Combining Colonies Confusion

Something very odd has happened when I combined 2 colonies…. I covered them in icing sugar an dropped them all in the brood box together… just like the books say. And I left them to get on with it… And I sneaked a peak last night… and they have separated themselves into two distinct groups at either end of the hive.

Err… that’s not supposed to happen.

I have a national brood box with 11 frames, and some bees are living on about 3 combs at one end, and some are living on 3 combs at the other end, and none on the frames in the middle. And the hive is set up the warm way, so the ones at the back must be going past the ones at the front to get in and out to forage.

Umm… ummm…

  • do I have to do anything?
  • are they going to fight at some point?
  • does that mean they both have queens?
  • if they were dusted, how did they know which queen was theirs?
  • will they sort it out when then expand closer to each other?

First hive clean and move – part 3

So just on the day I’d come to swap it out, wouldn’t you guess it, she had only gone and laid in it. Fresh eggs by the look of it. 24hrs earlier I would have been fine… Grr ! They must have gone through a LOT of honey to make space in that comb, or maybe they moved it to comb 1 where it was all uncapped. The last frame was full of uncapped honey too, and braced to the wall, unusually.

Anyway, that was the 2nd plan out of the window, no nice easy swap of brood frames… At this point I had a step back to think. I could move them, put a queen excluder on and a super and let them get on with it. But, they were building brace and clearly didn’t have enough room. I didn’t want to abort so many eggs that she had taken the time to lay, so my plan to put the disfunctional frames to one side for them to rob was clearly out.

So… hmm… I transferred the combs over to the new box, barring the last two. In their new position I put framed foundation, giving me uncomplicated frames and the queen somewhere to lay, once they were pulled out with wax. The remaining two troublesome frames I left where they were, put a queen excluder over the new box and this box on top, with the 3rd frame of foundation I had brought. That way the nurse bees would still look after the eggs, the queen could not get up there to put any more in, and I could remove them later, and they would not have competition to rob their honey back. All upside? well not quite, I’d be leaving the rest of the old box open for them to fill with brace comb, and I’d be taking a chance on the eggs surviving, but then nothing is perfect.

So with that done, and a bit more storage for them, I squirted hiveclean on them all, put the crown board on top and the super above that (remember I didn’t want hiveclean tainted honey in the supers), and put the roof on top.

Oh, nearly forgot, I was putting cone vents on that pent roof, and, of course the battery drill runs out, half way through the first cut… Pahh !!

A lot of bees were still sat on the old floor, so I propped that up against the landing board so they could crawl up to the new entrance.

So, after all this lot… Do I really feel like going through it all again with the next hive? 2 stings down, next door hive with upset bees flying about, returning foragers coming back to chaos, and not knowing where their hive had gone. What do you think?

But… if I didn’t hiveclean then, I would not be able to get the super on that they no doubt needed just as much by now too. So I levered the brood off the base, moved it to the new position on the mesh floor, squirted them with hiveclean, crownboard on, clean brood box on, queen excluder, super, roof on top, put the old floor in front leading to the entrance. Done. 6 mins.

And so, I left. Had I done the right thing? on balance I think so. Getting as much of the job done given the situation, balancing upset (on both parts), with the need for a clean, more room and so on.

What’s next? Well I have to go back, transfer the 2nd hive to the next box while scraping off the frames, and give them access to the super. I need to go back to the first box, see what is happening with the old brood box frames with eggs. Scrape off frames, and at some point put a super on. Hmm when is it safe from hiveclean? What about build up of brace comb in the old box in the mean time? When can I put the super on top safely.

For these answers and more tune in to the next edition of “What does he think he is doing !! tsk tsk tsk”.

First hive clean and move – part 2

After a while of faffing about, it warmed up and the bees were starting to move about so I decided to get on with it.

My plan of attack (hmm poor phrase maybe) was to open the hive, inspect through the frames, and then move frame at a time across to the new clean hive, scraping the frames off as I transferred them, then squirting them with hiveclean so they would clean themselves off.

