Wednesday, March 23, 2016

My Bees Hate Me. Drone Comb

I've decided to sell some splits this spring, and one of the guys buying from me dropped off a nuc today. So I'm showing Bill my bees, and I don't know what happened with them, but they were very badly behaved all of a sudden. They were harassing and stinging me -- I wasn't even opening any windows, but they were horrid. Even back by the house, which is not even close to the hives, they were still attacking me. It was so embarrassing. I know bees tend to be more defensive in the early spring and fall, but what the heck? They've morphed into assassins!


This afternoon, I decided to check on Hippolyte since she's the one hive that I haven't inspected yet. I donned a jacket, veil, gloves... the whole shebang. She was testy, which I had expected. What I hadn't expected was seeing brood comb being backfilled and capped drone brood. It's barely even spring yet! I shoved a whole bunch of empty bars in between comb at the front of the hive, one in the middle of the brood nest, and a whole bunch between combs again at the back. Hopefully, this will slow her down a little.

Concerned about the other colonies, I decided to check them all.

Bubblegum (nuc)
Not making any drone comb yet, but I removed two bars of honey anyway and gave them to Austeja to make space. Also added an empty bar before and after the brood nest.

She's the weakest colony, so I made some space near the entrance for her. Also added one empty bar after the brood nest as well as bars between honey combs in the back.

By the time I got to Elsa, it was around 4-ish. She was not enjoying being inspected and let me know it with two stings in the legs (actually, I got stung even more, they just didn't penetrate my clothing). She was in the same situation as Hippolyte. All the empty bars I gave her last week were being built out with drone comb, and there were plenty of capped drones to boot. Gave her lots and lots of space before and aft of the brood nest. Also gave her three bars directly in the nest itself.

Peach and Buttercup (nucs)
I didn't get to these two. I started to open Peach, but she was angry, too, and immediately covered my face with a thick mat of bees, reminding me of that Irish ballad, "The Long Black Veil." It was just as gloomy a situation, too. Then I got stung on the face right through the mask and decided that if I didn't give it up, my DH would have to "visit my grave while the night winds wail."

Planning Notes
At least I was able to make space in 4 of the colonies and mark the honey bars from last year. As I make splits, those will be the first ones that get used. Actually, last year's honey may have to come out soon, too, just to make room, but I haven't any place to put them right now. At the moment, Bubblegum has about 3 empty bars. With their newly added empty bars, Elsa and Hippolyte are out to around 26 bars now -- and the hives hold only about 32 total.

Also, I need to start planning for splits soon since it appears that swarm season will soon be upon us. Another beekeeper one town over reported seeing drone brood in his hives today, too.

Since some of my drone brood is capped, I know it's at least 10 days old, maybe older.  Let's say 10 days. That means ~2 weeks until I start seeing drones emerge (April 6) and then another 10 days before they're sexually mature (April 16th). Queens, on the other hand, take approximately 16 days to emerge, so it appears that I can start making splits early as April 1st this year. Crikey, that's early! Even though I'll try to delay splitting until mid-April, my agenda for tomorrow has been revised to include lumber shopping and some woodworking. Sigh.

How are your bees? Are you seeing an early build-up, too?


  1. I haven't even opened my hives yet. Although the equinox has passed someone forgot to tell the weather. The wind is turning though and coming more from the south so perhaps soon I'll be a beekeeper again instead of a bee waiter.

    1. Isn't it strange. Usually, your side of the Atlantic warms up so much earlier than ours does. Something about the Gulf Stream, I understand. I remember seeing forsythia in Ireland in February, and snow drops even earlier. Forsythia doesn't usually bloom here until April. It seems that this year is completely backward, though.

      Hope the sun comes out soon!

  2. The weather here is playing havoc on my split planning. I didn't see any drone brood 10 days ago when I did an inspection, but now we're in a snowy pattern that is going to preclude me from getting back in to see how they are doing. It was 70 on Tuesday and the girls were flying, bringing in lots of pollen. Yesterday we got 18" of snow. Today is supposed to be near 50 and if that happens, the bees will fly, but all their pollen sources are buried under the snow. Hopefully, the snowy weather will put a damper on any swarming desires. Good luck with your splits!

