bee stories

Incredibly stupid things a beekeeper can do

Procrastination is the beekeepers worst enemy. Don’t wait! Do it now!

The worst beekeeping mistakes come from putting off what you should have done yesterday. Somehow, problems inside a bee hive don’t get better by themselves. I keep thinking they will, but they don’t.

I normally remove my honey supers by June 30 because that is the start of our nectar dearth. Once the supers come off, the robbing screens go on so I can be ready for those pesky thieves in striped suits. It all works together.

Off to a late start

But this year, warm weather was late, spring was delayed, and nectar flows stretched into July. Although the unusual timing gave me a record harvest, I was late for everything that followed.

As of Monday, August 6, I still had a hive with honey supers in place. It’s the hive that’s hardest to get to, high on the hill, and whenever I see a chance to talk myself out of checking that hive, I gladly listen.

But yesterday, a month late, I finally trekked up the hill with a medium brood box to give the bees some space once the supers came off. I also took an escape board, a bucket of water, and some rags. Since I’d be moving the honey supers during a dearth, I needed a way to clean up drips and spills. I had added a robbing screen a few days earlier, so I thought I was ready.

According to plan, almost

For a while, everything went according to plan. I pried off the two supers—impossibly heavy—and checked them for brood. None found. Excellent. Then I took off the queen excluder and added the new medium, the escape board, and the two honey supers. I closed up the hive and planned to return in two days to remove the honey. Although I had to clean up a few honey drips, the job had been mostly clean and neat.

I wasn’t planning to do anything to the hive next to it. Glen’s hive, as I call it, was created from a swarm that had moved into an empty brood box through the hole in an inner cover that was stored on top of it. Once I discovered the swarm, I tricked it out with a bottom board, a slatted rack, a robbing screen, and a lid.

The mistake I made was adding a nearly empty candy board that had come off another hive. My thought at the time was they were a small swarm with no stores, so they might as well have the candy if they wanted it (mistake part A). Besides, it saved me from having to cart the thing down the hill. Instead, I could take it off in a week or so (mistake part B).

A week becomes twelve

But now, three months later, I notice the candy board still in place and decide I’ll just remove it and take it down to the house. But when I try to open the hive, the telescoping lid won’t budge. I jam hive tools under all four sides, trying to get the thing to move one way or the other. Although I force it, swear at it, and threaten it, it doesn’t move. I hit the underside of the lid with a rock to try to break whatever is holding it down. Finally, with all my accumulated strength, it reluctantly releases.

As I turn the heavy lid over, honey gushes everywhere. The lid and the once empty candy board beneath boasted a warren of honeycomb, an artistry of semicircles, serpentine walls, and clever geometric designs. I have just ripped the top off the whole sculpture and honey is flowing down the side of the hive both inside and out, honey is pouring out of the lid, and glistening amber drops are glazing the hive stand. At my feet, a small pool collects and slowly dissolves into the forest floor. Words I didn’t know I knew taint the air.

Another beekeeping mistake

Interspersed among the ruins are a thousand bees trying to salvage their warehouse. In fact, bees are everywhere and robbing is my worst fear. But the singular size of the mess convinces me I need another escape board to get the bees out of it. So I turn the lid back over the bees, mop up the spilled honey, and run down the dang hill to get another escape board.

When I return, I once again turn over the lid which releases more honey into the cosmos. I pry off the candy board which was firmly glued to a queen excluder which was similarly attached to the brood box below. I try to remember why the queen excluder is there, but I can’t.

Finally get the whole thing pulled apart and reassembled, then I clean up the spilled honey, only to discover I forget to put in the escape board. So for the third freaking time, I remove the lid, spill the honey, heave the comb, and install the escape board. I spill more honey before I get the thing put back together. I’m totally frazzled as I clean up for the fourth time.

I know better than to leave empty space inside a beehive, especially a hive containing a fresh swarm that just can’t wait to demonstrate its artistic creativity. Of course, I know better. What was I thinking?

All cleaned up again

But now everything would be fine. I would come back in two days, remove the honey, and things would get back to normal. I wiped down all the surfaces, collected my tools, and threw the rags in the bucket.

It was then I noticed a knot of bees on the ground behind Glen’s hive. It was right where the honey had splashed to the ground and now bees were stuck to it like maggots. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I was hot, irritated, tired of cleaning up honey, and worried about robbers. Still, I was amazed that I hadn’t stepped on the hapless cluster.

