Bee Keeping Journal – 20170515 – May is swarm season


The spring weather has been a little wetter than normal. Over the course of 5 days we got 12 inches of rain. Needless to say we had river front property! The river was near record flood, but still not a danger to the house. It is just that we can see it from the deck when it gets that high! It also causes the bees trouble when they should be out looking for spring stores, they are locked in the hive by constant down pours.

Hive 201601H

This hive has been a study in patience and a test of my lack of bee knowledge. They came out of winter looking good and appeared to start building up as expected. But after all the rain stopped an inspection showed they had not built up at all and maybe even shrunk. I had reversed the boxes in early spring, but the top box (old bottom box) remained empty. So I removed the remaining sugar brick and the top box on the first of April. At that time there were about 3 frames of bees, only one of capped brood. I decided to leave them alone and hope for the best. Well that only lasted a couple of weeks, three to be exact before I had to get involved. I then checked and they were still about the same size. I had frames of capped honey (sugar water really) from the other hive that died over the winter, so I decided to add two frames of honey to see if that would help get them going. It has been another three weeks and they are looking much better. There are about six frames of bees with 2-3 in brood of various ages. So again I will leave them alone. Just hoping I can get them back to two deep boxes by summer’s end to make it through next winter.

Swarm update

I placed my swarm trap out on April 1st. I also set out the NUC box I built last year and baited it with LGO and some old black comb, just in case. While there was absolutely NO activity at either trap, I went ahead and set out my empty hive body around April 15th and baited it with LGO and old black comb. Last year there was scout activity at the trap for about three weeks before the swarm showed up. Not this year, I noticed nothing except a lot of wasp until about May 11th. Then all of the sudden there was a ton of activity at the main trap. Bees coming and going with purpose. So I waited until today, when I saw several bees bringing in pollen to declare we had captured a swarm.

Now it gets complicated. The rule of thumb as I understand it is that you move bees either less than 3ft or more than 3 miles. If you don’t, foragers will return the original location and eventually die without the protection of a hive. My swarm trap is about 50 yards from where the new hive will be located and we don’t have anywhere more than 3 miles away to move it first. The other option as I understand it is that you confine the bees to the hive for 24-72 hours, then place tree branches in front of the hive entrance to confuse the bees when you allow them to leave again. This forces the bees to reset their internal GPS and re-orient to the new hive location.

Our plan is this, since this is a new colony without any stores I have added a frame of honey (sugar water really) from the old hive to the swarm trap. This should keep them from starving during confinement. Tonight after the foragers have returned, I will close the trap entrance. It has holes to allow ventilation and we will leave the trap in the tree where it is shaded and should be cooler for the next day or two. Then I will move the trap to the hive stand, place branches in front for the entrance and reopen it. After a couple of days and before the forecasted rain for this weekend, I will move the bees and the frames to the hive body and place it on the stand in the same location the trap was sitting. This will hopefully allow the bees to first orient to the new location, before they also have to reorient to a new hive box.

Let me know in the comments if you think this will work and why not if you disagree. Then check for an update next week to see what happened!

Bee Keeping Journal – 2017 – still here!

In an attempt to begin actually keeping records regarding my bee keeping, I give you this first post of the year. Anytime I have observations about the bee hives and or work with the bees I am plan to document them on the blog under the title “Bee Keeping Journal”. Then I can look back year to year and see what has happened and anticipate problems or needs. I will try to group thoughts under headings specific to a given hive. So here goes!


It has been cold, below normal cold, the past couple of weeks. Getting as low as 1 degree on one given night. While I know others further north are laughing, I was fretting and worrying about my one remaining hive. I lost both hives last year, most likely due to mites, so I don’t consider myself a beekeeper until I have kept bees through the winter. Then yesterday and today in an odd, but normal for the midwest, we had a mid-winter heat wave. 65+ both days, so I ran up the hill to the remaining hive as fast as I could to see if we still had bees.

Hive 201601

This hive was started using a package of bees and two deep boxes of built comb and honey stores. I took both dead outs from 2015 and froze the frames in the deep freezer over the winter and was able to start this hive with an abundance of resources. I could be wrong about this, but it seemed to make the bees lazy or it could have been the late start of May 16th when the package arrived. They built up well in numbers, but never really built out additional comb. So mid summer I removed a frame from each box (9 frames in each 10 frame deep) to allow better air flow due to excessive bearding. Plus they weren’t using or building on the outer frames. This seemed to please them as they began working all 9 frames and reduced bearding. They got a full MAQS treatment at or around Sept 1st. After that I feed them several gallons of 1:1 syrup because they had very little in the way of winter stores. In November I added the quilt box. Mid-December there was brief warm up so I dropped in some chunks of Becky’s sugar bricks. Checked on them yesterday and saw plenty of activity, so opened them up and even though still had plenty of sugar I gave them the remaining pieces of brick from hive 201602. Today this is what I saw – happy bees, happy beekeeper!

