Bee Keeping Complications!

So the other day when it was sunny and the bee’s were flying, I suited up and went out to check my hives……We had to remove some Burr Comb a couple of weeks ago, so I knew there was the possibility of them forming even more of it in there. The Bee’s make Burr Comb when the proper “Bee Space” is not maintained, meaning that if the frames are not exactly equally spaced or are crooked inside the box, they will form excess honeycomb to “fill” the available space in there. This photo shows an example of what you don’t want to do! (this was taken BEFORE I installed my bee’s in the hives)

Uneven frame spacing

My plan was to check for Burr Comb and to also remove the sugar water feeders and replace them with new frames. You can see the sugar water feeder in the box above with the holes where you pour the liquid in.


This is the 1:1 sugar water mixture with essential oil that smells wonderful, like Lemon Balm! The Bee’s need this extra nutrition when they first go into the Hive, before they have been able to fly and forage for pollen.


I am happy to report that my “girls” are doing their hard and diligent work.  It appears that they may actually be doing a little TOO much and are creating MORE Burr comb. I had no idea that the bee’s had gone down inside the feeders and started creating a whole new universe of free form combs in there!

I could hear that LOTS of bee’s were down in the feeder box, trapped in there…..when I took it all apart this is what I found …

The photo shows the sugar water feeder once I had it opened up in order to get it cleaned out. None of that comb is supposed to be on there, it is supposed to be all on the frames!  Being a novice Bee Keeper, this posed a dilemma, because I didn’t want to kill all the larvae inside the comb.  You can see the Larvae in the comb on the left side if you look closely.  There are various stages of development going on here, you can see the larger combs that have been “capped off” to the right side.  I was also happy to see (and taste) the actual Honey that’s forming, what a miracle that is!

In the end, I had to scrape all of this off and discard the larvae. I tried to get the live bee’s to go back into the main hives but I don’t think that really worked. Most of these bee’s seemed to be drunk on the sugar water probably because they had been living down in there. They seemed very sluggish and were coated with liquid and seemed to not be able to fly.  There were a LOT more bee’s on the comb than what is shown in the photos, they had literally covered it and I had to shake them off to even see the comb itself.



The pond

The Pond is not far from the hives and this is where they go for water.  A wetland runs through part of our property and so we have lots of water during most of the year. We love to watch all of the birds and ducks that live in the wetland and underbrush around this pond. You can see the Holly Orchard in the distance where the bee’s also like to go.

As I was doing all of this cleaning up, the hive sent scouts over to come check out what was going on.  They would come over and land and investigate, crawling all over the sluggish bee’s and the Burr Comb. Then, I imagine, they flew off  imparting their secret Bee message back to the rest of the hive. It would go something like ” I told those bee’s not to get all liquored up on that dang sugar water, now look what happened” .


The Bee’s are foraging on lots of blooming Maples, Holly, Apples, Pears, Scotch Broom and all kinds of other Spring flowering plants in our area.  If you stand quietly in the Holly Orchard you can hear that it is absolutely alive with so many bees buzzing that it forms kind of a low humming drone sound.


When it’s warm enough and the dandelions first bloom……that’s a sign that the bee’s are ready to fly!
 Luckily there are what appear to be thousands of other healthy bee’s in the  hives so I guess this Burr Comb loss comes with the territory.


Bee’s arrive!

We finally got our bee’s….it was all very exciting! They came from California and had been cooped up, lierally for days in these cage like boxes.  Our friends and Bee mentors at Ballard Bee Co. had hundreds of these bee boxes ready to go to their new homes. Its is encouraging to see so many people now taking up bee keeping ….it may help off set the colony collapse disorder that’s been happening. Let’s hope more and more people become bee keepers so we can still eat oranges, almonds and all kinds of other things that depend on pollination ten years down the road from now.

Bee's in their transport boxes

Inside each box, is a smaller box holding the Queen. The bee’s all congregate around her forming a hanging clump in the center of the box. The buzzing sound is intense, several of the bee’s had escaped and were clinging to the outside of the box, trying to get back in. We really didn’t want to deal with them flying around our car on the way out to the farm so we had to gently give them the brush off.