    1. Saw your post. Man, oh man! You're definitely right about the snow putting a damper on their swarming -- they won't be able to backfill the nest if they can't collect any nectar. Hopefully, they still have enough honey from winter to weather the storm.

      Actually, I wouldn't mind a little snow here -- thought I had another month to build new hives, so I'm really behind.

    2. Both drones and queen cells were been reported about 2 weeks ago here in Aurora (where we got 25"). With this weird weather, if I actually had bees in my hives, I's worry that the confinement would encourage swarm impulse.

    3. I saw that about the drones and queens on some of the bee lists. I'm hoping that my girls are a little behind in that department since I didn't see any (capped) drone brood when I checked 2 weeks ago (and definitely no queen cells or cups). They are out flying today, but it's still too chilly to look inside. It's supposed to be up near 60 degrees early next week before the storm later in the week, so I hope to be able to check on their progress then. I still need to clean out my old hive for the split - hopefully this weekend. I have some nucs I can use if I can't get that done in time, though. There's always something for me to worry about. ;-)

  3. I had capped drones in my TBH on March 17. Compared to my notes from last year the flowers are about a month ahead - the daffodils bloomed on March 10 this year, April 10 last year. Hoping to go in this weekend and check on the girls. So far the hives have been rather tame this spring.

    Weather in Virginia has been up and down, so hopefully the hives are not yet inclined to swarm. Good luck get your hives together. I have everything together but a bunch of painting yet to do!

    1. Interesting observation on your plant life. Our flora has been about a month ahead of our regular schedule up here, too. (I can't count last year -- we were about a month behind last year!) Been communicating with some of the professional beeks in our area, and they're all seeing drones and expecting an early swarm season, too. Hopefully that's not your case, but it's a good thing that you already have all your hives (mostly) prepared. You can always paint later. Not ideal or fun when bees are in the hive, but doable.

    2. LOL, I'm pretty sure I don't want to paint while the bees are in the hive. Does not sound like fun!

      We were away this week and I looked in my observation window this evening to find an uncapped queen cup on the side of a comb. So guess I'll be checking the hives tomorrow (Saturday) to see what's going on. Off to finish some painting in the basement, I think....

  4. Wow, busy, busy, busy. It must be spring!

    1. Yes, it is! Today, saw that the skunk weed cabbage leaves are out, which means that bloom is over, but more and more dandelions are popping up.

  5. Hi Julie! As you know, this is the first time I have successfully had hives overwinter. So now I scarcely know what to do! I went into both hives on March 9th, when it was close to 68 degrees. I have not been in since. What temperature do you look for to open your hives? From reading your post above, I think I should get in there soon to see if I need to add empty bars. One hive had capped worker brood on the 9th. I am curious now to check for drone brood. Also, have you removed insulation from your hives yet? I took out the pillowcases of wood shavings that were on the top and from the empty space behind the follower board, but have not removed the styrofoam sheets that are bungy corded to the outside. And, on another note, I cannot find your post about putting up a bear fence that I had seen some time ago. A beekeeper about 4 miles away had a hive toppled two days ago. I think I better get on top of this now, instead of waiting for him to find me! Thanks in advance for your response. Maureen C. from Connecticut

    1. Hey, Maureen! So happy that your bees are doing well! Do you have Crowder's book? He has some very good diagrams for how to arrange your bars coming out of winter.

      I'd definitely get in and check on your bees. A couple of the professional beeks in our state (Farmington and Cheshire areas) have reported seeing drones in their hives, and our flora seems to be a month ahead of schedule.

      I don't know the right answer regarding opening hives. For me, it kind of depends on what I want to do. If I'm only going to be in the honey area, I prefer a day in the 50's, but low 40's are good for taking honey because they're all clustered up. If I'm opening up the brood area, I prefer a day above 60, but if I really have to, I'll look -- very, very quickly -- when temps are in the mid to upper 50's.

      Since I've started inspections, I've removed the insulation around my hive bodies. But the nights are still kind of chilly inland, so I've left the insulation on top of the bars.

      Is this the post you were looking for?
      So sorry to hear about your friend's hive. What a bummer. It's a horrible, sick feeling when you see your bees and comb all over the ground. Hope he/she was able to recover the queen.

      Good luck getting your fence up. The bears are up and active all over the place here. According to a guy at DEEP, they start waking up when the swamp cabbage is in bloom.


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