The Split


Over at the garden, we’ve encountered a number of issues this summer including a swarming hive, a queenless hive, and a virgin queen that missed her mating window. While we may be losing one hive, we were able to split a very strong hive into two hives about a month ago.

Typically, what happens is that the hive will become so strong and full of resources that they decide to swarm and reproduce as I’ve talked about in previous posts. As I noticed my hive was preparing to swarm, I decided to beat them to it and simulate a swarm by splitting the hive in two. Ideally, you take half the hive which includes frames of honey, frames of eggs, frames of larvae, and frames of capped brood to start a split hive.  It is important to take bees in all stages of brood development to ensure that there have a consistent build up in population and avoid any dips in numbers.

What was unusual about my split is that I believed that not only did my bees want to swarm, but they also wanted to replace the current queen.  I believe I had a faulty queen in both of my hives (roof & garden) due do negligent treatment from my bee supplier. If you remember, in my roof hive, they replaced the queen as well.


Luckily, when I was preparing to split, I spotted a virgin queen. You can tell that she is a virgin because her abdomen is short and not engorged with sperm glands from male bees.


Actually, after spotting her I decided I would not split the hives assuming she had killed the other unborn queens. The day before splitting I had done an inspection and found at least a dozen capped swarm cells.


You can see in the photo above, the queen never emerged from this cell. Instead, the virgin queen stung her through the cell wall, killing her. The worker bees must have been quick to remove her carcass.


By the time I made it down to the bottom super, I found that the virgin queen had destroyed most of the other capped queen cells with the exception of a few she missed.

Having found queen cells still in tact, I planned to do the split once again. However, there were not nearly as many queen cells as I had spotted the day before. The virgin queen may have emerged from one of these and killed a few off. It is also possible that the worker bees aborted some of them.


So treating the virgin queen as if she was the mother queen, I moved her to the split along with many of her undeveloped sisters (the worker bees, of course). After setting the hive up with the apiary, I did my best to make sure they had an even amount of resources. My hope at this point was that the split hive bees would acknowledge this as their new home and not retreat back to the parent hive. To help this, I put obstacles in front of the entrance to cause the bees to do reorientation flights.  This was somewhat successful.

I was also hoping that the virgin queen would take a successful mating flight. Additionally, over in the parent hive, I was hoping a new virgin queen would emerge from one of the queen cells and also take a mating flight. Splitting hives is never guaranteed.  A new queen might not emerge, might not mate, or might get killed on her mating flight (tasty snack for a bird).

Usually one hive contains the mother queen bee and the other contains her daughter queen bee.  In my situation since the mother queen bee was rejected and probably destroyed, these two hives are actually sister queen bees.


I am happy to report that I saw signs of healthy mated queens in both hives. The older sister’s name is Beeatris II and the younger one is Gabee. The queen on my roof is Beeyonce II. The split hive was a little low in numbers, just as I had expected.  To give them a boost, I took two frames of capped brood from my roof hive and put them into the split hive.


Hopefully they continue to rake in the honey and build up strongly before winter!

When Everything Looked Great*


Oh the good times.. when the queen was laying and the worker bees were bringing in honey and pollen. Where did those times go? Okay, that is a bit dramatic. In reality, this summer has the potential to create some strong colonies and produce lots of sweet, sweet, honey.

*Over at the garden, we’ve already dealt with Spencer’s hive swarming. My hive has had a great start to the beekeeping season with a few issues along the way.


All the rain we have been having has been great as the bees have been raking in the nectar and making honey.


Before installing this hive, I converted my solid bottom board into a screened bottom board. This allows better airflow in the hive and also helps control varroa mites.  When the varroa mites fall off a bee, rather than climbing back up and into the brood chamber, they fall through the screen and out of the hive. Unfortunately, the screen mesh I installed was just big enough for bees to squeeze through when entering and exiting the hive. When they squeeze through, the mesh scrapes their pollen baskets and flicks the pollen granule to the floor. What you see in the photo above is a pile of pollen under the hive. There has been a lot of pollen this year and I know they have also brought pollen in from the front, so I am not too concerned.


Bee pollen is actually a super nutrient. Some people take bee pollen as a natural energy supplement. It also has a very interesting taste and texture. The bees won’t recollect the pollen once it has fallen on the ground. Rather than let this pollen go to waste, I collected most of it and put it in a jar in my fridge that I snack on from time to time. Just another delicious byproduct of beekeeping.