Setting up

There are lots of parts and pieces of equipment to set up and have on hand BEFORE you let the bee’s out of their box. Especially because in our location we are positioning the hives up on top of our wood storage barn, away from those pesky honey loving bears.

Donning our protective clothing

The next step is to put on protective clothing that is incredibly flattering and slimming. Ha. The bee’s don’t like dark colors and get less agitated if you wear white.  I did tuck my jeans into my boots but really dont feel that I need an entire bee suit to do this. We also decided to not use the smoker and really, didn’t even seem to need it.

Preparing to open the bee box

Lucky for me, my friend and neighbor is an experienced Bee Keeper.  She was excited to help me get the hives started and as I found out…..this process is really a two person job. The first hive we install are the Cornelian bee variety.

Feeding can

There is a feeding can filled with sugar water for the bee’s to feed on during transportation.  Needless to say, the bees really like hanging out right at this area. This has to be pried out and the left over sugar water can be mixed into their new feeder inside the hive, this way they will sense that the new hive is familiar .

Letting the bee's out

The tricky part is to open the box and by some miracle dump the writhing, swarming bee’s into the hive. Meanwhile they are getting more and more agitated.  There are a LOT more bee’s flying around us than you can see in these photos.

The box is open

For the first hive install, we pried the frame and mesh off of one side of the box and gently talked the bee’s into cooperating. Not a chance! All hell breaks loose at this point but we stayed calm and carried on.

Now the bee's are not so happy

We are shaking the box to try and get the bee’s to let go and move into the box. They are mostly confused and are not trying to sting us at all, however,  it does provoke a bit of anxiety to be in such a buzz swarm.

The Queen in her box

After most of the bees are out we can reach in and remove the smaller box containing the Queen. She is much bigger than all the other bees and we are relieved to find her moving around and most definitely alive. The bee’s have gotten used to her pheromones over the past couple of days, all cooped up together, and they really want to stay close to their Queen. Isn’t it amazing that they just know to do this.

Using the bee brush

As we are installing the Queen, mass chaos is happening and all of the confused bees try and go everywhere. Her small box is attached inside the hive by tacks and will be removed later.

Marshmallow plug

Here I’m removing the cork and then plugging the hole of the Queens box with a small marshmallow. The other bee’s will feed on this sugary treat for a few more days as they try and get closer to the queen. Once they eat it all, they will all be used to each other peace will reign and there will be no rouge disputes with the Queen.

The Italian bee hive

During the second hive installation of the Italian bees, we decided to remove the Queen first and install her in the hive, then shake the others in with her. It makes sense that the other bee’s would follow more easily that way. This was easier said than done but did prove to be the better sequence for us. More of the bee’s stayed in the hive this way rather than when we put them in the hive first and then added their Queen. Although, that could just be a difference in behavior between the Italians and Cornelians. Their entire motivation is to look for the Queen at this point and so if she is missing in action even for a moment,  it creates confusion.

Installing the Italian Queen

The hive has frames inside it we are attaching the Queen in her box between the frames. During this second hive install, the marshmallow plugging procedure went awry.  Two bee’s got inside the box with her as we were replacing the cork with the marshmallow.  Moment of panic ensues because we think they may all kill each other. If you have no Queen, you have no hive. So, we quickly decide to forget the marshmallow and just let them all go in together, rather than trapping them in the small cage. Whew, that was fun.

The Italians go in

This part went smoothly, you can see masses of bee’s falling down into the hive here. It was nearly impossible to get them to all come our of the box.

All done!

The Cornelians on the right as still confused and keep going back into their travel box and on the outside of their hive. We tried numerous times to re-shake masses of them back into the hive to no avail. We ended up leaving them to figure it out on their own, the Queen is inside and when the sun goes down we are hoping they find their way inside. You can see the other Italian hive on the left has most all of the bee’s inside it. They are going for flights, but are less confused about what’s going on.

I can hardly wait to go check on them in a week!