Tag Archive | hive

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 – Warm February Days


The warm weather has continued, with most days above 60 degrees and a few above 70. That is all about to change and go back to normal, which is close to freezing at night and mid-40s during the day.

Hive 201601H

The good news continues for this hive – for now! There is plenty of activity on the warm sunny days. In fact in the last week they are even bringing in pollen from somewhere, my guess is the maples. The news reported several trees, including the maples, with high pollen counts right now on the hay fever report. Good Times! My concern now is as the weather returns to “normal” that the bees may have already started the spring build up. I have decided that I will not being doing any in depth hive inspections in order to not chance rolling the queen or chilling any brood, so I cant be sure what is happening. Today is the last predicted extra warm day for the next 10 days so I popped the top and found about half the sugar bricks remaining. I dropped in a pollen patty and closed it back up. The weather was so nice they barely noticed I was there! Plenty of bees inside and out doing what bees do, so keeping my fingers crossed this hive makes it to “real” spring!


This hive consist of two deep hive bodies, a spacer for feeding and a top entrance, and a quilt box currently full of wood shavings.

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.

Bee Keeping Journal – 2016 – Quilt box – Bee update

Winter Hive Setup 2016

Winter Hive Setup 2016

This time last year I was cleaning out the beehives.  We lost both hives from that first year.  My initial summation was they we overwhelmed by hive beetles due to a bad location.  While I still think the location was bad (too much shade and moisture) I have come to the conclusion the beetles probably took over after a mite investation damaged the hive beyond repair.  We didn’t check or treat for mites last year.

This year the first of September in a hasty rush we treated with MAQS.  Why hasty, well really I didn’t feel qualified to test and count mites and everything I ready online said “you have mites” even if you don’t think you do.  So before we ran out of warm days, we treated.  Feel free to flame me in the comments for not testing first or because you believe in being treatment free.  The treatment went well and in part due to the new location the beetle count was down, not great but much better than last year.

Both hives were low on stores, the fall flow seemed bad based on what little I know in my second year.  The 2:1 sugar syrup feeding begin and continued through October at which point both hives appeared to have two mostly full deeps and were active and still bringing in pollen from who knows where.  The feeder was removed and two more frames of empty comb were added in its place.

Last item before winter was to build and install a quilt box.  This became a priority as we are forcasted to have our first frost this next week.  The box was made from 1×4 and lined with metal screen.  It was filled half full of the same wood shavings we use for the chickens and placed on top above the shim.  The shim will allow us to add a sugar brick on each hive later in the season.  The shavings are supposed to wick moisture from the hive and allow it to evaporate out ventilation holes instead of dripping back into the hive and freezing the bees.

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016

For now the bees are busy during the heat of the day and they are ready for winter as best we know how.

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.
[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YijbrMjf3v8[/embedyt]
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!

Bees are back in town!

Last season we started with two new bee hives and lost both in the late fall early winter. Details here. After a long quiet bee-less winter, we now have bees again!

The plan for this year was to buy a single package of bees, since we had hives, comb, and even honey we chose a package over a nuc. For the other hive I spent the money, less actually, on a pre-built swarm trap in hopes we could catch a “free” swarm. More on that later. We purposely bought a package from a local apiary with a late season delivery in mid-may. The hope was with the delivery during full bloom and the left over honey we would need to feed the new package less.

Trailer Full of Bees

Trailer Full of Bees

So delivery day came and I was off to meet a guy with a trailer full of bees in a random parking lot. Felt a little like we were doing a secret deal, but it is all on the up and up – I swear. The interesting part was even though we had this late date, it was cold and rainy. Like 45 degrees cold. Being new I asked the guy about installing the package in the bad weather and he says “well they install them in the snow up north” and went back to his delivery of bees. Good enough for me, I guess.

A quick check of the weather showed it would stop raining late afternoon and might make it into the mid 50’s. I took the bees home and sprayed them with a 1:1 sugar solution to make sure they were feed and waited for the rain to stop.

