New queen update

Yay!!! Pink hive has a queen! I gave them eggs last weekend and checked for queen cells Saturday, no cells. But what did I see?? Eggs! Single eggs! I looked quickly and there she was…a beautiful queen. All those cells that had been polished and waiting for the last couple of weeks, were being used…fantastic. When checking the colony there was a palpable sense that the hive was in this anticipatory state and it is so gratifying to see their plans and expectations realized.

Checked the new queen (Carniolan), and the workers were completely covering the queen cage. When I put the cage in, I taped the candy plug to delay introduction. Because I’ve had issues with nuc robbing I was delaying her introduction to avoid having her killed. I wasn’t aware that the JZBZ cages are impregnated with queen pheromone to improve acceptance. The cages have other features I’d like to review in a future post. So, General wisdom states to not release the queen if the bees are biting the cage. Honestly, how I’m supposed to see that it beyond me. Another oft made recommendation is to try to move the bees off the screen gently with your finger, if they are difficult to move then they are likely gripping the screen with their mandibles, if they are easy to move, then they have supposedly accepted the queen. I moved one bee, she resisted, I moved a few more and they seemed to move easily…I think.
So I watched them, thought I saw some bees extending their probosces after which they were clearly grooming themselves, as this was how bees spread queen substance among themselves, I decided all was well and took the tape off the candy plug. There were queen cells started which were dispatched. I’ll check the cage in a few days to see if she’s released, then leave them alone for a couple of weeks.


Using a toothpick to suspend the cage between frames. You can see how the cage is covered. Friend or foe?



You can see their eagerness for the queen.

Status check

Checked hives on Sunday: Pink hive still no queen, not unhappy. Gave them a frame of eggs from the Aqua hive. Need to check the frame for queen cells on Friday or Saturday.

Aqua hive still has the blue queen, doing very nicely.

Two mating nucs robbed out, no queens though nicely exited queen cells…sigh. VERY difficult to have small nucs near the big hives when there’s a dearth.

Gave the nuc a few more frames and expanded their space into one of the failed mating nucs.

Orange hive: hopelessly queenless. Was hopeful when I saw larvae until I realized it was drone brood. Kept checking cells until I found what I was looking for: several eggs in one cell and eggs on sides of cell. SIGH…. Letting this one go. I knew I would have to steal brood from the other two hives to make a nuc for the new Carniolan queen coming on Monday and I didn’t want to weaken my hives any further by boosting a failing laying worker hive. Done with this one.

Purple hive–doing fine, needs more food.

Monday, made up a nuc and picked up the queen. Kept her in my closet. Added her Tuesday night, no queen cells on the brood frames. Will check Friday for queen cells and make sure it’s not robbed out. Will open the worker space to allow interaction with queen on a minimal basis. Crossing fingers!!

Queen piping

Last week, my husband helped with my colony inspections. As we were looking at my strongest colony (Pink), he looked at the queen excluder and said “That’s an interesting looking bee.” I quickly looked and discovered a virgin, trying to make her way through the excluder, she was likely newly mated as she could no longer fit through the slats.

There were a few supers above the excluder and an imrie shim which allowed super access for the foragers. She very likely made her exit via the imrie shim and then struggled to get back into the brood chamber. I had no idea how long she may have been there. I marked her on the off-chance she would be the reigning monarch.

I kept her caged as we went through the colony. We found lots of queen cells, they appeared to be for swarm prep as, in my brief experience, they don’t make 20-30 queen cells for superseders.

I left them as is, released the newly marked queen and closed them up. [Likely swarmed]

The next challenge came in the Orange hive. It was apparently queenless but had polished cells that appeared to be waiting for a queen. But they were markedly unhappy. I saw queen cells that were opened, thought I saw closed queen cells and polished brood cells but no eggs and they were clinging to us and head-butting incessantly. We closed them up as they were obviously unhappy with our intrusion. [Likely queenless or waiting for a queen to mate]

The Purple hive appeared to have eaten through everything they had so I gave them a quart jar of sugar syrup (had one conveniently in the freezer from spring feeding!) That was emptied in 2 days so I’ve been feeding them to get some stores for them. [Hungry]

The Orange hive was bothered again on Wednesday as I had decided to take one frame of queen cells out (that I thought I saw in there) and make another nuc. They were even worse tempered than previously! I decided to give them a frame of eggs to see if they were queenless or waiting for a queen to mate and lay. I pulled a frame of eggs from the Aqua colony next door (very calm–markedly different reaction to being opened).

