Build it, and they will come

Early this spring I set up three swarm traps and two bait hives. After thinking awhile, I decided one of the bait hives was too close to the propane tank. The delivery person was already leery of the top-bar hive, and that was ten times further away. If perchance he got annoyed and decided not to deliver, my husband would get annoyed the first time he took a cold shower, and I would get annoyed when he blamed me. Remember that saying about certain things flowing downhill?

So three weeks ago, I started parting it out. I took the swarm lure and installed it elsewhere. I stole half of the two-piece bottom board for one hive, the slatted rack and screened inner cover for another, and borrowed five of the frames for yet a third. Nothing remained but a shell: a partial deep on half a bottom board with a lid.

On Wednesday evening, I was miffed at the propane company. Normally I get a discount if my bill is paid within ten days, but apparently they didn’t receive my last e-check until eleven days. So they sent an invoice—stamp, envelope, paper, ink, and somebody’s time—for four cents per month interest for each of the past two months. Someone must think this a viable business model. What—ever.

I also noticed bees poking around what was left of the bait hive. Robbers, I decided, because one of the remaining frames had a bit of honey in it. I peered inside to see a dozen bees lapping up the sweet stuff. I left them to it.

Returning from town the next afternoon, I noticed even more robbers circling, diving, careening. Normally, I would have ignored it, but a bunch of crazy bees coupled with an eight-cent debt was problematic: before long, someone would demand jail time. It was time to dismantle the bait hive.

As I approached the hive to haul it away, something on the landing board caught my attention: drones. This band of robbers included drones? Then it occurred to me . . .

I tore off the lid. This time a cajillion bees covered the five frames; in fact, I could barely see the frames. I began flipping through them until I found what I was looking for. Yes! I knew it! This­­­­ band of “robbers” also had a queen.

Not only a queen, but an Italian queen. That in itself is unremarkable except for the fact I haven’t had one around here for years and years—proof that this new swarm wasn’t from my own apiary. How cool is that?

So now I have a thriving hive within spitting distance of the propane tank. What to do? I put a check in an envelope, added a forty-nine-cent stamp, and drove three miles to the post office—all very cost effective, of course. The rest I’ll figure out tomorrow.



A golden lady, not one of my carniolan queens.

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  • Congratulations. Looks like you have added nicely to your apiary this year. Fun stuff, indeed. Both our colonies died out late this winter/early spring. Starting to believe that your theory (if I remember right) that long, warm winters are worse for colonies that sharp, cold winters. They don’t fly but they eat.

    Started a new colony with Italians in Hive One. They are going gangbusters and we have strong hope for them. Left Hive Two set up, empty except for two Western supers with wax comb, hoping to pick up a feral colony. TA DA, have been watching dark, small bees regularly going in and out of Hive Two for several weeks. Pop the top and whatever is going on is in the lower box. Not a bee in the upper super. If we have picked up a swarm of Carniolans, it is very small and I don’t want to disturb them unless we have to. Besides, there is a Western Bluebird nest box next to Hive Two with 5 babies and they don’t need the disturbance either. Lots of raspberry and blackberry blossoms as well as lavender and such in bloom right now so we think there is still a nectar flow. Oddly, we don’t see much in the way of pollen going into either hive.

    Humility has always been a distant goal for this cowboy but the “ladies” (sorry if that offends you) have indeed given us continued lessons on why you don’t want to challenge “The Cockey God”. You will get slapped down hard, repeatedly, and without mercy. Just saying.

    Oh, thank you for your blog. Rays of sanity in the asylum. Or from the asylum? Anyway, thanks.

  • Some new beekeeper is now super disappointed that their Italian package just ran off… 🙂

    • Neil,

      I know. I would feel guilty if I knew of any beekeepers in the area, but I don’t. The bees have that package look: all very uniform in appearance.

  • Out in the yard trying to get some weeding done. I hear that familiar loud humm, look up towards hives, new hive is pouring out and up!!!! Oh maaaaan!!!!? Really? A secondary? A supercedure? But this is the swarm hive in a new hive. Hmmmmmmm……I don’t have time for this today!!!!!. Up into the highest trees , but wait ,….maybe its a new queen going out with all the drones to get lucky, they flew around didn’t hang around, so could be. At this point I don’t give a hoot, They either left for good or new queen is gonna come home good and pregnant. Still plenty of bees in the hive. So much to learn. Let nature do its thing, bees your not changing my plans today! Lol. Gotta love it!!! They were very noisy these last couple days, I could’ve swore I heard the queen piping! Mike said I was crazy. Well I gotta learn the hard way. I’ll know the next time!

  • It was @ 12:00 eastern time here in Bel Air, MD that this happened. The bees always do amaze me.♥♥♥♥:-)

  • I stacked couple of old frameless deeps on my deck a month ago, intending on breaking them up for firewood. They were warped and water damaged, so I didn’t expect to use them again.

    Last week I heard the buzz, and discovered that someone (a lot of someones) had moved in, using the gap caused by the warping as their entrance. I had a brand new set of hive bodies, complete with frames, sitting 3 feet away.

    Why don’t bees read the manual?

  • I have 2 traps out, each 12′ up in trees at the edges of fields, in a river valley. Lots of wild and cultivated plantings, and many bee yards within 2 miles. Baited with lemon grass oil and Brushy Mountain’s queen pheromone lure. Zip.

    Clearly, I need a better strategy for trap placement. I should mention that this area is near the ocean, it is windy, and temperatures are warmer in winter, and cooler than normal during the other 3 seasons. Farther inland? What do you look for in a new area?

