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Total failure, need advice and encouragement with 10 hives.

2869 Views 13 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Michael Bush
This will be my 3rd year keeping bees. I started with 2 hives the first year, added a package the beginning of the 2nd year, (last year) and ended with 9 hives from collecting swarms, doing a cutout and making a few splits. So, I overwintered 9 hives, all queens and hives made it throughout the winter perfectly. I checked the hives while they were building up this spring and checker boarded all but 2 of them. (2 queens disappeared) The 2 queens were already laying well (IMO) so the bees were able to raise new queens.

Now to the best part. I have never been too interested in honey, I just love bees and watching them and photographing them. How much honey I harvested was of no importance and this made me happy considering I hadn't lost a hive in my 3 seasons. This year I decided to go for broke and see how much honey I could get from them, seeing that I had so many healthy overwintered hives. You know what happens next, almost every hive I have, has swarmed except the 2 that lost queens early on. I have caught 2 of the swarms, and one is in one of my trees right now, about 30 feet up.

Im thinking of combing the 2 that are rebuilding from queen losses, taking that extra queen and putting it in one of the swarm hives and putting the swarms I caught back into other hives that swarmed to get a better honey crop. My issue is, I now have 5 hives with virgin queens, some have queen cells and virgin queens, etc and I'm worried about trying to put good laying queens in them. If I miss a virgin queen or one is on a mating flight and I put a mated caged queen in the hive, will the bees kill the virgin ? Or will they release and then kill the mated queen ? I want to do this ASAP because the honey flow is starting here in middle TN as we speak.

Any help, encouragement or bashing for not checker boarding and finding swarm cells in time will be appreciated.
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I would leave the virgin queens in there. I would expect them to lay in a week or less once they hatch. They will lay like crazy to. You won't be to far behind. I moved a large hive of mine and something happened to the new queen. They made several new queen and they were hatching right in front of my eyes. When one queen found the other it was last one standing!! I would be careful of putting another queen up in there. They will probably roll her and kill her. Check about every two weeks for queen cells. Usuall check the bottom of the frame of the top box that doesn't have a queen excluder. I pull out 3 frames from the middle and look. Most likely if you don't see queen cells than there isn't any. This keeps you from searching every frame. There could be more but with 10 hive and checking every frame you will get tired quick! Good luck and it is only a small set back. Plenty of time let in the flow to catch up!!
Virgins will kill the older queens. They aren't laying yet and that's what they do when they emerge, kill cells and queens.
Sounds to me like you're doing great, actually. You haven't lost any hives and you caught a bunch of swarms to build up your numbers.

In my mind, taking too much honey would result in a hive death, not swarming. In fact, if you took a lot of honey in the fall that they didn't replace, and you left your supers on and no queen excluder and they made it through winter, that would be the equivalent of checkerboarding.

I wouldn't mess with anything. It sounds like all of your colonies have queens or the resources to make one. If you start combining bees into colonies that have swarmed, they could swarm again if the reason was overcrowding. That's REALLY going to piss you off. :pinch:

I'd leave them alone and let the virgins breed. The longest part of the wait is waiting for them to hatch. You're on the downhill slope now, and from my experience, wild bred queens are awesome.

The only thing you need to do is to catch that swarm that's 30ft up in a tree.....
This year I decided to go for broke and see how much honey I could get from them, seeing that I had so many healthy overwintered hives. You know what happens next, almost every hive I have, has swarmed
You don't give quite enough information. So, you had 9 overwintered hives. Were they in two stories this spring? Did you add supers? If you didn't that could cause them to swarm. If you did add supers but they didn't start using them, same thing.

Very often beekeepers who are building up don't have enough supers, or the supers are all new. The greatest deterrent to swarming is if the bees are up working in the supers. If the supers are brand new, sometimes the bees don't go in them right away so it's like they aren't there.

The best attraction in supers is old comb, the older the better. If the supers are new, you don't have this. The next best thing is to move frames from the hives up into the supers as bait. If the hives are deep frames and the supers are another size (medium, shallow, etc) you can't do this.