I rechecked the Orange hive yesterday–still no queen laying that I could see, no queen cells on the frame I gave them and no evidence of a laying worker. Their temperament was better so I’m crossing fingers that there will be a laying queen next weekend. [More likely a queen needs to mate]

Now for the fun part. I wanted to see if the Pink hive kept that virgin I marked and whether she had destroyed the remaining queen cells. I checked all 20 deep frames and found 17 neatly opened (from the bottom end) queen cells. In addition, as I checked the first few frames in the brood chamber, I found 2 queen cells still capped. I heard this tiny squeaking and thought some little bug was flitting about my head or that I was hearing a new bird far away in the woods. As I picked up another frame, this one also with 2 capped queen cells, I heard the sound again. As I looked at the cells it hit me! The queens were piping! They were either challenging a queen I couldn’t see or each other while they were still in the cells. What to do? What to do? Can you hear the hand wringing?

I quickly decided to make queen mating nucs, these queens would be emerging very soon and I wanted them alive. I used my queen castle to put one frame in each. This queen castle was already housing the blue laying queen (she’s a laying beast) from the Pink hive, and will now hold her 2 daughters in neighboring chambers.

ETA: found an audio of queen piping:

Extra queens are always handy to have on hand. I much prefer using queens the bees have decided to raise rather than creating a tiny nuc with few resources and expecting them to raise a good queen.

I’ll check next weekend to see how they’re faring. I hope to be marking 4 queens. Mind you, I have another queen on order that should be coming soon.

To keep my brain straight, these are the queen genetics currently:

Queen castle, Pink and Aqua colony same lineage. Orange colony is distant VSH. Purple colony (still original from Peter’s? Bjorn Apiary over 15 years ago.)






Brief update

Sorry folks, no pictures on this one as I was working alone and tried to do this quickly. I spotted walking drones last weekend and usually, that is a good indicator that you can soon make splits or nucs. Once I spot them, I like to wait a week or two before making a split. Drones are needed to mate with virgin queens so there’s no sense in making splits if there are no drones to mate with! I am making a split for myself and another beekeeper who is buying a nuc from me. A key principle to making good queens is to have many bees that can tend to the larvae. If you take out a couple of frames of eggs and capped brood and put them into a nuc, you can expect to have a poorly cared for queen larva and as a result, she may not last as long as a queen. However, if you move the already existing queen out of the parent hive and place her in a smaller nuc, you leave the parent hive, which has A LOT of resources — bees, honey, pollen, open and capped brood — to make the new queens. You are then increasing the likelihood that the queens made by the parent hive will be very good queens. It takes many bees to make good queens, so letting the larger hive make the queens is the preferable way to go.

I’ve been toying with buying the Nicot queen rearing system but I think I’m going to hold off. It involves having many queen cells in one hive that are cared for by the nurse bees. That requires A LOT of bees and I do not have the space for mating nucs or for the equipment at this time.

So this was the plan I came up with: take the laying queen out of the purple hive (which looks overstuffed with bees at this point) and put her into the defunct orange hive. I would add a frame of nurse bees and brood from each hive and thus start a new hive for myself to replace the orange one that died. By stealing a little from each hive, I lessen the impact on any one hive. The queen will keep laying; the open brood, capped brood, many frames of existing honey and pollen and adhering nurse bees will continue to grow the new hive. Any foragers that may have been on the frames will return to the original hives leaving the nurse bees and house bees. My only concern is that the foreign bees not kill that queen, I added more frames from her hive to increase the likelihood that her bees would protect her. We’ll see. I had to go through the Purple hive 2x to find her. Turns out I have 2 new queens and one queen from last year in my hives. The Pink hive still has their queen and the Aqua and Purple hive both have new queens, from this year. I hope they emerged during good weather…

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part! Once the parent hive makes the queen cells, I will cut them out gently (I use wax foundation so this should be fairly straight-forward) and place them in nucs with capped brood that is added. Once the queen has mated and has started laying, I will mark her and then sell the nuc. I try to prevent swarming by taking brood out and decongesting the hive. Making nucs is a good way to do this. I hope to make about 4 nucs a year, so far I’m making 2 and I may make a 3rd one for someone who wants to start keeping bees.


The black locust has started to bloom and the bees are going nuts. We have been extremely fortunate to have remarkable weather: most days have been sunny with temperatures in the 80’s and below. A little rain to supply the plants and the reservoir, the vegetables and fruits.

I had added honey supers a few weeks ago and the bees had diligently started filling them up, drawing out the foundationless frames.

