What Would You Do Wednesday 5-20-20

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I don’t know if this will be valuable, but let’s give it a shot.  I’ll present a beekeeping scenario (mine), my thoughts on what I needed to do and what I did.  I’d love this to be interactive, so please comment below!

5/17 Inspection.

Hive 1: The overwintered hive.

I’ve really been hoping for some honey out of this hive.  They weren’t building up well going into spring, so I requeened a few weeks ago.  I did notice eggs from the new queen.

Last week, there were no eggs and no larvae.  Only a bunch of capped brood.   So clearly, the queen had failed.  I checked again on 5/17 and nothing has changed.  So while they have plenty of workers, this hive needs a new queen.

My options were buying (another) queen, putting in a frame of eggs from another hive, or trying to raise my own queens.  I chose option C, which required immediate action, so as not to let this escalate into a laying worker scenario.

When a hive goes too long without a queen, a worker’s ovaries can start to develop. She’ll start laying unfertilized eggs – several to a cell, which can only grow into drones. Honeybeesuite.com has this great article on how to deal with laying workers.

Damn. No honey this year from this hive.

Hive 2:  The strongest of the new hives.

This queen is a powerhouse.    As the flow is on, I removed the feeder and replaced with one undrawn frame (wax foundation), and a frame I made with a NICOT frame.

The NICOT is a queen breeding system.  The basic idea is that the queen will lay in these plastic cells, which you then remove (once they hatch) and put in a queen builder colony.  Once they’re capped, you put a plastic cover on (so they don’t kill each other), and relocate the capped cells into Nucs for hatching, mating, starting a colony.

NICOT Queen Rearing Start System Output Queen Bees Set bee
The NICOT no graft queen rearing system, in all of it’s glory.

The intent is to make raising queens easier.  It’s a nice thought.

Those that have never used NICOT (successfully) will almost always counter with “why not just learn to graft”.  Because it’s a graft free system.  That’s the point.  If you follow some set rules (not guidelines, rules), it’s easier.

While I won’t go into the ins and outs of NICOT here, the important part is that I decided to use the queen from hive two to grow my replacement queens.

Hive 3 – I had such high hopes.

Hive 3 started really strong.  Somewhere along the way, the queen from the package failed.  I only figured that out when I did a hive inspection to find 9 capped queen cells.  I decided to let them raise their own queen.

Something went wrong.  The new queen was mated, but I suspect poorly.  She failed.  I saw a few eggs, then nothing.  Numbers are dwindling rapidly.  I decided the best course of action was to combine this hive with hive four.

Hive four  – The problem child.

 They were small, not building up wax in sufficient quantity to allow the queen to lay a bunch of eggs.  She fills the available space, but it isn’t much.  I gave them a frame of brood several weeks ago from hive 2, but it hasn’t been enough.  So I’ve combined the two hives.

How to unite/merge two colonies - Trunch Beekeeping Group
Hives in the process of being combined

For those that haven’t done it before, combining hives, especially one queenless and one queen right, is easy.  Stack the boxes from the two hives on top of each other, with a piece of newspaper separating the two.  They’ll chew threw the newspaper, and by the time they do, the pheromones will have combined enough that they’ll recognize each other as hivemates.

As an afterthought, I’ve decided to resume feeding the combined hives.  The flow is on, but if they don’t take it, they don’t take it.  I’d rather lose sugar than bees.


Ben is a lifelong lover of honeybees, and a moderately experienced backyard beekeeper, who is constantly working on getting better. This site is dedicated to helping backyard beekeepers improve their management practices, reduce hive loss, and improve yield. We want to provide you with scientifically grounded information to help your hives thrive.

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