Sunday, April 11, 2010

Has Mother Nature decided for me? Okay, beeks, I need your help!

Today (Sunday) was such a beautiful day that decided to get out and do a quick inspection. I've been keeping my fingers crossed that my colony would do well and thrive for the next few weeks, but not get the itch to swarm. But I've had a deep feeling that since this colony is a booming colony, their natural urge to swarm would kick in before I could make a manual split. They still have lots of room in both chambers, but I noticed that they're loading up the upper chamber with pollen and the queen was laying really well in the bottom brood box. Matter of fact, when I examined the top deep first, I could tell the queen had laid here and there, and I was feeling a little disappointed that she may be giving out by the spotty laying pattern. But when I got to the bottom brood chamber, she was laying like a champ and in a tight, consistent pattern on most of the frames. Capped brood was everywhere as well as larvae. 

But before I get too far ahead of myself, let me show you what else I found. Look closely at the photo and just above my website brand. I think that's a queen cell they're making in the upper deep. My photography isn't the best here as I was by myself, but if you could have seen this from my angle...the cell had a downward, protruding shape. And as you can see, there is a larvae inside and several nurse bees were busy attending to it. I didn't find any other possible queen cells, just this one, but I did find bunches of drone cells on several frames. And one of the drones was making a fierce racket while I was checking out the frames. Overall they were in a decent mood, a little testy, but I've seen worse.

Of course you can click on any of the pictures to get a better view. And while you're at it, take a look at this picture on the left. That's a little better view of what I believe is a queen cell. And you can see the bees checking on it. While my first instinct was to take my hive took and tear it off, I decided that might not be the wise thing to do. Beekeepers with a lot more experience than me say that it is never wise to rip the queen cells off because if the old queen has already left with a handful of her daughters or is dead or whatnot, then the hive could be queenless and doomed if you do that. So I decided to leave the cell alone and check it again in a few days to see if they finish the job and cap it and see it takes on the unmistakable appearance of a classic queen cell.

While it may be too late to keep this colony from swarming, I've decided that I may be able to buy some time by adding empty frames to keep them occupied for awhile. I added another deep with new frames (plastic foundation) so they can have a head start in case I do get to make a manual split. And if they do swarm on their own, at least I'll have some already drawn frames for when I find another swarm or get more bees. Oh, and I added the empty hive to the left of my current one. I've read that in quite a few instances, bees that swarm will go to nearby empty hives and settle in as opposed to traveling far away. So maybe if they decide to hit the road, they'll find that there's an empty house next door and ready for occupancy.

Okay, gang, I need your help!

Take a good look at the two pictures that shows the "suspicious" cell at the bottom of the frame. Does this look like a queen cell to you? And how would you handle this situation if you were me? Would you have cut the cell out? Or would you leave it alone?

I'm open for all ideas and suggestions. So lay it on me! All ideas welcome!


  1. Mark:
    I have much less experience that you do but I think you did the wise thing. The queen has laid a poor pattern at least once that you saw. Maybe the hive is about to dump her. The extra space might slow down swarming so that is good. If you still believe they might swarm I would consider putting some swarm lure into your other hive. The other thing you might do is make a nice swarm site to attract them in case they do not come back to the hives. One or two of the Backwards Beeks have had success placing some of those flower pot liners in trees. Those are the things made of recycled paper. I think they nest a couple and make sure the "water hose" on the bottom is accessible. Set then out with swarm lure inside or at least sprayed with Lemon Pledge or lemon grass.
    Good luck..

  2. Well, I will leave a few thoughts. Don't take any of them too seriously as this is my first spring as well.

    It does look like a queen cell to me and it does sound like a good idea to leave them an open hive to move into. But do you think it would be a good idea to move it across the yard? I have just noticed that my bees tend to skip over the dandelions and clover next to the hives and find the ones that are a little further away. Just thinking that if she swarms she might pass right by the open hive in the same manner. You could also put a few drops of lemon oil in the open hive to make sure they are attracted to it.

    Just a couple of thoughts- I am anxious to find out how all this works out for you.


  3. Hi Mark,

    I hope you're well. Being a beek with a similar length of service as you, I think I would have done the exact same. The hive, you say, has plenty of space and the Queen looks to be in good health. From reading as opposed to real experience, swarming commencing with the building of several Queen cells at all stages of development (to allow for failures) is more normal. Your single potential is argument against it being anything to be worried about. April here would be very early for swarming but perhaps your climate differs as far as that's concerned. [I am very behind with blogging recently so I have a lot of catch-up to do regarding your spring.]

    I've read about "play cups" but I forget the details of how they appear on the comb. I will ask my bee guru tomorrow evening! I think leaving the cell in place and monitoring its development, or not, seems correct and the positioning of a catch hive next door is a great idea.

    Will be interested to hear others' opinions.

    All the best

  4. Talk about good timing. Shortly after I wrote about how to make a swarm trap a bit on them appeared on Backwards Beekeeper

  5. Hi Mark, If you do suspect the hive is thriving ie pollen coming in and volume of bees including large drone presence, you could rotate frames between boxes.If for example your bottom 8 frames are H,B,B,B,B,B,P,H you could take two B and move them up and put 3 foundations in. so the new configuration would end up H,F,F,B,B,F,P,H. this will buy time and draw foundation.

  6. Dennis: Thanks so much for the ideas and the link to Backwards Beekeepers and the swarm video. I do have one extra hive out already and I have another at the ready too, I just need to get some swarm lure. If I can find some lemongrass oil, that would be best, but in a pinch I have the Lemon Pledge handy. As far as the queen, she laid spotty in the upper chamber, but if you look at the pictures close to the suspicious cell, you'll see she lays in a consistant and tight pattern. I think she's fine, I just think they're getting the swarm urge because they're a full colony. But thanks a lot for your ideas.

    Gareth: Many thanks for your idea about the hive across the yard. I think I my put my other empty hive near a tree and maybe on some cinderblocks. Looks like I have to find that lemongrass oil -- maybe they have it at the local vitamin and natural remedies store.

    Cliff: As always, its great to hear from you and hope you're well. The temperature here made it to 94 degrees F a few days last week, so we went from winter to summer in a few days. The temperature is back in the springtime range now, but I am wondering if they got confused by the weather since it is still rather early? I don't know honestly. But when it got hot here, I removed the entrance reducer and of course I use screened bottom boards. I've got my fingers crossed. Let me know what your bee guru says. I would be very interested. Take it easy!

    Rodbot: Its interesting you said that. I sent an email to beekeeping guru Richard Underhill to ask him about removing the honey frames altogether. They're bringing in tons of pollen that they've already stored, nectar too, and they're storing a lot in the upper deep. So I am wondering, and even asked Richard, if maybe I should take the frames that still honey (I have four full frames of honey) and clean them off, then replace them. At this point I am not so concerned about them starving since the weather is gorgeous here and they have lots to keep them busy. And I've read that if they have no honey to consume before the big event, they won't swarm. Richard is the expert, president of a state beekeeper's association, so I figure he might be able to tell me. I put a third deep on top to get them busy making comb, so maybe that will work. I'll let you know what he says. Thanks for your opinion!

  7. I think your pictures are great Mark! And it looks like a queen cell to me as well. I like your approach to add frames and deeps, and a great point considering moving some honey frames up. I installed a few packages yesterday and really appreciate the bees. I think I'll make this a split year...

  8. Hey Mark,
    Let me first say that I'm not wearing my regular glasses.

    Looking at the images I swear i see an exposed pupae, like a drone cell torn in half when lifting the frame out. It could be new wax on that spot. But there does seem to be some contrast there. I don't know what else to say about it.



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