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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    San Francisco, CA
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    Default Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Hi everyone,

    I started my first hive last Spring, and I ended up with an empty hive by the end of the summer. Iíd like to try again this Spring, and so Iím looking for some advice or thoughts that could help me be successful this year. Iím going to give some information about my set-up and events of last year, and then some thoughts I have, and invite people to provide whatever information they think could be helpful. Let me know if you have any questions for me. Thanks!

    I live about a mile in from the Pacific coast in San Francisco, and I installed my hive on my roof mid April, 2016. Over the next couple of months I managed my hive very closely. The queen was laying, and I was moving empty bars into the brood nest to keep everyone happy. Once the brood nest was taking up around ⅔ of the hive, I stopped moving new bars into the brood nest. At the beginning of June I started noticing queen cells (I counted 10 over the next week or so). Around the same time the population exploded, which would make sense. At this point there was already a good amount of pollen and honey in the hive.

    Then on June 18 the hive swarmed. I wasnít too concerned since I had seen the queen cells. I figured the bees that stayed in the hive would raise a new queen, and the hive would move on. I checked in on them 1-2 times a week to see if I could see any changes. A few days after the swarm all of the queen cells were gone, which I considered a good sign. I was told that it could take 6-8 weeks for the new queen to start laying, so I checked in on the hive 1-2 times a week, hoping to see a new queen, but for the most part I left them alone at the beginning. Then I wanted to see if eggs were being layed (and I still hadnít seen a queen), so after around 4 weeks I started going through the hive. I wasnít seeing a queen or any eggs. I let it ride for another 4 weeks, didnít see anything, and realized that the queen had not taken to the hive.

    I contacted my local beekeeping association, and they set me up with someone who catches swarms in the area. A few days later I was putting a swarm into the hive. At first it seemed like things were going okay, but a couple of weeks later it was clear that there wasnít really anything going on in the hive. Either there was no queen in the swarm, or she didnít take to the hive. And from there the hive dwindled.

    Some thoughts/questions:

    1. It gets windy on my roof. Could this be a factor? I really donít have another place to set up the hive. I was thinking for this year I would build an enclosure on the roof out of PVC pipe and plastic sheeting. I was originally thinking of a tunnel shape, but now Iím thinking 3 walls, no roof. Any thoughts?

    2. Should I have 2 hives set up; one functional, and one to be used to split the hive if I notice theyíre getting ready to swarm?

    3. I mentioned that when the hive got around ⅔ full, I stopped putting new bars into the brood nest. Was this a mistake? My thought process was that if I keep adding new bars to the brood nest the entire hive would end up filled with brood. But I think I was wrong in thinking that, because I realized later in the process that after the new bees are born they start filling some of the old brood cells with honey/pollen. So is that something they just do at the beginning to get their numbers up, and then they contract the brood nest?

    4. I donít think there was any problem with the hive itself. I never saw excess moisture in the hive (and I have a screen/solid combo floor incase I did), never saw any pests or mites. It gets sun all day.

    5. When I first got the hive I set up a water dish (shallow pan with rocks in it) for the hive. After a month I had yet to see any bee drinking from the dish, and because it was in the sun I would have to refill it every day or two, so I assumed they had found a different source for water, and I stopped filling it. Was this a mistake?

    I canít think of any other info that may be helpful. If youíre still with me, thank you. This turned out to be much longer of a write-up then I thought it would be. Any thoughts would be very much appreciated. Thank you!
    -Brian

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Location
    Rome, Ga USA
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    32

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Well here goes.
    Starting out on a roof top draws me to the question of how hot it gets on the roof. This would not be a problem as long as its not a tar type roof that draws to much heat. But looking past the roof operation many people raise bees on roof tops. It sounds like your hive was doing well until it swarmed. Just listening in on the story it sounds like your mated queen left with the swarm and unfortunately the new queen never made it back from the mating flight. Had you of had two hives you could have moved a frame of eggs to the existing hive and they could have formed a queen cell increasing your odds of survival. I tell new beekeepers its good to have 2 hives so you can see how they progress and compare each other, and in your case use eggs from each other to raise another queen. Looking into your new swarm its hard to say as it sounds like this swarm never did well. Any time you put a new swarm in a box give it 8-14 days to check for a laying queen. In the event you have no queen either order one from a breeder or move a frame of eggs in from a neighboring hive.

