Bee inspection: new queen; emergency & swarm cells

We did a couple of beehive inspections over the weekend, and found some interesting things.

But first, a normal-looking hive frame, with brood:

Beehive frame

This hive (the orange one) was the one that appeared to be missing their queen on the previous inspection. On reviewing the photos while writing this post, I spotted a queen; circled in red in the following picture. It seems likely that this is a new queen, hatched from the emergency cells we saw then:

Queen bee

Next we looked at the Flow hive. Here’s a Flow frame with honey underway; starting to fill up and get capped:

Flow frame with honey

Another normal frame:


But then we saw an emergency cell:

Emergency cell

And more concerning, a couple more emergency cells, and swarm cells:

Emergency & swarm cells

Here’s a closer look at the swarm cells, upside-down. They are capped, which means the hive is preparing to swarm (take half of the population to find a new home):

Swarm cells

A closer look at one of the emergency cells, uncapped; that could just be practice. There are also a lot of drone bees visible, mooching off the hive resources (they’re the larger ones):

Emergency cell

The end frame of the Flow hive was full of drone cells, which are pretty useless. That could be a symptom of a worker laying eggs, hence the emergency cells, or caused by weather changes:

Drone frame

Lots of bees:

Lots of bees

We decided to remove the drone frame, replacing it with an empty frame, both to ease the hive resources, and as a way of reducing the mite load of the hive, since the mites tend to go for drone cells. Here Jenn is brushing the bees off the frame:

Brushing off bees

Bees outside the hive:

Bees outside box

After a visit to her mentor, Jenn decided to re-inspect the hive the next day, to split some frames into a nuc box. The bees weren’t in the mood for an inspection, though:

Cranky bees

Here’s the nuc, with some old frames:


We couldn’t find the swarm cells anymore, though it didn’t look like they had swarmed, so maybe they changed their mind? We left the nuc box next to the hive, in case they did decide to swarm, so hopefully they’d move into the nuc:

Flow hive & nuc

We’ll keep an eye on this hive. Hopefully it won’t swarm (again; it did so last year), since that’ll set back the honey production. Though it’s early enough that they might have time to build up enough before fall.

Bee water pool

Like any creatures, bees get thirsty. So they have to get water from somewhere, for themselves and their hive. They also use water to control the humidity of the hive, as part of the process of making honey.

We have a big pond they can drink from, but it’s easy for bees to drown if they’re not careful. We also have a stream, and in summer a swimming pool, but those aren’t ideal water sources either (Jenn has rescued several bees from the pool when swimming).

So we also have a small kiddie pool that has rocks in it to act as safe landing zones for the bees. It is by the closest tap to the hives, near the greenhouse. Bees will fly for miles to find water, but if they have a ready source close to the hive, they don’t need to go to less ideal places.

The pool was immediately below the tap, but that made it hard to turn it on to top up the pool, when lots of bees are buzzing around. So I recently added a splitter and a couple of short hoses; one going into the pool, which can now be a bit further away, and another for use when working in the greenhouse (until I get around to adding taps in there):

Hoses and bee water pool

I also added a couple of bits of wood as additional landing pads for the bees:

Bee water pool

As a temporary thing, I set up the mobile cam above the pool, so I could watch the bees using it, just for fun. In the above picture, you can see the beehives and greenhouse in the background, to give a better idea of the location.

One interesting observation was that birds and cats also take advantage of the water source. Here’s a crow drinking from the bee pool:

Bird drinking from bee water pool

A cat drinking:

Cat drinking from bee water pool

Bees drinking from the pool; notice some on the wood, some around the edge, and a bunch on the rocks:

Bees drinking from bee water pool

If I zoom in on the pile of rocks, you can more clearly see lots of bees:

Zoom on bees

A crow drinking again; it doesn’t care about the bees:

Bird drinking from bee water pool

Another cat:

Cat drinking from bee water pool

The crow decided to walk across the platforms, somewhat unsuccessfully:

Bird walking in bee water pool

Bee inspection: missing queen, marked queen

A quick post on last weekend’s beehive inspection.