Since I had about a gallon of water remaining, I decided to pour it over the spot to dissolve the honey into the ground. As I poured the water, the bees dispersed. At least, most of them.

After I finished pouring, there was one bee left, wet and shiny. Something about her, though, caught my eye. I leaned close for a better look. Holy crap! It was my queen.

A walk in the woods with royalty

Or, I should say, it was one of my queens. I was about to pop her freshly bathed little body back into Glen’s hive when I realized I didn’t actually know where she came from. She had probably been on the bottom side of a queen excluder, but I had taken one from each hive. What to do?

Since I couldn’t decide, I stalled. With her cupped in my hands, I walked down the forest trail all the way to the house, thinking about my alternatives. I could use her to requeen my ornery hive and leave the queenless hive to raise a new monarch, or I could guess where she belonged and take a chance. The least desirable was opening the hives and looking. I was inviting robbers already and I was sick of cleaning up honey.

By the time I got to the house, I decided I was going to put her in Glen’s hive. That’s the one I kept re-opening, the one she had been closest to, and the one she most probably escaped from. But I decided to reintroduce her in a cage because she’d been out for nearly an hour. So I went into the kitchen for a drinking glass to invert over her while I hunted for an introduction cage. I placed her on the counter, but as I lowered the glass over her head, she flew.

I searched the floor, under the refrigerator, and in the dusty spots above the cupboards. Next, I pulled apart the stove top, checked the sinks, and inspected under the dish drainer. I looked in the mixing bowls, under the stove hood, and between the wooden spoons. Undeterred, I crawled under the table, turned over the chairs, and peered into the blender.

I was about to enlarge my search to other parts of the house when my husband came bounding into the kitchen with the dog—the dog who snacks on bees for pleasure. I sounded like an idiot as I blurted out the whole story and continued to ransack the house. Finally, when I had no choice but to take a breath, my husband got a chance to speak. “Well,” he said calmly, “There’s a bee on your shoulder.”

Because he was convulsing with a full-body wag, I figured the dog must have seen her too. After that, I corralled the little witch beneath the drinking glass, found an introduction cage, cajoled her into it, and marched her back up the hill. When I got to the top, the first hive had calmed down from the morning invasion, but Glen’s hive had the loud distinctive roar of the newly queenless. At that point, I felt 97.3% sure I had the right hive.

Waiting for the verdict

So for the fifth time that morning, I pulled off the lid and spilled honey everywhere. Piece by piece, I disassembled the hive until I got down to the brood boxes where I slotted the introduction cage between two frames. I watched the workers. They made no attempt to kill her but instead tried to feed her, sticking their tongues through the wire mesh. Within another day I should know for sure whether it worked or whether I’m down by one queen.

For now, I can only wonder at my own ineptitude. Who knew what incredibly stupid things a beekeeper could do?

Honey Bee Suite

Stupid things a beekeeper can do: put off what needs to be done today.
The original swarm had moved into this empty brood box, using the hole in the center of the inner cover for an entrance.





  • Thank you. I feel so much better about myself and all the stupid things that I have done with my bees. Always just when I finally feel like a competent beekeeper. Insane story. Glad that you found her.

  • Oh my. I have done some stupid things but I think your story wins. I have top bars and had crushed and processed the fall comb. It takes probably 4, 5 gallon paint buckets for my manual filtration and when I’m done I put the buckets outside in the fields and let the bees clean them up. I forgot and left them in the garage. About 2pm I can hear this noise in the garage. Clueless I open the door to 5000 bees cleaning the buckets in the garage. My car windows are open and they are every where. In the the the driveway. I now have bee vocabulary. Those words you say that you didn’t even know you knew.

  • I believe I do many more incredibly stupid things in my beekeeping than you, but you ABSOLUTELY have me beat at making great stories out of them!

  • “Who knew what incredibly stupid things a beekeeper could do?” Are you kidding me?

    This year I bought a pure breed queen (carnica, impregnated by carnica drones) for 39 euros (which is like a thousand dollars?). While trying to isolate her from the 5 bees accompanying her in her introduction cage I let her fly off…..the workers flew back to the spot from where they had been freed and were crowding around the now empty introduction cage.