So often the beekeeper who is building up is between a rock and a hard place. Last but not least, don't blame yourself. Even the so called experts experience excess swarming at times, they lose bees, they don't get a honey crop some years.
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So far my experience has shown that if you checkerboard the population will get huge. but this huge population almost insures they will swarm. OF 12 hives I checkerboarded this year two swarmed. that was it for me. I am to having a repeat of lat year where I lost nearly every queen. So I went total off road. I simply removed the queens form their hives. no queen no swarming. and my bees have remained queenless since. The queens are in nucs or medium 10 frame boxes with enough bees to let them continue laying. All cells from queenless hives where removed. I have not had another hive swarm. I will let them have there queens back when I think they will behave.
Don't sound like failure to me. You have to remember you are trying to suppress one of the strongest urges in nature and that is to reproduce. An over wintered hive is bound to try and swarm. There are many ways beekeepers try and manage this urge but, most find out it is like trying to keep teen age boys away from girls. Just isn't going to happen. Checkerboarding is just one method, but, true cherkboarding is quite labor intensive its not just a one time thing and forget them and it has to be done with drawn comb. It does not work the same with foundation. Until you get a good supply of drawn comb available you are going to have swarms. Even after you have drawn comb your still going to have swarms but, the drawn comb does open up your options on swarm control. Just because a hive swarms does not mean it won't make any honey. So don't be too hard on yourself.

Now if I could give you some unsolicited advice. Don't over look your mite load after your spring honey flow is over. I never lost a hive until my third summer I was up to about 20 hives and then I took a pretty good hit my third summer loosing 6-7hives to mites. Even if you decide you don't want to treat knowing your mite loads will give you some idea of why they may have died. Just some food for thought.
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Beekeeping is very local so what works for me may not work that well for you.
Where I am only a strong hive at the right time will gather a surplus of honey. 50 hives in a single deep will not gather any surplus.

As a general rule young queens are not prone to swarm as long as they have a place to lay.
I wouldent combine the swarm hives back with the hive. I would rob capped brood from them and put it in the other hives that raised their queens already.
This brood will hatch in less than 9 days and since their not really needed as nurse bees will become foragers earlier than normal.

Swarms are pretty rare for me. Perhaps I do things a little different than most.
I let the bees raise their own queens and I prefer queens born in the fall.
I'm also foundationless so that may affect things.

When the dandilions bloom I insert a couple empty foundationless frames in the brood nest. I can usually move some of the outside frames up or out to make room. I'll add another box if need be. As soon as these are drawn and layed in I do it again. This will happen pretty fast.
Under no circumstances can the queen run out of a place to lay.
With a queen born in the fall this is all that is needed.

Queens near a year old or older. The older they get the worse they want to swarm.
I do them the same way but as soon as the blackberries bloom I pull the old queen and three frames of mixed brood and put in a nuc. She will be in a full sized box very quickly. She thinks she has swarmed already and will go into build up mode being back in a double deep by fall.

The doner hive is loaded with bees with no brood to take care of so they become field bees. They'll raise a queen and I have eggs in 30 days. During this broodless period the field bees have put up a lot of honey.
They won't swarm with no queen/young queen as long as they weren't in the swarm mindset already.
They also got a brood break which helps with the mites.

Blackberry bloom is the earliest I can get a queen mated properly here. The flow is just getting started and swarm season is close.

Notice that I time everything on flower dates not on calendar dates. There can be a 30 day swing from year to year.

The trick is to keep them in build up mode and never let them get in swarm mode. Once in swarm mode its difficult to stop. You just have to try to control it as best you can.

