Monthly Archives: June 2012

Looking for the Queen

In my last post, I talked about the new drone cells and the cups bees use to start queen cells. Over the next couple of days I did lots of reading about queen cells, swarming, and general bee hive activity. I found a series of articles by a long-time beekeeper, Walt Wright, who talked about those very issues.

Last night we went back to the hive prepared to inspect both the upper brood chamber and the bottom hive body to find evidence that the queen is still laying and is in good shape. This time, I wrote down what we found in each frame. This will not only help me remember this visit, but give me something with which to compare future inspections.

The outer frame on the right is still completely empty, without even any comb drawn on it. When we went into the hive body below, we found that they hadn’t drawn comb on the frame below either. Guess they don’t think they need it.

A view of the brood chamber from above

Back to the brood chamber.

At least five frames have exposed larvae and capped brood on both sides of the frame along with honey around the edge of the frame. Towards the left side of the box, there were also a couple of frames with a good bit of pollen stored. One side of one center frame from entirely capped honey. Much of the larvae we saw in our last visit has been capped now and there is new larvae growing in cells that only had jelly in them a few days ago. This were all encouraging signs that the queen is still laying and healthy. Also, the queen cups were still empty and there were still only two. If the bees were preparing to swarm or replace the queen, there would be more.

Lifting off the top brood chamber wasn’t as scary as I thought it might be. With both of us lifting, it was very manageable.

We only had to look at a few frames before we found the queen. I’m always afraid that I’ve squished her when I put the frame back. So, I pulled the frame out a second time, just to make sure, but her attendants¬† had already moved her to another frame.

We put the upper brood chamber back on and added the first honey super on top of that, so now there are three boxes of frames. I am truly amazed at how quickly the hive has grown from no comb drawn at all to 17 frames full of honey, pollen, and a continuous cycle of larvae and brood.

I decided not to put the queen excluder between the brood chamber and honey super. During my research over the past couple of days, many beekeepers have found that, although they can squeeze through, the bees don’t like to go through it and tend to ignore the box, which defeats the purpose.

I won’t do another inspection for a couple of weeks. It will take time for the bees to begin drawing on the new frames in the honey super. Since everything seems to be going well and the queen is still laying, I don’t need to intrude on their work.


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Drama in the Hive

Today is my birthday and after all the celebratory hubbub settled, we decided to do a hive check before the hustle of the new week hits. The bees have drawn comb on all but two of the frames, which means I need to add a honey super and super-quick, especially given what we saw happening.

We saw lots and LOTS of capped honey. Let me tell you, honey is heavy! I can’t imagine how I’m going to lift a whole box of frames off to check the hive body. But I’m going to have to do just that later this week. Keep reading…

Honey, honey, honey

Several frames have a nice mix of capped nectar/honey and capped brood, although I didn’t see any eggs.

Healthy frame

We saw goopy stuff that I think is royal jelly and puffy stuff that might be bee bread. I’m not sure because it’s really hard to find color photos that are in focus and zoomed in of either substance.

We saw this cool cell with a couple of pollen packets in the midst of lots of nectar.

This bee was rolling a little bit of pollen into a ball.

But then things started getting worrisome. First, I noticed a couple of odd shaped cells at the bottom of one of the frames.

They are the beginnings of queen cells. I didn’t see the queen, but the larvae seemed good evidence that she’s still doing well since the eggs for those were laid up to nine days ago. Hial said he didn’t see anything inside, so maybe no egg has been laid there… yet. If the queen lays an egg there, the workers will fill it up with royal jelly and make a big peanut-shaped cell. Sixteen days later, a new queen will emerge. Are they planning to swarm? They don’t appear to be overcrowded. Is there something wrong with the queen?

Then, we noticed something strange about a group of cells several frames away. Look closely – they aren’t formed on the foundation and are bigger than the other cells around it. I think these are drone cells, although there aren’t any eggs or larvae in them and I didn’t see any drones. But it seems to be more evidence that something is afoot.

The oversized drone cells result in smaller, squished cells between. I wonder what, if anything, they put in those tiny spaces.

So, in a few days we’re going to go in again.¬† I’m going to have to take off the brood chamber (which must weigh 50 pounds if it’s an ounce!) and find the queen in the bottom hive body. I’ve read conflicting advice on the queen cells. If she appears to be ok, I’m going to remove the queen cells. If she’s missing in action or damaged, I’ll probably need to order another queen. Let’s just hope that’s NOT what is happening. Oh, the drama!

