June 2nd update

Finally a stretch of sunny days after prolonged rainy period. Concerned about virgins being able to mate.

Noticed the pink hive (scale hive) was losing weight and dumping drones. Scooped up a bunch of dead bees on the ground in front of the hive–of the 37 dead bees, 36 were drones. They do this when they’re trying to conserve resources. This colony has swarmed 3 x and has now made itself queenless. Added a frame of eggs from the chicken coop colony. Need to check for queen cells.


5 frame nuc stack is filled with drone brood–virgin failed (had a lot of rainy weather) didn’t see multiple eggs per cell (except last week found a queen cell with 7 eggs in it). Maybe a drone laying queen or laying workers. Leaving hive to die off (maybe it’ll fill the frames with honey that I can extract?)

Aqua hive-Two queen stack: top colony is queenright all frames are built out so I gave them a super of foundation. There are SO MANY bees (this was the Taranov colony) that the inner cover is completely covered by bees. It’s “boiling over” as they say. Hope they work that super. Bottom colony had been given a frame of eggs last week, no queen cells but I saw eggs, FINALLY! Didn’t spot the queen, will keep an eye out.

Orange hive–they started to draw out the supers! This hive has over 80 pounds of honey in the top deep, saw eggs in the bottom deep last week, couldn’t find her.

Deep colony between orange and purple hive–at first I thought she was not doing well…boy was I wrong, found several frames of solid brood there are 4 unused forms. Will be exploding soon…

The medium orange on top of this deep—all 10 frames are worked and being filled, added super.

Purple hive working the two supers.

Chicken coop colonies: top one has laying queen, working steadily on the frames. Space is adequate. Bottom colony (Taranov parent)–working 2 mediums and all 10 deep frames are in use. The queen is MASSIVE! I’ve never seen such a big queen, she looked like one and half queens…VERY long abdomen.

Queen castle with super: removed the queen excluder from the stronger side. We’ll see if they draw it out even a little.

Cardboard nuc has a queen, all frames are drawn or being worked. No eggs, but the frames looked as if they were preparing for her to lay. Saw the queen, top of her abdomen was larger than the bottom–ovaries developing?

I’m surprised they are putting up as much as they are considering there have been 10 swarms from the 4 colonies (3 swarms each from 2 colonies). As a collective apiary, they are working on 7 supers that were just foundation–I hope these frames are at least drawn out even if they aren’t filled. Drawn comb would be fantastic. Since our nectar flow is so short, getting supers drawn out here is a top priority/struggle every year.

That’s one thing I can say for swarms…even though they drive me mad, they are extremely eager to work that wax! Hopefully their eagerness will be my benefit.


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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYecvVhkpKI

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.)






Early season

This is a very unusual spring. About 2 or 3 weeks ago I heard of beekeepers checking hives and finding drones. DRONES! I checked a friend’s hive and found the same thing on March 12th. Finally had a chance to look at mine on the 18th and found drones, unbelievable. Last year I saw walking drones around April 6th. So the drones this year are appearing a month earlier. Everything is early except for the numbers of bees.

Flowers starting blooming a month earlier than prior years. This year, the maples started by the first week in March and were done by the 16th. Redbuds started blooming on Monroe Ave. on the 9th and dandelions were spotted on March 16th in sporadic areas. March 18th saw forsythia blooming in spots around our area. Bradford pears started blooming in Baltimore yesterday (22nd).

For contrast, in 2013 I posted April 8th as the Redbud bloom, the maples were almost done in my yard at that point and Bradford Pears in Baltimore on April 8th.

I suspect El Nino is the cause of this early bloom as the winter has been markedly mild.

I have a prediction: either the honey harvest will be non-existent (due to the disparity between blooms and foragers available), OR it will be very small and very early.

In addition to the drones, there were reports of queen cells in hives. That completely blew my mind. Well, check out my overwintered VSH nuc, a virgin queen who just emerged from a queen cell (found the laying queen as well):


The virgin is in the above picture almost exactly in the middle. And below is one of TWO queen cells with nice, neat openings. This hive worried me when I opened it because it had fewer bees than 2 weeks ago, now I know why. There is a laying queen and 2 virgins in here. Interesting, interesting. image


