Two hives become one… and then two again!

In my last post on Queen Neroli, our new Jubilee Queen, we had just combined our two hives, because one of the hives was weak and queenless. Yesterday we checked up on how the combining process had gone. Would our bees have chewed through the thin layer of newspaper and become friends?

At first we were worried, because the bees in the top box seemed very moody. They flew out at us, buzzing loudly.What had got them so bad tempered?

Worse was to come when we lifted the top box out. We had put the queen excluder between the two boxes to weight the paper down before putting the top box on, but we forgot this meant the big, beefy drones couldn’t get out. Several had got stuck trying to get through and had died in the process. That explained why angry bees had flown out at us. Many of them must have been drones deprived of the opportunity to do their business or chase virgin queens for a whole week, poor things.

Bees stuck in the queen excluder

Casualties of beekeeper silliness

With the help of Albert, one of the other Ealing beekeepers, Emma and I thought about what to do for a while. We had been worried by all the angry bees and were wondering if this meant the two colonies didn’t get on. Eventually we reasoned that the problem must just have been the queen excluder trapping the drones, so removed this and the newspaper. We put an empty super box between the two brood boxes, in the hope that the space will encourage the bees to think of the honey stores above as separate from the colony, so that they go up and rob the honey, storing it in the bottom brood box. We can then come along and remove the top brood box and burn up the old frames.

Once this was done, we looked at our new bees. Yes, new bees! Andy and Pat have kindly given us a nuc from Osterley Park. The deal is that they’re our bees, but in return it’ll be an apiary training hive and beginner Ealing beekeepers will be having a go at inspecting them each week. Sounds extremely fair to me 🙂

Our beautiful new bees even came “gift-wrapped”! The mesh is a travelling screen designed to allow ventilation, held down with drawing pins. The orange travel strap holds the hive together in transit.

Emma photographing our new bees

They were in a five frame nuc and had filled up every inch with comb, so we transferred them to a spare hive we had waiting, before they started getting ideas of swarming! Osterley bees have a reputation for being particularly vicious, but these ladies were surprisingly calm. Maybe they were easing us in gently. We put the first five frames in nearest to the entrance, gave them an extra frame of foundation to start drawing out, then two dummy boards to keep them warm during the forecast bad weather, followed by more foundation frames to fill in the remaining space.

As Emma moved the frames across she spotted the queen, like Neroli also a bright orange beauty! We have named her Ginger – I may have to make some Ginger beer next week to celebrate – this recipe sounds very good:

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper who has recently moved from London to windswept, wet Cornwall. I first started keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary in 2008, when I created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully! - future successes.
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24 Responses to Two hives become one… and then two again!

  1. HI Emily – Thanks for the link over to Not Dabble in Normal to my Ginger Beer post. Hope you hive remain happy and healthy and I hope you have time to try making the ginger beer.


  2. Ginger beer? Yes please!


  3. ceciliag says:

    what a shame about your combined hive, however i am sure it will recover, I really must get myself one of those suits that emma is wearing, they look bullet proof! Though I have never been stung.. touch wood.. My Italians are very gentle! c


    • Emily Heath says:

      Emma has never been stung by our bees, so her suit obviously works! And I’ve only ever been stung by our bees when I’ve accidentally squashed one, they don’t like that!


    • Thank you, my suit is from Bee Basic which is great little bee supplier, very friendly and helpful. I’ve only been stung once and that was when I was wearing very thin disposable gloves, and not our hives. Also, I squashed the bee – as Emily said, they don’t take kindly to that 🙂


  4. dancrane says:

    Great post. I wish I had read your post about the newspaper trick before we lost a swarm that we coaxed in to a box. Unfortunately, the queen did not join them. Your newspaper trick would have given them a chance to merge with an existing hive. We may try it yet.


  5. That’s so sad about the drones! I wouldn’t have thought of them getting stuck like that… We have a struggling and perhaps queenless hive too, so we may try something hybrid version of this. We gave them some brood from a diff. hive to see if they can raise a queen. Not sure that’s working. Q: Why not use newspaper without the excluder? Is the issue that it would still tick off the drones too much? And, why are you burning the frames from the top box? Once the hives are One, would it be ok to let them use the old frames?


    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks for your questions. We tried giving the weak hive some brood to try and raise a queen from initially too, but the weather was against us and the queen they raised never got a chance to mate amidst all the rain.

      The newspaper works without the excluder and in future I would leave it off. The excluder has some slight advantages in that you then know which box the queen is in. Without the excluder you also have to be sure that one of the colonies is queenless, otherwise the two queens would fight. I don’t think it’s worth having the dead/angry drones to contend with though.

      We will destroy the frames from the top box because they are brood frames and over a year old. Our apiary has a policy of replacing brood comb each year as a disease prevention measure. We reuse super frames for several years but not brood comb, which can host all sorts of invisible nasty things like AFB and nosema spores.

      Some beekeepers are happy using their brood frames for much longer; it comes down to personal preference but the scientific evidence suggests that it’s healthier for the bees to have their comb regularly replaced. In the wild this would happen naturally due to wax moth and older combs collapsing.

      Good luck with your struggling hive, hope you can sort them out.


  6. These things happen. I could say things like, Well lucky it was only a few drones, but that wouldn’t be right, would it? (not happy with the boys myself, right at the moment). Good luck with the newbies.


  7. Tabitha says:

    Poor drones! I see you transferred your full nuc to prevent swarming. What is your swarming season there? What are you doing to prevent swarming? Would love to hear about your tactics.


    • Emily Heath says:

      Hi Tabitha,

      Our swarming season can stretch as far as April to August, though May and June are the prime swarming months, when the colony population is booming.

      Our tactics are to inspect weekly for queen cells, then go ‘Arrrrgh!’ and panic if we find them. We then calm down and would usually try to do some kind of artificial swarm, splitting the colony into two to prevent swarming. To do this it’s best to have a spare nucleus box ready, as you need to act quickly. This year Emma and I were caught unprepared during a very busy week for us, and the bees swarmed. Other years we’ve been more lucky and managed to keep them!


      • Tabitha says:

        So your swarm season is different than ours in Florida. Our season is February – May and then again in September – October. We use the same tactic here to prevent swarming – split the hive and destroy queen cells. Thanks for sharing!


        • Emily Heath says:

          Wow, how come you have two swarm seasons?


          • Tabitha says:

            We have very mild weather here year round. Where I live we have a large honey flow from a tree called Brazilian Pepper which blooms in October-November. So the trick is to split before the honey flow to prevent swarming, but then we need to combine the hives after the flow to overwinter.


  8. Thank you for sharing your example of “beekeeper silliness” as I’ve been there myself! I always try to learn from other beekeepers and here is something I would’ve never thought would make the bees grouchy.


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