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Two Month Hive Inspection

I installed the bees in their brand-new hive two months ago and they got right to work. A little over a week ago I added a deep brood chamber on top of the hive body. Today I checked to see if they’ve been working up there and if the queen is laying.

Hial played with our new video camera, which is supposed to take still shots while recording. The shots aren’t as clear as with our digital camera – might need to play some more to get it just right. I’m thankful for my trusty camera man though and all his help.

I’ve been struggling with the smoker. I usually get a few minutes of smoke before it dies out, which is not helpful when the hive is already open. This time, I used a bigger wad of paper and let it burn for a bit before I put in the cotton. It seemed to be burning well… then nothing. I pulled it all out and relit the paper, then put in smaller wads of cotton and made sure it was actually burning before adding more. Finally, I got it smoking for the whole inspection. I didn’t need it much though. The bees were very calm today, maybe because they’re not as crowded, or because it’s a little overcast.

There are a few bees working on this outer frame, but most of them are on the other side of the brood chamber.

I was glad to see lots of bees working in the brood chamber when I opened the hive. I pulled out an end frame, and the bees there were just starting to work on drawing comb on both sides.

The next two frames had comb drawn on the top half and some nectar stored there, but no eggs.

The fourth frame though, which is next to one of the three frames I moved from the bottom last week, has fully drawn comb and, more important, larvae. Yay! That means the queen has been there. If she works as quickly in the brood chamber as she did in the hive body, it won’t be long before most of the frames are full of eggs and brood.

Taking a closer look for eggs and larvae

Here’s the video on YouTube!

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Moving Up and Making Room

My bees have been begging for more space for a couple of weeks. I can tell because in the evenings, hundreds would be massed on the outside the hive. My deep brood chamber finally came this week, so I was able to give the bees the space they need. My book says to use some full frames as bait to attract the bees to the new box of frames, which means moving three frames from middle of the bottom box to the middle of the top box. This turned out not to be as easy as it sounds.

Every frame in the hive chamber is not only fully drawn, but full of nectar and brood. The opposite side of this frame has larvae but no capped brood yet.

I took out a frame from the edge to give me room in the hive body to move and lift frames. I said in an earlier post that I wasn’t sure I liked my frame lifter, but it does make it easier to pull a frame straight up. I tried using the frame lifter again, especially after having trouble getting a good grip on the frame tabs. I’ve decided the minor damage it does is acceptable.

The queen

The queen was on frame 6.

I had planned to move frames five through seven up to the new brood chamber, but when I lifted frame six, we saw the queen and had to change plans. The last time I looked at this frame, it was full of capped brood. Those bees have all hatched and she’s starting over. I carefully replaced this frame and decided to use frames three, four, and five instead.

Moving full frames to the center of the new brood chamber.

I like things to be orderly. So when I set up the hive in early April, I numbered the frames. I numbered the frames in the new brood chamber too. The numbering didn’t work out exactly as I had hoped, but I can still keep track of which frames I moved and to where.

I’m trying to slide a frame over, but it has so many bees on it, I can’t and I really don’t want to squish any. Time to try something else…

I’m finally starting to get the hang of sliding frames into place without squishing too many bees. In the past I had been trying to slowly slide frames together, but those stubborn bees wouldn’t always move out of the way. I hated hearing that dreaded crunch that screamed, “you’ve squished one!” Using my frame lifter, I’ve figured out how to lower a frame right up next to another without squishing any. That was a bee life-saver later in this expansion exercise.

One side of frame two is all capped nectar.

The other side of the frame has nectar and capped brood.


Putting new frames in the hive body.

After I moved the frames to the new brood chamber, I loosened all the remaining frames so I could make room for the new frames. I carefully put all the full frames next to each other, then slid all of them together to one side of the box to make room for one empty frame, then slid all of them together to the other side to make room for the other two empty frames. Finally, I centered all the frames in the box.

Putting the remaining frames in the new brood chamber.

The last step in the frame moving was to put the remaining empty frames back in the new brood chamber. It took about six weeks for the bees to fill the hive body. I wonder how long it will take them to fill the new brood chamber?


It’s been a great spring for nectar and pollen. We had lots of rain and the wild flowers are in full bloom. I’ve noticed lots of bee balm in nearby fields as well. I think I’ll get some seeds to plant near the hive next year for my bees. At this rate, they should be well supplied for the winter.

The new addition.

This bee got a good bit of nectar on her when I was scraping off extra comb from the top of a frame. Her friends came to help clean her up.

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