But when I saw my first black locust bloom last Wednesday and then progressively more black locust, I knew I needed to check the hives this weekend and man, was  I right! Oh my gosh, what was supposed to be a full inspection turned into a rapid honey super check with a mad dash to add supers and frames.

There were unassembled frames I was able to put together on Saturday, but I had to drive down to Jim’s on Sunday morning to get more supers and even more frames. A friend and I assembled frames and supers, I put small-cell foundation in the deep frames while she was given creative license to paint the supers at will. She seemed to enjoy that and I loved how many supers and frames we put together: 3 supers and one deep box, 40-50 medium foundationless frames and 30 deep frames. And everything was painted! What a relief, a crazy and productive weekend.

But I haven’t even updated you on the nuc! After aborting full hive inspections I wanted to look at the nucs. Hoping but not expecting to find queens, I pulled a frame out and hot-damn, found eggs! Also found the queen and marked her with a neon green dot.

Checked the other nuc, it still hadn’t built out one of the frames, whereas the other had biult out all of the frames. I wasn’t sure about it but when I pulled it out…eggs! Then I found that queen and marked her as well. Four strong hives and 2 good nucs!

I think I’m going to donate a nuc to a local nature center if they need it, otherwise, I may sell them. This may be a nice way to offset the costs of beekeeping, selling a few nucs every spring. This is an expensive hobby but I have to say, I just love it.

Bees don’t read the books


It’s Mother’s Day in the US and rather than go out to eat, which is the norm, I wanted to stay home and work in the garden. Good thing! I was just about to head in for lunch when I looked out at the hives and saw bees EVERYWHERE. And I really mean everywhere, as in a 15-20 foot radius around the hives. I ran over, holding my hair down to keep bees out of it and stood just within that radius. The orange hive looked like it was bearding but I wasn’t sure if it was a swarm, because it didn’t coalesce at all, or if it was just loads of bees orienting (they were flying the way they do when orienting and then going off into the distance). My hunch is that they were not swarming.

Anyway, I geared up PRONTO and with my husband helping we started with the orange hive. Can I even tell you how many queen cells we found? Capped and uncapped, PLUS we found eggs and 3-4 day old larvae. If you read the books, they’ll tell you that when the bees are preparing to swarm, the bees will keep the old queen from laying to trim her down and make her “flyable”. That was not the case here. We looked in 3 out of the 4 hives and found loads of capped and uncapped queen cells in the orange hive and the pink hive (same genetics mind you!). We couldn’t find the old queens in either hive and decided to just make 2 splits. Took 2 frames with queen cells on them, another frame of pollen and honey and put them in my homemade nuc, dumped bees in there hoping some would stay. So I now have 2 nucs and the 4 hives.

As for the purple hive (we didn’t go into the aqua hive), it may actually be queenless as I found capped worker and drone brood, one uncapped queen cell but not a single egg. I’ll check it again in week or 2 and see what the deal is.

I had mentioned using the Taranov board, I need to make one to have it ready. To have a hive open, then close it, go make the board and open it again is just too much. Having whatever you may need, ready to go, makes all the difference. I am so glad we made that nuc box a few weeks ago; though today was extremely chaotic, it would have been much worse without that nuc!

I’ve been wanting a garden cart to haul my gear to the hives. Normally I have to carry my smoker to the shed, light it, get my frames and boxes ready just in case I need to swap anything out or add something. I carry all this separately to the hive stand and then reverse it after the inspection. Now I have this:

Hnady dandy garden cart! See the frame rest hanging off the back?

Handy dandy garden cart! See the frame rest hanging off the back? This is wide enough to hold my hive bodies. It’ll make harvesting honey easier too!

Just load it up and pull away, cleaning up was so much easier.

As for the new set-up, I have no idea if the nucs will work or not, but if they end up succeeding I’ll have to find a different place for them.

I sincerely hope they didn’t swarm, one of the neighboring beekeepers set up a swarm trap…

Two nucs in one deep.

See the nuc between the blue and pink hive? Two nucs are in that one deep.

While we were in the midst of some extremely unhappy bees, I heard one buzzing around my head but she sounded awfully close. I asked my husband to check my hood to see if she had latched on to the cloth and was readying herself for an attack on my head, turns out she was inside my veil! She had just attached herself to my hair via the HOLE that formed in the cloth! Thankfully hubby got her out before she got me, but then he grabbed some duct tape and closed the hole for me until I can actually fix it:

Stymied the attack bee!

Stymied the attack bee!

I’ll keep you posted on the nucs, I don’t think I can manage more than 4 hives, it’s just too much work for the little free time I have available. If everything ends up working, I may sell these. I also have some pictures of the garden I’ll post soon. I hope everyone is having a great bee season so far.

