Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bee Problems

We've been having a few (hopefully minor) problems here at Camp Ramshackle with the bees lately. First was that I've noticed some lethargic bees hanging out on top of the hive and many dead bees out in front. I thought this was likely due to a cold snap and some wind and rain that we had recently but after reading recent posts by Marianne and otherson the Backward Beekeepers Yahoo! Group I fear that the trouble could be more serious. Marianne's bees collapsed due to a mite infestation. I hope the same is not happening here and am hopeful that the small cell method we employ might keep our bees going.

This is a close-up picture of a small sample of the hive front carnage (click to enlarge). Not too bad but still the casualties number in the hundreds.

The second problem was the addition of the new box and this one is a double whammy. The most obvious problem is the huge gap between boxes. I am not sure how this has happened. The box sits flat on the floor but on the hive it teeters at the corners leaving a gap nearly as big as the formal entrance at the bottom. It spans nearly half of the front and down the side.

The thing that you can't see here is that I think I may have killed the queen. When I added the box I pulled a frame up from the middle of what was previously the top box and replaced it with an empty frame with the intention of encouraging the bees to move up into the new box.

When I pulled the frame out it was covered with bees and they became pretty agitated. I carefully slid the full frame into the new box which was sitting on a shelf just outside of the frame of this picture.

I put the new box on top of the hive and futzed with the gap for a few minutes before I realized that I wasn't going to fix it right then with the bees getting madder by the second. When I looked back at the shelf I saw a ball of bees clinging to the wall and a small gap at the back of the shelf. I gave them a puff of smoke to encourage them to go back to the hive and that's when I saw her. The queen had been on the frame I pulled, didn't like all the light and tried to climb down into a dark place for safety. I gave her a gentle flick toward the hive (probably not a great idea in retrospect) and hoped for the best.

Today the bees were ornery as all get out - head bonking and eventually stinging our son on his head. Their behavior reminds me of when Kirk brought the hive and they were not queen right. I am afraid the queen may not have made it back inside. If she didn't the bees should be able to take care of things by themselves by making a new queen. If that's what happened we could be back in business in a couple of weeks - I just hope we don't also have a severe mite problem or that the gap contributes to their difficulties in some way. For now I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


  1. Good luck! I'm following along closely, hoping to add bees to my yard sometime this year.

  2. my guess is that your original boxes warped- are they unfinished? because they look unfinished, and that might be the start of your problem.

    I'm glad you posted this- I haven't started bees yet and probably won't until next year, but I was glad to learn about the smaller cell size on the foundationless frame. I'm not sure I want to do a top bar hive, because I can't see how to keep the queen out of the rest of the hive where you'd want to harvest honey, but I like the idea of letting the bees do what they feel is best for them. Anything to improve the health of the hive.

    Good luck with your queen replacement and your hive!

  3. you could try putting the wonky box on a flat surface and banging on the corners with a hammer. kirk did that with mine and it worked like a charm.

  4. Thanks for all of the feedback! I think the new box might conform to the others as it fills with honey. I went up there today and the gap looked smaller. The bees are going nuts up there with too many flights to count - probably around 10 per second or so. I think I'm going to get a couple more new boxes this week to get ready for the spring.


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