    After going through my repertoire of profanities, I sat there contemplating my own stupidity until I heard a zooming slightly lower than the sound workers make and a bee landed close by. Lo and behold it was my new expensive queen. She entered the introduction cage without much comment and is now heading one of my hives.

  • Thanks for sharing. Glad I’m not the only one that has issues like that. I had a “queen scare” last weekend. I found the queen in a friend’s hive. Picked her up to mark her, then dropped her in front of the hive. AAhhhh! I gently picked her up, set her in the brood box, and said we’d mark her during the next inspection. After that, the bees started clustering around the front of the hive. where the queen had been walking around. I thought “Jeez. Now they’re gonna swarm!” Yes, I was being a little melodramatic. I’m still a newb. 3rd year beek

  • Holy smokes! I’m sorry you had to withstand all of that, but it sure made this new beekeeper feel better, somehow, about the multitude of errors I’ve made. ?Keep on ?keeping on, right?

  • Dear Rusty, What a story, and again, injected with your very own unique humor throughout. First, I feel for you and the bees! Second, thank you because it makes us all a little less hard on ourselves for our own errors, and that is a gift from you. Some ‘experts’ have way too much pride to have shared your story, but we all know variations on the same theme happen with even the best of them!

    I’d wager that you got the queen back to her girls. Let us know!

  • OMG! I love this so much! It gives me hope that maybe, perhaps, there is a possibility that I too can be a beekeeper! Thank you!!!

  • My experience with stupidities is limited by inexperience. Any other incidents- I mean, that you have heard from others, of course.

    Ten Apiphanies, or
    Name That Disaster!
    by Debbie Newby

    1. Yes, I can install a nuc at dusk when the bees are quieter, but I shouldn’t strap a light to my head to help me see. I also should turn off the light in the garage and close the door after I take out my gear.
    2. I should stand elsewhere than in front of hive when I work it.
    3. I shouldn’t put the wax- honey sludge from extraction near the hive for my bees to clean up.
    4. When I admire a partially drawn unwired, foundationless frame, I shouldn’t rotate it.
    5. It is never too much trouble to suit up and get the smoker going.
    6. I shouldn’t try swatting away a bee if it is buzzing me.
    7. Every flying bug with black and yellow stripes is not a bee. Some are wasps. It is not a colony to be captured and hived.
    8. The $59 bee suits- the cloth is too thin.
    9. I can’t just be an absentee beekeeper and leave my bees to do their thing ‘appily. Their thing is to swarm and the neighbour will complain.
    10. The more equipment I use to extract, the bigger the mess that I will make.

    • 1a. At dusk, a relocated hive: “Give me a little indirect light” doesn’t mean “shine the light into the hive so I can see way down there”. He scoffed at needing to wear a veil and one of the little (insert expletive here) flew up the beam and stung him on his lower eyelid.

  • I’m so tired from reading about your misadventure. I don’t hope to top it but unfortunately I know that I will. I’m moving my apiary to a location where I can park right next to my hives. I have walked the 100 m of lumpy farmer’s field too many times when I’ve forgotten something in the car. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you… sides are hurting for laughing so hard….you made my day. Not laughing at you because we all have our stories about our bee adventures….you should be a writer, you tell a great story…..thanks Rusty..

  • Rusty,
    Thanks for sharing! I’ve recently shared my misstep of failing to use smoke and I’ve certainly experienced the plight of leaving a 1-1/2″ eke in place for too long a period. What a mess! But I wouldn’t trade the experience for much else. Beekeeping is a pleasure and I feel a way to give back to these amazing creatures.

  • Ooooooooooh man! Now THAT was a story that just kept getting better (? worse?) as it went on. Now you have me worrying about what I have been worrying about with my swarm I caught in June………have they indeed built out that empty space I stupidly left in the half filled super I gave them a few weeks ago. Tomorrow we will see. It’s a mistake I deserve to make being a second year beek & all.

    The joys of beekeeping.

  • Rusty,

    I had to laugh when I saw the title of this post on my phone, having just come in from a total cluster (insert “bee-vocabulary” word here) at my hives. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect! Anyway, thank you, and I’m so glad it all worked out! My many first-year beekeeping misadventures have me wondering if I’m just too clumsy and inept for this hobby, so your happy ending has cheered me up a lot.