Box 'O Bees

Box ‘O Bees

One winter project was to build a true hive stand and to relocate the bees to a sunnier location. Both of these were a plan to reduce the hive beetle infestation. The new hive stand was copied from many found on the internet and consisted of two 2X6’s screwed to spacers about 11 inches apart. Last year the hives sat on these same boards laying flat, which didn’t allow for proper airflow under the hive and through the screened bottom board. So better ventilation and early morning sunshine – check! Since everything here is on a hill, a couple of cinder blocks were called into service to level the stand, plus get it off the wet ground.
Hive Stand

Hive Stand

I laid out the items I needed for the install on the hive stand before getting on my bee suit. Something about “shaking” a couple thousand bees around called for a little protection. In this picture you can see my hive tool, a spray bottle of sugar water, the hive components, and the package of bees. The two wooden shims are used to level an internal feeder.
Package Install Tools

Package Install Tools

Here is where I wish I had more pictures, but due to the bee suit and crappy weather I moved quickly to finish the job. First I sprayed the bees with sugar water to calm them and make them busy cleaning themselves. Next while holding the queen cage tab, I removed the can of sugar syrup shipped with the bees and then removed the queen cage. Checked the queen was alive and well before placing her cage between two frames with the screen facing so the other bees could still see and feed her. Then the fun part, I turned the package upside down and “gently” shook the bees out and into the hive between a couple of frames. I know there are a lot of folks online now saying this is too rough on the bees or not the way to do it. In this case due to cold weather and impending rain I wanted as many as the bees as possible inside the hive and closed up so I went old school rough! After closing up the hive, I placed the package out front in hopes the last few would find there way inside.
Bee Package Install Complete

Bee Package Install Complete

Swarm trap update:
While the trap has been out since the first of April there had been little activity until around the first of May. While on most sunny days we see a handful of bees coming and going, these are most likely scouts attracted by the smell of the frames and the swarm trap lure. I keeping looking for A LOT of bees or at least a few bringing pollen into the trap. The weather really hasnt been great, so we are hoping the next week of warmer weather being promised will cause a swarm to find it’s way to our trap. 🙂
Bee Swarm Trap

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

And then there was one – beehive that is

Well as a new bee keeper I figured there would be some loss, but I also expected to find out about it next spring.  We purposely started with two hives in case of a loss and good thing we did.  I had been noticing on the warmer days there was some activity at only one of the hives.  I gave it a while thinking it was just not warm enough.  Well it finally got back into the 70’s (go figure in early November) so I popped the top off the hive to find nothing, well almost nothing.  The was not a single bee alive or dead, but what there was turned into a full out invasive of hive beetles.  They were in every nook and cranny!

While I knew I had hive beetles in both hives, I believed to have them under control.  I was fogging the hives every 10 days until the cold started and I had beetle traps in the top boxes.  Not really sure if the beetles caused the evacuation or if they just took over after the bees left, the result is the same.  After disassembling the hive further I found honey stores in the top box and nothing but empty comb in the bottom box.  If anyone has any insight besides the beetle infestation please share in the comments.

So now we baby the remaining hive and hope they are still here in the spring.  Specifically we will be adding a candy board in early December to make sure they have enough food and adding a pollen patty in mid to late February to get them though to first bloom.

Feel free to share though s on what happened or your own stories of hive losses.

Bee Keeping – What have I done? Part 2

So having a little trouble with one of the hives, see part 1 for the details.

The new queen finally arrived almost two weeks later! I was amazed at how little packaging there was for my precious cargo. Just an envelope with a couple of air holes and a small wooden cage.

Out to the hives I went with tools and smoker in hand. I opened the hive and there were still a lot of bees in there. So I started looking around. Still nothing in the bottom box in terms of capped cells. Then I pulled a few frames from the top box. Due to the panic attack I had the last time, I didn’t pay close attention to which was the frame I pulled from the strong hive that was full of capped brood. Just know it was one of two older frames in the top box middle section. One of these frames was empty cells. The other had some capped brood and appeared to be eggs and larva. Ugh! Do I now have a queen?? Or is it a laying worker?? A laying worker will happen in the absence of a queen, but because of genetics she can only raise drones (male) and will not be able to produce a new queen.

I looked around for a new queen, but since she would have been newly hatched and she wasn’t marked and easy to spot like my original queen I wasn’t able to find her. Looking further I found a supersede queen cell. A supersede queen cell is typically built out in the middle of frame and is done when the hive decides to replace a bad or failing queen. A swarm cell is typically built on the bottom or edge of the frame and is intended to replace the queen when the original queen takes half the hive and swarms off to a new location. So again I PANICKED! I closed back up the hive and went to the internet.

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I couldn’t find anything specific to my situation, so I went the Facebook page of my local bee club and explained the situation. I either had a laying queen, laying worker, or would soon have a supersede queen. What was I supposed to do with the newly arrived queen? I didn’t have more equipment to start a new hive with her, although my lovely wife seeing my distress offered to buy some. After a day there was only one response and it was a vote to install the newly arrived queen and let the hive work out the details. Good enough for me!