Here is a great example of a good laying pattern.  You can see a little white rice-shaped egg in each empty cell. When a healthy queen is laying properly, the pattern is densely clustered, with one egg per cell.


The egg develops into a larvae and eventually capped with wax. The capped larvae is the final stage of brood before hatching into a baby bee. Again this is a very dense pattern, which is great.


Honey is also capped with wax. After the bees bring in nectar, they wait until they have the right level of moisture in the cells before capping it off, which is when it is officially considered honey.


With a hive is thriving and doing great with resources, it is only natural that the bees start to consider swarming.  Here are two queen cups the bees have created in preparation to swarm. Looks like I will have some work ahead of me.


Mid-Autumn Hive Inspection

At the end of September, we were able to inspect the hive to determine if I was going to be able to to harvest any honey this year.  After the inspection, I decided to wait to take any honey from the hive.  At this point they still had a few weeks to gather nectar. We’ll see in a later blog post if I take any honey… 😉

Here are our working grounds. My hive is in disassembled mode on the right.

Lifting out a frame.  Looks like some busy bees!

Another busy frame of bees.  Look at all that capped brood.

Here was a frame FULL of capped honey. Woo hoo!  I’ll leave this one for the bees though. They deserve it.

Mike is inspecting his hive.

Just giving the girls a little smoke. Letting the know our presence and clouding their communication.

I’ll leave you with this photo of Mike inspecting one of his frames.

Late August Inspection

Mike and I went into our hives to do our first full inspections since doing the move.  My hive seemed to be populated very well, but there was not much honey in there.  Given the drought we had this summer, I think the honey/pollen collection was poor.

As we entered through the inner cover, there was minor activity up top.  This was a good sign that there was activity in the upper supers- presumably working in the honey supers.

Here you see some capped honey. This frame was one of the outside frames in the super.  This is typical to store honey on outer frames and then rear brood towards the center.

This frame was found towards the middle of the same super.  I was hoping the queen would not come up to this super to lay eggs and that the worker bees would use this area to store honey.  Looks like this is the buffer super, where I will have brood and honey (thus unharvestable).  The queen is still laying a lot of eggs, which is good to see.  Not too many drones being laid either.

Sun bathing bees!

Here are some shots of a bee emerging from her cell.  We were there to greet her into the world.

I temporarily removed a frame to make room in the super to inspect.

Here she is!  Looking healthy and well taken care of by her court.

Here I am in the bottom super.  I haven’t been in this one in a long time.

Here is Mike entering into his first hive.

Mike’s bees have a decent amount of honey stored.

We hope to have a good autumn nectar flow and maybe harvest this year.  It’s not likely for me, given it’s a first year hive, but I’ll certainly stick a spoon in there and try it out.


Ready for another super?

I went into my beehive last weekend with my friend Christina. With her artistic background, we were able to get some nice shots.  In the photo above, the bees appear to be walking back to the hive. But they’re not.  They are just sitting there with the abdomens in the air.  One thing I read was that elder bees sit at the entrance of the hive and open certain glands that release a pheromone that travels with the wind to help direct younger foraging bees back to the hive. They may or may not be doing that in this image.

The main purpose of this inspection was to see if the bees were ready to have an additional super added to the hive.  The last time I was in there, there were 4 empty frames with no built out comb on them.  If these were still empty, I would not add the super.  Thankfully, my bees have been very productive.  Comb was built out on the previously empty frames and the hive was ready for an additional super.

This is the empty super I will be adding to the top of the hive.  These frames have no comb, just the plasticell foundation. Once the bees build out the comb in these frames, they will be filling it with honey!  These frames are what I will be harvesting from in August, hopefully.

As I separated and lifted out a frame, there was some burr comb built between frames.  The action of lifting ripped them apart exposing a couple cells.  Here you can see a fresh larvae being exposed.  The bees will probably clean house and remove the larvae from the hive since it can no longer be born.

Here you can see a worker bee carrying a dead bee away from the hive.  They not only remove any dead bees from the hive, but take them away from the hive entrance.  This could be to keep a clear flight path or possibly to keep pests and mites from being attracted towards the hive.

Here’s a look at what’s going on under the super as I lift it off the ground.  Busy bees!

Scoot out of the way girls! Daddy is here to feed you.

