Sunday, June 5, 2011


The past few days have been real nice, and the bees have been very active. Every late afternoon when I came home from work, I would think, "I could check the bees" but then I thought to wait until the weekend.

Today (Saturday) I suited up around 11:30AM and while I was lighting my smoker, I noticed a lot of bee activity in front of the pink hive. Then I started hearing that characteristic bee swarm sound, and the air in front of the hive started filling up with bees. Yep, the pink hive started to swarm! Here's a video I took of the swarm:

I also took a picture. If you zoom in full screen, every little light brown speck which looks like part of the leaves is a swarming bee!

If you are a beekeeper and you witness one of your hives swarming, you get this pit-of-the-stomach feeling, like "I could have done something!!!" People say that once a hive is determined to swarm, there isn't much you can do. But there are things to do prior to that point to keep it from getting there. More on the condition of that hive later.

I was surprised by the swarm, because I inspected the hive 1 week ago, and I didn't think I saw any swarm cells. But then it just goes to show you how easy it is to miss!

I was hoping (beyond hope, it turned out) that the swarm would land somewhere I could recover it. But my hives sit right up against a heavily wooded area, and just like last time (2 years ago), the swarm took off up and above the trees. This time they went waaaay back in the woods, and I couldn't see the swarm bivouac anywhere (it was either too far up or too deep).

Since I was suited up, I went ahead and inspected the hives. I had never inspected a hive immediately after a swarm.

Pink Hive

Looking at the hive, it was definitely obvious that it had swarmed. There were clearly a lot fewer bees than before and they were very jumpy. I wasn't sure of the new queen had been hatched or not, so I went looking for a queen or evidence of one. I couldn't remember if a swarm occurs before or after the new queen is born.

The top (honey) super wasn't very heavy - the bees had started putting some nectar there, but not in any quantity. Also there weren't too many bees there.

But... when I pulled off the upper brood chamber, it was *heavy*!!! It turns out that there was a ton of nectar (and probably sugar water from earlier feedings) in the super. I suspect this added to the swarm problem - the hive felt there was no room for the queen to lay (and it was probably true).

I had never experienced a hive where the brood chamber was filled up with too much honey/nectar, so it didn't raise any red flags when I saw it last week. But now I know better!

I wanted to look for queen cells or evidence of a queen. What I found was very strange. I found a couple of frames with what looked like torn-out queen cells:

But I also found some uncapped queen cells as well, on the same frame!

I think the bees started some queen cells at different times, so the uncapped cells are still maturing.

It looks like there is a virgin queen somewhere in the hive (I didn't see her, but then a newly hatched queen is small and easily missed). Given the uncapped queen cells which were there, I decided to pull off a frame with those cells into a nuc and start another queen (I didn't want the newly born queen to destroy the queen cells being made). I also left a frame with other queen cells on it in the pink hive, just in case there wasn't a virgin queen there.

I'll leave the frames with nectar/honey alone for a couple of weeks until the queen starts laying, then I'll do some swapping.

Brown Hive

Compared to the jumpy pink hive, the Brown hive was positively tranquil. You could tell they had a queen present. The honey super had some good progress in it. Here's a frame showing some capped honey started. I may get something from this hive!!

The upper brood chamber wasn't as heavy as the pink hive's, so they had a lot more room for eggs. There were plenty of bees in the hive, as seen here (where I removed a frame):

I also was lucky enough to spot Her Majesty:

Notice how the worker bees are clustered around her.

I didn't see any signs of a tendency to swarm - a few queen cups were present, but they were all dry. I'll keep an eye on them. There were plenty of bees in the hive, as you can see from the bees on top of the bars on the top brood chamber (which I had set aside when I inspected the lower chamber):

One of the things I noticed was the rich variety of pollen colors the bees had collected. I tried to take a picture, but it doesn't show the vibrancy of the colors. Click on these to take a look full size:

As I mentioned, I pulled off the frame with a couple of incomplete queen cells from the Pink hive, plus a couple more frames of honey/nectar (I had many to choose from!) and pollen, and made a nuc:

So now my little apiary has grown a bit:

Later that evening, I was finishing up a project for my wife (making a potting bench), and had a little more time left. There was one bee-related construction project I hadn't completed: I need to make a frame to hold grafted queen cells. I could buy one on-line, but I have a lot of standard frames around, so I thought I could make one cheaper.

I had previously purchased the queen cups and the grafting tool. The cups have a little nib that fits into a slot in the frame. It turns out that my table saw makes a slot exactly the right width to hold the queen cups!

Here are pictures of the frame I made:

I spray painted bright florescent orange the top of the frame (so I don't misplace it!) and marked which bar fits where (since I didn't cut them exactly the same size, I wanted to remember which bar went where). So now I have everything I need.

Later in the evening I noticed a lot of activity of bees in and around the two empty hives (one standard size, one nuc) that I leave on my back porch. There were even lots of bees checking out the hive I have in my garage. I had not seen this much attention in the past; I suspect it is foragers from my swarm earlier in the day which were looking for a new home! Wouldn't that be a hoot if they decided to take up residence in one of my empty hives??

(sorry for the lawnmower sound on the video - my neighbor was mowing!)

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