Winter prep

Connie and I went to the Howard County Beekeepers meeting where Jerry Fischer, the Maryland State Apiary Inspector was the speaker. He covered preparing the bees for winter and he mentioned a few interesting things, italics are my additions:

1. You may know that the winter cluster of bees consists of bees huddled over frames of brood and honey, which usually spans between two hive bodies. If that is the case, when you hear “don’t break the cluster”, it means don’t reverse the two hive bodies as you would in spring. I would assume that this also means if your bees are confined to one box then don’t move the frames the bees are on.

2. Cluster temperature (when not over brood) is usually 25 to 30° above the outside temperature.

3. In our area, you can assume that the bees created after September 1st are the winter bees. All of the bees born by the end of August will be dead by Christmas.

4. They recommend one deep of honey/sugar syrup or 2 mediums for the winter.

5. Every gallon of 2:1 sugar syrup equals 7 lbs of winter stores. That makes sense as one gallon of water is 8 lbs, adding 10 lbs sugar increases the volume to 2 gallons and the bees still have to drive off the moisture to cap it.

6. Bees seldom consume more than 15 lbs of food between November and December. After the winter solstice is when consumption increases rapidly as the queen starts to lay again.

7. When the outside temperatures are greater than 47°, the bees can move on the honey and change their location. Lower temperatures trap them in place.

8. Bees CANNOT cluster on foundation, it must at least be drawn comb. So for those of you who have just started beekeeping, make sure you leave the bees only with drawn comb and not unworked foundation. Remove the undrawn frames and put nothing in their place, just make sure the frames left are in a group with no empty space in between them.

9. There are approximately 2800 packages sent to Maryland beekeepers every spring. Take care of your bees and you won’t be one of them.

10. Black locust and tulip poplar are the major flows in our area; having drawn comb for the honey supers will greatly increase your honey harvest.

11. To be a good beekeeper you need to understand the biology and habitat of the honey bee.

So how is my winter prep going? I have the four hives and they all appear to be coming along very nicely.

Melissa, the orange hive is 2 deeps and one medium, there is one unworked frame of foundation which I expect to be drawn out this week.

Demeter, the purple hive is two deeps, one undrawn frame of foundation

Peony, the pink hive is one deep and one medium, there are 2 undrawn frames in the deep

Aphrodite, the teal hive is 2 deeps with most of the frames drawn (about 8 were drawn in 2 weeks!).

I did not treat for mites this year, I hope that wasn’t a mistake, I’ll talk about that another time.

Since the end of July I have fed them 218 lbs of sugar. I was mixing 8 lbs of water and 10 lbs of sugar, I have now thickened it to 6 lbs of water and 10 lbs of sugar. I stopped feeding the purple and orange hives and as of this weekend I am just feeding the 2 new hives. The pink hive took 2 quarts in one day, I added more today and will keep filling it as needed. The teal hive actually strengthened quite a bit in the past 2 weeks, I was pleasantly surprised.

I hope everyone’s winter preparations are going well and we all come out of the winter with live bees! It’s getting surprisingly cold here for Maryland.

Honey Harvesting

I had PLANNED to harvest some today. Our club bought a two frame extractor which I was fortunate to be the first to request. It’s actually a great size for small-fry like me. I wanted to increase my drawn comb supply and this is the only way to do it unless you leave out frames for them to rob. So we went into the hives this morning targeting Melissa as the major honey contributor. Well, let me tell you something, about a month ago there were 3 supers worth of honey on there. Over the past few weeks I was trying to move the queen down into the deeps but since I couldn’t find her I couldn’t physically shift her down. So I did the next best thing, I used queen excluders. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong pretty much each time I shifted the excluder. So she ended up locked in place in the honey supers and the bees made room for her to lay which of course meant moving all that nice honey! OF COURSE! So in about 1/2 of the frames, the middle of the honey frames were filled with very nice brood. Sigh. Of course I want brood but I have people clamoring for honey and right now I need that too!

This picture shows my most intense search attempt. I blocked off each body as I looked at it, I used the pillowcases to make sure the queen didn’t move between the boxes as I checked and double and triple-checked for her. Anyway, I didn’t find her at that time.

These are my hive drapes, a.k.a pillowcases!

These are my hive drapes, a.k.a pillowcases!

But I did find her two weeks ago and moved her into the deeps using the most fantastic tool of all for those of us too terrified to pick up a queen by hand: a queen catcher.

Queen in queen catcher, safe and not squished by ME.

Queen in queen catcher, safe and not squished by ME.

