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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hey guys, really down in the dumps right now. Truthfully, aside from having to manage loads of hive beetles, my beekeeping efforts have been largely successful.

Today made me think twice about keeping bees though... Whether or not it is for me in a residential area with a young and growing family (11 month old). I started with 1 hive in April and now have 2 bustling hives and a queen about to hatch out of a nuc split. Today I was doing an inspection on one of my double deep hives and I had the second box set just off the side while I inspected the bottom box. They were getting pretty pissy due to my slowness on inspection (smoked them at the beginning). Well when I finished up with the bottom box and went to put the top box back on, I got swarmed something similar to what I have seen AHB bees do in videos. If I hadn't had my jacket and veil on I would have got near 100 stings I would guess. Not to mention about 8 of them followed me for over 100 yards. I'm not sure if I did something fatally wrong or if the it possibly swarmed and has a new much more aggressive queen (I found 1 swarm cell that looked like the side had been torn open). I should mention that I did find a queen in the bottom box. It is possible that I could pinch off the queen and that issue might be gone, but just knowing that *can* happen scares the "new dad" in me silly. I have invested a lot of time and money into bees and I have really enjoyed the journey. But man, I just can't have something like this happen to a friend/family member.

Any advice or constructive criticism is welcome.

Thanks for listening.

EDIT: Removed some doom and gloom
 

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Were they trying to bump and sting you or just flying around. If you happened to open them up when they were planning to swarm, you may have triggered it. I had that happen today. Opened up and was working on a hive. I was looking in the box, but hubby brought my attention to the large swarm of bees flying all over with me in the middle. No aggression, just tons of flying. Being there turned out to work out for me because it gave me a chance to put a few drops of lemongrass on empty swarm trap boxes near there and they look like they are moving into one of the boxes. It can be a shock the first time you find yourself in the middle of hundreds to thousands of flying bees.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
It was intense aggression. I was wearing a vented jacket and counted about 25 stingers on my chest pockets and the fabric around the neck zipper. Many were going for the face arched in stinging position. I have been around tons of flying bees when they are not being aggressive at all, but this was totally different. Thanks for the perspective though!
 

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Don't act hastily. I would stay out of them for a 10 days or so, then on a good day, in the middle of the day, go in and see what you find. Meanwhile make sure they are not being robbed during the day nor annoyed at night. That just puts them in a crabby mood.

You were working them, which is vastly different from the risk profile for neighbors and kids that are not working them. Though if you are in AHB territory and have open mated your queens then you may have picked up some genetic AHB aggression that could present risks to bystanders. Re-queening with a non-AHB queen will fix that in about a month or so.

Occasionally my girls just take serious exception to me, for reasons that are not clear at the moment. When that happens I pull on gloves and a jacket, and put pants on if I have shorts on, and then finish up what I started, after I've given them a moment and bit of smoke. If I get a few dozen stings in a case like this, that's OK because it makes me think hard about why they are different from my usually amiable bugs. I have always figured what might have set them off, and tried not to repeat it.

Also you mentioned that you "smoked them in the beginning", I always have cool smoker cooking along and frequently give small reminders when I move on to a new box even if the whole stack was smoked at the start. And I smoke, again before restacking if the boxes have been set aside on a temp stack.

Try moving all but the bottom boxes off to a temp stack, so that once you've worked a box, you then leave it alone afterward. In other words work up, not down.

Tale care in your re-stacking to not squash bees - it is pretty much avoidable if you put your mind to it. And it upsets them, so it's worth learning how to avoid it. Don't use those infernal side-of-box frame holders, put frames out of the boxes into a quiet box, not leaned against the hive side, never set boxes on end when off the stack, set them upright on a temp base and keep the tops of both the main stack and the temp stack covered with a plastic political signs whenever your paws are not actually in them. Bees on a temp stand, in the dark, may be nonplussed to find their hive disturbed, but they don't seem to get hostile about it. Be careful how you are manipulating the frames (use both hands, not a frame lifter.) Don't bang the boxes around. Don't clear bees off your hive tool by tapping it against the box as if it was a mixing spoon on a bowl of batter. Get your body close to enough the stack (belly to it) so your shoulders are right over the box edge and you pull the frames straight up and out.

Sometimes new beekeepers at the end of their first season seem to go through a phase when they've gotten enough confidence in handling the frames that they can inadvertently started handling them less gingerly. Go back to when you were a little scared and more cautious about things and try to be more gentle.

Hope these ideas help.