  • Hi Rusty
    I loved reading your story, and I could feel your pain and frustration. I more than once chuckled to myself. You make me feel like a ‘normal’ beekeeper because, at times, I wonder how I got myself into such a mess with the ‘ladies’.

    I’m looking forward to meeting you at the Georgia Beekeepers Association Conference in October. Thanks for your wonderful blog writing too.

  • Hi there,

    At the beginning of this blog you mentioned removing honey supers by the end of June/July so let me ask you what should I do with any honey super that contains nectar (uncapped cells) when it is time to get the hives ready for winter? I do not own a spare refrigerator/freezer as it seems many beekeepers do to storage those frames. Can I just keep them in there? What if I need to treat against Varroa and I just want to take them off for the duration of the treatment, where and how can I storage those supers?

    Thanks in advance,

    • Diego,

      You can leave them on the hive for the bees to use for winter stores. If you want to get rid of the really wet ones, just turn the frames upside down and give them a good shake. You will be left with only the nectar that is almost cured. To store the frames for a short time, put them where they are protected from predators and other insects.

  • Hey Rusty
    Thanks for sharing your story with us beekeepers. In my 3rd year of beekeeping. I know I have made many mistakes
    but have learned lots from them and chatting with mentor beekeeper like yourself.

  • Rusty,
    That is a great story! I am glad all ended well. Sometimes when we are very comfortable in what we do, there is a tendency to become complacent. That is when things can take an ugly turn. Don’t mean to laugh at your expense but I did have a good chuckle.
    Thanks for sharing

  • Holy moly! It reads like a thriller. Found myself identifying with every scenario. Glad you made it in the end.

  • Hearty thanks Rusty. That’s a great and hilarious lesson in how to turn a Holy Crap situation into a literary gem of experience.

  • …… fact, I’ve got the perfect name for your sitcom; “Everybody loves Rusty” obvious when you think about it! I’m sure Phillip Rosenthal would snap it up! 🙂

  • Hi Rusty

    I think any beekeeper who claims they have not done anything stupid just hasn’t realised it yet!

    On another note though, there is something else in your story which bothers me. Close to the start you say “I’d be moving the honey supers during a dearth”. I fail to understand this.

    At a very high level, honey bees store nectar and pollen during a nectar flow in order to be able to survive during a dearth – right? We take advantage of their amazing productivity and remove their stores for our consumption and they simply continue their daily nature of kindly pollinating our flowers for our other food sources, and collect more pollen and nectar to replenish their stores. Then we take more honey, and …

    Please therefore explain to me why we would remove the honey supers, which is their food for the dearth, and then feed them candy boards and the like in order to over-winter them?

    When I was being taught beekeeping by my father (I.e. he was beekeeping and the kids were cheap labor, sorry Dad!) he would keep an eye on weather patterns and leave them to be full of honey for the winter period. In so doing he lost very few colonies and very seldom had to feed. I have continued this methodology since keeping my own bees.

    I made the mistake three years ago by taking honey too late in the season, and I battled to keep them going through winter. They then took so long to recover from the winter period, that I only had one harvest during the following nectar flow. This winter I have left them full of honey from March and they are all thriving through winter. Our weather is beginning to warm up now, and I inspected the hives last weekend, and they are still almost full of honey, which means that my first harvest will be very early this coming summer compared to previous years.

    Would love to get some comments.

    • Peter,

      This is a story post, not a how-to post. It’s about what happened on a single day. I cannot repeat everything I’ve ever written in every post.

      The short answer to your question is that I leave from 100 to 120 pounds of honey on each colony, depending on how large it is. I also keep several hundred pounds of honey, still in frames, in storage in case a colony runs short. I only use that honey the following spring if it wasn’t needed for the colonies.

      Occasionally we have a bad year. Last year was a case where I harvested no honey, not one frame, but there still was only a marginal supply for the bees. Maybe they had enough, maybe not. So to hedge my bets I prepared candy boards as a supplement. The few ounces left in one feeder is what I had inappropriately put on top of the swarm this spring. This is a story of what happened after I made that mistake, nothing more.

  • OMG ! How Funny ! I felt your stress ! Bees … what an adventure they are. I was laughing so hard at this story.

  • Rusty thanks for the story. I have done stupid things as well that were not so funny as yours. are great keep up the wonderful work. I enjoy reading your post. God Bless and have a wonderful week.