We added a Ross round honey super to the yellow hive, one of the overwintered ones, to try to get some comb honey. This super has frames with plastic round shapes, in which the bees draw out comb and make honey, then they can be easily separated and packaged as round comb honey:

Ross round super

Next we inspected one of the two new hives. This was concerning: we didn’t see the queen (which isn’t all that uncommon), but also didn’t see eggs. While there was plenty of capped brood, and larvae, nothing younger than a week old. We also saw some possible emergency queen cups, like in the center of this picture. So it’s possible the queen didn’t survive the installation of the hive; either we didn’t get one with the nuc, or she got squashed or something in transferring to the new hive:

Possible emergency queen cup

We’ll inspect again this weekend to see what’s happened.  They may make a new queen, or maybe we just missed her.

A closeup of bees on a frame:

Closeup of bees

Treatment and temperature sensor:


On to the purple hive, there was a strange formation on one of the frames; not sure what that’s about:

Strange formation

We spotted the queen; she is even marked, which makes her easy to see:

Marked queen

We also added a scale to the Flow hive. This lets us monitor the weight of the hive, in addition to the temperature, which helps indicate the amount of honey, among other things:


All four hives:

Four hives

Some removed boxes between the hives, left there for a day for the bees to evacuate:

Four hives

New bees

We picked up two nucs early this morning, from a bee farm half an hour away.  Nucs are nucleus hives; a box with fully established frames, including a queen, workers, some honey stores, and brood growing.

In this case, the nucs were in cardboard boxes, each with five frames.

Here’s Jenn transferring the frames from the first nuc box to their new home, the orange hive (named for the base color). The hive box has three extra frames for them to expand into, for a total of eight:

Bee nuc

The bees were not in a good mood, probably due to being shaken around on the journey, and the liquid smoke wasn’t working. One stung Jenn on the side of her hand through the thin gloves she was wearing.

Here’s the new hive installed, with a sugar syrup feeder, and a pollen patty inside. The nuc box was left in front, so the bees remaining in there can find the hive:

Bees installed

Jenn put on thicker gloves and fired up the smoker for the second nuc. Here she’s looking at a frame while transferring it into the hive:

Bee frame

Another frame, in a cloud of smoke:

Bee frame

The second hive was easier; the smoke really helps. Here Jenn tipped out most of the remaining bees from the box:

Tipping out bees

Both hives (all four, actually) have a pollen patty to help feed the bees:

Pollen patty

The new orange and purple hives:

New hives

All four hives:

Four hives

Four hives

Bee inspection & treatment

Yesterday we did another beehive inspection and mite treatment.

Here’s the yellow hive pulled apart to inspect and treat the bottom brood box:

Pulling apart beehive

A bunch of bees on top of some frames:

Bees on top of frames

Jenn inspecting a frame:

Jenn inspecting a frame

A closer look at at that frame, which has lots of capped honey on the sides, and uncapped honey in the middle:

Closer look at honey

Inspecting another frame, with a practice queen cup aka swarm cell visible hanging off the bottom. If the bees ran out of room, they’d use these to grow a new queen, and the old queen would take half of the bees and go find somewhere else to live, aka swarming. The bees make these as an insurance policy when things are going well, so isn’t usually anything to worry about:


We did see the queens for both hives, which was gratifying. Though I didn’t get good pictures of either.

A bunch of bees on the edge of a frame:


Inspecting a frame with a lot of drone brood (the lumpy cells):

Drone brood

And a frame with worker brood (the flatter cells):

Worker brood

A closer look at bees on a frame:


Smoke across the top to get the bees to go down, so we can add another box without squashing them:


We added a queen excluder and the Flow super, to start collecting some honey.  It’ll probably take them a while to start up there, since they have space below, but it’s good to make sure they have plenty of room when there is good nectar flow:

Added Flow super

Bee closeup:

Bee closeup

Another closeup; you can clearly see the pollen sacs:

Bee closeup

Bee inspection & treatment; queen sighted

On Sunday we did an inspection and treatment of the beehives.