    The hive needs plenty of room to grow and I am not sure if you have a standard 10 frame hive but it sounds like you may even have a top bar operation. Always add plenty of wax to grow but adding it as they need it is the right approach. You only want to add wax or frames or in your case bars as you need them. This will keep down hive beetles and keep wax moths from moving in on you. Starting out if you have a queen that is laying good and you see swarm cells you may take the approach of cutting out the queen cells and making sure you have supers for honey. In your case I would have prevented the swarm and added space to prepare for honey storage. As the bees fill frames add additional space. Even in a top bar hive the bees will utilize so much space for young brood (baby bees) then add what is called a honey band. This is the starting point for the bees to store honey. Generally what happens is the queen quits laying when she runs into a honey frame.

    Taking this approach may have helped but many oher factors may have taken place. But viewing what you have explained I believe this may have helped you. Hope you have a great next year and don't give up. We all learn every day with bees.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Location
    Murphy, TX
    Posts
    49

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Bee needs water at least 20 feet from their hive. Too close and they won't use it.

    Ways split when you see swarming signs.

    Always keep some growing room during swarm season.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Location
    Rosebud Missouri
    Posts
    976

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    labow
    I am first year also and so take anything I say as comming from a dummy. Here goes anyway. It sounds like your hive did not make a queen after swarming. From your description, It sounds like you still had bees in the hive when you added the swarm that the bee club came up with. If this is so, how did you add the swarm to the hive? Did you newspaper combine? If not, I have always read that adding bees from two hives together will cause fighting and three or more will not. That is why most use newspaper to combine and give the bees a chance to get used to each other.

    It sounds to me like you maby added the swarm to a hive that had become a laying worker hive. I say this but even then you should have seen eggs in the cells.

    I can't believe that the bees that are kept in a place that it is on the roof and they could not find water some where. Surely there are some leaky fausets and swimming pools around. I read that a water scource needs to be somewhere with in a quarter mile.

    You may need some type of shading but I would think you can keep bees on a roof.

    Keep in mind that I am new but these above things would be part of my guess of what was going on.
    Cheers
    gww
    zone 5b

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Location
    denver colorado
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    80

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Yes you should built another hive/nuc or 2 or 3, top bars are cheap, you lose some of the savings in lost production, make it up with volume. You should strive to have at least 2 hives and 2 nucs so you have options when things go wrong.

    at a bare min, even if you don't want increase your colony count, you want a nuc to put the queen and a few bars in when the hive gets swarmy so you have a back up in case the virgin in the main hive doesn't make it or do well for what every reason.
    if you see capped queen cells there is a good chance the queen is gone. look for her, but it can be hard in a full hive especially if your newer to the hobby. In that case put a bar with cells and some other bars in a nuc and assume she swarmed.

    hives left to swarm can "blink out", after the prime swarm they can keep issueing swarms (casts) with virgins till the hive collapses, in nature this is fine, as long as one swarm makes it to next season the colony population in the area remains stable.
    In beekeeping its not so good as while there are still colonys in the area..there not in your box any more. Even in the days of skeps, were swarming was the method of increase, after a hive issued a few swarms the beekeeper would flip the skep over and cut out all but 1-2 queen cells to stop the hive from issueing more casts

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Location
    Yuba County, California, USA
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    5,515

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    1. It gets windy on my roof. Could this be a factor?
    Doubtful. If you do set up a shelter, make it three walls with a roof. That will help in keeping all the rains off the hive in winter but I doubt you need a shelter, and doubt that was a factor in your situation at all. My hives are not on a roof, but they do sit out in the open in full sun and they get all the winds and rains and fog of my location and they do fine with it. It sounds like you have your hive well sealed or built so that weather should not be an issue for them on your roof.