  • We, as Beekeepers, all screw up!!! I guess that it is all part of learning what not to do again!! And then there are the stories that just make you swoon with wonder. When you see something really amazing in your hives. Both make us better beekeepers!!
    Thanks for the story!!!

  • From what I can tell in Moses Quimby’s 1850s book, the idea of having a box with a lid as the honey super was one way people managed hives. If someone ever does have an empty space that has been filled, they can use piano wire or some other firm but flexible narrow wire. Prop the top box up a tiny bit and get the wire wedged in there… then pull! Haven’t done it myself though so I’m sure it’s harder than that!

    • Frame wire works well for this. Wrap the end of the wire around a piece of dowel or a small branch as a handle, make the wire 6-12″longer then the width of a box, wrap a handle to the other end of the wire, insert between the boxes and use a sawing motion on the handles to pull the wire through. Does not work where things protrude down past the top of the box…… like telescopic roofs.

  • Hi Rusty, I was wondering what occasions you use a QExcluder for? Your post mentioned you had one on the hive you planned to harvest, did you not have sections between the brood and supers? I only ask because you’ve called them Honey Excluders in the past and I’m trying to decide whether to use mine next year or turn them into candy boards this winter.

    • Dave,

      I don’t know what you mean by “did you not have sections between the brood and the supers.” I had just a queen excluder between the brood boxes and the supers. As I’ve explained before, I’ve run hot and cold on queen excluders, but I don’t think I used them properly in the past. Using excluders along with upper entrances gives me bumper crops of honey. But I think the upper entrance is key. That way, the foragers don’t have to go through the excluder, they can just deposit the nectar and go back out. The nurses below the excluder don’t leave the hive until they’re older, so it seems to work well. I never got much honey using an excluder until I added upper entrances.

      • Ah brilliant thanks that makes total sense. ‘sections between the brood and supers’ was a reference to your previously stated method of putting a super with sections on top of the brood instead of an excluder because the Queen will very rarely move into a sections super and never travel through into a super above. I wondered if you used an excluder because you weren’t making section honey in that hive, but I understand now. I think I’ll go ahead and make upper entrances now with the excluders. Being a 1st year I was nervous about trying sections with the requirment of having a hive constantly on the brink of swaming.

        Thanks again.

        • Dave,

          I thought that was what you meant, but I wasn’t absolutely certain. Thanks for clarifying. I’ve been making comb honey in shallow frames lately, and so have been using excluders more often.

  • Great story! I love the the rhythm of your sequence of taking this off, setting that back, removing this, replacing that… it’s exactly how working a hive feels.

    My recent goof involved starting a successful split, adding a second deep and checkerboarding with 3 of the colony’s burgeoning frames of brood. All went well till I noticed workers entering the back of the hive and ignoring the front – which faces southeast like all of mine, to oblige reported bee preference.
    They were on a brand-new screened bottom board, with slanted landing board. Checking the back, uh-oh! When I removed the screen to paint the base, I slid it back in to the Varroa drawer (the bottom slot!)

    The odd thing is that: there was never any reason for them not to use the front. Why develop an obvious preference for the back? Because they could, I suppose.

    I removed the screen. For now (we still have clover flow and it may overlap the goldenrod) I’ll let them do their thing. Then I may turn the whole hive around so they can use the correct entrance, but keep their preferred direction.

    What a silly mistake.

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

  • I returned home from my hives today in tears because I cannot keep a laying queen in one of them – it has been a struggle all season. They’re on their 4th or 5th queen and when I checked today, no eggs, no larvae, very little capped brood. The other was devastated by SHB . . . and I am a first time beekeeper. As I was sitting and feeling sorry for myself (and my poor bees), I pulled up my email and say this post of yours. It gave me a chuckle and reassured me that we’re all struggling (at least a little bit) together. Thank you for sharing.

  • This story is one of the best. It helped me realize I’m not so stupid and or clumsy after all.
    There are many many mistakes we all make with our bees. It’s even more amazing how flexible the bees are with the mistakes we-human beings make with their house. They simply go back and clean up the mess…..