January 2017 Bee Activity

January 2017 Bee Activity

Hive 201602

This hive was from a swarm captured the same week as the package arrived. In fact I thought it might have been from the package, check the details here Swarm Trap Success – sort of. It followed the same path as the package, two deeps of resources, lazy bees, MAQS, 1:1 syrup, and sugar bricks. But two weeks after the sugar bricks when the package hive had minimum activity due to a slight warm up, this hive had none. So I popped the lid to find a small dead cluster in the bottom box. Not sure exactly what happened, but seems like they got caught in bottom box and either starved or froze. This is only my second year so not good a reading a hive to determine the exact cause. I looked through the pile of bees and those that dropped out from the between the frames, but couldn’t find the queen. I tore the hive down and stashed the frames to be used again next year.

Swarm Trap Success – sort of

The plan was to replace the two hives we lost last season by purchasing a package for one and trying to catch a swarm for the other. The logic being that a swarm trap actually cost less than a package or nuc and the bees would be local and strong and ready to go. After the first swarm, any bees caught would basically be free! The next part of the logic was a trap would be easier than finding a swarm in a tree and “dropping” into a box and then into a hive. Well…..

We bought the trap on eBay and I would highly recommend the seller Riley Honey Farm. He answered our questions, made suggestions, and even called me during this whole fiasco to offer advice.

So the trap was placed according to all the things I could find on the internet. Up in the fork of a tree, near water, near forage, morning sun, afternoon shade, blah, blah, blah.

Bee Swarm Trap

This bee swarm trap is installed on the edge of the glade.

Then we waited. A bit over zealous I placed it out on April 1st, a little early for our area but didn’t want to miss any swarms. On sunny days there was activity at the trap which made me feel good about the trap placement.

Last Tuesday our package of bees arrived, read about it here “Bees are back in town”. That was a cold rainy day, but the weather improved on Wednesday and the traffic at the trap significantly picked up. We began to worry our new package was considering moving out of the hive and into the trap. I kept a close eye on both and then it happened on Thursday afternoon some time between noon and 2pm (yes I was checking every couple of hours) the swarm arrived.
I was so excited! The sheer number of bees let me know this was not my new package of bees. Now I waited for the swarm to move into the trap and carefully planed my next moves to get it into a hive. Because the new hive location was close, I understood I needed to move the trap at least three miles away for at least a week and then I could move it back without worry of the bees returning to the original trap location.

Swarm trap day 1

Swarm trap day 1

Swarm trap day 1 side view

Swarm trap day 1 side view

So we waited, as slowly over the next three days the bees moved under the trap and along the main tree trunk.
Swarm trap day 2

Swarm trap day 2

And waited, on Friday afternoon I baited the hive and placed it at the base of the tree about 3 feet off the ground hoping they would move in directly. No luck.
Swarm trap day 3

Swarm trap day 3

We had a family wedding to attend on Saturday so there was no time to mess with the bees, but I was seeing a lot of bees dancing/wiggling on the swarm and was worried the bees might be getting ready to move to a new location.

Sadly here is where the pictures end, but early Sunday morning (3 days after the swarm arrived) we suited up and decided to “place” the swarm in the new hive. First I brushed the bees into a cardboard box which was easier to handle up and down a ladder than the hive box. My lovely wife would then dump the box contents into the hive. At this point the bees were a bit cranky, so we moved quickly. Almost too quickly, there were bees everywhere. Since the bees were basically on the main trunk of the tree at this point I was making a sweeping motion with my bee brush and missing the box with a lot of bees. We did what we could and then stood back. Almost immediately the bees on the top of the hives started fanning, butts in the air. This behavior indicates the queen was most likely in the hive and they were spreading scent to let the other bees know the new location. We left it alone for about an hour and a half and by then the tree only had a few stranglers left and the hive was full. I placed the top on it and transported it to the new location.

As of Tuesday morning the new hive appears to be doing well. There is what I would consider normal activity, coming and going, and even pollen being brought in. We will give them a week or so to settle in completely and then do a hive inspection on both hives to confirm we have a laying queens. Fun, fun, fun!

After talking with trap maker, we decided this most likely happened because a frame was blocking the trap entrance. The new design has a block on the frame rail to keep this from happening. When I re-installed the trap I removed two frames and pushed the others to the outside. I checked it again after climbing the ladder and before securing the trap to the tree to make sure no frame was near the entrance and the next swarm could walk right in!