Here I am laying their sugar water mixture in place.  I will continue to provide this to them until they stop taking it, which I imagine will be soon.  My sugar water mixture is an even 1:1 ratio of sugar and water this time of year.  I also add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to balance the acidic levels to something similar to nectar they would take from a flower. Providing the bees with sugar water gives them a boost of energy to continue to build out their new home with more comb.  As they become a more mature hive, I will be feed them only at certain points in the year.  As it is now, they consume an 8 cup sugar water mixture bag every 10-14 days.

I’ll end with a photo of me and Christina. Here we are excited and ready to enter the hive with our proper hive protective gear and tools.

All Hail the Queen

Let’s start with the queen.  She’s looking great and as healthy as ever.  Here you can see she is going about her business while being tended to by her court.

To reinforce my point, the queen is doing great.  You can see here the densely packed cells are nearly all filled with larvae.  They are the white C-shaped slugs buried in each cell.  All the worker bees scurry across the frame feeding and cleaning them where necessary.  Once they are developed enough, the bees will cap the cells with wax.

The beauty of white capped honey cells.  Freshly laid white beeswax to cap off cells of nectar.  This is in a frame that I will not be harvesting because it is in the brood nest (in the lower two supers).

A close-up shot of the capped nectar cells.  Busy bees working away, storing for next winter.

Post Burr Comb Relocation

As you can see in this image, once filled with brood, this burr comb that I had previously relocated is now empty.  I can now remove the awkward comb and the rubberband and allow the bees to draw comb normally. However, I have reason to believe it contributed to the birth of a deformed bee, which I will cover in a later post.

Unfortunately, it appears the bees have rebuilt the same burr comb where I had removed it from.  This time it is not as bad.  I discarded some of it, but I might just have to accept this. It is possible there is something wrong with the foundation.  Now that I think about it, this is probably the frame that produced large burr comb initially as you can see in a previous post.

May 20th: 2nd Hive Inspection (VIDEO)

I was able to make it into my hive this past Sunday and have a thorough look through the hive.  This was my 2nd full hive inspection.  I was looking for signs of a healthy queen, including solid brood pattern, stored honey & pollen, and the queen herself should she decide to show herself.

This is sort of a lengthy video, but to make it easy for you if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, here are some spots where cool things happen:

02:40 – First frame of bees
05:00 – Densely populated frame with drone spotting
05:50 – Camera goes into the hive to examine some burr comb
11:25 – Capped brood and empty cells where bees have emerged
13:20 -Larvae exposed! Potentially queen cells? Or drone cells? They are at the top of the frame.
15:10 – The queen is found!
16:38 – Some weird burr comb is going on on the foundation… but also some nicely packed brood patterns.

You can see they were building some burr comb in between the supers.  When I lifted the frame out it separated, exposing the nectar/sugar syrup stored.

Here is a close-up of the bees and capped brood.

Day 18 Inspection

I did my Day 18 Inspection this past Saturday- and things are looking good!  My friend Mike came over and brought some experience to the table.

Looking through the frames they all seemed to be clustered to one side of the super.  Mike thought this might be because of the hive’s proximity to the fence and the angle at which they were entering the hive.  They’ll eventually make their way over, filling out the rest of the of the frames and moving up.

Cracking my way in and smoking.

As we investigated the frames with drawn comb, we were seeing good laying patterns by the queen.  Very dense clusters of capped brood. We were even able to spot open cells with larva present. Although it was hard to get a photo on those frames because there were so many bees covering the cells.

We spotted the queen pretty quickly (actually Mike did). It’s a little easier to find her when there are less than 10,000 bees, versus 50,000 or so later in the summer. The queen usually tends to be on the most populated frames, or rather the bees tend to populate heavily around the queen to tend to her, feed her, and clean her. Living like royalty!

We were also creating housel positioning of the frames.  Basically we are arranging the frames similar to how bees would build wild comb. After seeing the orientation of the burr comb I pulled out a couple weeks ago, I was able to determine which way the comb should be oriented. This is based on which way the Y is oriented when looking through the frames. From one side, the Y appears to be facing upwards, on the reverse side, the Y appears to facing downwards.

This image shows the Y is up.  If you can picture the reverse side, the Y would be facing down.

Also during this inspection, we noticed the bees were building out most of the frames in the top super. Since this is where the brood nest is located, we switched the upper and lower super.

Video to be posted soon…

Visit to Mike’s Hive

Looks like we should have a warm week ahead for the bees to be flying around and foraging. I just wanted to share something I experienced this past weekend. I had met up with Mike M., another beekeeper in the Wicker Park area. He has been working with bees for about 2.5 years. His hive was started last Spring and made it through the winter strongly, so strong that the hive is very populated. Mike had noticed signs of swarm preparation, lots of brood cells and a lot of dense areas of bees. (I should note that the photo above is a result of accidentally dropping a frame loaded with bees on it.  They are simply making their way back to the hive).