Nancy
 

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How many brood boxes? How many supers? Time of day? Weather? When we’re you in them last? A lot of things can trigger bees. Knowing what is sometimes the hard part.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Nancy, thank you for the great advice and encouragement. My wife has also encouraged me not to make any hasty decisions. I'm not going to lie, it was a fiasco after they started coming at me (which was as soon as I picked up the box). I am usually extremely careful not to squash and bees when restacking, but I threw caution to the wind and restacked fast which I'm sure made things much worse. The amount of alarm pheromone must have been insane by the time I was through. From now on, I am going to bring a spare bottom board as you suggest for the removed boxes, that is a great idea. Also, I think a little smoke at that point would have gone a LONG way. I'm still going to keep my eye on the hive though, I don't think I have a new queen in there, because there has not been an egg break and that cell looked like it was chewed into from the side.


Barhopper, 2 brood boxes, 1 super, afternoon, slightly overcast (I've worked them in worse), I opened them up 2 weeks ago to do a split, but did not go to the bottom box.



NOTE: Interesting find in the bottom box. I was expecting a good bit of brood (population is huge in this hive), but I found almost 5 frames of nothing but solid pollen with rim honey. The other three had brood in various stages. The top box only has 2 frames of brood and some drone, then all honey. They haven't transferred much of anything to the super yet.
 

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I understand not wanting to have a scary or dangerous hive. Re-queening with queens who others have used, and who have found them gentle, is a good option. It's hard - with a more defensive hive, you'll want a queen excluder between the brood chambers to corner the queen, then you might want to just make 2 nucs with the frames that end up in the box with eggs, and THEN pinch the stinker. After you've seen eggs from your new queen. ;)

I would ask around if anyone else got queens from the same supplier, and what their experience was.

I really like having a second box/base/lid to hold the frames that I remove when looking at a box - I like about 3 frames out so I can then move 2 at a time, looking at each side, so I manipulate minimally.

Nitrile gloves are so helpful for good control with a feeling of protection. Yes, the bees can sting through them, but with my pissy hive experiences, they went for the white canvas sleeves rather than the gloves.

Two other thoughts besides requeening, a holder box for exposed frames, and nitrile gloves: first, I have found that any exposed frames or spilled sugar syrup (like, lots, or the honey bee healthy scented stuff) will trigger bad behavior. My lot is deep but narrow, and I have had 200+ bees in my pole barn for a morning, checking my empty brood frames out. They were not deterred by smoke or darkness, but had to find out for themselves (all 200 of them, one at a time) that there was nothing in the frames - and that finally they were just gone. Bees can have a large footprint, which can be prevented by minimizing robbing frenzy triggers.

Oh, and be very careful if moving a beehive, or combining two hives into 1 - really I would never do that on a small lot, but would remove the other hive to a location 2 miles+ away, then bring it back after a week, so the bees will re-orient. It is dangerous when a mass of foragers leave a new location but go back to the old one. If you do have to combine hives, or move a hive, be sure to get advice from your local beekeepers on how to do so and minimize foragers going back to look for the old location.

Second, smaller hives will have fewer guard bees. Has anyone in your bee club gone with just a single and then honey supers? Just kept single deeps? Or maybe 2 mediums. Or a deep and a shallow. Smaller hives can be gentler.

I have kids, my youngest is 10, and they don't have any interest in bees. ;) they have been stung by bees getting into their sandals. If you can stick with crocs or netted shoes, or sandals more like keens than flip-flops, then bees don't get shuffled between foot and footwear and sting. Or just mow a lot so there isn't clover. ;) I love my free forage and don't really like mowing, so the kids keep their shoes on and don't shuffle. Antihistamines work well - like benadryl or zyrtek - if the kiddos get stung. I'm not sure the youngest age for each of those examples, but the label is the law. ;)

This is a defining moment for us beekeepers - when we get a reminder we are working with critters that can kill. We have the technology and foresight to mitigate this, but when in an urban environment, or with kids, the stakes are higher. Hope this helps...
 

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I don't like doing deep inspections this time of year. I may pull a few frames but I'm not tearing the hive apart like I do in spring. During dearth they are definately more aggressive and need alot more smoke. Smoke is an incredibly good tool to keep hives calm.
 

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I don't like doing deep inspections this time of year. I may pull a few frames but I'm not tearing the hive apart like I do in spring. During dearth they are definately more aggressive and need alot more smoke. Smoke is an incredibly good tool to keep hives calm.
I agree with Burns. I rarely go to the bottom box this time of year. They are setting it up as the pantry for the winter. If I don’t find what I need to in the top brood box I’ll go lower but typically you’ll find eggs and larvae in the top one, that will let you know you have an active queen. I don’t need to see the queen on every inspection, but if I do good for me. Another tactic I use is to tilt the top box to look for queen cells at the bottom of the frames. I can’t say you won’t have swarms during this time, we’re in Florida, they can swarm just about all year. I don’t worry about swarming now as much as other times. I would do as suggested and wait awhile then try it again. We should be getting the rain tree bloom in the near future. That should calm them down. Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Thanks everyone for the advice, a lot of good stuff in here for me.

