Trouble in the land of milk and honey! One of our bee hives is in distress!

It’s HOT in Texas right now and  there is trouble brewing in one of our two top bar bee hives!

This morning Andrew and I went out for our weekly check.

We have two top bar bee hives. Both were started with bee packages this spring from a bee breeder in South Texas. Our number two hive is doing really well. We found the queen, she’s laying well in a good pattern and they’re making LOTS OF HONEY! 🙂 They’re also a mean hive. They stung my iphone at least 4 times. I think they take issue with my pink cover. I found their stingers just hanging from it! This hive is always out for blood. They’re ready to sting whenever we just walk by. However, our second hive is in trouble.

This morning noticed right away that they’re weren’t as many bees at the entrance. They were very docile and scattered. And the biggest sign of trouble is that we found at least a dozen swarm cells cells on the frames! They look like peanuts hanging off the side. From what we’ve read, we think they’re swarm cells. Not emergency or supercedure cells.

We couldn’t find our origional queen, so our best guess is that the queen died or is not fertile or laying well. We noticed some scattered capped brood (baby bees growing in the wax) and capped drone cells (male bees that don’t do much except mate with the queen on her flight). All of which are bad signs.

We are confused and not sure what to do. But, we do know that those swarm cells shouldn’t be there our first year! Well, at least that is what we were told! Here are some pictures of the troubled hive. If you have any ideas for us on what to do… let me know! 🙂

Picture 1: This is a pic of what you don’t want to see. Take a look at the left side. The supersedure swarm cell looks like a little peanut hanging down. We have about 12 of these swarm cells, all of them are hanging off the sides.

Picture2: Bad sign… scattered drone brood in worker cells! See those capped cells that are sticking out like little golf balls? Those are drone cells… bad! Our colony is in trouble. Maybe it’s a laying worker or a drone-laying queen?

Picture 3: One of the bars in the trouble hived… I’m not sure. I think we have a drone-laying queen.

Picture 4: Another interesting observation was that there were a few different/weird looking bees. Notice that been in the middle in the below picture. She looks a LOT different than all of the other bees. Any ideas?

Well, we’re pouring over our books and looking ever where online to decide how we should proceed. I guess the good part is that they troubled hive is raising new queens… please post if you have any ideas for us!

Thanks!

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Comments

  1. Wait, stop! Whoa! Don’t panic!

    Hi Rashel!!! Great blog post!!!
    BUT —
    Nothing that you have posted pix of falls into the category of BAD… When a colony believes itself healthy and strong enough to prepare to swarm – that is GOOD!

    So – let’s look at your pictures…one by one… (and boy are pictures ever helpful, huh?)

    Picture#1 – sticking off the bottom left side EDGE of the comb is yes, a swarm queen cell. Swarm cells are made on the edges of the comb, and the queen turns herself upside to lay an egg in that cell – because she is a part of this process of reproducing – called swarming! Your job as a beekeeper is to note – is that cell empty? Does it contain a larva? Is it capped already? It only takes two weeks to make a queen from egg to hatch so – this will help you understand the time frame you are working with as your bees prepare to make more bees.

    Picture #2 – those large, dome-shaped cappings are DRONE BROOD. They aren’t drones in worker cells – look at the difference in the size of the cell. And drones – though we make a bazillion bad jokes about how useless drones are – drones matter a great deal. The bees don’t set things up to raise drones unless they have good reason. And the reason? To mate with queens, yes – but!! They don’t mate with the queens from YOUR hive – they go off to a DCA (Drone Congregation Area) and wait for other virgin queens to fly through – the DCA will be located in a place where a virgin queen from your hive will be unlikely to fly there. (how they figure these things out, I do not know… grin)

    Picture #3 should really make you smile – that is a beautiful bar of capped worker bee brood. When those baby girls hatch, you will really start to see an increase in your hive’s population!

    Picture #4 – hard to say what’s up with those two bees with their wings straight out – they look a little “greasy” or “wet”. Is it possible that they fell into a water source? Or do you by chance have a mite board on that was made sticky with oil or Crisco or the like?

    So now let’s talk about the difference between a swarm cell and a supercedure cell:

    Swarm cells mean the hive is strong and ready to reproduce. Swarm cells are on the EDGE of the comb, where it is easy for the bees to purposely build a vertical cell. The queen lays an egg in that cell with the specific intent of that bee becoming a queen bee.

    But with supercedure cells – the queen has nothing to do with that process – in fact, it means that the colony is getting ready to “overthrow their monarch” – to supercede her. She may not be laying well enough, her pheromones may not be strong enough to keep the colony cohesive – there are many reasons the bees choose to replace their queen. So a supercedure cells means the bees took a worker egg – that was laid horizontaly in the middle of the comb, and TURNED that cell, twisting the wax out into the classic peanut shape – in order to make it vertical. That’s why supercedure cells are always seen on the FACE of the comb, and not the edge.