New queens–UPDATE 7/10

I had decided to add new genetics to my apiary. I prefer varroa-resistant traits from local breeders. But as new honey bee strains are developed, I expect to add those as well. I do not plan to use these queens as replacements for my main hives, but keep them for my own nucs and to make/sell extra nucs. I wanted anything that decreases mite load or increases mite resistance. Clearly the number of drones created from these queens will just be a drop in the bucket in the local DCAs, but I believe if every beekeeper in the area made an effort to keep just one VSH queen (or equivalent), it could make a difference in the battle against mites. However, something to consider which many do not, is that these queens are from breeders and the breeders are from a specific line of bees. So the genetics is not varied. I expect that having an apiary consisting of 2 or 3 different varroa hygienic bees will be key to success. There are several lines that are being developed or are currently available which are considered to be either mite-tolerant or varroa-sensitve/hygienic: VSH (uncap mite-infested pupa), so-called “ankle-biters” (attack mites), Russian bees (mite resistant). There may be others I’m not aware of.

So I picked up 2 VSH queens (Italian) from Log Cabin Bee Farm. They came in JZBZ queen cages like this:
VSH queens

The q-tips are there to provide water (just add a couple of drops to keep it moist), the pink plugs are attached to the candy end (candy end UP) and held between brood frames via that little fork-like extension for 2 days. After 2 days, if the queen appears to have been accepted and you want to allow the candy to be removed by the bees, remove the pink plug, use those wooden sticks taped to the orange base to hold the queen cage between frames with the candy end DOWN. DO NOT PIERCE THE QUEEN!!

Check in two more days, if the queen has been released remove the cages and leave them closed for the next 2 weeks.

Tip from the queen breeder:
One way to check whether the bees are being aggressive toward the queen is to gently push the bees away from the cage, if they move easily then they’re calm. If they resist being moved (likely gripping cage with mandibles) then they’re aggressive toward the queen. You’ll need to make sure there’s no queen in there or a laying worker. But laying workers usually take about 3-4 weeks to develop.

To prepare for the queens, on Sunday I had removed a frame of capped brood and a frame of mostly capped brood from the hives to make 2 nucs (plus capped food). Before adding the queens, I made sure to remove any started queen cells.
started queen cells

I will do this again before exposing the candy–one frame had open brood and I want to make sure they’re not thinking of making a new queen.

Here they are, suspended between capped brood. That capped brood will emerge and WANT to accept that queen. She’ll be the only queen they know and will gladly accept her as their own. Once the queen has laid her own brood, there will be bees that smell like her and acceptance is improved. I hope they don’t try to supersede these ladies. There is a divider between the nucs.
VSH queen installed

I went to check on the queens and noticed more bees than I expected in the nucs–looked for more queen cells and as I did I saw quite a bit of debris on the hive stand through the screened bottom. Hmmmmmm. Looked like bits of wax to me. I pulled the frames of honey and saw that the cell edges were jagged and EMPTY. Robbed out. Damn robbers. Probably my big hives were robbing the little queen nucs.

I left the pink caps on the queen cages to protect the new queens from the robbers and closed the entrances completely. Can I even get across to you HOW MANY BEES were trying to get in there?? Within 20 minutes they were all gone.

I do not have another hive stand that I can put them on. So my only option is to move them closer to the house somewhere. I need to feed them and protect them. But I need to feel ALL of the hives to keep this from happening. I was planning on starting that when I got back from vacation but looks like I’ll be starting sooner. Oh brother.

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.

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.

New queen

My purple hive, Demeter, had an open queen cell on June 30th. On July 4th it was capped and I calculated that the virgin should emerge July 11th. I waited 2 weeks before checking for brood just to make sure she had time to mate and I didn’t disturb them too soon. I quickly checked them July 28th and found a frame of capped brood, open brood intermixed with pollen and then approximately 2 frames of eggs and young larvae. I kept looking and looking and found her on the last frame of eggs. I was able to catch her and mark her though the plunger dropped on her rather quickly and I’m worried I maimed her, guess we’ll see. As always, click to enlarge the pictures.

Queen Pamela (it means "sweet" and "honeyed").

Queen Pamela (it means “sweet” and “honeyed”), marked pink.

Queen cups in the upper deep. These are always here, ready to be used if needed. They'll build them, break them down, build them somewhere else. These are in all my hives and yours too, don't panic. Take note if they become elongated, inside you'll find royal jelly which is a milky substance, and larva.

Queen cups in the upper deep. These are always here, ready to be used if needed. They’ll build them, break them down, build them somewhere else. These are in all my hives and yours too, don’t panic. Take note if they become elongated, inside you’ll find royal jelly which is a milky substance, and larva.

Probably one of the most beautiful sights for a beekeeper: worker larvae from a new queen.

Probably one of the most beautiful sights for a beekeeper: worker larvae from a new queen.