Barhopper / Burns,

I have never seen so many resources in a hive before, not even on youtube videos I have seen. The bottom box is 60% pollen, 25% honey, and 15% brood. Top box is about 70% honey and 30% brood. I have never given them pollen substitute and I have not fed this hive in over a month. Would they still be grouchy this time of year even though they are absolutely loaded with resources? I will probably make a separate post about this, because I am a bit worried that they are food/honey bound.


Trish,

This queen came from a well known apiary from about 15 miles away. They have been very sweet and gentle, in fact it is rare for me to find a stinger anywhere on me after a quick top box inspection. Something about lifting that top brood box to restack triggered them super bad. After reading over everyone's advice, I think it was a mix of small things that turned into a big bad aggressive situation. I'm definitely blaming myself first before I blame bee genetics, but I will keep my eye on that hive just in case.
 

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Kyeman, I see that you smoked them at the beginning, good for you. But that was only the beginning. Your first mistake was not giving them a little bit of smoke throughout the inspection, especially when you went into the bottom box. They had plenty of time to figure out that something was wrong, your handling of frames in the upper box most certainly ticked off some bees who released alarm pheromones.

You see, the smoke inhibits communication by masking the pheromone scents. Now, you don't need constant billows of choking smoke to be effective. Just a little puff now and again, when you see and hear them starting to get a bit riled, is usually enough to get them on an even keel.

Also, be quick about your inspections. Wouldn't you get riled up if someone tore the roof off your house and took his sweet time about going through all your possessions and your nursery?

My bees are always more defensive this time of year. Why? I believe it is because they need to defend the stores that they worked so hard to build up all summer long.

Keep an eye on your bee critters. If you take the advice you got in this thread and they still prove to be aggressively defensive, you should think about requeening. But I'm willing to bet a whole dollar that you will see a lot of improvement in their temper simply by adjusting how you work them. Especially this time of year.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I see that you smoked them at the beginning, good for you. But that was only the beginning. Your first mistake was not giving them a little bit of smoke throughout the inspection, especially when you went into the bottom box. They had plenty of time to figure out that something was wrong
Totally agree, the embarrassing truth is that I ran out of smoker fuel (this was the last hive I inspected) and I forgot to bring my bag of pine needles out to the yard with me and everything was still soaked from a storm the night before. I will be much more diligent with my smoker in the future. Also, I was sitting there thinking "man this inspection is taking so long, I'M starting to get grumpy".
 

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Night-time predators such as skunks, 'possums and raccoons can really change their attitudes quickly.

Alex
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Night-time predators such as skunks, 'possums and raccoons can really change their attitudes quickly.
I have all 3 and more to boot. I have never seen evidence of possums or racoons bothering them. There are always about 5 lizards hanging around on the stand though.

Are you using excluders?
Yes, I am using an excluder under the Super.
 

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I have seen 'possums at dawn reaching into the hives. We now have most hives on 22" stands. This causes the predator to have to raise up on their back legs to reach into the entrance thereby exposing their soft underbelly.

I haven't seen much evidence of predators other than an occasional misplaced entrance reducer and some mean ***** bees. :D

I hope you get it figured out soon.

Alex
 

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What’s in the super above the excluder? Any drawn comb or honey? If there’s not much of either you might want to remove the excluder to free up some room. If there’s not much drawn comb they typically won’t go up through the excluder this time of year. We don’t usually remove our excluders until the middle/end of October. We try to leave them on box of honey above the brood nest through our “winter”.
 

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You already have some good advice keyman, but I'd like to add two more thoughts:

First, that cloud of bees in the middle of an inspection tells me that I'm a moment too late with an extra puff of smoke. If you learn to respond to the bees, they will tell you when to use more smoke. Too little or too much smoke does not provide the results the beekeeper wants. We sometimes get so involved in our hive tasks, we forget to monitor the mood of the bees.

Secondly, There are times the bees tell me it is the wrong day to be opening a hive. When the bees are noticeably aggressive at the outset, I simply replace the inner cover and move on. This happens rarely, but I'm better off coming back another day. A hobbyist has that luxury. A good hive can have a bad day in terms of aggression displayed toward the beekeeper.

JMO :)
 

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Discussion Starter #20
First, that cloud of bees in the middle of an inspection tells me that I'm a moment too late with an extra puff of smoke. If you learn to respond to the bees, they will tell you when to use more smoke.
I hear you! They were communicating and I wasn't listening apparently :)

What’s in the super above the excluder?
I actually have a "Flow" super up above, I can see that the girls are working to fill in the gaps with wax. Not loads of them, but they are up there in some numbers. I sprayed the frames with some sugar syrup and smashed some wax onto them when I put the super on originally. I don't know how it is in Ocala, but here on the coast we have a huge nectar flow coming up soon in September from Brazilian Pepper.
 
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