Saturday, June 18, 2011

Merging Two Hives

I made the big move Saturday evening, merging my queenless hive with my new small swarm.  Instead of two weak hives, I now have one big, strong hive.  And hopefully that means we will get to harvest some honey here in a couple of months!

I am so thankful that the rain held off today.  I was getting very antsy to go take a peek at what they had been up to over the past week since I hived the new swarm.  The weather was not too bad when I worked them this evening around 6pm, but in that full bee suit, I still get very hot and sweaty.  This was one of the most relaxing and intriguing excursions I've had working the bees.  I am really starting to feel confident and competent around them!

It's a common misconception that honey bees are aggressive.  They truly are not.  Their policy is: don't bother us and we won't bother you!  Different hives may display different degrees of temperament though.  With a docile hive as mine have been, even when you do irritate them a bit, they still have a rather mild response.  I can walk ten feet away and they have already forgotten about me.

The new swarm was very calm and quiet, as if they didn't even know I was there.  It was a lot of fun to work them.  The old hive however, being queenless and bugged by some ants that were trying to move in, did take note of my pestering them and they were quite a bit testy.  But like I said, they give up very quickly.

Here's what they sound like when they're mad...

Here's a few highlights from this inspection:

This has been the new swarm's temporary arrangements.  I ran out of cinder blocks and I've
been a little nervous with them sitting on this milk crate.  It's not quite as sturdy as I'd like.

This is a really small colony.  They've not accomplished a whole lot in the past 11 days since I installed them.

I had to carefully remove the wild combs they had built so that the two remaining frames could go in.
(You leave the gap initially because you need a hole to dump them into.)

This is the frame of honey I gave them from my other hive to get them started.  Most
of the bees are on this frame.  They've been busy!  The capped cells are full of honey.

I had no trouble finding the queen this time, since I only had one and a half frames to check out.

She's doing a great job and laying a tight pattern.  I found lots
of capped brood, all stages of white larvae and many tiny eggs. 

I wasn't sure what to do with these odd combs at first.  Fortunately I took a closer look and
was able to spot a bunch of minuscule eggs in most of the cells on just one side of both of them.

So I had to do a little quick improv!  I used my hive tool to cut out a space in this new foundation.

And being careful to orient them the same way I found them originally, I patched them into this frame.

They had only begun working one side on one of the adjacent new frames in
their box.  This frame is beginning to fill up with honey and stored pollen.

Frames 5, 6 and 7 are the only frames that have any activity at this point.

I laid down two sheets of newspaper and a queen excluder on top of that to prep them for the
merger.  During the time that it takes them to chew through it this week, the scent of the two
hives will blend and they will begin to identify themselves as one hive.
 Moving on to the queenless hive...

The ants go marching two by two... These ants have been pestering
them this week, trying to move in on their hard-earned honey stores.

The white stuff is a grease patty I gave them last time.  It's supposed to help them resist tracheal mites.  They don't
seem to care for it all that much though.  It annoys me too, because it's a hassle to move it.  It falls apart so easily.

I was a little clumsy putting back a frame of honey as I was inspecting them.  This is the point where I annoyed them pretty good and I had to work quickly through the rest of the frames.  I was able to confirm that there are no laying workers and still no queen (I'm pretty sure I would have recognized her.)  Still no eggs or capped brood. 

Laying workers are supposed to present with eggs, larvae and capped brood, but they will all hatch out to be drones (which are pretty much useless to the hive.)  I'm a little perplexed as to what happened here and how they failed to raise a replacement queen.  I would have thought there should have at least been laying workers; but as I understand it, only nurse bees will become laying workers.  This hive has been queenless for over a month now.  Bad beekeeping on my part and definitely a live-and-learn situation.  Despite bad weather and precious few good opportunities this early spring--I have to check in with them more often.

Here they are sealed up for transport.  Can you believe I lifted this by myself?  I'd give it about 50-60
pounds.  All those feed sacks I've had to haul down to the chicken barn have built up my strength...ha.

Here they are set up under a small peach tree down in the field at my mother-in-law's place.
You have to move them over a mile away or they'll be confused and return to their old hive spot.
They'll hang out here for two weeks, while we work on building a better and permanent hive stand. 

The new swarm is on the bottom and the old hive is on the top.  They have a separate entrance in the back to
use for now.  The bees on the bottom will use the regular entrance which I narrowed with an entrance reducer.

That's all for today's honey bee adventures!  I'll stop by after church tomorrow and check them out to make sure they're coming and going from the hive OK.  Next Monday I will inspect them again and see how the merger went.

Link up and share your homesteading adventures over there!


  1. SUPER COOL! I want to get a couple of hives set up here and its so nice to follow what your doing. I'm reading, and reading, and reading, but its nice to see in plain english what your doing and how its going, both positive and what's giving you grief. I really appreciate the effort you do to post this, please keep updating on how the merger goes.

  2. Thanks! I was glad to get some good pics this time.

    "Beekeeping for Dummies" has been a pretty good primer for me and I also get a lot of use out of forums. Ultimately though, the best help I got was from joining my local beekeepers association (your ag extension agent can give you more info). My club's annual dues are only $6 a year and covers my immediate family. Those folks really love their bees now and they're usually very happy to help get you started and answer your questions. I think it is just natural for any beekeeper to want everybody else to love bees too. ;)

  3. What an interesting and informative post! I hope to get bees some day, but, WOW! what a lot of work! Hope I can learn how to do this stuff correctly!

  4. wow that was a wonderful post! i can tell you put a lot of work into it and it was very informative! I am a fan :0)

  5. Thanks Lady Farmer and Georgia! I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's been one of my favorites so far. I could talk honey bees all day! :)

  6. Awesome post. We just started our beekeeping this past year and we are too enjoying it immensely! I love that you have shown a step by step of what you have done!

  7. Fascinating!!! I am both intrigued and a little scared of beekeeping. Love the pics! Someday, if we ever have acreage, my husband insists we will have bees. Someday :)

  8. Thanks Lynnie! :)

    ArtsyNina, when you do get them, I guarantee you will fall in love with them. They are amazing!