    • You can only trap them if they are swarming. Some years I get a lot; some years none. I think you will just have to experiment. Maybe the wind is dissipating the scent of the lure. Normally, if there is a swarm nearby and you have a fresh lure, you stand a good chance of getting it. Still, a lot of it is luck. For now, try further inland, away from the wind.

  • Rusty,
    I started chuckling at “too close to the propane tank.”

    But – what is it with bees taking up residence here, there and everywhere? One of our club members had an exterminating business and was getting so many honey bee calls, he has added “bee extraction” to his service. He can’t keep up!! He’s also a carpenter, which helps.
    And contrary to the conventional wisdom – that “wild” colonies have been decimated at least as badly as maintained hives, by chemicals, varroa and disease – these colonies are burgeoning! Most are in structures, and when possible he will brace the boards so that he can remove the combs as a set and place them into a deep.
    And yet colonies in Langs abscond, go queenless, die out… Makes me wonder if the bees are trying to tell us something.
    On the other hand, how WOULD you inspect a hive in a soffit, eave or crawl space?
    His facebook page is Complete Bee Removal: some pretty dramatic pictures.
    Thanks for another fine story!
    Shady Grove Farm

  • Hi Rusty, quick question on the subject of build it and they will come. Well my 3 packages WILL be coming, but I have only bought and built 1 complete hive before rethinking given the advice to start with at least 2. I’m now in a pickle where my two other hive sets might not arrive until a week after the packages do + time to varnish the hive body exteriors. I presume its not wise to let the bees sit in their packages for a week, even fed regularly, so I was thinking about fabricating 2 dividers for my existing 12 frame deep body splitting it into 3 sections of 3/4 frames each, dividers running from screen board to inner cover to hold the colonies seperate. I have some thin 1mm plywood (although its treated so not good longterm). The frames are currently 9mm spacing, should I remove 1 frame to keep the spacing around the same despite installing dividers or can I slip them just between frames and respace the frames so its even? Any problems with the idea of temporarily using the deep as 3 nucs?

    Regards, Rob T

    • Rob,

      If you put three colonies in one hive, then all the foragers will continue returning to that hive after you move them to their new hive. I can’t think of a way to separate them again. So as long as you know that you will end up with one gigantic colony and two small ones, then yes, you can do it.

  • Rusty,

    I have 4 hives and two bait hives with lures within 20 feet of them. For the last 2 week I have seen bees going in and out of the bait hives; I thought they might be scouts, but after 2 weeks I am wondering. Are these bait hives too close to the established hives? How long do they normally scout before they Swarm? I know May is usually the month to swarm, but up here in the Smokey Mountains things run behind schedule.

    • Tim,

      You hear different things about how far away the bait hives should be. But just based on my own experience, I don’t think it matters much. Many times I’ve seen them move into a hive only a few feet away from the original. If it is the best choice, they will go there, especially if it has a fresh swarm lure.

      Most scouting is done after the swarm has issued, not before. The hive swarms and then, while the majority stays in a cluster, the scouts go out looking for places. They report back with dances until there is agreement on where to go. This process can take a half hour or a week. Some people have reported seeing scouts before a swarm has issued, but that seems not to be common. The best book on the subject is Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, if you ever want to read about it.

      I think you can expect to see swarms, even here, through the middle of July. Don’t give up, you still may get something.

      Some bees will snoop around a hive that contains a lure. But scouts act in particular ways, surveying the outside, measuring the inside, and bringing others to look.

  • Hi Rusty. Really learn from and enjoy your articles. I got a hive with a old queen not laying good at all. I ordered a queen a few weeks ago to come in Saturday and just found out I can’t get her. Would I be better off trying to get the hive to raise a queen or wait till they have another one available which will probably be three to four weeks? I am in Zone 5, northern Indiana and want a strong hive for winter and surplus honey isn’t a major concern. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Bruce,

      I would try to get them to raise a new queen then, if they don’t succeed, you may still have to buy one. But to just wait may be risky, especially if you develop laying workers. If you have eggs and very young larvae, you may be able to split the hive, which would force the queenless part to raise one. If it succeeds, you can get rid of the other queen and recombine. Or, if it fails, you can recombine and order a new queen. Always recombine with newspaper or a double screen.

  • Rusty, I have a question for you that I know will be easy for you to answer. I’m installing a nuc with swarm lure in proximity to an active bee tree that’s known to cast off 3-4 swarms per spring. My question is, is it better to completely remove the entrance reducer or do bees like to swarm to spaces with a small entrance hole?

    • Julie,

      According to Thomas Seeley, the optimum entrance hole is 2.33 square inches.

  • I have a swarm that has moved into a trap. How long should I leave them at their present location before moving them ? To add they are less than a mile from my bee yard.

  • Hi Rusty,

    In late April I lost an over-wintered colony here in Seattle after a particularly cold and rainy spring. I left the hive box in place (a single deep) and to my surprise yesterday discovered that a swarm has taken up residence. Beekeeping websites seem to recommend not inspecting for a week in order to lower the chance of absconding. However, is it worth giving them some 1:1 syrup? Or is it not worth the risk of opening the hive even for a short time? There is plenty blooming in my neighborhood now, although there is quite a bit of rain in the forecast so foraging is not easy for them right now.

    • Andrius,

      I think leaving them alone for at least a few days is a good idea. If you have a Boardman entrance feeder, you can slip that in without opening the hive. Otherwise, you can open it up and put some feed on top, but don’t do an inspection. In other words, if you decide to go it, do it as quickly as possible and touch as little as possible.