June 13, 2011

Ok, one thing I promised myself is that when blogging about beekeeping I would be totally honest. I wouldn't make it look easy when it was hard, fun if it was boring, enlightening if it was just plain stupid. So here it goes...

The 2nd year of beekeeping SUCKS!!

I've taken 2 classes on beekeeping in 1.5 years. I talk to beekeepers whenever I get the chance. I take advice. I'm learning.


When I opened last years hive for the first time this year what I saw gave me this sinking feeling in my stomach and I allowed myself to think that beekeeping just isn't for me. I quickly brushed that sensation and thought aside since I've learned this is how I feel about everything when it starts/appears difficult but I must say, the books never told me this.

Hives look like shit in the 2nd year. No more pretty clean frames, no more easy to find queen, no more docile bees. Oh no... what you have is a propolis disaster, so many bees that the queen is impossible to locate and some seriously bitchy bees.

Now I'm sure our bees are much nicer than say an AFRICANIZED BEE but still, I barely scratched the hive today and a couple guard bees just wouldn't lay off. They followed me 25 feet to house and wouldn't go away. It scared my hubby to a point that he started to wonder if we'd ever be able to work outside again. He is wrong, we will be fine, but... I don't want him second guessing my decision on this.

The first year, bees are angels. I almost feel like they love me the way I love them but the 2nd year is a different story. With frames full of honey, an established colony, the girls aren't as loving as before but that isn't really what upsets me. What makes me mad is my own stupidity. I used 10 frames instead of 9 so now it is nearly impossible to move things around. Once a frame is pulled out I can barely get it back in. The propolis is such that my fingers stick together so I nearly drop frames, there is brood being stored everywhere so each time I move anything I kill tons of babies :( I want to do the checkerboard thingy to prevent the bees from swarming yet I can manage to get frames unstuck (it took me 10 minutes last opening to get one back in place). I screwed up my spring divide because I had no idea what I was doing. Now I have to worry the bees will sworm to my "bee hating" neighbors house and the city will be knocking on my door.

On top of it, my bees are not moving up into the honey super. They seem to have something against the queen excluder because they wouldn't pass through it last year either. So my idea of using honey supers to create more space and hopefully avoid swarming isn't going that well. BTW/there are no queen cells from what I could find for those who asked.

So there ya go... my confession. I own practically every beekeeping book written and I don't remember any of the above being mentioned. Beekeeping IS NOT EASY! I didn't think it was but I didn't think it wasn't either. As with most things a difficult point arises and I vent until I figure a way through it. I promise, I'm silently venting over here and only purging on my blog, I carry a happy face about all this through out the day :)

It is difficult to see from these pix but it gives a little visual idea of how things change:

2 month old hive

2 year old hive

dixiebelle said...

Oh no! I am feeling your pain... I have no advice or words of wisdom for you. I just hope you can find some positives and keep on going. Thank you for sharing and being honest because it helps me as a mere wannabe beekeeper, to be more aware of how it can be!

Teresa Robeson said...

I really appreciate your candidness about your bee-keeping, indeed, everything you do. I wish things were going more smoothly for you, and to tell you the truth, this is making me rethink our desire to be beekeepers one day, but nothing in life is truly easy, and the harder something is, the more satisfying when things finally go right. Hugs for you!

Ms. Smoochy said...

Great post. I can completely relate to what you seem to be feeling. Although, at least the bees were easy on you the first year. I started my first hives (2 TBHs) in mid-April and it has been one disaster after an other. It is disheartening, but I'm NOT GIVING UP!!! I'm sure you won't either. ;-)

Sam Smith said...

Your frames still look nice to me, new wooden-ware is always pretty, thing is bees don't care they want functional. You could try moving the outside frames above the queen excluder into the honey super even if it has some brood the bees will tend any brood moved, replace the empty spots with frames. In theory this should get them working the super.

Jim Davis said...

It's a real roller coaster ride, isn't it? I think this stinky weather this year has been a big part of it.
You could try removing the excluder and see what happens. Some frames they will fill completely with honey, especially those on the edge,and you won't have to worry about extracting any eggs/larva. Then after the honey flow you could still do a split, just start a box with a couple frames of eggs/young larva, several honey frames and some new frames, let them make a queen. Put the excluder back on below the super and let those honey frames sit and dry until late summer or fall. Just some idle thoughts from a mind spent too much time idling.

Michelle said...

Thanks! It is work but definitely doable. I just have to get rid of the preconceived ideas I had about how this was going to be and just keep learning and get things done. Already I have learned so much, I truly think we will get better at his each year.

T, you are right, nothing is easy especially nothing worth something is easy. I have to always challenge myself to hang in there. I am more afraid of my neighbors seeing a swarm and having a nervous breakdown than I am of anything else. I don't want to be forced to quit.