  • Thank you for the honesty in this post. Five years into beekeeping, I continue to make mistakes sometimes of such epic proportions that I almost want to cry afterwards with sinking feelings of ineptitude. Such things actually wake me up at night as I relive my errors and consider remedies. Reading this from you, someone I think so highly of and who I imagine only to be completely fluid and focused in the bee yard, brought a certain reality into focus. Beekeeping seems to go so smoothly in the books, videos and stories of fellow beekeepers but sometimes things just don’t fall into line the way we envision, even if we have a clear plan in mind, and easily snowball, regardless of who we are. The story you shared was so vivid, I felt my pulse escalating, imagining the scenario quite clearly, even feeling relief at the end (after a laugh about the queen on your shoulder). Thanks Rusty! And thank you for your commitment to educating us all!

  • Ohh Rusty –

    What a story. But you went and named a hive after a non-Apis beekeeper and look what happens. Although I have accepted that sometimes my role is simply to serve as a warning to others, it will be with full understanding and continued affection if you opt to give “my” 2017 hive of mixed blessings a new name.

    Glen #@^!**#! Buschmann

    PS Just returned from a week away, concluding with a visit to a lavender farm. Thousands and thousands (and thousands) of bumblebees — probably mostly male — and here and there a honey bee. Still haven’t looked at my photos, but my head is spinning from the bumble bounty. GB

  • Life’s tough – It’s even tougher when you’re stupid. 35 years ago – back in the dark ages – a young novice (you’rs truly) procured his first hive. Sporting a fresh bee suit with a zip-up veil, gloves and boots – I was impervious to the barbs of my soon to be captives. So after a 30 minute ride bumping on a dirt road and a 20 minute ride in the back of the pick-up on a scorching summer night I placed them into the garden and took off the screen keeping them in place during their ordeal. As I watched the black mass move over the box, I noticed they were also on my suit. “No problem I though!, I am fully buttoned into my………”O crap”!!! The pitter patter of little bee feet on my face and neck quickly erased the smugness and promptly replaced the quiet with my howls of pain as I ran through the adjacent corn field rolling around as I took everything the little monster could dish out. I learned 4 things very quickly.
    1. Learn how to get into your suit.
    2. Make sure it’s really closed.
    3. Learn how to get out of your suit.
    4. Bee stings aren’t that bad – but 25-30 on the face is very bad.
    I could tell bee stories all day… Like anyone who respects and loves these lovely creatures. We are all gathering our stories… One mishap at a time.

    As my friend Woodie always asks … “What did you learn- Grasshopper?” The bees teach us a lot about them and ourselves.

    Rusty – You should think about publishing a book of beekeeper’s tales.

    • Full suit, zipped carefully up the front. How is it I’m hearing bees real close to my head but can’t see them? Looked all around, can still hear but can’t see…

      I realized I’d zipped the front zipper but forgot the zippers at the bottom of the veil. They were inside trying to figure out how to get out.

      You’re right—it’s amazing how quickly you can get out of a suit when you really need to…

  • Thanks for the post, Rusty. You have courage for sharing your foibles with us all. In doing so, you help your readers realize that beekeeping is an ongoing learning process — sometimes fascinating, sometimes incredibly frustrating, sometimes absurd, sometimes sad. You’ve encapsulated it all in this post, and have helped me feel a little less alone with those times when I knew I could have done things differently and was caught in ridiculous situations! The trick is to learn from the unfortunate moments. I catch myself every year scrambling for enough empty frames for nectar flow periods only because I procrastinate with extracting. At least this year I extracted in time and got them empty frames when they were most needed… whew!!!

  • Love stories like that! And I love that we can admit to them and share them. That one was better than the time I installed a bee escape upside-down. I expect the adventures will continue no matter how long we keep bees!

  • Always a joy to read your adventures in beekeeping. I’m writing to ask you a couple of questions which will hopefully help avert making mistakes in two particular instances. The hive I am asking about is from the first swarm I caught last year. They were lovely calm bees. I could open the hive wearing everyday clothes & my old gardening hat (I have long hair & a few incidents with bees landing then burrowing & stinging, which have made me very head shy). I say they were, they are still pleasant just a little bit spicy on occasion. However they have almost exclusively been the victims of every beekeeping mistake I’ve made.

    One of the mistakes I made when I put their comb into frames (I caught them in an old fruit box, it had one frame of drawn comb in it sitting on the bottom, I left them overnight, it then rained solidly & temps dropped for a week, it was another 10 days, I know bad, bad, bad, before I was able to put them into a ‘proper’ hive). I didn’t fill the frames completely with comb, I only put one piece in each frame, which resulted in spacing the brood out too much (I think?). We had a very wet & humid spring & summer & eventually they developed chalk brood, which lasted for about 1 month before I stopped seeing any signs of it.