Well that was the plan anyway, from the start I was seeing the signs that things were no going to go smoothly. The bees were agitated and just taking the fondant off the top of the frames resulted in my first sting (right hand, middle finger, just below the fingernail), “and verily, there was much cursing and smoke and hoping about’. I think they were not ever so pleased at me removing their easy source of food; probably didn’t help it was stuck to the frames and they were feeing on it at the time. Things not to do next time, don’t use plastic sandwich bags that disintegrate when you try to pull them off.

So having already upset them, well I figured I’d calmed them with more smoke, and I’d brought all this stuff, and one sting was not so unusual; I carried on.

I started inspecting, and straight away I knew things had advanced. The first frame that had not been pulled out all the way had uncapped wet honey (/nectar) in it. The second was well capped honey and some uncapped. The third was full to the brim with stored pollen, edge to edge, top to bottom of lovey fresh yellow pollen. The 4th, well this was all honey stores on wednesday, but now it was arched by capped honey but full with approx 4 day old lavae.

This was time for my second whoopsie of the day, caused in parts from boiling over bees, the throbbing of my finger (swollen down the full length by now) and my worst enemy in beekeeping, impatience! To cut a long story slightly shorter, I didn’t wait for the bees to clear and dropped a lug right on top of a bee, squish! Well you can guess what happened next… immediate angry buzz buzz buzz, sting !! This time to the back of my left hand. As I try to complete the write up of this story two days later (now I can use my hand without pain), the swelling is starting to go down. I don’t know why it was so bad from just one sting, but I think it got a vein or something because one tiny tiny stinging needle managed to draw blood.

Anyway with two stings I was getting more than a little perturbed, so I stepped back and went to the car to listen to some nice classical music… and…. relax… and let the bees… calm… down…

The next 5 frames were brood as they had been, but in adition to the speckles of drone brood across them there was a big patch in the bottom corner of one (about the 3rd one if I recall correctly). They had also started brace comb along the bottom, which isn’t normal for them, they must have been really short on space. They had brood in the next frame which I had expected to see as they were expanding.

I came to the last 2 frames in the box, the ones I had long planned to swap out because one had been built up too much and the other had not been pulled out enough, making a convexed concaved pair that were always going to be a pain to move about. The 1st of these had always been very heavy with capped honey top to bottom. Let me tell you, a commercial frame, and one that had been built out 40% deeper than it was meant to me, full of honey, is very heavy; and I am no lightweight, this was a LOT of honey.

First hive clean and move

So as the big day approached I was getting everything ready. I made 2 new hive floors, I’d bought new stands in November, I’d prepared empty brood boxes, supers full of frames and a plan. Well kind of a plan…

I knew what was involved in cleaning, I knew I wanted to put supers on, I’d worked out which frames I wanted to swap out due to irregular comb formation. The ones fully of honey, the last 2 in the hive were one ones in question.

So first change to the plan. I’d bought some hiveclean. As its not to be used when the bees are storing honey where it will be collected. So the supers could not go on today.

I got to the apiary about 12:30 (summer time today), and there was bright warm sun… but only 8°C. So… was I going to have change two be postponement to another day? The bees were not flying, surely a sign of ‘don’t even bother’. I busied myself watering the plants I put in the other week. Some had been lost when the local bunnies had dug them up. Not to eat as far as I can see, but either for fun or trying to use the hole I dug as a new warren entrance.

So, after arranging everything on the ground near the hives, I put the new stands, floors and brood boxes in place. I had decided to turn the entrance 90° in each case, so the entrance would not be north facing and in constant shade. To the east, for the morning sun, would have been my preference, but that pointed straight at someone else’s garden through a wire fence. So for now it is pointing west. In addition, with the original hives side by side, turning them both 90° would have one exiting right into the back of the other one, or at least into my back while I inspected the other one; so with this in mind I offset them, so they will be exiting up the left side of the first hive.