Michelle said...

Ms. Smoochy,
Nope, won't be giving up. I figured with all these ups and downs at some point we should become.master beekeepers right. Lol! Hang in there! I will have to talk to you about the TBHs, that sounds interesting and I know nothing about them.

Sam, the frames from the deeps won't fit in the honey super, they are too big :( does it help to put a ventilation hole in the supers the way we do in the deeps?

Jim, thanks! If I did a split and accidently took the original queen will the parent hive just make a new queen?

Teresa Robeson said...

M, you need some nicer neighbors - come move to our road! =)

Michelle said...

I seriously wish I could T! I would love to be near you. A friend told me the other day that she thinks I belong in the country and my response was "yes, yes I DO!" At least in a muh more rural location than this.

madpiano said...

wow - I know nothing about bee keeping, but I have to say that you must be really, really brave to try and take the hive apart! I am not scared of bees (don't even mention wasps!), but there would be far too many for my liking to go anywhere near them for me! Especially if they are angry and don't agree with my decorating arrangements!
As I have never kept bees before, what happens if they swarm? Does that mean you would loose them all?

Michelle said...


I'll admit, I was being very dramatic in my post. I was having a frustrating day with the hive (due to my mistake with the frames) and I made a big deal out of the bees temperament. The bees are actually very docile most of the time. The only time they've ever become grouchy is when I work the hive on windy, cold, cloudy or wet days (which we were warned about in class). If it is sunny and not windy they barely know I'm there. It was extremely windy the day my bees were chasing us to the house and I was spreading wood chips in front of the hive blocking their way in and I kept scratching the hive with the rake. All the things the bees hate (vibrations and blocking their entrance). Although they they aren't quite as docile as they were the first year, they are still easy to be around, they just seem to be set off now by vibrations more than the first year.

Taking the hive a part, aside from the weight, is quite easy. The bees don't mind at all. I'm the one who resists it because inevitably the bees put brood between boxes and I end up killing them all :( It is sad to watch a bunch of nurse bees run to the aid of the brood, trying to save them when I know it is futile. Re: swarming, the entire colony splits in half and one group leaves the hive with the older queen and the bees left behind raise a new queen (or you can reintroduce a new queen if necessary). The drawback to swarming is either having your bees cling to your "bee hating" neighbors house :( the loss of lots of honey or if the bulk of the colony leaves and only a small amount of bees are left behind they may not rebuild fast enough to make it through winter which would definitely result in a lost hive.

Hemlock said...

Eeeaassyyy! Reeelaaaxx!
Yes, the older the frames and woodenware are the more gunk that shows up on them. That's supposed to happen. The bees are in high propolis season right now. If you can open the hive WITHOUT a crowbar there may be something wrong.

Plus when they begin to glue everything together also marks when they start to dislike intrusion. They will be more defensive now that they have some stores.

Are you using enough Smoke? Though, if you have bees that attack smoke you may consider requeening. I had a colony like that. Since the requeening they've become totally calm.

Finding the queen this time of year is hard for everyone. At this point they should have 50K+ worth of bees in them. Plus queens are notorious for hiding on the sides of the hive. Don't look for the queen. Just look for eggs that are standing up. That shows you had a queen 1-3 days ago. A good sign.

I would not recommend 9 frames in a 10 frame brood box. 1- with one less frame in the box you lose 7000+ cells to make bees in. 2- you end up with more open space that bees will fill with MORE bridge comb. Always make sure the frames are tight against each other. Leave the extra space divided between the ends of the box. this will reduce the amount of bridge comb.

Michael Bush makes a great argument for inserting an 11th frame in brood boxes. Read it here (Bush farms 11 frames)

Bees HATE Queen Excluders! Most beeks i know call them Honey Excluders. 2 things you can try; 1- if the honey super is Undrawn place it Between the two brood boxes. monitor until they've drawn out a handful of frames then place it back on top; 2- either place the excluder in sideways OR cut the side off like this (Modified Excluder). That way the bees can get into the honey supers but the queen won't because she doesn't lay in the end frames.

Keep your head up, you're doing fine.

Michelle said...

Thank you so much Hemlock for all the great information and links!! Super helpful! I didn't know that about the propolis and not liking intrusion. I will definitely get that queen excluder out of there. Still, no bees have gone north :(

Anonymous said...

In theory you don't need a queen excluder once they fill a supper with honey the queen isn't likely to cross over. I have a top bar hive so an excluder isn't really an option and the back of my hive is indeed all honey and no brood. Just keep scraping down the propolis with your hive tool and it will be OK.

Also do you use smoke? I didn't use smoke often last year, but had to start once they had some stores to protect. I started using it then and it makes a huge difference.

It'll be OK, keep up the good fight.