Here Jenn is pulling out a frame from the yellow beehive; notice the white rack that holds a frame, to make space to pull others out more easily:

Jenn inspecting beehive

We checked for mites via a sugar shake test, where powdered sugar is added to a jar of bees, shaken, water added, then mites counted:

Powdered suger on jar of bees

The bees are unharmed by this; they are returned to the hive, where others will clean them off (tasty sugar!):

Sugary bees

Adding an oxalic acid sugar water mix, that should kill mites without harming the bees:

Bee treatment

A frame with some honey on the left, and capped brood (baby bees) on the right:

Bee frame

Lots of honey (or sugar water from the feeder):

Bee frame

A couple of hive boxes; the bees had very little activity in the bottom box, so we swapped them; they tend to want to move upwards, so would continue to ignore the bottom box if left there:

Hive boxes

Some closeups of bees:

Closeup of bees

Closeup of bees

Closeup of bees

We spotted the queen in the Flow hive; I’ve circled her here:

Queen sighted

A classic beehive frame, with capped brood in the center:

Bee frame

A bunch of bees hanging out at the entrance:


The Flow beehive:


The yellow beehive:


Beehive temperature sensors

Yesterday we did our first inspection of the year of our two beehives. We weren’t sure about one of the hives, but both survived the winter. Now that the weather is getting warmer, and flowers are starting to bloom, the bees are active again, replenishing their stores, and the queens are busy laying brood to ramp up the populations.

While we were at it, we took the opportunity to install a couple of BroodMinder temperature sensors in each hive. These record the internal temperature, which can indicate the health and state of the hive. The sensors sync via Bluetooth to an app on Jenn’s iPhone.

Installing BroodMinder temperature sensor

Here’s the yellow hive with two sensor tags sticking out:


Jenn doing a quick inspection of the Flow hive:

Jenn inspecting hive

A beehive frame, showing some stored honey on the right, some capped brood in the middle, and good activity:

Beehive frame

Some bees around the entrance, including some with full pollen baskets:


Yet more snow

We got a couple more inches of snow this morning.

Beehives and trees with snow:

Beehives with snow

Berry cage with snow:

Berry cage with snow

The shallow (foreground) end of the pond is frozen, but the deep (back) half is liquid:

Half frozen pond

The back lawn covered with snow, with the brown gazebo in the distance, and the old chicken coop on the right:

Gazebo & coop with snow

The flag is snagged on a branch, with a little snow on it:

Flag with snow

Sunny snow

We haven’t had any more snow for a couple of days, but it’s been below freezing most of the time, so what’s here isn’t significantly melting. The forecast calls for more snow this weekend, so the current stuff will solidify into a layer of ice, with fresh snow on top.

Here are a few more snowy pictures, from yesterday and today.

Gobs of snow on a dogwood tree:

Snow on dogwood tree

Snow on the beehives, with icicles hanging off the roof. The snow is melting above the brown one in the foreground, which is a good sign of warm bees inside. It isn’t melting as much on the other hive, which may mean they aren’t doing so well, or the roof might just be a better insulator:

Snow on beehives

Looking up at the ceiling of the berry cage. It’s holding up nicely so far, though I worry about its capacity to cope with lots more snow. But I’m not going to try cleaning it off; I want to see what it can handle, and will repair later if needed:

Snow on berry cage

A close-up:

Snow on berry cage

Some interesting graupel patterns on the frozen pond:


The pond and snow-covered trees beyond:

Pond & trees

Me shoveling the snow from the driveway, so Jenn could go out (the car is parked inside the shop, for now, though she’ll start parking it in the breezeway next to the shop, so I can work on the duck house in there):

Clearing driveway

Snow shovel:

Clearing driveway

Icebergs sliding off the hoop house:

Snow sliding off hoop house

Morning sun through the trees:


Sparkly snow:

Sparkly snow

Frozen garden ornament, with the brown gazebo in the background:

Garden ornament

Interesting morning light, with sparkly snow, and snow-covered trees beyond the field:

Sparkly snow

Frozen small pond:

Frozen small pond