Queen Cups

It was time again to check on the hives at Old Frog Pond Farm. They have been growing quickly and I need to check to see if they needs more empty bars again. The weather is warming up quite a bit and we are having some hot days. I like to check on the bees when the temperatures are in the 70’s if I can. Wearing that bee suit in hot weather is not very fun.

I started with the Orchard hive, mostly because I was curious about the status of the ants. The ants were no longer nesting between the window and the door of the window. There were some ants crawling on the hive, but that was it. The observation window door still smelled of peppermint and there is still some cinnamon there as well as in the hive.

The bees have been living on 20 bars and they have filled them. They are growing quickly and seem very happy. This colony is so docile and inviting. Everything looked very good in the hive. They had a good amount of brood, pollen, nectar, and honey. As I got further into the hive, I saw queen cups. Not just one or two, but six. The cups were empty at this point. This was a surprise for me. Last year, I did not find queen cups in either of my hives.

The most difficult part of inspecting this hive was getting the bees to go back into the hive. They all just sat up near the top of the bars looking at me. I tried gently rocking the bars back in and gently blowing on the bees to get them to go back in, but those things were not woking. The bees just wanted to hang out. I used the bee brush a little to gently persuade them to get back inside, but I did not brush them. I just nudged them a little.

Once everyone was back inside, I was able to close up the hive. It took a long time to inspect this hive due to the bees not wanting to go back in. I don’t mind taking the time, it makes the inspection much better when I do not feel rushed or try to rush the bees. They can sense when I am in a hurry and they don’t like it. I don’t like when they are unhappy, so I do what I can to try to keep them happy.

Next it was time to inspect the Willow hive. The last time I was out there was poison ivy around the hive that I had to climb over to get to it. There was also poison ivy at the base of the legs. I spoke to the people at Old Frog Pond Farm and asked them to take care of it. When I got there this time, they had covered most of it up and made a path for me to be able to get to the hive. There was still a little bit near the legs of the hive though.

This colony is also living on 20 bars and they have filled it up. During the inspection I added 4 more empty bars to give them more room to grow. Looking through the hive, everything looks very good. They had a lot of pollen stored up, more than any of my other hives have. They also had a lot of queen cups! Eleven queen cups. All of them were empty still. The queen is doing really well laying. There was a lot of brood in the hive. They also have plenty of nectar and capped honey. This colony is looking really good.

The bees in the Willow hive were also more docile than the ones in the Orchard hive. I did not think that was possible. They were so easy to work with and they even went back into the hive without much direction from me. This was such an easy inspection and I really enjoyed the temperament of the bees.

The biggest surprise to me during these inspections was all of the queen cups that I found. This was not something that I found last year and I don’t know what to make of it. I am really hoping that the bees are just being prepared for whatever may happen. I know that swarming is a healthy and natural reproductive behavior, I just don’t want to see them swarm at this point. I am not sure what that would mean for the colony for the winter.

I am very curious what I will find the next time I inspect the hives. I hope that the bees are as happy and as easy to work with. I also hope that the queen cups are still empty.

Checking the Host Hive for Signs of Swarming

Since this colony made it through the winter, I have now been wondering if they are going to swarm this year. If they show any signs of swarming I am hoping to try to split them before they leave. Even though they are my cranky colony, I am still rooting for them to be strong and survive. As for them being cranky, it is only when I am in their hive. They are not causing any problems for the family that is hosting them in their yard.

This colony has been easier to work with this year, but still a bit cranky. I will only open this hive when the weather is warm and the sun is shining. I have done three inspections on this hive in May. Each time I was looking for signs of swarming as well as doing my usual checks. There have not been any signs of swarming yet.

The colony is growing well and during the first inspection in May I moved the colony into two thirds of their hive and opened a second entrance for them. I added five bars for them. They are growing well and the queen is laying well. I spotted eggs, larvae, capped brood, nectar, pollen, capped honey, and the queen. Even with all of the signs that the queen is in the hive or that the hive is queen right, it is still nice to see her once in a while.

After putting the hive back together and closing it up, I still had a couple of angry bees buzzing around my veil. I cleaned up all of my stuff and walked away from the hive. These bees continued to follow me. I walked into the shade, but that did not work. I walked down the street a bit, but that didn’t work either. I walked around a bit more and then decided that I would get into the car in full gear, just in case. I climbed into the car with my full suit and gloves on and then waited to see if there were any bees in the car with me. Luckily, there were not.

During the second inspection in May I only got through about half of the hive. The bees were very cranky and so many were trying to sting me through my gloves and pelting my veil. I decided that it was not worth stressing them any more, so I only checked about half of the bars. I saw everything that I needed to including the queen. I added a couple more empty bars for them.

At the end of this inspection, I put the hive back together and closed it up. Again, I was followed by grumpy bees. They buzzed around my head for a while. I walked around for awhile and went into the shade, but they were relentless. Once I thought the coast was clear I got into the car in full gear again. I don’t want to take any chances of getting stung. In the car when I realized I was alone then I took off my veil for the short drive home and unsuited once I got there.

I went back a week later to check them again for signs of swarming. This time my plan was to work only the half of the hive that I did not check the last time. I also decided to use the smoker. After lighting the smoker I looked in the front of the hive to see what was going on. The bees were very busy, there were a lot of foragers going in and out. I also noticed that they have covered about half of the entrance hole on the left side with propolis. There were no bees coming or going from that door only the center, but there were bees there working to cover it up.

