Bees in his Bonnet

Got a question from a reader, Louise:

Wondering if you’ve ever experienced this: We thought the bees had been particularly busy and were all set to add a second honey super on one hive. Went in to look at the first and were shocked to see that all the cells that should have been loaded with honey had larvae in them! We must have trapped the queen in above the excluder some how. We can’t figure out how she got up there otherwise. We’re not looking at drone cells either. So technically there are now three hive bodies on one hive. We plan to remove the unintended hive body (the honey super) in the fall and start over. Cannot figure out how this happened. We will place a honey super on top though–have moved the excluder, brushed off all bees before doing so.

We had 5 swarms this spring, not sure if this has anything to do with this–could the queen be small enough to fit through the excluder? We haven’t been able to spot her.

For myself, I don’t use a queen excluder: I figure a little bit of brood in the lower chamber is small price to pay for the extra ease of motion it gives the bees, and the cells tend to have hatched by the time I go to harvest in the Fall, anyway.

That said, it sounds to me like, despite their best efforts, the queen ended up on the wrong side of the barrier. I doubt it was that she slipped through, otherwise I would expect her to be able to slip through in the other direction, and she would certainly prefer to lay low than high.

Others have advice to share?

Importing Honey?

I got an e-mail tonight that I almost deleted as spam. It seemed at first glance to be one of those “I want to transfer $2 million to your account” scams. But it isn’t. Here’s what it said:

Dear Jordan.
Is any way you can find me market of honey in order to increase more Hives in my Farm?
What is the price for one litre in your country.
I can get one 1000 litres per season.
I am from Tanzania East Africa.
Eagerly waiting for your responds and comments regarding this.
Joseph Liberio Pablo

Maybe I’m a sucker for the idea of farmers (beekeepers!) in poor countries trying to make a living by look beyond their horizons, but I want to help. I’m also a sucker for exotic honeys: I have a jar of killer bee from Venezuela, what does Tanzanian honey taste like?

So, is there any advice people have for Joseph? My guess is that there are all sorts of import rules and tariffs and quotas and what-have-yous, but maybe somebody has an idea?

Missing Eggs: Solved

I’ve got to say, it’s become very handy having a beekeeper at my local Farmer’s Market. I wandered up there this past week, as I always do, and chatted up Karen Bean of Brookfield Farm. In particular, I wondered if she had any insight into the Case of the Missing Eggs. Turns out, she did!

One reason that a queen will pause egg-laying, apparently, is a “nectar dearth”. She said this with some puzzlement, since we’ve had spectacular weather here lately and we’re in the full blush of Spring, so there shouldn’t really be any shortage in area. However, when I offered that I had removed the sugar syrup supplies from my hives, she brightened: yep, the withdrawal of a ready source of nectar-like drink could be interpreted as a nectar dearth and would lead to a gap in egg-laying.

I don’t regret pulling the syrup. I know many beekeepers keep feeding until the girls stop taking it, but I prefer to pull when I put on the honey supers: 100% of my honey should come from Wallingford flowers, not Florida sugar plantations. (No offense intended if you prefer the supplement. I’m sure the amount of sugar that ends up in the supers is infinitesimal, it’s just matter of pride for me.)

I’ll try again this weekend (I’m giving a tour of my hives on Sunday to some folks from the neighborhood, so I’ll have to hassle the girls anyway). Hopefully we’ll be able to get both hives back on track.


I’m used to seeing varying colors of honey based on what’s in bloom at any given time, but I’ve never been struck before at how beautiful the different shades of pollen on a single frame can be.


Nasty Thirst

Despite having a relatively small backyard, having bees has rarely been a problem. This past few weeks, though, it’s become increasingly difficult to spend an afternoon out back without getting harrassed by the girls.

I’ve always had Italian bees up until this year, when I got my first hive of Carniolans, and so I was worried that the Carnies were simply more aggressive. On a recent trip up to the Wallingford Farmer’s Market, I chatted with Karen Bean of Brookfield Farm about it, though, and she suggested that they might just be thirsty. It has been unusually hot these past few weeks, and we cleared out a bunch of old pots that had been collecting water for years and that the bees had probably been using as water source.

Karen suggested putting garbage can lid with some pea gravel in it in the yard and filling with water. The pear gravel is to account for the fact that bees aren’t so hot at swimming, so they need something solid to take off and land from.

I’m giving it a shot and will let you know how it turns out.

Case of the Missing Eggs

I’m still having trouble getting my second hive to take. As previously described, back in April (Queens Aplenty and Supercedure) I installed two hives. One did great, the other barely had any brood, just four queen cells. I decided to let the hive replace their defective queen themselves through supercedure, and hoped to see brood after the new queen had had a chance to emerge and mate (about 24 days from the time she was laid, which would have been in mid-April).

However, when I went in in mid-May, there were still no eggs being laid. To beef up the hive, I swapped over some frames of brood from the stronger hive, including, I thought, some frames of unemerged eggs (on the theory that if, for some reason, I hadn’t gotten a good queen, the bees would make one out of my eggs).

I’ve been in once since then and then again today, and I still am not sure I have a good laying queen. There was maturing brood, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the brood I carried over from the strong hive: there are only 2 – 3 frames of them, and they’re all fairly advanced. No eggs at all that I could find.

I decided to give transplanting frames of eggs over and from the strong hive and letting the weak hive create their own queen one more try, but, amazingly, I couldn’t find any eggs in the strong hive either! There’s definitely a good, strong queen in there, but I swear I went through all 18 frames in the two brood chambers and found each one either full of developing larvae, capped cells or honey / pollen, but not a single egg that I could see. Now, I know, they’re tiny and easy to miss, but I must have been in there for an hour, carrying each frame out into the sun to get a good gander at it, and I’ll be darned if I couldn’t find a single one.

At this point, I’m fighting the inclination to throw up my hands and give up on the weak hive. My plan at this point is to do some poking to see if I can find a mail-order queen (which is probably what I should have done a month ago) and see if she can save the day.

On the bright side, the strong hive of Carniolans is going like gangbusters. The first honey super is pretty close to full and the second, that I put on last weekend, is filling up nicely (but still less than 1/4 full, I’d say, very little capping so far).

Also, my light sculpture is making slow progress. Last year, I strung some battery-powered LED christmas lights into an empty frame, in the hopes that the bees would build comb around it, creating an organic sculpture (Sculpture Kick-Off). I got the frame into the hives too late, however (they stop building new comb by July). This year, I included the frame in the first honey super I put on about a month ago, and they’re making slow, but meaningful progress filling it out: