Our New Hive. Or What Might Have Been.

Anyone who considers themselves a homesteader, or farmer, or has anything to do with creatures that have a mind of their own, will know that things don’t always go as you would like. Life can be a bit of a roller-coaster at times, with great highs that suddenly take a turn and drop to the lowest low, making your stomach jump into your throat, and your heart beat like a butterfly’s wings.

Yesterday was one of those roller-coaster moments.

We have one beehive that is doing extraordinarily well. So well, in fact, that I’d planned on splitting it to make two hives. Saturday evening, I went to “my bee guy”, Todd at Dancing Bee Apiary, to purchase a new Top Bar Hive. A TBH has been my dream since I began beekeeping, but upon Todd’s advice I decided to start with a Langstroth hive until I got the hang of beekeeping. While picking up my hive, we discussed all the possible ways of splitting my current Langstroth hive, in to the new TBH. I was giddy with excitement!

My Beautiful New Top Bar Hive

Skip forward to Sunday morning. Mothers Day. It’s been my Mothers Day tradition to go horseback riding for 3 years running now. A few hours spent enjoying good company, the smells of nature, horse sweat and warm leather… it makes my spirit sing just thinking about it. It was a picturesque morning. However, by being away for those few hours, I wasn’t doing work that needed to be done at the house, for example, splitting my hive.

As we arrived home from our ride, and let the horses have a “nutrition” break before my friends and their horses headed back home, I gave my girlfriends a tour of our farm. As we stood admiring the sweet piggies, in all their natural glory, I hear Farmer B yell from the house “Marie, the honeybees are swarming!”.

Thinking this was some kind of secret code we shared, my lovely friends were slightly confused, I think, when I cursed loudly. (Not very Godly, or feminine of me, I know.) But this couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t!

I ran to the house, with the wheels of my mind spinning wildly as I tried to figure out how to stop them. But really, how do you stop tens of thousands of bees from flying away? Had they collected on a branch, that would have been a different story. But no. I arrived just in time to watch them fly away across the field like a cloud of buzzing dust.

I was a little crushed as I stood there, looking at my brand-spanking new, deluxe TBH. Empty. My current hive was still a-buzz though, so trying to be optimistic, I took this as a good sign.

I think only a fellow beekeeper could understand that feeling of helplessness. If only I hadn’t been out gallivanting all across Gods green acres, maybe I could have prevented this?

We opened the Langstroth hive later in the afternoon to see what was left, and thank heavens for small mercies, because I still have a very full hive. So the silver lining is that I didn’t lose all my bees, but my beautiful new TBH remains empty.

TBH Viewing Window, Complete With Starter Comb. Empty 😦

P.S. After some consideration, I’ve decided that the mental benefits of my long, rejuvenating ride outweighed the set-back of my bees swarming.

Sharing at The Homestead Barn Hop #62, & The Morris Tribe Blog Carnival #7


20 thoughts on “Our New Hive. Or What Might Have Been.

  1. Oh no, I’m sorry about your bees! My father-in-law, who lives next door, has several hives and my husband wants to start keeping some in the future. He is really interested in the top bar hive method also. For the moment though, we enjoy the honey generously gifted to us and are reading up in preparation! I know that had to have been heartbreaking for you though!

  2. Oh Marie, so sorry to hear about your loss… Odds are that you couldn’t have stopped them by then – they’d already been preparing for some time. But “chin up”, “another life’s lesson” and all that (and know that you’re not alone; )

    • Thanks Deb πŸ™‚ I appreciate knowing that. I wish I had known what to look for earlier though. I’m taking Todd’s beginners course in June, so I’m looking forward to some good practical knowledge. Flying by the seat of my pants was working for a while, but I think my ride is over lol

    • Hm,mm… I’m guessing (like most things about farming it’s all “educated guesswork” and the more brains you pick the better and [just like parenting] you’ll adopt what seems the best strategy for you and your bees; ) that the hyperprotective reaction is because they’re technically queenless right now. You should check for queen cells, whether they’re hatched and, if empty, look for a virgin queen. You will see brood/larvae, but no eggs because, in order to swarm, the hive has “starved” the queen so she’s lighter and able to fly away – she will have also stopped laying. There will be no more fresh eggs in the hive until the new queen is bred on her mating flight and until that happens your hive will be “unhappy”. You may also want to see about an emergency queen, just in case your virgin doesn’t start to lay (gets picked off by a hungry bird, or damaged during hive inspection, or…
      About honey frames in the brood chamber… If (I’m assuming again) you’ve used antimite strips like Checkmite or Apistan and/or you’ve treated the bees with Oxytetracyclin to prevent AFB American Foul Brood, then these lovely (looking) frames are no longer acceptable for direct human consumption and must be used ONLY as bee food (sorry):

  3. I am sorry to hear about the hive! I know there have been many times I have thought “If only i had done this then – or maybe should I have….” But in the end – you are right – everything for a reason and it will all work out for you – It makes those successes that much sweeter when they happen! Hope you have a better day today

    Jim and Mary

  4. I’m sorry to hear that happened even though I don’t really understand. I am hoping to get some bees next year so I am reading all I can about them.