    2. Should I have 2 hives set up; one functional, and one to be used to split the hive if I notice they’re getting ready to swarm?
    Not a bad idea. Even better, make a split into it or buy a package for it so that you have two hives. If something goes bad with one hive, you have the other as backup resources. Also it's nice to compare them against each other to see differences in how they perform.

    3. I mentioned that when the hive got around ⅔ full, I stopped putting new bars into the brood nest. Was this a mistake?
    I would say yes. You observed how the bees work in a hive. Bees normally like to store honey that is not needed for raising brood above the broodnest. That is not very possible in a top bar hive so room must be made for the broodnest to expand sideways. It is natural for hives to want to swarm as that is how they reproduce. As beekeepers, we manage them so they don't swarm so that we can take excess honey from them for ourselves. Once the bees get to a certain size, a size that would support a swarm leaving and still leave enough behind to continue on as a hive, they will swarm if not given room to brood easily and expand the honey pot. Moving bars of honey back a space and putting in a bar to draw gives them room and keeps all the bees busy with something to do.

    4. I don’t think there was any problem with the hive itself. I never saw excess moisture in the hive (and I have a screen/solid combo floor incase I did), never saw any pests or mites. It gets sun all day.
    I agree, does not sound like any real problems, hives in full sun do very well, especially in your location. I think the biggest problem for you was they swarmed, and probably swarmed again and got excited and forgot to leave a queen behind for the original hive. It happens sometimes. Also, sometimes a queen goes out for mating flight and does not return for whatever reason, maybe dragon fly got her or a bird or something. It does happen sometimes.

    5. When I first got the hive I set up a water dish (shallow pan with rocks in it) for the hive. After a month I had yet to see any bee drinking from the dish, and because it was in the sun I would have to refill it every day or two, so I assumed they had found a different source for water, and I stopped filling it. Was this a mistake?
    In your location, I'd say no, it was not a mistake. There should be plenty of areas where they could have gotten water in your location. Even so, it is not a bad idea to have water nearby for the hives, but it does not need to be on the roof with the hive. Set out a water source somewhere more convenient for you to maintain it.

    Now, in addition...
    Do thorough checks for varroa mites. Just looking for them on the bees is not a way to see them as they hide on the underside of the bees in the rings and are very hard to notice. If you ever notice a mite on a bee you can be pretty sure of a heavy infestation. Do your due research in the matter and learn all you can about the life cycle of the varroa mite and how to recognise infestations and how to combat it.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Sacramento, CA, USA
    Posts
    5,034

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    You got some bad advice on the 6-8 weeks to laying as well. You have to learn your bee math and go from there. Since your hive already had queen cells that probably hatched a day after the hive swarmed or the day the hive swarmed, I would've expected egg laying within 2 weeks. The earliest I've seen eggs from a newly emerged queen is 9 days, so if you check them at 14 days, you should reasonably expect to even see some new larva. If you don't find a queen or see eggs around the two week mark after a virgin queen emerges, I start to get worried. Also, good advice is not to disturb the bees during this time, but I always check to find if I have a virgin emerged that's healthy. If you have multiple cells they can fight and injure each other or if the cells were disturbed at the wrong time, their wings could be damaged so it's always good to check them once they emerge then leave them alone until they've mated and started laying.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    Location
    east bay, california
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    18

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    I also have top bar hives (first year) and I think you may have disturbed the brood nest too much by repeatedly dividing it with new (empty) top bars. Instead (when required) I would place a new bar all the way to the back of the nest and bracket (follow) the new bar with the follower board (divider) board. This keeps the bees building comb in a parallel fashion and allows the bees to populate the brood area more densely--making it easier for the bees to keep the brood warm.

    Before placing an empty bar in the hive wait until the combs being built out have one-half to three-quarters filled their respective cross sectional area of the hive. I would check the hive every 10 - 14 days; having an observation window allows you to check the hive with minimal disturbance to the bees.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Scarborough, Maine, USA
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    99

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    As a non top bar guy, I have a question about #3: if you stop adding bars at 2/3 full, how is the other 1/3 going to get built out for honey storage? It seems you're just encouraging swarming at that point.

