I installed my bees last Thursday and cracked open the hive for the first time today. There was not a lot of activity at all outside. I was a little nervous after reading all weekend about people who's bees had absconded for some unknown reason. My goal was to check the feeders and make sure the queen was out of the cage. The feeders were still 3/4 full which was a little concerning. I was actually worried they would run out. The weather has been cool and raining most of the time since I put them in so I didn't think they would be outside much.
I pull off a bar and peeked inside and the bees were all clustered in a ball. I tried to get a picture but I didn't want to disturb them. IMG_0747.jpg
The temperature here today is mid 50s with gusty winds so I'm hoping this is related to the weather. The queen cage is right in the middle of that so I didn't pull it out. I didn't want to disturb them if they are trying to stay warm.
Any advise? Should I leave them alone, intervene in any way?
Here is a picture of the hive (from very far away thanks to my volunteer photographer) and a picture of my feeder. IMG_4103.JPEG IMG_0739.jpg
Bees don't need much until they start rearing brood. Once that starts, you will have to be very diligent to keep sugar syrup flow continuing. IF the average temp is over 50 (so lows not too far into the 40s, and hi's past 55 or so), the bees can suck down 1 qt/day. If the syrup temp falls below 50 degrees, the bees cannot suck it up because it chills them too much. So, you will have to wait until it is warmer for them to take syrup, but they don't need much right now.
To encourage the bees to access their syrup, you can remove the divider and be sure the syrup is a couple of bars past the cluster. And put a _light_scent in it - like a teabag in the water you used for the sugar syrup. The bees will do the rest.
Be advised that something like 1 in 8 or 1 in 5 package queens are either duds, or a superceded very soon after they start laying. It's good to have a plan for what to do if there is a problem with the queen - look up suppliers who can ship, ask around at your local bee club, ask your package supplier. Might not be necessary....
If the bees do not let her out after 5 days or so, and they are not visiting her and touching her pretty frequently, then there may be a problem with her. Also bees that are getting the signal that they need to make cells for worker eggs - such as a competent queen provides - will draw out comb quickly and will draw out comb with brood cells that are 5.1-5.4 mm across (so 10 cells are 51-54 mm, or 5.1-5.4 cm). If you get bigger cells, like 5.8 mm, then there is no signal that they have a laying queen, and in 2-3 weeks they will start to be laying workers. Google it if you haven't heard of it...dodging these potential pitfalls are just a part of beekeeping.
But bees have a hard time drawing comb if it is 50s, they are not bringing in pollen, and not getting a signal that there is hungry brood and there is an impatient queen who needs room to lay and there is a nectar flow. So, not yet time to worry.
If you remove the divider so the cluster can easily walk to the sugar syrup, it will be more intimidating to get the jars out. Smoke is helpful, and you can flick the bees off the jar bottoms.
I went back in today. The temperature is near 70 today. Things are much more active today. I topped off the feeders. The queen was still in her cage though. Tomorrow it was going to be 7 days. I tried poking a hole in the candy plug like I have seen some people do in videos but the whole thing came out on the end of my nail. I hung the cage back in the hive where it was. There is comb on two top bars in the hive. One was a little crooked so I tried to straighten it out and ended up breaking the darn thing off. It was so fragile! It was very narrow at the top where the comb was attached to the bar. I reattached it by making a sling with a couple pieces of painters tape. Hopefully they will fix my stupid mistake. The other comb was smaller and more straight so I left it alone. All-in-all I am glad to see they are making progress. I hope I didn't mess anything up by pulling that plug out of the queen cage.
Well, it's one of 2 scenarios, right? Either she is fine, the plug was just in a bad position, and you can expect to see eggs in 3-5 days. She takes a little bit to ramp up. It's important to have a sense of the "tragectory" of a hive that has a healthy queen and is able to grow, if the temps are good and they are being fed (which is the case!). And it's important to believe that maybe it is a dud queen, and to have a sense of what that looks like - poor progress drawing comb (no eggs coming along so why bother?), large cells with the drawn comb, and not taking a lot of sugar water (at least 1/2 qt a day).