    I keep all hive parts & frames separate for each of my hives & clean, torch & sand all gear in between using. This post is much longer than I’d intended! So my question (1) is this: We are in our second last week of winter (well ‘officially’, it feels like spring is already peeping in) my hives are all expanding. I cleaned out the floor of this hive 2 days ago after noticing a couple of chalk brood mummies outside the hive. There were a lot of them inside on the floor, approx. 15-20. Temperatures are still low from 8-13 degrees celsius, nowhere near warm enough to break open the hive.

    Is there anything I can do now to prevent this becoming worse as the brood nest expands? After reading your posts I put a MQ on all my hives 3 weeks ago, & this one is actually functioning as it should (that’s another story, 1 of them is wet & can’t work out why?)

    My second question is this, I have some frames of honey, mostly from sugar syrup, 80-90% capped, which I removed from a stronger hive at the end of last summer, it has been refrigerated because it wasn’t all capped. Is there a way to tell if it has fermented, as otherwise I’d like to feed back to my hives in the next few weeks.

    Apologies for the rambling. As with everything involved with keeping bees there are so many factors influencing the hive. Every intervention seems to result in a myriad of possible outcomes.

    P.S the hive has a top entrance & an insulated gable roof over the MQ.
    Thank you for your time, keen to hear any ideas you may have.

    • Kirsten,

      1. The chalkbrood outbreak doens’t sound serious. It usually clears up by itself and the moisture quilt should help.
      2. “Temperatures are still low from 8-13 degrees celsius” are plenty warm enough to open a hive. See “When is it too cold to open a hive.
      3. “I have some frames of honey, mostly from sugar syrup.” If it’s mostly sugar syrup, it’s not honey. You can tell if it has fermented by smelling it. If the smell is only slight, don’t worry about it. Just two or three fermented cells can create a bad odor, but that’s not enough to bother the bees.

  • P.P.S The hive is insulated all round with polystyrene foil faced insulation, 3cm thick. It has a corrugated iron rain roof & is in the sun from about 9am till 2pm, when there is any sun at this time of year.

    The bees are from a feral colony which took over a bird box 15m up in a pine tree on the border of our property. They seem to be very ‘hygienic’. There were only 2 recently dead bees in the detritus (rest consisted of the mummies & some larger pieces of crystallized sugar) I removed from the floor & they remove pupae which have been affected by the CB. Well I’m presuming actually that that is why they are removing them, it’s is not always evident to look at. When this first appeared in the hive I was horrified at what I’d caused, but I think it was also a result perhaps of poor nutrition. Going into autumn there was not much pollen around & I had to feed them the dreaded sugar syrup (no honey from previous year as is my first hives in returning to beekeeping after a long time.) Can’t think of anything else relevant, or irrelevant as the case may be! Oh, I’m in Victoria, Australia on the border of a National Park in the Dandenong Ranges.

  • Yes ! I really dislike late season honey harvesting. For me, the trouble comes with the sourwood honey harvest. We are usually in a dearth after sourwood and taking those supers is really difficult. 🙂

  • Second year of beekeeping and just found your site! It is making me late for work because I am enjoying your anecdotes and style so much! Thanks so much for your open mentoring style!

  • Thank you, Rusty. I pulled a doozy last week and have been feeling sorry for my bees ever since. How could I saddle them with me as their keeper?!! (I’ve been at this for 9 years). I feel much better now!

  • Thank you for that story! As a new beekeeper (just started this April), I am constantly worried about doing something stupid and second guessing myself. Your blog has been a great place to find information and ideas. I look forward to your updates!

  • We stupid beeks must be able to relate. Yesterday was perfect, slightly cooler temp to do an inspection. We had been seeing many write in that they don’t use smoke or anything else when doing inspections so we decided to attempt it, huge mistake, my hubby got stung 15 times through his bee suit. They also climbed inside someplace through an open hold or something and he was stung in the neck and ear. We closed the hive quickly and returned later to strap the top on. While I tried to keep them off me with the sprinkler, aiming to replicate rain, they continued to cover hubby’s suit and sting. If that isn’t bad enough we have to do it all again today to actually check on that thriving hive. Smoke will be the ticket to a good inspection I hope.