This time I did not see any eggs, but they can be difficult to see when the lighting is not perfect. I was also being a little quick with my looking to try to keep the peace. I did not see the queen this time either. I was looking through the half of the hive that I had not gone through the last time so that may be why.

After this inspection I was able to close the hive up and clean up without being followed by angry bees. It looks like I may need to use the smoker for this colony every time that I open the hive. They seemed more calm and spent less time trying to sting me. Of course, I didn’t get into the brood nest so that could be one reason. I will just have to continue to evaluate their temperament and be prepared.

There were no queen cups at all in any of my inspections. I am hopeful that it means they will continue to stay a while. I don’t really have a plan in place if I do need to make a split, so I am kind of hoping that I can avoid it for now. If it comes down to it, I may just let them swarm and let nature take it’s course. I am not sure that I want a second hive full of grumpy bees to work with. If they swarm and they create a new queen who then mates with different drones maybe they will be more docile.

Messy entrance
Messy entrance
Coming in
Coming in
Window view
Window view
Close up
Close up
Full comb
Full comb
Busy bees
Busy bees
Drone brood
Drone brood
Growing quickly
Growing quickly
Closing the door
Closing the door
Hello
Hello
Met this snake on one of my walks to get the bees away
Met this snake on one of my walks to get the bees away

Ants!

On April 29th I went out to Old Frog Pond Farm to inspect the hives. The Willow hive looks great. The bees are very active and foraging. They are bringing in a good amount of pollen. The colony is growing nicely. They have built new comb and are working on filling the cavity of the hive that they are in. I added some more bars to give them extra room. These bees are so calm and nice to work with. They don’t seem to mind me in their hive at all.

Then I headed over to the Orchard hive to inspect it. After watching the bees at the entrance, I went to the back of the hive and opened up the observation window. To my surprise a colony of ants were nesting on the outside of the window!

There are some ferns growing right near the hive, so I picked some. I used the ferns to brush the ants off of the window. I was hoping that brushing them off would solve the issue. Then I continued the inspection. This colony seems to be even a little stronger than the Willow colony. They are growing quickly and needed some more space. I added some more bars for them.

In both hives I saw everything that I needed to see. There were eggs, uncapped brood, capped brood, pollen, nectar, and capped honey in each hive. I was also able to see each of the queens. They are somewhat easy to spot right now since the colonies are not at full strength yet. I am sure that as the season progress it will be more and more difficult to find the queens. As long as I see eggs, larvae, and capped brood I know that the queen has been in the hive within the last three days. Most likely she is still in the hive.

On May 6th I went back to check on the Orchard hive and see if there were more ants. Much to my dismay, the ants were back and nesting on the window again! I brushed them off of the window again and made sure to get all of them off. Once they were gone, I put peppermint essential oil on the observation window door to try to deter them from coming back. I put quite a bit on there, luckily the bees don’t mind peppermint.

While I was there I checked in on the bees. They are doing well and building new comb. Everything looks really good inside the hive. So far the ants have not gone into the hive. I also opened up the Willow hive to see how things were going for them. Each of the colonies look very good and doing very well.

In the spring it is common for there to be more drone brood than during the rest of the season. I have heard some beekeepers mention concern about it and they try to eliminate most of the drone brood. The queen creates the drones in order to spread her genetics and if we continue to interfere by getting rid of most of the drones than we risk loosing out on the diversity of genetics that we have left.

I know that I am still a new beekeeper, but I also know that there are a lot of things working against the honeybees. I don’t want to work against them, I want to work with them. Last year both of the colonies that I had followed the same pattern. They had a larger amount of drone brood in the spring and then there was a greater focus on worker brood as the season went on.

One of the arguments about eliminating the drone brood is that the varroa mites prefer the drones. One of the reasons that I went with the top bar hives is that the bees get to build the comb the way that they want to. My hive that did not survive the winter was not over run with mites, their mite count was actually very low. I have continued to do visual mite checks with my Host hive and they seem to be okay so far too. I will continue to watch them.

On Mother’s Day I thought I would go check in on my other children again. I walked over to the Willow hive first to see what was going on with them. On my walk to the hive I got to see goslings and their parents. It was a beautiful day to be out at the farm. The Willow hive looked good and I spent some time taking pictures of the scenery around me.

When I was done there, I walked over to the Orchard hive to check on the ants. The bees looked happy and didn’t seemed bothered at all. I opened the observation window and there were no ants! I put some more peppermint essential oil on the door in the hopes of keeping them away. I hope that they are gone for good, but time will tell.

Small comb
Small comb
Brood
Brood
Drone brood
Drone brood
Mama and chicks
Mama and chicks
Mother's Day
Mother’s Day
Lily pads
Lily pads
Willow Hive
Willow Hive
Willow
Willow
Orchard Hive
Orchard Hive
Ant nest!
Ant nest!
Ants!
Ants!
New full comb
New full comb
Peeking inside
Peeking inside
Willow entrance
Willow entrance
Orchard entrance
Orchard entrance
Sweet little bee
Sweet little bee
Purple dead nettle
Purple dead nettle
Apple blossoms
Apple blossoms
Ready to bloom
Ready to bloom
Bumble bee
Bumble bee