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Author Topic: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster  (Read 2174 times)

Offline Bill W.

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I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« on: April 29, 2008, 07:58:58 PM »
This weekend I picked up two live hives that hadn't been tended in at least two years.  I did a quick inspection before bringing them home, but they were such a mess I didn't want to really do a pull-apart until I had some extra hives ready (just in case).  I figured, worst case, if I had troubles I would do a split into the new hives.

Having new hive bodies ready was a good call.

The first hive went fine.  It consisted of two deeps.  The top deep was full of bees, with just a bit of brood.  I'd guess if I added together all the brood, it would have made up one frame.  I did find the queen.  I figure I'll keep feeding them, give them a few weeks and see if the brood situation improves.  If not, maybe I have a tired queen there.

The second hive was the "learning experience".  It consisted of a deep topped by two mediums.  I knew this hive was pretty full, because it was so darned heavy when we moved it - heavier than any hive I had to date (although this is only my second year, so my experience is not exactly deep.)

I pulled off the cover and the bees welled out quickly.  I smoked them a bit more and began removing frames.  Looks like they were putting up nectar and had nearly filled it.  Surprising considering my other hives haven't really gotten started.  I managed to get the box separated from the medium below it and set it aside.  Now they were getting pretty angry off.  I puffed some more smoke, but once they're agitated, they're agitated I guess.  This was the first time I'd put on a full suit and I was pretty happy with the decision.

Now I was looking at a medium covered in burr comb.  I could see the tops of some frames in there, but I was only going to be able to get at them following a lot of scraping.  So commenced ten minutes of scraping, prying, and bees coming at me like sawdust off a chainsaw.  I manage to get stung on the butt, through the suit and a pair of jeans.  :shock:  I'm still not sure if a bee got into the suit or had a really long stinger.

Eventually, I managed to get some of the frames out and found a mix of capped brood and honey.  No matter what I did, I could not get the middle four frames out.  They were stuck fast.  I cut and pried repeatedly until the top of one of the frames came off.  Tried the next one over - same deal.  "OK," I figured, "I'll just remove this box and then see if I can cut them free from the bottom side."

So, I pried the box up, lifted it off and...

A huge clump of comb falls at my feet.  A giant ball of angry bees explodes into the air.  I see glistening white brood from broken cells all over the place.  darn.

Turns out there were five frames missing from the middle of this deep.  Given the free space, the bees built natural comb off the bottom of the medium above.  When I lifted it, a bunch of it collapsed.  Of course, some of it was still hanging from the medium, and after the deep collapsed back in on itself, I couldn't lower it back down without crushing it.

So, you can now picture me in the middle of a cloud of angry bees, holding a medium with deep-sized combs dangling from the bottom, kicking over one of the spare deeps I brought with me to get the frames out, so I can eventually lower this medium onto it without destroying the comb.  That was fun.

I returned to the deep and surveyed the mess.  Turns out the ears on this deep had rotted and the front right joint came apart after my prying to get the medium off.  I have collapsed comb, open brood, dripping honey, and a surprisingly large number of drones.  I have some slugs.  I have what appears to be a mouse nest.  I look around for the hidden camera.

What to do?

Well, I had five more or less correctly drawn deep frames with brood.  I moved them into the center of a new box and placed fresh frames around them.  I looked for the queen on them, hoping against hope.  No dice.  I put the honey filled medium on top of the new deep and closed up that hive.

What I had left was pile of comb and some more comb hanging from the bottom of the other medium.  The queen was probably somewhere in the middle of all that mess.  The only thing I could think to do was pretend I am doing a cut-out (something I have only read about on this site.)  I went back to my pile of used gear (cloud of angry bees accompanying me), found some old, empty wired frames, cut the comb into pieces that fit (crushing a lot of bees in the process) and loaded up my other new deep.  Eventually, I had six frames of rather mangled comb.  I still didn't find the queen.  I plopped the medium of brood and honey back on top (now freed of its dangling comb) and closed the hive up.

I guess I have effectively done a walk-away split.  I have no idea what the results will be.  I suspect that there were so many bees in this hive that they will both manage to survive and raise new queens if necessary.

If not, it was a free hive and, if nothing else, I just learned a number of valuable lessons.  (But I really hope I didn't write a death sentence for all my little black bees.)