And don't worry, the comb gets stronger as more is attached and as the wax "ages". Still try to find videos on the proper way to hold the bars if you think that played a role! And - rubber bands are your friend...
Could be either situation. The real challenge with beekeeping is 1) having a sense of likely "states" of the hive, and 2) knowing how to read the clues to see what the case really is. This is both the easiest and hardest time for you - easiest because there are not many guard bees and not much comb to look through, and hardest because you're still learning the clues!
Try googling top bar hive inspections, and langstroth hive inspections, both for queenright young hives and for hives that had a dud queen, so you can see what it looks like. Try to find another beekeeper nearby who is also installing packages - even though they are likely a Lang beek, the bees are the same. It's useful to compare progress, it should be pretty similar between the two hive styles.
Good luck! Keep us posted.
Last edited by trishbookworm; 04-18-2019 at 06:22 AM.
When I opened the hive there was some cross combing going on but I was able to separate the bars and mold the comb back onto its own bar. This time I managed not to break any, yeah me! This is a picture right after I separated the bars, when it was still attached to both bars. IMG_0754.jpg
Once I got in there I was able to take the tape off the comb I broke last week. They did a good repair job. I also saw what I believe is some eggs. Someone correct me if I am wrong. There are a few pollen cells too but in no discernable order, just randomly placed here and there. IMG_0758.jpg
Should I start keeping a journal at this point? What do experienced beeks find helpful to log in a journal? This is all very exciting, I was so happy for the rest of the day. Thanks again.
PS: why can't I get my photos to rotate right side up? they are always sideways. Thanks again
Those cells appear full of nectar/sugar water, which is clear.
Cells with eggs will have nothing but eggs. No liquid. The bees don't put royal jelly (looks milky) in the cells until just before or after the egg hatches into a larvae.
Check the size of the cells. Take a ruler, measure (with the mm side) 10 cells. Measure towards the bottom of the comb, not right at the top. At the top, they often fill larger cells with nectar only and then make smaller worker-sized cells about 2-3 inches from the top of the bar. If that is more than 55 mm, or 5.5 cm, then you have no laying queen. A hive with "pressure" to build cells for a laying queen will mainly make worker-sized, 51 mm- 54 mm for 10 cells.
Bringing in pollen - it should be like every other bee has pollen. This queen should be pedal-to-the-medal trying to lay. If it is once in a few, then they aren't serious about feeding brood. And... worker bees will lay eggs. Those eggs will require pollen to develop. They will become drones. It happens at a low level in every hive, usually the sisters clean it up. No queen, no motivation to stop this worker-laying behavior.
So.... you know now what to look for in a hive that is functional. If you only see nectar in the cells, there is no laying queen. It happens pretty frequently with a package install. Please check again, close to the center of the bee population in the combs. There should be eggs and larvae there. I hate to ask a beek to "poke" their hive too much, but time is of the essence if you have no queen. Check in the next 5 days at the latest. I bet you're expecting cold weather for this weekend too... so better to wait for the weather to improve to check. If you aren't sure what to look for, put out an SOS call to your nearest bee club. Someone might be able to come out and check, or take time to ask questions to be sure they have the full picture before making a recommendation.
It may be that once the comb was drawn, the queen took a day or two to get back into "shape", so you just missed the eggs with this visit. But this is the time to ask your package supplier what they can do for you if you have no laying queen. Probably the answer is "nothing", because for all they know you accidentally killed the queen. So being prepared to get a queen is something you can think about now, before you get a chance to go into your hive. There are mail-order options, and looking up local queen suppliers may also yield pay dirt. And asking your local bee club about getting a queen ASAP may prove fruitful too.
On a different topic, yes I recommend a journal or diary of sorts. Noting the following may be useful:
1. At the entrance: how many bees in 10 seconds, or is it about 1 second or less between bees? If no, but some bees are going in and out, that's low traffic and should improve. Also note how many out of 10 have pollen. And the time of day you made the note - you'll see later why this matters.
