Number Three?!

Barbara: Remember when Mary Beth told you to stayed tuned for updates about the old hive? Well, we do we have updates! Here’s one from a couple of days ago. And I’ll mention that we’ll follow up soon with this morning’s excitement, which is still unfolding as I type — lord have mercy!


Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?
Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Mary Beth: My learning curve in the last two weeks has been steep, real steep! My blue hive swarmed. Again. I felt like I was in the movie Ground Hog Day.

I walked down to the hive to say hello to my girls on my lunch break on very busy sunny day (sound familiar?) exactly a week after the first swarm. Bees were flying everywhere and they were headed to the very same poison ivy-laden bayberry bush that they gathered on a few days ago.

Now, that first swarm was exciting. I felt great because I’d been successful in catching the swarm and putting it into a new hive — the Top Bar Hive that Ray built for me. This time, not so much. This time was like, “Been there done that!”  Was I missing something? I mean, obviously I saw the starting of queen cells, but I left them because “they” say hives almost never swarm the first year, so don’t worry about it. So I ignored the first signs. If you’ve read anything about beekeeping you soon realize there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and everybody has very specific ideas about beekeeping the “right” way. Well, the bees also have their own ideas. My word of advice is take it all in and then watch and listen to the bees.

Anyway, I got the swarm into the super that I screwed back together a second time and I left it perched on a bucket. The first swarm in the TBH was so happy that Barbara and I decided to experiment with keeping the second swarm in a hive made of large supers.

Alas, it was not my day. The super had fallen over sometime while I was running errands and the bees were gone when I got back. I felt very sad and dejected, but, honestly, relieved because the thought of three hives was a little daunting. But who knows, craziness abounds so I left the temporary hive out near the swamp in a stable place this time. I thought I just might need it again, feeling as I do that the blue hive could swarm again. I say this because when I went to see what was left in Old Blue (as I have now named it) I was surprised to find it full of bees. I counted over 7 queen cells and there were about 6 frames of full brood, some emerging as I was working through the hive.

The frames were filled out nicely and, even though the hive had swarmed twice, I saw lots of honey reserves, which leads Barbara and me to believe that Old Blue is still very healthy. We’re thinking that perhaps it was too productive and it became overcrowded because the bad weather has kept the bees inside for most of the spring. Another factor was that the bees weren’t going up into the super I added because of the queen excluder. So I put everything back the way I found it except for taking out the queen excluder.

About an hour later the bees were all over the front of the hive with their butts in the air. WTF! Now what?! You girls are killing me!! Thankfully they finally settled down and went inside.

The next day I put my ear up to Old Blue and there was a queen bee piping in there. (YouTube has a few videos of Queen honeybees piping if want to hear what it sounds like — really cool.) I could hear her loud and clear when I was kneeling next to the hive. Hopefully she’ll take over and get rid of the other queen cells and that will be the end of it. I keep wondering if I should’ve taken some of the queen cells out. I wasn’t sure, so I decided I would wait and see.

Meanwhile the TBH, which I’ve named the Hippie Shack, seems pretty laid back. They’ve built up six combs already, so I removed the feeder and slid the false back to the end opening the whole hive to them.

Old Blue is going to be the experiment hive. I’m going to learn as much as I can from this crazy hive, helping it out if I can and letting nature take its course. My hope is since Block Island is so lush from all the rain and the current nectar flow is high, that we’ll have an additional large flow in the fall with the Goldenrod and that will help Old Blue pull it together before the cold weather sets in.

I wish the swarm that got away all the best. I hope they find a lovely new home. As for the girls that are left, take a word of advice from Mary J Blige — No More Drama!

Lying in bed last night I was thinking, “Thank god I didn’t get any chickens this year! With my luck it would have been a freak show!!”

Addendum: Well, it’s been a wild ride. This second swarm got away, but we have our answer about whether or not Mary Beth should have destroyed the additional queen cells. I can hear you experienced beekeepers shouting, “Yes!” And, of course you’re right. We thought we should, but hesitated. In our first year, we are bound to make mistakes. Clearly, this was one of them.

So a few months into our adventure, we’ve made good on our promise to tell it like it really is – successes and failures. Our biggest mistake so far was to miss the signs of an imminent swarm. We compounded that by not getting rid of the excess queen cells which led to the second swarm — and the third one that followed, which was the morning excitement that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Another mistake that we think we made was to use a queen excluder. This led to the overcrowding that was another reason for the swarms.

We’ll be filling you in on the story of the third swarm and the status of the hives as soon as we regain our composure. Hopefully, things really have settled down and Mary Beth can get some gardening done. For now we’ll leave you with a picture of one of the queen cells that started it all.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.
Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

3 thoughts on “Number Three?!

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  1. This is great information. I’ve been wondering about swarms and how to head one off. Next hive inspection I’m going to look for queen cells. Also, I think it’s time to add a super as the girls have been busy every sunny day day for the last two weeks. My last hive inspection revealed mostly full frames in the 2nd story so I’m a little nervous they may be getting too crowded. I love your blog, informative, funny, great pictures….you are inspiring.

    1. I’ll be watching for the queen cells as well, I’m hoping the bees don’t swarm this year or at least keep it down to one! Good Luck and keep us posted on your bees.

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