    I’d much rather see a SWARM cell than a SUPERCEDURE cell any day. Swarming is a sign of healthy bees! Supercedure means there is a problem with the queen.

    But swarming also means that you are about to have MORE BEES! So it’s decision time for you… You have a couple of options at this point… You can watch for them to swarm, in hopes of 1) capturing the swarm naturally… (this is risky if you don’t see them go, or if they go way too high to retrieve) or you can 2) “split them” – that’s kind of like pre-swarming or pre-empting the swarm.

    Are you ready to have a third hive? Because if not, another option is simply to 3) let them swarm! This has drawbacks only in the event that they choose to move into a cavity (they are cavity nesters, remember?) where they are not welcome – such as the wall or roofline of your house, or worse yet, your neighbor’s house. So it’s a reasonably responsible thing to do a split, and your Gold Star hive is designed to let you split the hive right into the same box for a short time while you decide what to do next. Time is always of the essence with bees, it seems.

    Another note on swarming: this doesn’t mean ALL of your bees are leaving. Typically what happens is the old queen lays several new queens, and then she flies off with about half of the colony, and leaves behind the other half, who then raise the new queen, she flies to mate (in those DCA’s, remember) and then picks up where the old queen left off. In many ways it’s a good thing, because a break in the brood cycle, like happens when a colony swarms, is good for breaking disease cycles, AND the breeding cycle of the varroa mites.

    So that’s a lot of information to put in a blog post reply… Feel free to call me at 207-449-1121 or write me at christy@goldstarhoneybees.com for more discussion. AND – this is a great sort of thing to post on topbarbeekeepers@yahoogroups.com – we’d love to have you join there – where many top bar beekeepers all over the place are talking together about what they are seeing – just like you are!

    Talk soon –
    🙂
    — Christy
    PS Contrary to “common knowledge” it’s not that unusual for a first year hive to swarm. It just means they got a good buildup going and think they can do it! Yay! Bees!

    • Oh Man, Christy you’re a genius!

      THANK YOU for taking the time to reply to my post! You are so good at explaining difficult to understand topics! You just removed the cloud of confusion! We’ll defiantly join the Top Bar Beekeeping group. I can’t thank you enough for the info. It’s decision time we pretty much have today to decide if we want to split the hive. The swarm cells we found were already capped yesterday.

      Thanks again for all you do! You have some big fans in Texas!
      Rashel

    • This is super late to the discussion but I just have to say how wonderful this information is. I’m not a beekeeper myself, but stumbled across this while doing a little research for a story I’m writing. Christy, it was so kind of you to answer so thoroughly — and I was glad to hear that the “news” was good instead of bad!

  2. Hi there! I just found you on facebook via someone else. My family farm on Facebook is Reynolds Family Farm if you’re interested. Looks like you all are having lots of fun! We are new to this whole thing too. I have two Warre hives – vertical top bar. Both of them I populated from Bee Weaver, but I got one hive at a time, last year and this year. Last year’s hive suffered some frost damage before it got to me here in Missouri. The hive has never been really vigorous, more of the strong silent type. I thought this beekeeping thing was a piece of cake. The hive this year has gone gangbusters. They are building into the hive faster than I can add space, faster than the books have recommended. They also are very sensitive. We can’t mow near the hive without stirring up trouble. I’m pretty sure they are getting ready to swarm, but I’m hoping that they do, because I need something to take them down a few notches. People warn against swarming like it’s a bad thing. But they do leave half the hive behind. They say that you can’t collect honey from a hive that has swarmed because there won’t be enough bees left to collect enough for you and them, but I wasn’t planning on collecting this year anyway, so I’m not worried about that. The bee in that photo does look weird. I don’t know why (my husband was wondering if it was a killer bee – he’s a Texan as well). You should send a copy of that photo to Bee Weaver and ask them. They helped me out with a couple issues I had last year – very nice people. We are planning on getting to the point where can have a rotating dairy cow, feeder pig, grain, pasture rotation. We currently are in the process of building a sub-terra greenhouse – where 3 sides are earth contact and the south side/roof is glass – for year round growing of European climate stuff. I love the fact that you use lots of raw milk and butter. I wish I had been able to feed my boys that stuff when they were little (13 and 14 now). I have noticed a benefit from it since they’ve had it. We won’t need any braces on these teeth! Looks like you all have been very blessed to have the means to set up such an operation while you are so young. Have fun!

    • Laura,
      Thanks for posting on our blog. We really enjoyed reading your note. It’s neat to find someone else that’s doing similar things! That’s a good idea to check with Bee Weaver. I never thought of that! So cool that you’re keeping bees in a Warre hive! I found y’all on facebook and “liked” your page. I look forward to seeing your posts.
      Thanks for checking in!
      Rashel

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