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October 2, 2017

My Bees Went Crazy


My bees went crazy and it was my fault. Oak Hill Homestead


My bees went crazy, and it was my fault.

You know how you plan to do something but life gets in the way? You need to go visit Aunt Margaret but the kids are sick and the car broke down so you just don't get to it.

Yeah, it was kind of like that.

The last time I opened my beehive and looked inside, I wondered if I still had a queen. I couldn't see any eggs (but those eggs are really tiny and hard to spot) and there were only a few larvae. But it was high summer and queens often slow down in the heat and take a break from laying. I'd recently added the top medium-size hive box (a "honey super") and they hadn't done much to it at all, although there were bees on the new frames.

And since it was high summer and not much was blooming and it was hot and dry which makes nectar gathering hard for bees (known as "the dearth"), I started feeding them sugar water.

I checked every week to make sure there were still bees coming and going.

And because I didn't have an in-hive feeder for the medium hive box, I took out three frames and set two quart jar feeders inside that space. I knew it wasn't the best plan, but I didn't have another hive box that I could set on top to hold the feeder jars (which would have been a much better idea, by the way).

And I was checking them every week, so I would keep an eye on things, right?

Well....

Life got in the way. And the weather - oh my, it was way.too.hot to put on a beesuit! And then came a big event I work on every year. And then for awhile we seemed to be gone more than we were home.

Yes, I'm making excuses. The real reason was the heat. I didn't open the hive for a month. Which means I didn't refill those feeder jars either. I'm a bad bee mom.


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But then some flowers started blooming: sunflowers, bitterweed, broomweed and goldenrod and other plants. So I crossed my fingers and hoped they were doing ok. I walked out to the hive every week or so to make sure there were still bees coming and going. And I kept the hummingbird feeders filled; one of the feeders has been commandeered by bees.

The weather has cooled down a bit now and I solemnly vowed that I was going to check the hive on Saturday. I put on all of my bee gear, since other keepers had mentioned that their bees were a bit cranky this time of year. I took plenty of fuel for the smoker with me. I duct-taped the more-vulnerable parts of my clothing (around my ankles in particular). And I pushed my gear-laden wheelbarrow out the gate, across the field and out to my hive.

I'd recently added the top medium box (a "honey super") on top of the hive.

It took a bit of time to pry the top off the hive. My goodness, they'd been busy as bees! They'd glued it down very well. In fact, I pried off the end piece of the lid. Oops. That wasn't supposed to come off.

I carefully removed the lid and smoked the bees. There were a lot of bees. Evidently they're not queenless after all, and I heaved a sigh of relief.

Now remember, on my last check they hadn't even started building comb in that top hive box. I figured I had plenty of time before they ran out of space. Wrong!

They'd gone crazy.

My bees went crazy, building wonky comb all around the empty space.

All seven of the frames in the top box are built out with comb, and they'd built some pretty crazy comb around those now-empty feeder jars too. Those jars were part of the hive now, cemented into the honeycomb like a junk-sculptor incorporates his metal finds into his weird creations, welding them all together.

And those bees weren't very happy with me. It took an hour using my hive tool to cut off the wonky comb, most of which was full of honey, and get the jars loose. I refilled one - because I still don't have a better way to feed them, which is also my fault - but the other was so sticky I couldn't get the lid off of it, so I put that one in the wheelbarrow to take back to the house.

I finished cutting out all the excess comb and put it in a bucket, bees and all. Two bees tried to sting me through my goat-skin gloves. Another was laser-focused on my face and refused to leave, so I had to walk away for several minutes until she gave up and went back home. I was so thankful I'd put on ALL of my bee clothing (two pairs of pants, a long sleeved-shirt under my bee jacket, and veil plus gloves).

I spent a long hour removing the wonky comb with my hive tool.

I never did get to look at a frame for eggs and larvae. The frames were so well-glued down that it would have been another major undertaking, and I'd done enough for one day (and I don't mean I'd bothered the bees enough for one day, I mean I was done for the day!)

So I closed up the hive and lived to inspect them another day. You can bet I won't wait another month. Next week I'll pull out the other quart jar feeder and add those three empty frames back in so they won't build more crazy honeycomb.

In the meantime, I put the bucket of comb and honey about 50 yards away from the hive, near their water source. The comb was still full of bees so I knew they'd call in reinforcements and the honey would be gone shortly. I checked at sunset and it was already gone, leaving just the delicate beeswax honeycomb behind. They'd taken the honey back to their hive and stored it somewhere other than in that crazy comb I removed.

Now I'll get to work figuring out a better way to feed them. It was, after all, my fault that they went crazy.



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14 comments:

  1. Nothing like opening the lid to find such a surprise. Bees are fascinating creatures. I'm a new beekeeper this year and their behavior sometimes has me stumped. They fly by my veggie and flower garden to go elsewhere for their nectar and pollen.

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    Replies
    1. I rarely see mine in my garden either, Cindy. I figure they'll find it someday.

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  2. Thanks for sharing! That was really neat to see!

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    1. It was neat, Danielle. I was sorry that I had to remove all their hard work especially since it was my fault. I'm glad I was at least able to let them salvage the honey.

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  3. Wow! What a nice surprise to see all that honey!!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it was! And it really was honey, not sugar syrup. I tasted a little drop. :-)

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  4. Haha - bees are quite the architects, aren't they?! We have had a fairly "hands-off" approach with our hive this summer. We know they are doing well by looking through the observation window, and the hive box is almost full, but since this is their first year we are leaving them alone and won't harvest this year. We did reduce the size of the entrance because the hornets and wasps have made their presence known. Have a great day, Kathi!

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    1. Yes, they are, Vickie. I'm not harvesting honey this year either, but I've tried to at least take a look inside every week or two.

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  5. I was so afraid you were going to find out that you were queenless and all the bees had almost died out! I was so relieved!!
    :) gwingal

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    Replies
    1. That was my fear too - or that the bees had swarmed or just left. I was shocked to see so many bees and so much comb and honey in the hive!

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  6. love fresh honey, we have a man that is a bee keeper down the street. I love the honey hate the bee stings
    come see us at http://shopannies.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. I haven't been stung yet...

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  7. Oh wow! I'd love to have a go at bee keeping. I love taking photographs of bees, but I'm very wary of getting stung.

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    1. I can understand that, Nikki.

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