    If I were you, I'd build a nuc hive with the same bar size so I could bank a few queen cells the next time I see a swarm about to happen. I try and always have one extra hive ready to go for that reason.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Location
    Labette Kansas USA
    Posts
    26

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    BTT hit on the checker boarding. I would read up on it. It has been a very effective method of keeping my top bar hives from swarming. I think the key is learning how much to checkerboard and when. I have about 20 percent try to swarm now with the checker boarding I do, so I know it can work. Your hive is 2/3 full, but how long is it? If it's only 3 feet and you're in a good area, they can fill it pretty quick. I would not be using my follower board at all if the hive is 2/3 full of comb and the bees are covering a good portion of those combs.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
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    denver colorado
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    80

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Quote Originally Posted by btt221 View Post
    I would place a new bar all the way to the back of the nest and bracket (follow) the new bar with the follower board (divider) board. This keeps the bees building comb in a parallel fashion and allows the bees to populate the brood area more densely
    It will do that, and that dense brood area will lead to swarming,
    Be it follower board or the back of the hive, if you don't have a few bars of open space when they are in build up mode they will often swarm, especially if you get some rainy days in a row and all the foragers are cloging up the hive. Once it warms up put the follower in the back and give them the space (note I don't have to deal with SHB).

    To keep things parallel I often add bars checkerboard style between drawn combs, helps a lot in the honey storage area where they some times like to go wild and build fat combs
    I add new bars to the front(ish) of the nest, that way old combs get cycled to the back over time and removed
    Last edited by msl; 01-11-2017 at 10:16 PM.

  12. #12
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    Jun 2016
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    west central Arkansas
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    764

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Quote Originally Posted by msl View Post
    It will do that, and that dense brood area will lead to swarming, especially if you get some rain and all the foragers

    Be it follower board or the back of the hive, if you don't have a few bars of open space when they are in build up mode they will often swarm, especially if you get some rainy days in a row and all the foragers are cloging up the hive. Once it warms up put the follower in the back and give them the space (note I don't have to deal with SHB).

    To keep things parallel I often add bars checkerboard style between drawn combs, helps a lot in the honey storage area where they some times like to go wild and build fat combs
    I add new bars to the front(ish) of the nest, that way old combs get cycled to the back over time and removed


    Very good advice here. A lot of people don't understand the importance of opening up the brood nest pretty aggressively once it's warm enough, and you'll be amazed at how quickly they'll fill the gaps in between brood combs. Again, just make sure it's warm enough and you've got the bees to cover the comb.

    In regard to SHB, they are mainly an issue once the hive has already started slowing down on expansion, so you can generally get away with compacting again in terms of bee to comb density, which is key to SHB defense from my experience.
    Treatment free. Still learning and hope to never stop.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
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    San Francisco, CA
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    30

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Wow! Thanks everyone for all the great responses. Just going to recap...
    -So it sounds like the wind is not really an issue, good to know.
    -I should make sure there are at least 2-3 open bars at the back of the hive. I can’t remember if I did this last year ( I believe I did), but I’ll be sure to do it this year.
    -Checkerboarding: This is what I did last year. I would take an empty bar and put it in between two completed bars in the brood nest. I would try to have at least 2 empty bars (or ones that they’re building on) in the brood nest at all times. This is what I did until the hive was ⅔ full, and then stopped. But I guess I should have kept going until the bees told me it was time to stop.
    -Water probably wasn’t an issue, but I can also keep it at ground level (off roof) for ease, and they’ll find it if they need it.
    -I did not add the swarm with the newspaper method. I was thinking about it, but the person I got the swarm from said it wasn’t necessary. BUT, I think there was a lot of fighting when the swarm was put in. The number of bees in the hive had dwindled, and the swarm probably went in and took over. I’ll definitely do the newspaper method if I have to deal with that again.
    -There was a question about me not adding bars after it was ⅔ full. What I meant was that I stopped adding bars into the brood nest, and just added them to the end as they were needed, until the hive was expanded the full length of the hive.
    -Second hive vs nuc: I posted this write-up in another forum, and a lot of people also said to have a second hive, so I’ll be adding another for this year. Would people suggest leaving it empty in case I need to split hive #1? I know Ray said to fill both, but I was just curious what others thought? Because if I have two functioning hives, and then one looks like it’s going to swarm, then I can’t split that hive. I mean, hopefully I wont have a swarm this year, but…

    Thanks again for all the responses. This was very helpful!