 Over at his place we went into the hive. His plan was to rearrange the supers so the heaviest one would be at the base to help the bees think that there was room in the supers above. However, when we got down to his lowest super, it too was jam packed with bees. We saw several queen cells. At one point, when he was lifting a middle super it separated some burr comb and in this action, it actually opened up a queen cell. We saw the queen in that cell, and I guess we were so dumb founded, we didn’t know what to do. Sure enough, the new young queen crawled out of the cell and into the hive. We were certain it was a queen based on the size of her abdomen. So I guess he should be expecting a swarm in the next 24 hours, or so.


There are a couple really interesting things going on in this photo. This is a photo of after Mike lifted a super up and broke some burr comb. First, that white looking bee is a drone larva in a development stage. Secondly and more importantly, in the center a bit to the lower left there is a queen cell. The cap of the cell was removed when the super was lifted out.  What you see right there is a new queen bee emerging from her queen cell. As you might know, a hive has only one queen. This hive now has two queens. From my understanding one of two things will happen, or possibly both.  One, the two queens with fight to the death. Two, the older queen will swarm away from the hive with half the bees. I say both could happen because the old queen could kill the new queen and then still decide to swarm because the other bees still smell her pheromones.  Also, there are at least 2 other queen cells that could potentially produce more queens.  From my understanding the bees are creating these queen cells because they believe their hive is too full and must propagate.

Oops. Flopped on her back and is momentarily stuck.

Continue reading

Long live the queen!

As you may have seen in previous blog posts, the bees have been creating much burr comb because of all the empty space I leave for the bag of sugar syrup.  They build the burr comb in what is known as bee space which is any space larger than approximately 3/8”.  Given that I have the extra empty super on top, there is a lot of empty space.  It’s unfortunate because the bees end up putting a lot of energy into building that comb. Luckily, one of my mentors, Tim has an idea of how I can use it later in the season to create comb honey.

Comb honey

Comb honey– honey contained within the wax comb, which has no foundation (plastic or beeswax sheet), that can be harvested from the hive.  Each time you harvest, the bees then need to rebuild the comb, so in essence they spend less time gathering and storing honey- you get less honey.  But I think the comb honey is cool, at least on a few frames.

Getting back to my dilemma, as of Day 3 (4/19/2012) I was not yet sure if the queen had been released from her plastic cage by the workers.  Last Sunday, my new friend/mentor Tim came over to inspect my hive and give me some general advice.  As the weather was below 55 degrees, he recommended not opening the hive too much, but we would merely peek inside.  When we looked inside, we could not find the queen cage. It appeared as if the bees built comb around the cage, which is so strange. Tim recommended I look at it later in the day when it was warmer out to determine where the queen cage was.

Later that day, after inspecting the hive, I had good news to report.  I went into the hive at about 50 degrees outside, but the hive had direct sun, so it was a bit warmer.  I was able to find the plastic cage and it was not built into the comb, it was actually under the frame resting on the frames below.  At first it appeared the queen was in the cage still, but after further investigation, I determined it was just another bee and the passage hole was completely clear.  I removed it and investigated the frames further to look for the queen and analyze the burr comb.  I removed the burr comb after finding it was not built from the foundation.  I then scraped a bit off of the frames top bar hoping to discourage building there again.

Burr comb– Built when there is excess space in the hive in effort to create bee space (3/8”).

As I put the frames back, I removed an empty frame from the middle and sort of shifted all the bee-heavy frames towards the middle as I put them back into place.  As I looked through each frame, on the final, heaviest frame, I saw the queen scourging through under a bunch of bees.  I knew it when I saw it, that it was her.  I placed her back carefully into the hive.  So everything is ok.

The burr comb I removed is about 2-3 times the size of the one I had removed previously.  It has helped me determine that the Y up and away is facing south and the Y down is facing north, from the center frame. Now I will be able to adjust my frames accordingly, as the bees would have built in nature.

I wish I would have refilled the hive with a new sugar water bag because it is getting low. The can was still pretty full though.  I went back in this past Tuesday to give them some more sugar water.

My next time in there will be next Sunday when I do the 18 day check to make sure the queen is laying eggs and the others are working away.

Looking for the queen bee.. and I found her! Long live the queen!