What Am I Doing Wrong?

Can anyone tell me? Cause I’m honestly at a loss as to what else I can do here. I came home after working at my aunts for a few hours and found a large cluster of bees in my apple tree. I’m going to go out on a limb here (har har har) and say that they’re probably mine. Here are the only pictures I was able to take. My camera’s battery is dead, with no hope of regenerating, so I had to use my iPhone. I apologize in advance for the trrible photography. I haven’t had a chance to properly explore the iPhones camera, and I was a little pressed for time with picture taking.

The only reason I knew they swarmed was because there were so many bees flying around this cluster on the apple tree. I wouldn’t have seen it if it weren’t for all the flying bees. I was talking to my neighbor and noticed them and had to hurriedly rush my dogs inside and set about getting to work.


This behavior (all these girls fanning their hives scent into the air) makes me think it was Trunchen Hive that swarmed. That, and it was the less active of the two before I started messing with it.

Thankfully I had an extra box for the Warre hive that I hadn’t used yet, so I quickly donned my suit and grabbed that and headed outside. It was also extremely helpful that the bees had decided to land 7 feet up, where I could reach them without too much effort. I was stuck holding the box upside down, with a board across it so the top bars wouldn’t fall out, while I cut the branch off of the tree. I’m glad I decided to do that, because flipping the box right side up with so many bees in it would’ve been impossible. I was stuck maneuvering the box awkwardly by myself (I really need to invest in a second suit so someone can help me while doing these things), which was not very easy.

I had to put the box down with the branch sticking awkwardly out of it, and put two of the three boards I planned on using to act as a bottom board (incase I didn’t specify this, this new box was going onto the top of Trunchen Hive, separated by some cloth and 3 pieces of a fence post). I then had to lift the branch out of the box, lift the box and place that so it wouldn’t fall (I have a convenient hillside next to me, that’s really inconvenient when you need a flat surface) and then put the third board (the one that was keeping the frames from falling) next to the others on the top of Trunchen Hive. With that done I set the box down, realized I’d put it on upside down, so the ledge where the bars hang was on the bottom, and had to do the impossible task of flipping it over with one hand while trying not to fling the bees that were clinging to its inside everywhere.

With that all done, I shook the bees off of the branch into the box (I’d say it was close to 4 pounds of bees) and then set about putting the top bars in. I also made sure to angle one of the boards that was acting as the floor, so that the bees had a little entrance in the back of the hive. That way, bees aren’t arriving at the hive and finding two entrances and getting confused. A cluster of bees had begun reforming on another branch of the apple tree, so I cut that off and shook it into the box. With that done, I put that extra cloth I had from my aunt, the one I brought home for the swarm a few weeks ago, on the top of the top bars and put on the quilt and the roof and walked away. I went and got my big fan-sprinkler, and turned that on to encourage the bees to find a place to land.

Here’s what the hive looks like now.

I also foolishly put the branches I cut in a too-full yard waste bin that won’t close. There are now bees everywhere in my yard and its impossible to walk anywhere. There are dozens flying around the apple tree, where the original cluster had landed, and there are dozens flying in and around the branches in the yard waste bucket. There are also bees flying from all three colonies in search of food, adding to the chaos. The dragonflies are loving it though, and the three that we have (we normally only have 1, but they love eating bees so much that two more have shown up this year) are darting through all of the bees with ease. I’ve seen them catch and release a few of them, so I’m not sure if they’re just having trouble catching them the right way, or they can’t keep hold of them. At any rate, we have more bugs everywhere right now. Ooo! and the red dragonfly is here as well! The red one hardly ever comes over here. I wish my camera was working, I can see it eating a large bug (what I’m assuming is a bee) on the peony tree halfway up the hillside. Yup! Its a bee! It finished and just darted out to snag another in a matter of seconds.

Anyway, if anyone has any advice or speculation as to what I’m doing so wrong that my bees have swarmed 3 times, I would greatly appreciate it! I’m definitely going to invest in some different beekeeping books because the 2 I have now have clearly not prepared me properly.

Oh, and the bees at my aunts are also expanding into their lower box fairly quickly. My cousin still hasn’t made her boxes yet (she wants boxes with windows, which are a lot of extra work) so I’ve texted him to say he needs to make them ASAP because swarms are rampant.


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14 responses to “What Am I Doing Wrong?”

  1. The Honeypotters says :

    oh no, not again! I thought it was past swarming season? You know I’m no expert with only having started beekeeping this year, but I’m reading this really great book right now, Natural Beekeeping –>http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Beekeeping-Organic-Approaches-Apiculture/dp/1933392088
    and while I’ve only just begun reading it, there’s a really nice section on swarm prevention that talks about making sure you have enough space for your bees to grow upwards because bees’ natural instinct is to move up or move out, or reversing your supers if needed so that emtier boxes are on top. But, by the looks of your pictures, it sure does seem like you have a pretty tall hive there. I dunno. I look forward to hearing what others recommend to you about this.

    • willowbatel says :

      Swarming season is all summer for the most part, lol. 80% of swarms occur from mid May to mid July, and the other 20% occurs at the end of the year, from August to mid September. At least, according to my beekeeping book. I’ve done everything it’s told me to though; I put on boxes when the bees needed it and split them because I could tell they wanted to swarm. Either I’ve read it wrong or it’s not that helpful… Or, more likely, bees will be bees.

