Monday, February 28, 2011

Busy bees and getting ready for spring!

With the weather 76 degrees on Sunday, I knew it was time to do an in-depth inspection of my two surviving colonies, the first real inspection of 2011. When I opened the orange hive, I noticed what looked like a tower of bees over the frames in the top chamber. The bees, in their quest to go higher, had started building comb up to fill the space where the shallow super sets and where the bee candy was located. That was my cue to reverse the hive boxes to put the brood nest together and move some frames around to give the queen room to lay.

As I got down into the frames, here's what I found. As you can see, the queen is already busy laying. I found capped brood and larvae all through the frames scattered around the hive, so she's been all over the place. I decided to move the brood frames together in the bottom chamber, while moving the honey frames to the top chamber. This should remedy the urge for them to build up and over the top frames. I didn't see eggs this trip, but I'm very confident the queen is in residence.

Take a look at this frame from the orange hive. You can see that the queen is laying all through the frames, even those that have honey at the top. As I mentioned earlier, I took all of the frames that held brood and combined them in the bottom chamber, then moved the honey frames together at the top. While March weather can be fickle, the long term forecast for my area doesn't show any really severe winter weather, so I think they should be okay. By the way, the orange hive is full of bees. With the warm snap, I figured they will get the urge to build swarm cells soon. Now I'll have to keep an eye on this colony and do a split when I can get my hands on a new queen.

Here is a frame from the green hive. I only found two frames with a small brood pattern, so its obvious that this queen is behind her sister queen in the orange hive. This queen, while robust when she first arrived, has been much slower than the other two colonies. But I have to give her credit that she's kep this colony going although the numbers are much lower than the other hives. I am considering replacing her with a Minnesota Hygienic and using this queen for a nuc. I honestly believe that she can't produce enough to keep the colony going full force, and if I don't replace her, the bees will.

Deciding that I need to "beef up" the green colony, I took one of the many frames of brood from the orange hive, and put it in the green one. I thoroughly shook every bee from the frame and then moved it over to the neighboring hive. The bees in the green hive were still in the bottom chamber with the brood, and there was plenty of honey at the top. Unlike the orange hive, I did not alternate the boxes in the green hive. Instead, I moved all the brood frames together in the lower deep -- adding the frame from the orange hive as a supplement. Now this should help the numbers in the green hive, and I can move more frames from the orange hive as needed.

Once I moved the brood frames together in the bottom deep, you can see that the bees congregated there. And I replaced some of the frames that were above them and unfinished with drawn comb from the yellow dead-out hive. And I have drawn frames that I'll use for my package coming from Dadant this April. It will just be less work for them when they get here and make their home in the yellow hive.

After putting both hives back together, I slid the orange hive over to where the yellow one sat. The returning foragers did a fine job of finding their way home. That's because the bees stood at the entrance and fanned their scent outward to their returning sisters. When I checked a little later, not one single bee was on the concrete blocks wondering where their home went. Overall it was a successful inspection, and I'll keep a check over the next month to watch for swarming indicators. Hopefully I'll be able to make a split before the ladies hit the road on their own!

Bee safe!


  1. I didn't know nurse bees can be shook off of brood frames. I've always left them on.

    Btw, that's a beautiful brood pattern. You have a good queen there.

  2. Hemlock:

    Thanks for the visit. Its my understanding that if you're going to move brood from one hive to another to build it up, especially moving new brood frames to a queenright hive, you need to shake the bees off -- otherwise you'll end up with a battle royale inside the hive. The weak hive you're trying to build up will see the strange bees (nurse bees) as invaders and you'll end up losing bees while they fight to the death and defeating your purpose. If you already have nurse bees, and you add brood frames, they will tend those frames like all the others. Its sort of like moving brood frames to a queenless hive to keep a laying worker from forming. Older beek tell me the nurse bees will take to all the brood frames and accept the new bees when they hatch. It worked perfectly with brood frames I bought from an apiary in Chapel Hill. I brought the brood here (no bees, just brood) -- put them in the weak hive, and days later, I had bees everywhere.

    You're right, she's a great queen. I think this hive is going to do really well this year. I'm sure the honey will flow from this hive for sure.

    Thanks again for stopping by, and its always good hearing from you!

  3. Your bottom board looks interesting there - I can just see a peek of it in your last picture. Looks like a nice plastic screened bottom that's the full length of the board on the inside. What is that and where did you get it?

  4. Chuck: I got the screened bottom board you see from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. Its called the "Ultimate Bottom Board" and its made from UV treated plastic. When I got it, I was a little disappointed because of the feet. But I've quickly learned to like it. I think I like it better than the plastic screened bottom board from Dadant. I had to return one to Dadant because it bowed and the bees were using the back as a second entrance. I am including a link to the bottom board for you so you can check it out for yourself.

    Here is the link:

  5. I am envious of your 76 degrees! thanks for posting your findings on hive inspection - I am learning so much from your photos as well.

  6. Hemlock:

    My friend, you taught me something! I went to Richard Underhill (The Peace Bee Farmer) and asked him to look over this post about my first inspection for the year.

    First, his advice was to allow the package of bees coming from Dadant to draw their own frames to cut down on the possibility of AFB. He said once the've drawn out one deep, then I can use frames from the yellow hive to supplement the hive.

    Here's where you come in. Just above, I told you where another beek told me to shake the bees off the brood frames when transfering them to avoid in-fighting -- Richard says that's not right. Here's what he said in his email to me; "One other thing, nurse bees generally don't fight. You can usually move a frame of brood into another hive with nurse bees on it. If you are moving a frame with a queen cell on it, for example making an easy split, make sure that you don't shake the frame. In this case, brush the bees off instead to prevent damaging the queen."

    So thanks Hemlock! You've helped me wade through another fallacy and helped me learn something new! I appreciate it! And thanks to Richard Underhill too for setting the record straight.


  7. My fellow members of the Piedmont Beekeepers Association are the ones who told me to leave the bees on when I was supplementing a weak colony last year. The also said the field bees return to their original colony while the house bees stay put. Though, from what you say i guess both ways can work.

    Good luck in 2011, especially that new package. Healthy bees & more honey to you.



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