To install a new queen you remove a frame and suspend the queen cage in the open space. The cage comes with a candy/sugar plug and a wooden cork. You are supposed to remove the cork and make a small hole in the candy. If introduced directly, the bees would kill the queen because they don’t know her and assume she was an invader there to steal the honey. After placing the cage, the bees will slowly eat the candy plug and in the mean time become familiar with the new queen. Then when she is finally released they don’t kill her, but accept her. The mail order queens typically come already mated, so once freed she gets right to work laying eggs.

So I prepped the queen cage by screwing a flat shim to it allowing me easily to hang it between the frames. Placed it in the bottom box and closed it up. The instructions say to leave the hive alone for a week. Then check that she is free, remove the empty cage, and replace the removed frame. If she is not free, I am to open the screened part and allow her to walk out onto a frame. It also said she should be able to survive in the cage for up to three weeks. So I am trying to be patient and wait a week, but all I can imagine is that the supersede cell hatched, there was already a laying queen, and my new queen is released from the cage. So right now there is a three way death match going on inside the hive and I am missing it. Ugh!

Bee Keeping – What have I done?

It appears I am learning something about bee keeping, like it or not. After using all my will power and staying out of the hives for two weeks (before now I was in them at least once a week) I went into the hives this weekend only to determine I had lost the queen in one of the two hives. It appears it has been a while as I could not find ANY capped brood cells. I did find the start of a couple of queen cells and so I panicked and grabbed a frame of capped brood from the stronger hive thinking they would need something to put in those queen cells and closed it all back up.

After a little (actually very little) internet searching, I realized what I needed was eggs and not capped brood. 🙁 So instead of opening the hives again and causing more stress I went online and ordered a new queen. Hopefully it is not to late in the season to save this hive. Stay tuned for an update when the new queen arrives.

On a positive note, both hives started building nice straight comb on the foundationless frames I gave them two weeks ago. So I swapped out two more frames on the stronger hive. That might be all I do this year to give them time to make a strong run at the fall/winter.

Bee Keeping – a matter of opinion – Part 3

So now we have a hive (Part 1), bees (Part 2), what we need to talk about now is frames. Actually we should have talked about them after the hive and before the bees, but this is where we are!

This post is going to be a little short on details mostly because there are some many details that I could not expect to do a decent job of covering them all. My plan is to give you some things to think about and research and make up your own mind, because like I said each beekeeper has their own opinion.

There are two basic types of frames: full (four sided) frames and top-bar only frames. The full frames come in two basic types, with foundation and without. Top bars do not have foundation.

Regarding foundation here is what I know. Using foundation has a couple of advantages: one it gives the bees a clear indication of where and how (meaning cell size) you wan them to build comb. Two it strengthens the comb so that during inspections and honey extraction the comb has less damage for the bees to repair. The disadvantages that I have read about are if you use the wax coated plastic type, the plastic can off-gas and hurt the bees or even you. If you use the wax foundation, rumor has it most of it is made from old, dirty, toxic wax that is unusable for anything else. You decide! When looking at full frames there are different ways to secure the foundation to the frames: wedge, slotted, grooved, solid. Then there is also wired frames and/or foundation. The wires help strengthen the comb so that it can hold up to mechanically extraction.


Bees on Frames

Going with a foundation-less frame or the top bar frame allows the bees to build comb they way they want! Most would argue this is better for the bees, but not so for the bee keeper. First, to allow the bees to build the comb from “scratch” means they will build the cells in the sizes they need and would use naturally. Do a search on “small cell bees” or “natural cell size” for more information. The downsides are they don’t always build nice straight comb and when it is time to extract the honey you have to completely destroy the comb. The bees will have to start over with an empty frame next year. This means less honey because the bees have to first use resources to build honey comb.

UPDATE: Found this great series on converting to foundation-less hives. In the following link, it is is explained how to rotate the frames so that bees will naturally regress to the “natural cell size”. I was assuming I just swapped out the empty frames, but this makes more sense as each generation of bees will reduce or regress the cell size of the next generation until the get “right sized”!
Foundationless Beekeeping: How to convert to natural beekeeping!

So where am I? Glad you asked! I have full frames in Langstroth hives. Currently my hives are split down the middle. The deep boxes have plastic foundation and the bees have been building it out with no problems. I personally think the artificial materials and cell sizes is not good long term for the bees. I have this setup because this is what came with the nucs I started from and I hadn’t full researched it at the time. On the flip side I have gone foundation-less in my medium honey supers. I will have to report back on that since I just gave them those boxes last weekend. My long term plan is to swap out the plastic foundation in the deep boxes over time so not to disrupt the hives too much this first year. They have enough work to do already to build out the medium boxes and fill them with honey before fall/winter.

I would be curious to hear what others are using and why, comment below!

Found this great link over at Runamuk Acres Farm & Apiary site!
3 reasons to go foundationless in your Langstroth beehive