Offline kathyp

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2008, 08:20:34 PM »
i am impressed.  i think you did a really great job, and a great job of putting what you have read to use under less than ideal circumstances!  worst case, you can combine them with the other hive.  best case, you saved the queen and can start to straighten things out a bit at a time.  you'll just have to keep a close eye on them so that you'll know that you have queens.  you'll probably only lose them if you allow them to go queenless for an extended period of time.  that's a mistake i made with one of my first cut out hives.

keep us posted and post pics when you can.  i'd love to know how they do.
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Offline poka-bee

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2008, 08:26:32 PM »
Oh my Bill, what a nightmare!!  :shock:  I couldn't help giggling though with the thought of you standing there with hands full, a pile of comb & bees on the ground & a bunch of p-d off ladies buzzing you.  I know my time will come though, I think things like that will happen to any of us that keep on beekeeping, and probably has to those who have been here longer!  I'm sure things will be fine in the long run & this will be a story to tell the grandkids/neices/nephews/neighbors...  Good job on what you managed to get done in a bad situation!  Jody
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Offline reinbeau

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2008, 08:43:38 PM »
We had an almost similar experience with one of our own hives just a few weeks ago.  We went over to my mother's to check the state of the three medium bodies on each hive.  The top was full of bees on both, the bottom empty, so we swapped them.  One went really well, the other had three frames from the top box welded to three frames in the middle.  We had an extra super, so we took the hive apart, putting the contents of the top into the new super, then swapping around the middle one to the now empty one, and put the bottom one on top - but not without really making every single bee in that very strong colony want to kill us.  We worked in a cloud of bees.  Not fun, and you really feel bad, stirring them all up like that.  But they'll be better off for it, eventually  :-P

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Offline doak

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2008, 09:54:27 PM »
O.K. Bill what you gonna do now?
Here is what I'd do. don't bother them for at least 7 to 10 days.
Then do a light inspection, just to see if you have eggs,brood and if you get lucky and see a queen.
Once you know you have a queen in both, just keep adding supers as needed.
If the queens move up, let them.
When you get a complete box on top of all this mess you ended up with, that has the queen and mostly brood. Take it off and remove the other boxes and clean the bottom board. put this new formed box on bottom with the other two boxes on top with the one with the sealed brood being #2. then the unsealed brood on top. Any time during this time you find any of this stuff you had to put together that is empty of brood and honey and brood go ahead and remove it and replace it with drawn frames or foundation.

I feel what you went through.
The first hive I bought was 6 or 7 high and after the top was removed, all in order, I found where this person had taken frames of honey out and did not put an empty in its place.
I had 4 or 5 frames that had comb 3 boxes deep on them.

The bottom box was empty except for frames and comb.
It had been cleaned out by  the bees and they drew comb diagonally.

Offline Brian D. Bray

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2008, 12:58:46 AM »
You did good, you also learned why having and extra super with some frames in it can be handy when working in your bee yard.  The frames can replace broken ones, the super can replace a box that has become a tangled mess.  When a hives builds a lot of burr comb, transfering the frames to another box while cutting away the burr comb is the easiest way to do it.  You can then clean up the box just emptied and use it on another hive with a like problem. 

For a newbee you acted above and beyond expectations and should be awarded the newbee of the month award. 

You will learn over time that every trip to the bee yard holds at least one surprise and usually more.  I take a medium super (since I use all mediums) and a nuc full of frames.  I also have a plywood sheet with a hole cut out so I can place a nuc on top a normal sized super for feeding.  I went into my bees today and used every bit of those extra nucs, supers, and frames.
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Offline indypartridge

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #6 on: April 30, 2008, 07:14:38 AM »
For a newbee you acted above and beyond expectations and should be awarded the newbee of the month award. 
I'll second that and will forward your nomination to the awards committee :)
If that had happened to me when I was a newbee, I probably would have run away screaming like a little girl!

Offline Rachel

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2008, 01:15:37 PM »
WOW!  Sounds like an experience!  You did the best you could given the circumstances....I think they will be fine!  Good job!

Offline bberry

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2008, 07:52:05 PM »
Way to go-that was good work! It constantly amazes me what a 'thinking persons' game this beekeeping is. I was talking a woman through a basic installation the other day and when i started telling her how to feed the bees she looked at me in absolute shock and said "I have to FEED them???"  :roll: I thought good lord, that is the least of it! It sounds like your bees are in good hands...keep that rear end iced :evil:

Offline Bill W.

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Re: I think I just had my first beekeeping disaster
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2008, 10:38:30 PM »
Well, both of the post-split hives are out in force today, coming home with baskets full of pollen, so I take that as a good sign.

I'm going to leave them alone until next week and then check to see if I need to swap out any of my mangled comb frames and look for queens and/or queen cells.