Today I got to see the results: she was in the top deep (I was worried she didn’t lay in the bottom deep at all) with several frames of open brood, none were capped so she had just moved up there this past weekend (because workers are capped at 9 days remember? Bee math will help you every time). We moved onto the bottom deep and found at least 4-5 frames of beautiful, beautiful capped brood. Can I even begin to tell you how elated I was? We replaced the queen excluder above the top deep and from the honey supers, which were mediums, we pulled off the frames that were capped, (8 were capped completely and one was mostly capped). There was another super’s worth of partially capped honey, I suspect that the uncapped honey is actually ready to be capped but I can’t be sure. Since I want to quickly get the extractor to the next person waiting, I ordered a refractometer to test the honey and see if it’s okay for extraction. I’ve read of bees not capping the honey even when it’s 17% water so I decided to check. If it’s not ready, I’ll just wait until it is or I’ll leave it for them

I weighed one of the fully capped medium frames and it weighed 3lbs and 11 oz. It likely has about 3lbs of actual honey and from the 9 frames I hope I can get a solid 25lbs. I feel like one super isn’t worth using the extractor for and I would really like to get at least another super’s worth, but I will do it if I have to. I’ll keep you posted.

Successful supercedure!

New purple queen! Oh my goodness, my eyes were NOT deceiving me! Two weeks ago, I thought they were queenless and asked Connie for a frame of eggs. I decided to wait a week and see of they were really queenless. Just another week and look!
Remember to click on the pictures to make them bigger and see the details better.

Capped worker brood!

Capped worker brood! At least 2-3 frames of capped brood and another of open brood.

I thought I saw eggs and larvae last week but the sun wasn’t angled right for me to be SURE, until now. Man, what a relief. Not only is the genetics of the hive preserved, the hive is now queenright. The old queen was a 2011 queen and to show the age of the current reigning monarch, I was planning to mark her.

I found these at Walmart:

I used the bright blue one to mark her.

I used the bright blue one to mark her.

I tried using the press-in cage to mark her but that was NOT successful. I used the queen catcher to move her into a marking cage:

Queen in marking cage.

Queen in marking cage.

Marked queen. I added a little white dot to make her a little easier to spot :)

Marked queen. I added a little white dot to make her a little easier to spot 🙂

See her?

See her?

When using the press-in cage, I inadvertently marked other bees too.

When using the press-in cage, I inadvertently marked other bees too.

I tried to put the queen marking cage in between the frames and the cage was so mobbed with bees that she doesn’t appear to have room to leave:

You can feel the energy of these bees surrounding the queen.

You can feel the energy of these bees surrounding the queen, I love this picture.

I shook her into the bottom deep and left them alone. I plan to start feeding them at the end of June/beginning of July to get them ready for winter. I hope to be able to harvest from two hives next year, I have some serious honey demands to meet.

Rubberbanding rogue comb

Melissa had a couple of medium frames in the top deep, and I hoped to get them out before the bees drew any comb on the bottom. Well, I was too late:

Comb on the bottom of a medium frame

Comb on the bottom of a medium frame

Two layers!

So, now what?

So, now what?

I cut the comb off gently because I saw eggs in there:
Rubber bands can solve a lot of problems.

Rubber bands can solve a lot of problems.

I managed to use two frames with the comb cobbled into the frames.

I managed to cobble the cut comb into two frames.

This all happened the last weekend in May and the bees are supposed to attach the comb to the frame. I checked a week later this past Sunday and I found this:

SHOCKING! Something actually happened the way it was supposed to!

SHOCKING! Something actually happened the way it was supposed to!

I'm glad I saved the comb, I saw it had eggs and doubted it had drone comb this late in the spring. I was right.

I’m glad I saved the comb, I saw it had eggs and doubted it had drone eggs this late in the spring. I was right.

This is the wonkiest one and my favorite.

This is the wonkiest one and my favorite.

I’ve heard about strange comb building, particularly on plastic frames and thought I would post my example:

Such strange comb building happening on plastic frames I hear. This comb looks like lungs, fascinating.

This comb looks like lungs, fascinating.

Side view of the same frame. Again, fascinating.

Side view of the same frame. Again, fascinating.

If you recall one of my previous posts with the queen cells, there was that one that appeared to be a capped queen cell until you looked at it from the side, I checked it out because it looked exactly the same and when I cut it open it was just solid wax, not a queen cell. I think that was the spot my hive tool squished some cells and the bees drew it out in that funky way. As a reminder, it looked like this:
See the side? It's actually just filled with more cells, it does NOT appear to be a queen cell.