    • Hi Kelly, May I suggest, for any beekeepers out there (oldster or newbie) who’ve not read it yet – The Abc And Xyz Of Bee Culture: An Encyclopedia Of Beekeeping by A.I. Root?
      My Dad gave me his treasured 1931 edition when I was still a teenager. This book has remained in print for somewhere around 100 years; with many newer versions since mine and is an excellent resource.

  5. Ohhhhhhhhhhh, I know that feeling! Last year I actually KILLED my bees by starving them. I practically cried for a week!

    In this case… I stopped reading your post half way through and promptly went out and tended my bees. I’ve been well aware that they were filling the brood box and things were getting a bit tight in there and I REALLY needed to get an additional super on. I was afraid that mine had swarmed yesterday because the hive seemed so unusually quiet. And earlier today. And when I went out there this evening to add the supers to both hives…

    Whew… still there!

    BTW… do you still have a queen? Don’t forget to check! I would hate for you to loose the remaining bees.

    • Hi Revival, Actually Marie should (very carefully) be looking for Queen cells hanging off the sides of the frames, as the old Queen will have gone with the yard bees when they swarmed out for greener pastures (and a bigger house; )
      Because the hive split of its own accord, the new, virgin queen may have already hatched out and destroyed her competion, but if not Marie should find several (4 or 5) viable queen cells; either way the bees are doing what they’ve always done… Making more bees: )
      P.S. if your hive seems unusually quiet, you may also want to look for empty queen cells and a virgin queen. You must be very careful as a virgin is quite a bit smaller than a mated queen and therefore harder to spot. Just watch for her trying to scuttle away to the edges/underside of the frame – attempting to hide away from your prying eyes (’cause *gosh* some queens are very shy; )

      • Deb, since I know beekeeping is an area of expertise for you, I hope you don’t mind if I pick your brain a bit! I opened the hive that evening, and the bees were very aggressive, which is unusual for my hive. Typically I can poke around all I want. Because I can’t lift the deep boxes myself, Farmer B helps me (and is oh so confident in his ability that he does so in shorts and no shirt). Except, that this time the bees didn’t take too kindly to being opened and stung the snot out of him (Yay for protective clothing! I didn’t get stung once) so I didn’t get to look at anything too closely. But, what I did see was that I couldn’t even tell any bees had left, and I did see larvae. Would that be from the old queen? Todd did say I couldn’t do the split now do to having a virgin queen. Are bees usually more aggressive after swarming like that? I have an almost empty honey super on right now (just put on 1 or 2 weeks ago), but all the deep frames are full, with LOTS of honey. (I didn’t harvest any last year because I got my bees later in the season), could I take some of the honey frames, empty them and put them back? Ok, no more questions. I really appreciate your advice πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Amy, I know most people don’t have a clue what I’m even talking about, let alone that feeling lol. I’m really glad yours are still there though. This beekeeping is tricky business! I feel so emotionally invested in these wee little insects!
      My remaining hive was a little angry the night they swarmed so I didn’t get to check them as closely as I would have liked, but I’ll definitely be confirming that I do have a new queen or at least one in the making.
      Although I was emotionally hurt, Farmer B was feeling the financial “sting” watching $150 fly across the field. Since I can’t split my hive I have to buy new bees, since there’s no point having a brand new empty hive! πŸ™‚

  6. Oh no! Bees are never easy 😦

    When you did the split, did you put any brood in the top bar hive with the bees? That can be a way of getting bees to stay, as they will be reluctant to leave the brood. If you had no spare brood to give then drawn comb and sugar syrup would be another option.

    • Thanks Emily, I knew if anyone would understand the strife of beekeeping it would be you!
      I didn’t actually get them split, I was going to do it that afternoon but half of them swarmed and left right before my eyes, just an hour before I was going to get down to business.
      I’d appreciate your thoughts on my reply to Deb’s comment below though! (Deb is part of our local beekeepers association, and her knowledge far exceeds my own, so I’ve asked her quite a few questions :D)

    • Sorry ignore the above – thought you’d already split the hive and then the bees in the top bar hive absconded, but now that I’ve re-read properly you hadn’t got round to splitting them yet. How unlucky that they left before you had the chance. The horseback riding does sound really fun!

  7. Pingback: We Thought It Was A Goner, But The Hive Came Back, The Very Next Day. | Plowing in Pearls

  8. Pingback: 10 Tips On Siting A New Beehive | Plowing in Pearls

I love hearing from you and read (and try to respond to) every comment. Thank-you for taking the time to write one! "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." Ephesians. 4:29

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