Monthly Archives: March 2015

Merging Hives

I have two small hives and I’ve been debating about whether to give them brood from bigger hives or to merge them. One of them is pretty defensive, so I decided to remove the queen and merge it with the other small hive.

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I strapped the hive together so I could move it to the bee yard with the other small hive. At dusk when all the bees were home from foraging, I closed the entrance with a paper towel plug. We loaded the hive onto the Gator and moved it next to the other small hive.

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This morning I stapled a sheet of unprinted newspaper to the bottom of a hive box and poked a few holes in it. This will create a thin barrier through which the bees will chew and slowly get to know the scent of the strange hive and their queen. I have to be absolutely sure the queen doesn’t go into that box though, otherwise the two hives will battle and I risk losing both queens.

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I checked each frame before putting it in the papered box, but by the time I had moved all ten frames, I still hadn’t seen her.

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To make sure, I decided to try a two-phase approach instead. I set an empty box on a bottom board and shook all the bees from the frames before putting them in yet another empty box. This puts all the bees under the frames. Before putting the frames on the set up, I put a queen excluder over the bottom box. The workers will be able to crawl through to the frames but the queen is too big to squeeze through. Tomorrow, I’ll move those frames back into the papered box and on to the other hive.

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Meanwhile, the foragers remember where their hive was yesterday and are pretty confused. They’re clustering on the cinder blocks and even trying to go in to the neighboring hive. Since that’s a very strong hive, they’ll be able to accept the new foragers without too much trouble. A long-time beekeeper explained it like this: if a tornado blows your house away, the first place you go for help is to your neighbor, who of course lets you in.

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Seeking refuge with the neighbors

After letting the hive sit overnight with the queen excluder, I returned to the task. It is much easier to find a queen amongst six bees vs. 6000. She was hanging on the bottom of the excluder trying to join her unruly children.

Her highness has been dethroned

Her highness has been dethroned

Now the two small hives have been merged into one. Both hives will work on removing the paper separating them while the scent of the hive flows through the holes. By the time they are able to get through, they should be one big happy family.

Combined hive

Combined hive

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Spring in the Bee Yard

My hard-working helper and photographer was available over the weekend to help do deep inspections of hives 3 and 4 and the weather was nice. I haven’t checked the status of the bottom deep boxes since last summer. They were happy making honey and had lots of bees, so there was no need. But since spring is finally, joyously here I need to make sure they have plenty of space for brood and new honey and hopefully prevent the urge to swarm.

Many beekeepers believe the bottom box will always be empty in spring because the bees have moved up. I find that to be true sometimes, but hives 3 and 4 are examples of it not being true. They both had brood in the bottom and top deep boxes. However, I still needed to put most of the empty frames in the top. Since I had most of the excess honey from hive 3 several weeks ago, the honey super was empty, but they are building pretty new comb in it.

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The top box had several frames of brood and honey. When I opened the hive, many bees immediately flew out, but instead of buzzing around me, they went straight for the camera. At the end of the inspections, there were several stings in the rubber around the eyepiece.

Baby bees waiting to hatch.

Baby bees waiting to hatch.

I have new gloves from BetterBee. I was using goatskin gloves before, but they only last about a year before they wear through. Gloves with a hole in the finger are not very effective. The goatskin was also pretty thin, so if a bee worked hard enough, she could get her stinger through. My new gloves are cowhide and no stings are getting through, but I still have the dexterity I had with the goatskin.

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New Betterbee gloves

Dark honey left from their winter stores.

Dark honey left from their winter stores

I moved the majority of the brood and a couple of frames of honey to what would become the bottom box and moved two frames of brood, two frames of honey, and the rest of the empty frames to the top. The girls were more than a little indignant over the intrusion. I didn’t see the queen, but as long as there is new larva, I know she’s still there.

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This photo was bee bombed. They were all over the camera.

Reversing the hive bodies

Reversing the hive bodies

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Putting the empty honey super on top

In about 14 days, I’ll go into the hive again and pull one or two frames of brood to put in one of my smaller hives to give them a boost for spring. It will also give this hive more space to keep working. Mid-April, I have new queens coming from R Weaver Apiary. Then I’ll be able to split my two big hives and put a new queen in one of the grumpy hives. I’m also going to try to raise a new queen from hive 5 in the hopes that she will produce a hive with a sweet, calm demeanor, just like her mother.

I also rearranged frames in hive 4

I also rearranged frames in hive 4

IMG_3534Check back again soon for updates on spring splits and requeening.

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Is It Spring YET?

It started out┬álike a typical Texas winter, some cold days, but mostly pretty days. I left the bees with plenty of stores for winter and reallocated honey from stronger hives to weaker hives. I’m so thrilled all six hives survived the winter.

So far, this year has started out very cold and very wet. By the middle of February, I was really looking forward to the warmer days of March. But Mother Nature had other plans. Freeze after freeze after freeze. Snow. Ice. Wind. On and on it seemed to drag, even into mid-March.

Icicles in January

Icicles in January

On pretty days I assembled empty hive bodies and supers and painted them pretty colors, like lavender, aqua, and yellow. I can’t wait to put bees in them. I also pulled the remaining honey in the supers on hives two and three, as well as a few frames from the deeps to start making room for the spring expansion.

hive colors

Today was finally the first warm day we’ve had in many weeks. I’ve been waiting to check on big hives, pacing the floor (inside, where it’s warm), worrying that it was warm enough in the hive for the queen to start laying even though the outside temperature wasn’t warm enough for me to go into the hives and become overcrowded. Overcrowded hives leads to swarming. I’ve learned that lesson well.

In hive two, the queen is laying in the top deep and there were several frames of uncapped honey. Most of the comb in the bottom deep was now empty as the brood from over winter had all hatched and the bees had slowly moved up into the top deep. Many beekeepers believe once the hive has moved up from the bottom box, they won’t go back into it because their nature is to move up. I’ve not found that to be true 100%, but I have seen it happen and it appeared to be happening in this hive.

Because I was working alone and the deeps can weigh around 100 pounds, I have to approach the management systematically. I also wasn’t able to get pictures because my photographer was off at his real job.

I set up an empty box on a table and moved frames of brood from the top box to the empty box. When it was light enough to move, I removed the top box and set it on the table. Next I checked all the frames in the bottom box. There was a little honey, but mostly empty frames. I removed it and set it on end in the grass.

Next was to reassemble the hive. Most of the brood frames are now centered in the bottom box with honey to either side. The top box has a couple of brood frames, a couple with honey, but mostly empty. And to top it all off, a honey super ready for them to draw comb and fill with honey. There were no swarm cells being formed yet, so hopefully they’ll appreciate all the new space. In a couple of weeks, I’ll check for brood and probably move some brood frames to hive one, which is much weaker because they swarmed mid-June last year.

The bee yard for hives three, four, and five is quite swampy after the 1.6″ rain we had earlier this week, so I wasn’t able to drive all the materials I’d need to do a deep check of hives three and four. Instead, I took just my smoker and hive tool to hive five for a check there.

Hive five is my favorite by far. The sweet queen is laying in both boxes. None of that waste of space for her! And her dutiful workers are bringing in lots of pollen and nectar, so they have new frames of honey to feed all those growing baby bees. I considered removing the robber screen I put up in January, but they seem to be navigating around it well enough and I don’t want to enable robbing again.

Next up on the list will be a deep check of hives three and four. Maybe I’ll have a photographer around to snap some cool pictures of the spring goings-on. But for now, I’ll enjoy the sunny day and keep ducking as the bees I disturbed hassle me in the yard. They’ll forgive me as soon as their tiny brains forget what happened.

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