    Thank you for letting me share, Linda, mid-Michigan

    • Linda,

      I can relate. I find that the smoke/no smoke thing depends on the season. During a summer nectar dearth, the bees are basically ornery, so I have no doubt you had trouble. You may find that in early spring, you can do it without an issue.

  • Thank you! How do new beeks know when there is a nectar dearth? Here in Michigan we have so many different wild flowers that continue to blossom all season long, it makes it impossible to really know for sure. Our goldenrod is just blooming now so we are expecting that dirty gym sock odor from the hives that comes from the goldenrod.

    Love your stories, help and fun blog!

  • Rusty,

    I am currently crying over the stupidest thing I ever done, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

    In order to do a sugar roll, and not being able to figure out how to get 300 bees in a jar, I placed an empty jar’ near the internal feeder with a dribble of sugar syrup in it, Bribe them in, what a great idea ,NOT!, I left the screen cover on, but not the top cover. Why? I have no no clue. Of course Irma dropped about an inch of rain overnight, while I watched TV, wondering if my trick would work. This AM I scurried out to find a bunch of wet bees, and wet frames.

    Should I do anything besides replace the cover? I could use my hair drier. I am sick. any suggestions.

      • Happened to me once by accident. In our area, most people weigh down the top with a brick or a rock. I didn’t realize how necessary this was until a howling rainstorm a few months into our first year with bees. As we drove out the next day for something, we looked up the hill at the hives, and wondered out loud why they seemed to look different, but drove on anyway. Later in the day, I found the top cover halfway down the other side of the hill. Fortunately, the inner cover had stayed on (see, propolis IS good for something!), so only the center part was directly soaked.

        I did note the winter cluster formed over to one side of the brood box, and stayed there. And emerged strong and healthy in the spring. They can put up with a lot when they have to.

  • I went to feed my super grouchy/very productive hive yesterday. There was more snow forecast and I knew they were almost out of sugar. It was about 30 degrees.

    Trying to be quick, I lifted off the gabled roof and thought it felt heavy, but there was a layer of snow on top so I didn’t think too much about it. I set the lid on the snow. When I unbent to look at the hive I realize the moisture quilt and the shim had all frozen to the lid and come off all together, so I was looking right at the top bars. Oops, but no worries, I threw on the sugar patty and put the lid/quilt/ shim back on.

    THEN I look down to the ground and discover there is a roilng mountain of bees in the snow!!! The bees had been all clustered to the bottom of the moisture quilt screen and came off with the lid!! OMGosh..such a torrent of words from my mouth!!!

    I had the paper plate still in my hand so I put double handfuls of bees on the plate, tipped up the lid etc, and tossed the bees onto the topbars, 5 or six huge handfuls!! Needless to say I got a bunch of snow in there too, but I only left behind several dozen bees. I couldn’t find the queen among them. Hopefully she was further down in the frames, hopefully laying a lot of eggs, the hive is going to need them. Jeez they die fast in the snow. I IR camera’d today and there is still a big heat cluster…. I guess I toss bees very fast.

    So dumb!!! I will always use my hive tool in the future, to make sure the lid isn’t stuck!!

    Live and Learn!!


    • Carol,

      That is so funny. Well, not for the bees, of course, but because we all do stupid things like that now and then. The queen seldom goes up to the top like that, so she’s probably fine. As you say, live and learn.

  • FYI, I have taken bees off of the snow, thinking they were dead, I took them inside to look at them closely (maybe for mites) and within a few minutes of warming up, they have “come to life” when they really looked dead. Sometimes they fly out, land on the snow and “freeze” but they are not always dead!

  • I love your stories and your knowledge. First year beekeeper. I am so clumsy and nervous inspecting my hives. This story could have been me yesterday. I was to the point of giving up. Just reading this lets me know that, yes I’m going to make mistakes. That’s how I’m going to learn and it will be okay. Thanks

  • Hello Rusty (and commenters)

    Thank you for your blog and this very funny story, which has moved me to comment. I’m a novice beek on training wheels so I thought I’d be reading a list of idiot mistakes only newly emerged beeks can make, not what is the Indiana Jones of beekeeping adventures. Thank you for the rollicking ride even if I’m pretty sure I haven’t understood the half of it. Hopefully one day I will come back to this post and have done well enough to have had a similar experience.

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