  2. Talking With Bees says :

    Hope your backyard has settled down. My bees escaped the first time I hived a swarm, but they settled in the second time. Did you feed them?
    If you are looking for some beekeeeping books, I recommend a few on my blog.
    Good luck.

    • willowbatel says :

      If the swarm I hived tries to leave again then I’ll let them. I lost a swarm a few weeks ago after trying to catch them, but I didn’t get them hived (I didn’t have the boxes I needed at the time), so loosing another won’t hurt my feelings overmuch. And clearly, the bees feel the need to spread out, so that’s fine.
      Oh good! Thanks for the list!

  3. mylatinnotebook says :

    Swarms are a fact of beelife and can happen throughout spring and summer. My bees swarmed and then unswarmed so much this spring that by the time they eventually did leave, I had their bags packed and were waving them off!

    • willowbatel says :

      That’s how I felt about my second swarm, as they had my original queen, whom I didn’t care for. I tried to catch them, but they decided a cardboard box wasn’t worth their time and left. I have no hard feelings towards them, lol. My only problem is that I live pretty close to the city, and I could easily get fined if they swarm too much. I’m supposed to requeen immediately if they swarm, which seems silly because the colony requeens its self.

  4. Emily Heath says :

    Me and Emma have had our bees swarm this year too, it happens to all of us. We saw charged queen cells and at that point should probably have carried out an artificial swarm to split the colony into two, but we had a lot on that weekend. Have you tried doing an artificial swarm before? They’re a pretty reliable method of swarm control. There are a few different methods but essentially you need a spare hive box to separate the queen cells (reduced down to one or two) from the old queen, providing the conditions after a swarm for the bees without having them actually do it.

    • willowbatel says :

      Yup, I split the bees before they had a chance to swarm. They swarmed anyway. And then the split I made swarmed twice. I didn’t remove any of the swarm cells (from the hive I split) though, because I didn’t want to leave the colony queenless. In hind sight I realize I should’ve, but I’m not sure that would’ve helped much because of their apparently desperate need to swarm.

      • Emily Heath says :

        You need to split the hive as soon as you see uncapped queen cells; they generally swarm on Day 8, when the cells are capped (I’m saying this as if I always follow my own advice!).

        If you didn’t remove any of the swarm cells, and there were several in there, that makes the colony likely to throw after-swarms (called casts), where each virgin leaves with a smaller band of workers. Leaving only one or two is safer.

        • willowbatel says :

          Yeah, they had well over a half a dozen cells in there, which multiplied once I removed the queen because the bees made a dozen more emergency queen cells in the brood nest its self.
          Is there a way I can prevent the colony from swarming without having to split it?/ How do I combine colonies? None of the books I’ve read give explicit instructions on how to do it. This new one from the UK mentions the newspaper method, but it doesn’t go into as much detail as it does everything else.

          • Emily Heath says :

            People talk about techniques like giving the bees plenty of room, but I wouldn’t trust that alone to stop swarming. There is special equipment you can get, like Horsley/Snelgrove boards, which allow you to stack boxes on top of each other to separate the hive, but they’re a bit complicated.

            If you want to combine the colonies back together, put a couple of newspaper sheets over the stronger hive brood box, make a few (not too many) slits in the newspaper, then put your other colony’s brood box on top of the paper and the roof on. The bees will gradually chew through the paper and get used to each other’s smell. Make sure only one colony has a queen, otherwise they will fight.

            Unless one of the colonies goes queenless or gets really weak it might be better to leave them separate after the artificial swarm, that way you have two queens to go through the winter with.

            • willowbatel says :

              The langroth hive has two deep brood boxes and a super. I have yet to buy more supers, though I’m aware that the bees could easily fill that space (the White House hive has 5 supers) if I provided it. That said, they’re not very eager to move into the super I’ve given them. They have capped honey in the few frames that still had drawn comb on them from last year, but they’re not making much wax to expand. The bottom brood box is full of honey, and the top brood box is more than twice its weight. I was thinking about putting the deep without brood in it on top of the super, in an effort to encourage the bees to draw out the super, but I don’t have a queen excluder and I don’t want brood in the super (though Agatha was able to lay in all three boxes while she occupied that hive).
              Thanks for the combining advice! After I asked this of you I continued reading my book and came across the section where she properly explains combining hives within a few pages, lol.
              I would be ok with keeping both of the queens but I’m really not interested in having 3 colonies worth of bees in my yard. And I definitely don’t have the space to accommodate a third hive. Well, I could, but I’d have to invest in making a proper stand for all of them.

              • Emily Heath says :

                5 supers! I’m thinking you don’t need advice off the lady who currently has… zero supers on. Oh this weather. What book are you reading?

              • willowbatel says :

                lol. The trouble is, there is clearly enough nectar to easily fill more than one super, but the bees refuse to use it. I’m not sure if it was the splitting and the swarming that cause such a lack of wax production, but they’re really just not interested in making wax. Which is weird because wax production is high in the Warre. I’ve considered taking the foundation out of the super’s frames to see if that wouldn’t get the bees going a bit.
                I can’t remember the title of the book at the moment. I think I only had it in my hands for 3 days. It was a really quick read and once it was done I handed it straight off to my neighbor. She surprised me by putting down the book she was reading to read the beekeeping book, and immediately began asking questions as she read. I’ll tell you the name when I get it back!

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