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Author Topic: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees  (Read 419 times)

Offline TexnBrit

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Hi all,

First thing to know is I'm still a noobee. It's always fascinating learning experience every time I visit bees, and today was a doozy of a lesson for me.

We took delivery of two strong packages a week ago but, due to circumstances beyond our control, haven't quite managed to finish building their permanent homes. As a temporary measure we installed them in nucs, each containing four foundationless frames and a feeder. Today was day three in their nucs so I went out to check on their progress and to refill their feeders if necessary.

I carefully lifted the lid off the first nuc and laid it gently down next to the stand. Things appeared to be OK with plenty of bees going about their business inside the box. I slowly lifted the top of one frame just far enough to see if there were any signs of comb. There were plenty of bees festooning below but no sign of comb, so I lowered it gently back down. The next frame also had lots of festooning bees plus the beginnings of some beautiful fresh comb which was a great relief. After lowering that frame back into its slot, I topped up the sugar water and carefully placed the lid back on the nuc. 

Since everything seemed to be going OK I was about to strap down the lid and go off to check on the other nuc when I happened to notice a small huddle of maybe 20-30 bees down in the brush-hogged rough grass about six feet in front of the nuc I had just looked at.  I thought it was strange so I stopped and watched them. As I stood there for maybe a minute the numbers of bees steadily increased, and then I realized the nuc's quiet humming sound seemed to have changed ... I remembered reading about bees 'roaring' if they became queenless and it suddenly occurred to me that might be what I was hearing ... It then hit me - my nuc's queen might somehow be in the middle of that growing clump of bees!

Crouching down by the now almost softball sized cluster of bees, I took a deep breath and very gingerly put my hand into the grass underneath the bees and moved it very slowly upwards, encouraging the bees to move up the stems of grass between my fingers as I did so. I didn't know how they'd react, but thankfully they didn't try to sting me at all, and I spotted the queen! She was right there in the midst of all the bees running around in the palm of my hand. I managed to scoop her up with a good handful of of her attendants and get them safely back into the nuc without further incident, the small number of bees left on the grass scattered quickly, and the sound of the nuc soon settled back down to the normal, quiet hum.

I don't know how she got to be out there.  Since there's very little comb built yet I suppose at the moment she's got nothing to do so she must have been wandering around on the underside of the lid, or on the end of one of the two frames I peeked at, or something. No matter how it happened I'm going to be paying even more attention than before, because the last thing I need is to lose a queen like that.  A local beekeeping supply storekeeper told me recently he'd had several folks tell him they'd seen queens actually walking away from their hives this spring! I don't think that's what mine was doing, but I suppose it's possible.

The other nuc check went according to plan, thank goodness, and I certainly hope we get their permanent homes finished quickly and everything else goes smoothly from now on! It's a good lesson learned though. I'm extremely glad I took the time to stop, watch, and listen to my bees.

Have any of you experienced anything similar? 
« Last Edit: May 13, 2019, 07:37:26 am by TexnBrit »
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline ed/La.

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Happened to me today. Put the queen back in and bees that looked like they were ready to swarm went back in hive. A few hours later they absconded to a low branch. I boxed them in different box and caged the queen. Gave them a frame of brood and a frame of pollen/nectar. The hive they left had 30+ hive beetles.No beetle larva or slime.  I killed all I could see and put in freezer. While possible your  queen escaped while doing inspection my guess is she went out the entrance on her own. It takes bees a lot of resources to make comb and queen has nowhere to lay until they make some. Nowhere to store nectar it pollen. The bees have no choice but to festoon it there is no comb. Perhaps they were preparing to abscond. If so returning the queen will not stop them.

