Observation hive advice needed
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Rowan County, North carolina
    Posts
    79

    Default Observation hive advice needed

    My wife and I started with 2 packages on April 8th. We put one into an eight frame medium hive and the other into a 5 by 1 observation hive. The outside hive is dong well. Already filled 2 boxes with brood and are starting on another. The observation hive however is another story. I will try to keep it as brief as possible but I think it best if I start at the beginning.

    First a little bit about the observation hive. It is a 5 by 1 medium frame I built out of Cypress and Sapele. Glass doors on both sides and plywood cut to fit over the glass to give them some privacy. 3 ventilation holes across the top and 4 down each side. A feeder on one side at the bottom and the intake tube on the other side. I used some 1 1/4 clear wire reinforced tubing to connect a 1" pipe coming from the side of the hive to a 1" pipe going out the window. The hose is about 18" long. The hive has a screened bottom with a removable tray to clean out the hive debris.

    So everything started out wonderfully. I installed the package in the hive and set them up in the house. They drew the first 3 frames beautifully. Filled the frames completely top to bottom and side to side. The queen filled it all with eggs and everything was looking great. But then they just stopped building comb. A little bit of burr comb here or there but they wouldn't touch the other 2 frames. The frames filled up with brood, got capped and still no new comb. Queen walking around looking for a place to lay but not finding anything.

    About a month into it I decided to open them up and take a closer look. While I was in there I moved the top 3 frames down one frame and put an empty one in the top slot to hopefully encourage them to build comb in it. At first they still didn't seem interested in building any comb but eventually they started building it... from the bottom up. That frame turned into a convoluted mess. Attached to the glass on both sides with so many twists and turns it was unreal. But at least the queen had a place to lay and lay she did. As soon as a cell got anywhere close to ready she put an egg into it. I can't complain about the queen, she definitely does her job and does it well.

    Once the brood started emerging and the hive started filling with bees they finally drew the last frame out. About half of it was drone brood but it was otherwise fine. Nice and straight in the middle of the frame. It was at this point I realized this hive was packed with bees. Then I started seeing queen cups being built so I knew they were thinking about swarming. So I did a split. I took 3 of the frames and about half the bees and the queen and put them in an 8 frame medium box. So far so good, everything going close to what was expected. This is when everything started going wrong.

    The girls started building queen cells and everything was going good. Then 8 days after the split we started hearing a queen piping in the hive. Apparently there was a previously unknown queen cell already capped in the hive when we split them. Instead of that queen destroying the other queen cells in the hive the workers prevented her from doing that. We saw them on several occasions stopping her from getting too close to the other queen cells. A few days pass and we start hearing a second queen piping. At this point I didn't know what to do and all my research didn't reveal anything so I did the only thing I could think to do, nothing.

    Two weeks after the split they swarmed for the first time. It wasn't a very big swarm and only about 15 feet off of the ground in an oak tree in my backyard. I caught them and put them in a 5 frame medium box I had built as temporary quarters for the observation hive bees in case I needed to work on the observation hive. Still hearing queens piping after the swarm.

    The next day they swarmed again. Again it was a small swarm but this time it was about 25 feet off the ground. A bit more trouble to catch but I build another 5 frame medium box and managed to get them into it. Again still more queens piping.

    Two days later they swarmed again. Small swarm bout 25 feet off the ground but this time on a smaller limb so they weren't as hard to catch. Went ahead and built 2 more 5 frame boxes while I was building and put them in one of them. Still more queens piping in the hive.

    Two days later they swarmed for the fourth time. This time they were 30+ feet up in a tree and no way I could get to them without a whole lot of work. So all I could do was look up at them and wish them well.

    At this point there was only about a frame's worth of bees left in the observation hive. And at least 3 queens. Saw the first yellow queen in the bottom of the hive dead. Then we saw a darker queen and a lighter queen fighting, the dark queen won. All the remaining queen cells have been destroyed so we are finally down to one queen and a handful of bees.