2. Once you first open the hive: what number bar is the furthest/deepest comb at? Is it well covered with bees (I use ++ when I can barely see the comb), or just some (I use + for more than 1/4 lightly covered)?
3. If you probed to the center of the combs, did you see eggs (cells look empty unless the light and your eyes are good), or larva (milky, then like a grub), or nectar (shiny)? I actually note that detail for each comb - was it MT (drawn but empty), N (nectar), Nw (new), CWB (capped worker brood), eggs or L (for larvae). I can be pretty detail oriented tho! It's not critical to note that level of detail, but whether you saw eggs/larvae is extremely important to note, because you may be working back from that date to figure out the last time the hive was queenright.
4. Note the date you fed too, if you just added sugar syrup during the visit to the hive.
About adding the sugar syrup: If the syrup is cooling to air temp, and that's below 50 degrees, the bees can't take it. This weekend, good luck keeping that syrup warm enougH! But the closer it is to the cluster, the better you will be. I don't even have a divider between the mason jar feeders and the last comb - I do have an empty bar tho. Just in case they start drawing out comb faster than I expect! And I'm only doing that because of the cold nights.
Also you can add a light scent to the sugar water - some anise extract (the stuff intended for food is fine, 1 drop per quart is almost too much...).
Keep us posted! Watching... ;/ hope all will turn out to be well, or you can correctly identify queenlessness and get a queen in there.
I checked on the hive again today and took a video but it was pretty bad quality since I was by myself. I snapped some stills from the video though. It looks like the cells are just over 5mm, but I will include the picture.I didn't do as well as I thought getting the ruler lined up on the cells and then I don't have a full 5 cm of comb measured either. I needed a third hand (aka husband) but that was not available. Maybe a more experienced eye can tell me more. I watched the bees coming and going for a while but there was not a lot of pollen coming in still. There was much more last week. There is definitely less that one second between bees coming in but less than one in ten have pollen. The good news is I did see larvae this week. I didn't spot any eggs though, but just seeing the larvae was a little relief. I don't know if I would be able to spot the queen if I saw her. That might take a little more time. The lack of pollen collection is concerning. I hope I don't just have laying workers. I Hope you can tell me what kind of capped comb that is from the picture provided and my fears will be relieved.
I did email the local bee club as well. The next meeting is coming up in a few days. IMG_0788.jpgIMG_0784.jpgIMG_0785.jpgIMG_0789.jpgIMG_0787.jpg
I think I found my queen. Is this her? I measured the comb today and got a better angle. It sure is easier when you hold the ruler at the same angle as the comb! ( geez, noobs) itís 5.4 cm. 8D039506-1A25-4DAE-9D85-8F09ABD67BCE.jpg
Oh and about the 1 in 10 with pollen: when the bees have to bring in nectar, more than pollen, as would be true when they are using nectar to draw comb, then even tho they have a lot of brood to feed they will have a lower proportion of foragers with pollen. So if a beek is successfully providing "substitute nectar" for the bees, in the form of sugar syrup, then more foragers will be sent for pollen.
Also there is variation through the day (especially come early summer through fall) as to when the foragers focus on pollen vs bring in more nectar. This time of year, I am seeing massive pollen coming in - the days are cool, there are more pollen sources from trees up until this week, when we got dandelion blooming, and there are frequent interruptions in foraging due to inclement weather.
So going out and watching incoming pollen levels, and I do count per 10 bees, especially now when you have a sense of what is going on, helps you know what the state of the hive is. Happy bee watching!
It looks like they are bringing in a little more pollen today. When I counted before I had just rained so that might have effected the pollen available too. It's also a nicer day today, warmer and sunny. I always like to start out by watching them at the hive entrance for a few minutes. Another thing I noticed today that I haven't seen before is they are starting to clean house. There have been dead bees on the bottom screen since the install and they haven't bothered with them. Today I saw a couple of bees carrying them outside. I figure if they have time to clean then things must be going in the right direction.
That queen really needs to wear a cape or something!