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2015
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    Richmond Illinois USA
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    10

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    I would say go with two fully functioning hives. If the need to split arises, you'll have time to get another hive, or a nuc, to split into. Then you'll have three!

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2015
    Location
    Rosebud Missouri
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    976

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    thomas
    Someone ask how long your hive was. How many bars do you have to play with? Again, I am new but too me it sounds like there might be times that you have to extract a frame just so that you have more empties to put in the brood nest and just also so there are a few empty frames to play with. I only have very little experiance and so keep that in mind when reading what I write.
    Good luck
    gww
    zone 5b

  16. #16
    Join Date
    May 2011
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    San Francisco, CA
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    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    I've been keeping bees on my roof top apiary about a half mile from the ocean in San Francisco for 7 years now. PM me with a phone number. Wind is a huge factor.

    IMG_0300.jpg

  17. #17
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    Sep 2014
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    West Palm Beach, FL, USA
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    185

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Where you feeding them as you continued to add bars to the brood nest? Also, on my windy roof I made a small curved wall of about 10-12 concrete blocks to make a wind shield on the entrance side so it doesn't get stuffed thru the hive and let the girls control the very closed, one entrance space. But our bees here love the heat. Works good too. Didn't budge thru hurricane Mathew right off my coast which my roof top bees are located at. And they will go to water that is close to the hive if there are not a lot of other sources. I ended up putting a kiddie pool hooked to a garden hose and sprinkler timer to stop the chore of watering. Works good, for me. I make sure it's good and stinky too just like they like it.

  18. #18
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    Mar 2016
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    WaKeeney, KS, USA
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    49

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Quote Originally Posted by Labow View Post
    ...... I would take an empty bar and put it in between two completed bars in the brood nest. I would try to have at least 2 empty bars (or ones that theyíre building on) in the brood nest at all times. This is what I did until the hive was ⅔ full, and then stopped. But I guess I should have kept going until the bees told me it was time to stop.
    If my 2 top bars make it to spring I want to split the bigger hive into a 3rd hive.

    This is basically how I had planned on swarm control as well. You can keep this up until the wax production slows down as the number of new bees goes down. The top bars with fully drawn comb can keep progressing to the rear of the hive until they fill the hive maximizing storage. Im thinking the management should get a little easier then, letting the brood nest determine its own size and making sure that the ladies dont backfill too far with late season stores.
    You guys are my mentors, so, please correct me !!
    1st year with bees. 2 Top Bar hives in my back yard. Zone 6a.

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    San Francisco, CA
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    30

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    My hive is 4ft long, and I have around 30 bars.
    Can anyone speak to GWW's point that you may have to remove bars with comb, and put in empty bars, to allow the hive to continue building?
    Steve, I was feeding them until they had a good store of pollen and they were bringing a lot in every day.

    Thanks to everyone for the info!

  20. #20
    Join Date
    May 2016
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    Central Virginia
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    97

    Default Re: Trying to Learn from an Unsuccessful First Year

    Labow,
    The good news is that your bees were thriving. Filling up 30 bars and swarming are signs of vigor. This year you just need to do your management a little better.

    Adding bars in the broodnest is the right move when the colony is growing quickly in the spring. Later on when things slow down you can add bars at the edge of the broodnest. Empty bars way back beyond the honey storage area are often ignored or slowly built out. They certainly won't prevent swarming.

    Making a second full size hive is an excellent idea if you have the time, space, and money. A pair of lightweight, portable nucs that have the cross section as your full size hives will save your butt most of the time. Definitely make some regardless of whether or not you get another full size hive. The other possibility is making a full size hive with two entrances and two follower boards. You can use it like a duplex for two small colonies or open It up for one big colony.

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