IMO once you see swarm cells you've missed the boat.
Your milage may vary.
Woody Roberts
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As Wolfer states beekeeping is a local thing!Some areas I run doubles some areas I run singles.The honey averages out pretty close to the same.Singles are generally better for comb honey.Also as Wolfer states pay attention to the flowers not the calendar!
peteloringburst: All my hives were overwintered in single deeps, and early April, I added a 2nd deep and put half the brood nest in the top half of the hive, over the top of the rest of the brood nest. I added the empty frames on both sides of the brood nest. I did put a few empty frames in between already drawn frames, but they were all new frames with foundation. That is where I made a huge mistake. I thought I was checker boarding, but with no previously drawn comb, I wasn't doing anything. No wonder they all swarmed.

johng: I thought I was checker boarding, but I wasn't by adding frames with foundation. It all makes sense now. I caught another swarm today, so I have 3 swarms now. I think it had a virgin queen in it, but it was about 3 lbs of bees. I treated my hives last year in the fall with Apivar. I plan on doing that again. I do have some mites, I occasionally see a bee with a mite on their back, so I'm not going to lose a hive from being stubborn. thank you for the advice.

wolfer: Unless I end up with lots of drawn comb this year, I will take your advice and pull the queen and a few frames of brood and let my established hives raise new queens. That sounds better anyway. I like splitting hives, but I wanted to have big booming hives to really make lots of honey, which is why i thought leaving them in the hive but giving them more room would be good, but adding frames with no comb didn't do anything but cause a headache.

Slowdrone: you are not too far from me slow drone. how many lbs per hive do you average ?
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It Depends on which outyard .I just opened an apiary in Dickson this year.I'm just building up in Dickson to move hives 12 at a time into Humpries County.Hives in Maury County on a 3 year average has been 89 lbs. per.I believe I can well surpass that since I'm now concentrating my efforts in TN.I have a lot of outyards in Al. I've just turned over to one of my grand children.Family is trying to get me to slow down,I'm just not capable of that. I really do enjoy myself.For an old guy I'm in surprisingly good health!Feel better than I deserve as John Seaborn always tells me.I have a really good area that I plan on building up,not much can or will stop me,just the way I am.I really have good luck with areas most wouldn't consider.Highly overlooked in my opinion.Todays been a good day queen cells from my favorite queen have been hatching out!Checked on them today some are mated sooner than I expected.Darn good looking queens!Very proud of them.:applause:Tulip poplars are in bloom,locust are in bloom blackberries out back aren't far from blooming,should be by end of next week it looks.I'll have to figure out where you're at,maybe have coffee or something.
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Theres something about having your favorite queen having daughters thats just makes you smile. Nothing prettier than a big fat mated queen. Im partial to the lighter Cordovans but Ive always had either Cordys or Italian so I think i'm going to order a really dark queen next time I need one.

Sounds like you have quite an operation. I have all my hives (13 now) in my yard, but i'm at the point of running out of room. I live right off of HWY 70 by the Harpeth River, so we should meet up sometime. I need to learn whats blooming too. I havent got that far yet but I know its important in beekeeping.
I'm running Russia,carniolan,cordovanitalian cross and Buckfast,carniolan,Italian cross.The later are leather and the others are predominant dark.I have some other mutts with most of the genetics I've just listed with a touch of German blacks.All and all good gentle reliable stock.Glad you posted your website makes it easy easier to arrange a get together!There is apattern to what blooms first,what blooms after that and so on I don't use a calendar I closely watch weather and the pattern to which flowers bloom.This year around here maple,,peach,pear,yellow pine, Bradford pear,dandelion, white pine,white clover,tulip poplar,locust, to give a little idea of the pattern in this area.Privet and blackberry just a few days away.that's not everything I'd have to check on what I've recorded.You've got about what I've got out back in breeders.You got a respectable amount that can turn into a hobby gotten out of hand at will!You'd be surprised at how quickly you can make increases!
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If you do the math, by the time an emergency queen is laying all the capped brood has emerged. Typically a hive succeeds in raising a new queen. So the bottom line is, USUALLY when you think a hive is queenless, it is not. There is usually a virgin in there that isn't laying yet. A frame of eggs from any hive is not a big loss since almost any queen can lay more eggs than the bees can raise. Give any questionable hive a frame of eggs and don't worry. IF they need a queen (and they probably don't) they can raise one. If they DON'T need a queen, you haven't wasted money, queens, effort and time trying to resolve a problem they don't have. Meanwhile the eggs keep the laying workers at bay, give them some brood a bit sooner and let you sleep well at night...
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