    So as of today we have 1 virgin queen and a handful of bees, 2 frames of drawn comb although one of them is a mess, and no brood. So I have several questions that I hope you guys and gals can help me out with.

    Question 1 :
    Is there something so wrong with my observation hive that it makes them want to live somewhere else so badly that they would rather swarm themselves to death? Too much ventilation? Not enough? Too much light?

    Question 2:
    Did my management of this hive cause the current situation? Is there something I should have/could have done differently?

    Question 3:
    Is there any chance of this hive surviving or should I just let them go? I could steal a frame of brood from one of my other hives and put in there, just not sure if it is worth the effort.

    Any and all advice is welcome. Thanks in advance.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Athens, Georgia, USA
    Posts
    279

    Default Re: Observation hive advice needed

    Wow, that's pretty wild swarming! My first thought is that 5 mediums is smaller than I like to keep an OH. I had trouble with a 5 deep for years until I expanded it to 9. Now it's much more stable. Also have a 6 deep + 2 medium that is pretty good and another 9 deep. There is loss in viewing but I'm still happy with the stability of that size.
    Not a pro on colonies casting so many swarms one after the other so I'll let someone else comment there. Might have been partly due to the size. Did the difficult frames have different foundation? Plastic? I bought some plastic foundation and the girls really don't like it. Rotating it all out now.
    I think it's worth a try on the remains of the colony to see how the queen performs. Maybe try adding a frame a couple of times to see if they build enough. Might just be an exercise in frustration. You may also end up combining those smaller swarms to get them through winter.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Knox, Pa. USA
    Posts
    5,400

    Default Re: Observation hive advice needed

    Five frames is rather small I much prefer 4 X 4 side by side. Yes there are times when the queen cannot be viewed but you cannot view her when the covers are on either, and I never cover my glass. The swarm, afterswarm was a natural cycle because you had queen cells of varying age. It seems to go that queens are only allowed to tear down queen cells close in age to theirs. Had you removed the younger cells the instant you heard the piping the swarming would have resolved itself. Even with 8 frames I have to do swarm management splits twice a year.

    You can save the hive, I would add a frame of ready to emerge brood and one of stores to get them through until they get ample foragers.
    If the hive is in a heated building so much the better. The beauty of a OH is you can overwinter with less bees. I have done many with around a pound of bees in a heated building. I simply watch the stores and if needed feed.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Rowan County, North carolina
    Posts
    79

    Default Re: Observation hive advice needed

    I knew going into this it was going to be more work to manage such a small hive but I figured the knowledge I would gain would be worth it. And it has been. I have observed many things that most people rarely get to see. I get to practice finding the queen everyday. I have watched her lay many eggs. I even know what she looks like from below.

    I thought I had caught then in time to stop them from swarming but they were further down that road than I realized as shown by the fact there was a virgin queen in the hive only 8 days after I split them. There must have been a capped queen cell in there already. They seem to be settled down now. There is only 1 queen in there now but she hasn't started laying yet. I think she has been on a mating flight because the bees started showing her more respect than they did before. Hopefully she will start soon. I am going to keep an eye on them and see how they do. Maybe add a frame of capped brood to them if they dwindle too far.

    The really messed up comb was due to the fact I am not using any foundation and for some reason they decided to start building it from the bottom up. It ended up a real mess by the time they finished with it.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2017
    Location
    Rowan County, North carolina
    Posts
    79

    Default Re: Observation hive advice needed

    We saw the new queen laying a couple eggs today.

    I'm gonna keep an eye on them and see how it goes. Maybe they can recover.
    My wife and I are not filmmakers but we are documenting our journey at K-n-W Apiary.

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Memphis, TN
    Posts
    94

    Default Re: Observation hive advice needed

    Hope they make it! But the behaviors you've been able to see make it all worthwhile - I'd love to have witnessed either one of these:

    "Instead of that queen destroying the other queen cells in the hive the workers prevented her from doing that. We saw them on several occasions stopping her from getting too close to the other queen cells."

    "Then we saw a darker queen and a lighter queen fighting, the dark queen won."

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