Bees: Post-Winter Results

One out of three isn’t bad.

I started my beekeeping hobby in June 2013 and have been blogging about it periodically. If you’re interested in reading the other posts in this series, follow the Adventures in Beekeeping tag. Keep in mind that the most recent posts always appear first on this blog.

If you’ve been following my blog, you may know that I brought my bees to California with me. After all, I’ll be here for about two months and it’s a heck of a lot warmer here than back home. Knowing that one of my three hives was already dead, I hoped to save the other two and get them an early start on the season.

When I set them up here in California, I discovered that although one hive — last year’s swarm capture — was very strong, the other hive was very weak. So weak, in fact, that when I opened it up a week later to check on it, the bees were gone. Bees from the healthy hive were robbing honey from the dead one.

So I was one for three. With an expected survival rate of 50%, I was batting below average. Disappointing.

The surviving hive, however, was doing amazingly well. I saw that today when I opened the hive and inspected all of the frames. Although I couldn’t spot the queen, there’s plenty of brood in all stages of development in the middle of the hive. As I searched for the queen, I even saw several baby bees emerging from cells. One side of the drone frame is also almost full of capped drone cells. And the rest of the hive’s nine frames are completely built out with lots of stored honey.

Bees

Bees

Bees

I looked for signs that the bees might be planning to swarm, but there were none. I considered doing a hive split, but since I was unable to find the queen and I couldn’t actually see eggs in cells — I really need to either start using black foundation or wearing glasses during inspections — I decided not to risk it. At the rate at which the hive is growing, I expect the bees to start feeling crowded soon. I’ll check it next Friday — when I’ll pull the drone frame and pop it in the freezer — and if there are any swarm cells at all, I’ll split the hive.

One of the problems I had with the hive was its bottom. A friend of mine had made me some screened bottoms for about half the price I’d pay at Mann Lake, my favorite supplier. Unfortunately, he’d used 1/4 inch mesh rather than 1/8 inch mesh. Since the bees could get through 1/4 inch mesh, they’d basically begun using the bottom back of the hive as another exit. I didn’t think this was a good idea. The dead hive had 1/8 inch mesh. So I disassembled that hive, and put the live hive on top of that bottom. I then repositioned it so it was in the same place. I didn’t want to confuse the bees.

Beehive
My surviving hive with queen excluder and spacer beneath honey super. The yellow-orange stuff in front of it is the burr comb I scraped off the honey frames. The bees will clean off the honey and then I’ll collect the wax and melt it down.

With the inspection done and the bottom changed, I put a queen excluder on top of the bottom hive box. That’ll keep the queen in the bottom but allow the workers to come upstairs. I then added a spacer with an entrance. I put the medium hive box on top of that. The box had been full of medium frames but, for some reason, the bees didn’t want to build out comb on the frames. Instead, they were building burr comb on the bottom of the frames.

When I brought the helicopter down to California last week, I brought down some other medium beehive frames I had, including a bunch that already had comb built out. I figured I’d swap in those frames. Maybe the bees would get the hint.

I topped off the box with the screen inner cover that’s always been on that hive and the outer telescoping cover.

I wanted to stop the bees from robbing the other hive, so I packed the other hive into the back of my truck. Later, I’d pack up the spare hive bottoms with their frames in black plastic garbage bags. It was the only way I could think of to keep the bees and ants out.

At this point, I have one very healthy hive that I’ll likely be able to split next week. I also have enough hive parts to build a total of three hives, two of which would have two boxes. And of course, Mann Lake is right in town if I need more parts.

I’m still hoping to find a swarm.

In the meantime, a local beekeeper has 176 hives for sale at a very good price. I’m hoping to buy a few before I head home in April.

What do you think?