Offline sawdstmakr

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Tex,
Inspecting the hives too often can cause the bees to ball the queen or abscond. Being a new beekeeper means that you need to learn what the bees do and you need to inspect the hive to learn. Do inspections once a week but inspect only one each time, alternating which one you do. This will give you the training you need and protect your bees.
When you do an inspection, have set goals in mind, once you get the answer, close up the hive.
I.e, if you are checking to see if the queen is ok, once you see eggs and larvae, you are done.
Always start with an outer frame, leaving it out and work your way in so that you are not rolling bees AND YOUR QUEEN when you remove a frame.
Good luck.
Jim Altmiller

Offline Acebird

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For me I think the best way to inspect a new hive like this is to pry it from the bottom board and almost tip it upside down on the short side.  Don't remove any covers or pull frames.
Brian Cardinal
Just do it

Offline TheHoneyPump

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TexnBrit.
Thank you for sharing your experience.  Very well done at being attentive to what the behaviour of the bees was telling you.
Sounds like they need to get some comb going or they may leave you.  Recommend you get some sugar syrup feed onto them so they can get some comb built and can get things rolling.  Keep the feed thin so it is easy for them to process, 1 part sugar to 1.5 - 2 parts water.  Once they have some comb and queen lays some eggs they will stay.  If you have access to any comb at all, give each nuc 1 frame of comb so they have a starting point.  Until they have comb and a few eggs going, they are just a box of bees that probably has scouts sent out looking for a better place to go to.
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Offline TexnBrit

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Thank you all for the thoughtful replies.

The only reason for bothering them at this stage is because I'm not sure how quickly they'll consume the 1:1 sugar water I filled their feeder frames with when I put the packages in the nuc boxes initially. Getting new bees is a nerve wracking business - I really don't want to disturb them, but it's also crucial they don't go hungry either!

Unfortunately I don't have any active hives so I don't have supplies to move around and give these girls. I know it's not the same as brood comb, etc, but - FWIW - I did add two drops of lemongrass oil to each gallon of 1:1 sugar water while making it, and added a Q-tip with one drop of oil inside the nuc boxes as well.  I'm SO hoping it was just a weird one off accident yesterday not an attempt to abscond... I'd like to think that the packages have each formed a cohesive unit by now - as if they were swarms - settling swiftly into their nice smelling new homes, not still just two confused, random bunches of bees shaken into boxes.  :sad:

I know comb building is what bees are hardwired to do, but would they be doing so even if they don't think it's a good place to bee..?   Is there anything I can do now to encourage them to stick around?  If we can keep them long enough to get them into their permanent home at the weekend it will be easy to feed them without disturbing them at all.

Thanks again for your experienced advice, and have a wonderful week!

Brit  :happy:
« Last Edit: May 13, 2019, 06:42:13 pm by TexnBrit »
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline TheHoneyPump

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imho.  Halt the lemon grass oil idea now.  Remove the q-tips.  Also on fresh mix of syrup use just water and sugar, no additives.  Just sweetwater.  Let the box emanate and smell like the bees that are in there.  The LG oil is good as an initial attractant to draw scouts for swarms.  Once the bees are in, the LG can be overpowering and confuse them about what is going on and what they are needing to be doing next.  The LG may actually be setting them back rather than allowing them to move ahead.

Hope that helps.
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Offline TexnBrit

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Oops...  :embarassed: Yes it certainly does, thank you!
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline TexnBrit

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Well Ed, you were quite right and sadly it was not a fluke...

The short story is that the same queen got out twice more this afternoon!  :shocked:

I may be speaking too soon of course, but ... She finally appeared to settled down after I swapped out the nuc for another one with no lemongrass scent and, since I was luckily able to scrounge some old comb, I rubber banded the chunks of it to a couple of the frames (even remembering to check the cells are the right way up in my haste!), plus the one frame they started work on themselves is in there as well.

Please keep everything crossed for this crew deciding that fourth time's the charm and the old comb is to their liking. She needs to be told to stay home this time!  Have any of you tried keeping a queen from leaving by using a piece of queen excluder across an entrance? I don't have one but could get one tomorrow, if it would help.

I'm very thankful the other nuc seems to be settling in peacefully ... I'm gonna have an ulcer if this keeps up! 
« Last Edit: May 13, 2019, 10:57:51 pm by TexnBrit »
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline ed/La.

