A Visit from an Experienced Beekeeper

Wednesday. Today Allan came back and answered all of my questions and concerns while going through my three bee hives. He's been a beekeeper for 30 years or so, so he has a tendency to just dive right in, so I asked if he could hold back and watch me working the hives so he could see if my technique was okay and make suggestions.

Even though he was worked with bees for years and has several hives of his own, you could tell he was getting a thrill looking through someone else's hives. This was great. I was worried I was going to bore him since he has seen all this before... But no. And unlike Adam, he is very quiet and calm with the bees, moving very slowly.

 Allan about to look at the frames in the bottom box of Hive 2

Allan about to look at the frames in the bottom box of Hive 2

 Showing me how to use the hive tool to pry the frames apart

Showing me how to use the hive tool to pry the frames apart

 Looking for the queen

Looking for the queen

First we checked the new hive (Hive 4): my swarm he had caught for me the day before (see last blog). We found the queen and all looked well, and after I gave them some sugar syrup, we closed them up and turned to one of the more established hives.

Hive 2: This was the one that had had the 13 queen cells 2 weeks previously. My worry was that I might have moved the queen to the new hive I created from moving frames with queen cells to a new hive box. However, the last time I had looked in this hive, you may remember that I had spotted a queen, which was a relief. However, I couldn't see any brood cells, which was worrying. But Allan also found the queen and pointed out the brood cells. He held up one of the frames so the sun shone down into the cells, and you could just see a tiny speck at the bottom of several cells in the center of that frame. Those were eggs.

 If you look carefully, you can see a little speck at the base of the cells in the center of this picture. Those are eggs.

If you look carefully, you can see a little speck at the base of the cells in the center of this picture. Those are eggs.

 The queen is in the center of this frame. Allen pointed her out. Can you find her?

The queen is in the center of this frame. Allen pointed her out. Can you find her?

He also found another queen cell! I had been telling him about how I had taken out all the queen cells to prevent a swarm a couple of weeks earlier, and he said, "The next time you have 13 queen cells, please let me know!" I said I would. Wish I had known! So when we saw that new queen cell, I told him he could have it if he wanted it. He did! He got his pen knife out, carefully carved it out, and placed it in the box I store all my bee gear in. "This hive was about to swarm again" he commented. Really? How many swarms can a single hive have? The books made it sound like they only do it once. You learn something new every day with bees. 

Allan was quite impressed with how the hive looked and how many bees there were, and they seemed to be performing all their functions as they should - lots of brood and honey, etc. He suggested it might be time to add a honey super. This is a more shallow hive box that you stick on top that the bees start storing their honey in when they have excess. This is the box from which you get your honey for your own use! So this was exciting! I was thinking that since the hives swarmed already, they may not have enough workers to make extra honey. But if Allan thought they were ready for a super, I might as well put one on! I ran back to the house and got a couple of supers.

I had brought some QuickStrips of formic acid - a miticide - to insert into the hive to treat the hive for veroa mites, so we put those in on top of the lower box. When we put them on, it smelled awful! The bees backed away from them as far as they could! They don't like it, and it can exact a toll on brood, apparently, but it reduces the number of mites and if you don't treat them for mites, the hive can die. We put the upper box back on, and the honey super on top of that. Then we closed it up.

Moving on to Hive 1, I opened it up and was taking out frames when I asked Allan why he didn't wear gloves. I noticed he was pulling frames out with his bare hands and never getting stung. I can understand why you would not want to use gloves - they make it so hard to do anything, and mine are too big, and the floppy ends are always getting caught under the frame edges. He suggested I try taking the gloves off. So I nervously removed my gloves and it was so much easier getting the frames out. "Just nudge the bees aside gently" he said, and I thought I was but I immediately got stung, twice! Ahh! So much for that idea! I quickly put my gloves back on!

While we were looking through this hive, Allan found another queen cell! He got his knife and began to chisel it out, although it was a little more tricky, because it was on the side. He got it out and stuck it in his shirt pocket, but while he was doing this, he realized that a bee crawling on him was a queen! He looked at the two queen cells he had taken out so far, to see if one had hatched from there, but they hadn't. I ran to the house to get the girls' Critter Cage so he could put the queen in there. He put her in with a few attendant bees, but was puzzled. Was she the hive queen, or was she a newly hatched queen from another queen cell somewhere in the hive? So we then had to got through the entire hive to find the queen, and to find an empty queen cell. We found both. So the one he had found must have just hatched (I don't quite remember how he knew one was newer than the other). The fact that he had found her when he was removing the unhatched queen cell suggested she may have been on her way to destroy that new queen, and we had got her just before she did! That would also have meant another swarm!

 Bees in the Critter Cage. The queen is the bigger one in the middle. They are going home with Allan.

Bees in the Critter Cage. The queen is the bigger one in the middle. They are going home with Allan.

One other thing Allan pointed out was that I had been putting the inner lids on upside down. I told him that I got that from watching Adam Fuller at the beekeeper demonstrations he does. He laughed, "that makes sense! Adam always puts his inner lids on upside down for some reason, and is training a whole bunch of beekeepers to do the same! But when you it that way it squishes bees! Adam always has a bunch of squashed bees on the inner lid when he opens up his hives!" Hmmm, he has a point there, I thought. I always have flattened bees when I open up my hives and had wondered about that! "If you put the lid this way round, then there is space for the bees on the top" he explained, "and they don't get squashed!"

We put the formic acid strips in the middle, put the second box on, and a new honey super on top and closed it up. Finally, we looked at Hive #3, the one I had put together from frames with queen cells from Hives 1 and 2 back when I was foolishly thinking I could stop a swarm from happening. He found the queen straight away. But then he took a closer look. He pointed out her torn wings and lack of fuzz on her back. "This looks like an old queen", he said. He pointed out a newly hatched worker bee. She was covered in fuzz. New bees still have a lot of fuzz on them. Older bees are more bald. "Oh, really?" I said, "then what I feared was true - I DID move the queen from hive 2 to this new hive by mistake back when I set up this hive!" But what was really strange was that all the queen cells were empty, but the queen was not any of those queens, it was the old queen from hive 2. Did the old queen kill all the young queens? Did they kill each other? What happened in there? We looked at all the empty queen cells sadly and I said, "what a waste of new queens!" reflecting what I was sure Allan was thinking.

I asked Allan if that might have been why the bees in Hive 2 had been acting rather agitated the day after I moved the old queen out. "Probably", he said. "But it looks like they had some extra queen cells and just replaced her", he said.

So the upshot was, Hive 1 had a new queen and was doing well; hive 2 had a new queen and was doing well; hive 3 had hive 2's old queen and they were doing well too (and they too had brood cells which I could recognize now that Allan had pointed them out), also it had recovered from it's raccoon attack; and the newest hive, hive 4 had a new queen too. This was odd since it was a captured swarm, and I thought it was the old queen that took off with the swarm. This is one reason Allan thought a single hive may have swarmed more than once.

For the first time in about a month, I felt a sense of calm. It was nice to know that I had mostly been doing everything right, and all the hives looked healthy and normal. Allan was happy too, as he drove off with his new queen and 2 queen cells. It had been a very interesting 2 1/2 hours.