen (near the bottom, surrounded by her attendants). And isn’t she gorgeous?

Only later, he also spotted Dented Queen.


In this picture, she’s pointed out with a hive tool, and I’ve circled her in red to make her easier to spot. You can clearly see her dented thorax. (Note all that lovely, glistening white larvae beside her!)

Here’s another pic.

She’s surrounded by her court of attendants.

But if you look at the picture below, and you have sharp eyes, you’ll find both Dented Queen (near the hive tool) and New Queen (near the capped brood at the top of the picture.

Above is Dented Queen (middle left) and New Queen (upper right, circled).
Dented Queen (red) and New Queen (green)

We heard this sometimes happens, but when we took our classes, I got the impression that having two queens co-exist in a hive was unusual. True, there are ways beekeepers occasionally manipulate hives to run two queens, usually by using queen excluders to keep the royalty in separate areas of the hive.

The situation can also arise when one queen isn’t yet mated, the bees are getting ready to swarm or they just haven’t killed the old queen yet. According to this article, the workers keep the two queens in separate parts of the hive, but as these pictures show, New Queen is definitely mated, and she’s not only on the same frame as Dented Queen, she’s mere inches away.

And these two have been sharing the same hive for at least ten days, likely longer.

I expect eventually the workers will kill Dented Queen. She’s still moving and laying, but very slowly, while New Queen sprints around laying as fast as she can.

Meanwhile, the workers have been making comb on the new frames we gave them like their lives depend on it.

Oh, yeah … their lives do sort of depend on it. They’ll need that comb to store honey for winter.

Such a pretty sight (especially after yesterday’s mess)

And our two queens are already using the new comb. There’s larvae in both the pictures below, although it’s harder to spot in the second one.


After our unusual find in the split, we looked in on the Kremlin. I was ready to dispatch Olga to the big beehive in the sky and steal a frame of brood from OH, Girls split #1 so Kremlin workers could make a new queen. The Engineer convinced me we should give her one more chance. Her laying seems to be improving slightly, with more larvae closer together, but if it’s not dramatically better at the end of the month, they’re going to have to make a new queen. This is cutting it fine because August is when beekeepers need to start thinking (read “worrying”) about winter.

There’s an expression about beekeeping, something like “Take care of the bees that will take care of the bees that will need to live through the winter,” and August is when that begins.

Olga needs to step up her game.

Lastly, we had a look at the honey supers on OH, Girls and stole two filled frames, replacing them with super frames with drawn combs. Truthfully, we could have probably pulled more for extraction, but we’re being conservative this year and waiting until the frames are at least 90% full … at least as long as nectar is still coming in.

A lot of the frames look like this, nearly solid on one side and not completely capped on the other (although some had a lot more capped on side #2).

We considered putting a honey super on OH, Girls Split #1 because the hive has a lot of bees, along with a queen cup that might have had larva in it. Ultimately, we chose not to. We gave them several empty frames when we put them in the big boxes so they still have space.

Also, we tempted fate by leaving the queen cup. We’re not 100% sure it was filled, and if we scraped it off, and they want to swarm, they’d just build another.

Speaking of swarms, we still have three swarm boxes up, and at least two are getting a lot of attention from scout bees.

I’m not sure where we’d put another hive, but we could probably find space on one of the stands if we have to. 🙂


Broody? Or Not?

Today we checked out OH, Girls Split #1. This is the nuc we created on 12 May from the ever-giving OH, Girls hive.

Of course, this was after we noticed the second split from this hive was being raided. I was surprised because the split is well-populated, but everything was fine once we put on this special screen we bought to use on such an occasion. In truth, this is the first time we’ve thought to use it, and I must say it worked very well. Things calmed down immediately. It’s similar to this one, but made of wood.

At any rate, once we got over that small disaster, we took the inner cover off the first split, and found this on the back of it.

Underneath was this.

It seems the girls have been rather busy. Thankfully, The Engineer thought to save that comb and the honey to add in when we extract.

This queen is prolific. Six of the ten frames in the hive were covered with capped brood and larvae.

Like their cousins in the original OH, Girls hive, these bees had refused to work a couple of the older frames, and now that we understand this, we’ve replaced two, and will replace the remaining ones as soon as we can find some new black foundation.

They had also filled and capped one deep frame of honey, which we stole from them, mostly to give the queen space to work. We added another deep nuc box too because they were bursting at the seams.

Here she is, much darker than her half-sister in the original hive, but equally big and fat!

We need to think how to give this hive more room — perhaps move the frames into full-sized boxes.

Next, we opened the Kremlin, and as The Engineer said, it was like moving from a crowded city to the country, with a lot fewer bees, and not nearly as much activity.

This could partly be attributed to the fact that they too have some old comb, but I’m afraid I think it’s Olga. Her laying remains spotty even on the brand new and newish comb and frames.

It’s here that having more than one hive becomes beneficial because we have options.

  • We could move a frame or two of brood from one of the crowded hives into the Kremlin. Unfortunately, I think this would just put off the issue. Besides, we gave them a frame when we introduced Olga. It may have helped them accept her, but they should be growing at a faster rate.
  • Another thing we discussed almost jokingly was to swap houses with the OH, Girls split. After all, we have a hive in small boxes that’s running out of space, and a hive in two full-sized boxes that can’t seem to fill them. I’m not sure this would remedy Olga’s poor laying, but it would benefit the split.
  • We could also requeen the hive, or “encourage” it to requeen itself. This could be done in conjunction with either of the above choices.

The Kremlin also needs treated for Varroa again because there was brood when we did the vaporizer a few weeks ago.

We generally prefer to mix up our treatment, and would normally use Formic Pro strips for this, but the weather has been too hot. It’s cooler now, but supposed to hit the 90s again next week, which is too hot for that method.

Right now, I think our best bet would be to do three treatments of Oxalic Acid over a period of as many weeks, then swap boxes with the split, give Olga another few weeks to show what she can do, and then requeen in some way if she hasn’t improved.

The Engineer and I will think on and discuss this before making any decisions.

In the meantime, tomorrow we will look again at the honey supers on OH, Girls with our fingers crossed (as always) hoping to find enough capped honey to make it worth the effort of extracting.

I’ll keep you posted.