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If possible buy a nuc next time. They have comb and brood and some pollen. You are a month ahead with a decent nuc. You could lock her in with queen excluder. I have not tried it. Drones can't get through and may cause traffic jam. Around here with the hungry lizards, frogs and snakes it is dangerous for  a queen to spend much time on the ground. You are learning the best way. The school of hard knocks. That's how I learn.

Offline TexnBrit

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Re: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2019, 11:23:10 pm »
Thanks, Ed,

Our plans changed from top bar to horizontal longs after ordering the packages late last year so we were kind of stuck this time around. I'm sure nucs would be easier than dealing with all this nonsense!
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline sawdstmakr

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Re: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2019, 11:28:40 pm »
Sometimes when I put a swarm in a Nuc, I will staple a piece of QE over the entrance hole and leave it there for 3 days. This gives the bees time to build wax and settle in and if they decide to leave they have to come back because the queen can knot leave. I use the three day rule just in case the queen is a virgin and needs to make her mating flight.
Jim Altmiller

Offline TheHoneyPump

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Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2019, 11:31:11 pm »
For a few days, up to a week,  you may just screen them in.  A 1 1/4 inch entrance opening and another 1 1/4 inch or bigger vent opening. Screen off all openings.  Place them in a cool dark place.  Put the feed on them.  And forget about them, within reason, until you have their equipment ready.   Guaranteed they will stay ;)
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Offline ed/La.

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Re: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #13 on: May 15, 2019, 01:09:24 am »
The hive I described above that I chased around and reboxed absconded again today. When they want to go it is hard to change their minds.  I just waved good bye. I  was done chasing them. Hopefully they will find a better place to live. At least I noticed and harvest the brood and stores before the wax moths and hive beetles moved in. I am glad I did not sell it as a nuc and have this problem with someone starting out. My home apiary is not ideal. Pine pulp wood. Not a lot of nectar. 5 miles away the bees do much better. I like keeping bees here because I  can check them without leaving the property.


My property can provide for 10 or maybe 20 and I try to keep 30 or 40 here. For some reason we had bad fall goldenrod flow and I had to feed all winter. Survival rate was good  but they consumed $40 a week in sugar. Winters are short here so maybe $400 .The cashiers at the store asked if I was making moonshine with all the sugar I purchased. It doesn't matter much if you  loose a hive of you have plenty but if you have 1 or 2 it hurts.

Online Ben Framed

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Re: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2019, 02:21:38 am »
Good advice given here. Good luck with your new bees 🐝

Offline TexnBrit

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Re: Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2019, 12:54:08 am »
Ed, I'm sorry your colony finally upped and left for good, but I'm glad you were able to salvage something from it.  I can imagine it sucks a bit less when it's one of many that leaves, but still...

Our property is more open than yours, basically eight acres of old pasture surrounded by fairly open rural countryside.  The thin, gravelly limestone soil here means it's no good for commercial crops but it seems suitable enough for bees. There are some hackberry trees and quite a lot of spring flowers. I've no real idea how many colonies the place could support, but I don't think we're likely to ever have more than 20 hives, at most, and I'm guessing there would probably be enough forage around to cope with that many on an average year.

Anyway... At the moment things seem to have settled down in both the nuc boxes, for now at least! I've sat and watched the entrances whenever I've had a chance and - as far as I can tell - their activity appeared to be normal again. Workers going into both entrances with pollen and so on.

Fingers crossed... and thanks again to you all for the helpful input!
I have opinions, some of them are useful, some are not. Some you'll probably agree with, some you won't. Anything I say is just that - my opinion, nothing more. :smile:

Offline TheHoneyPump

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Lesson learned today - Take your time, watch and listen to your bees
« Reply #16 on: May 21, 2019, 10:38:35 pm »
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« Last Edit: May 22, 2019, 11:29:57 pm by TheHoneyPump »
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