My latest beekeeping bungle – and how I fixed it

This autumn I made the classic error of giving bees too much space. I put an eke on top of the brood box to do Apiguard treatment. Then I went on holiday. The first opportunity I got to inspect the bees after holiday happened to be a minging day, with the rain pelting down. I decided to feed them and leave without doing much else.

So the bees had lots of time and space to get up to mischief. And what my strong, feisty colony decided to do was this:

I was actually quite lucky, because the bees had built the comb mostly on the crownboard. The exception was a fairly big piece built directly on top of a brood frame. I tried to scrape this off with my hive tool, which is when the bees went bananas! This was their project, their lovely fresh new comb, and I was wrecking it. You can sympathise with their fury.

I didn’t want to leave this comb in place over winter, because chances were they would have made even more by spring. It wouldn’t have been a problem for the bees, but you can’t inspect comb like this for queen cells or disease, so it’s not ideal.

I retreated and emailed the kind local beekeeper who sold me these bees for advice (the swarm I caught this spring, by the way, had the same amount of space during the Apiguard treatment but didn’t make any extra comb!). He got back in touch with some brilliant advice. This included taking the crownboard and rogue comb 10-20 yards away and then leaving it a few hours, the idea being that meanwhile most of the bees would return home. He also suggested covering the brood box with a cloth while I tried to remove the one piece of comb attached to it.

Simple, practical tips like these are so useful. It reminded me that I had been trying to move too fast and too impatiently, rather than working with the bees’ natural behaviour. I needed to slow down to bee time and wait.

So one sunny weekend morning I upturned the roof and left it a few feet away from the hive. On top of this I placed the crownboard and its comb, covered with a profusion of busy bees. You can see a short 13 second video on YouTube. Then I covered the (now roofless) hive with a spare crownboard and walked away.

A few hours later, I returned. It had worked! Nearly all the bees had returned home and left the previously covered comb attached to the crownboard. I could easily remove the unguarded comb. And a cover cloth over the brood box kept the bees from flying up from the combs, so that I could quickly scrape the one remaining piece off. Job done.

Have you ever made a beekeeping bungle like this? What’s the naughtiest thing your bees have ever done?

Nessa

Nessa!

Other news: it’s time for my two queens to have a name. Since these are Cornish bees, their names will be: Kensa (meaning “first” in Cornish) for the swarm queen and Nessa (meaning “second” in Cornish) for the queen leading my thriving, big building bees.

For my next post I’ll write about winter preparations – which reminds me, I must get some chicken wire.

Bees through palm trees

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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10 Responses to My latest beekeeping bungle – and how I fixed it

  1. I have done something similar this autumn; I left a clearer board on and they built comb in it. It just meant that I had to scrape the comb off the top bars of the frames in the brood box. Learning the hard way means it sticks in your mind. Anyway, great blog 🙂

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  2. Simon says:

    I cover the holes in the crown board with a ceramic tile. This stops the bees coming up above the crown board. They don’t need these holes for ventilation, especially if you have open mesh floors.
    I’ve put gauze on these holes in the past and they have sealed the holes with propolis.
    Great blog.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      Thanks – I mistakenly wrote at first that I’d put the eke over the crownboard when I meant over the brood box – I had a feeder over one hole and the other covered, so mine weren’t above the crownboard either. They built down from the crownboard into the space provided by the eke while Apiguard was on.

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  3. tony2k17 says:

    Great blog! We also used an eke for our Apiguard treatment but placed it on top of the brood chamber (for 2 weeks). Above the brood box we had a super full of honey frames then another super with the feeder above that. Perhaps we should have had the Apiguard right at the top of the hive but we didn’t want to stop feeding the bees. Still learning! https://tonydesaulles.wordpress.com/2018/08/09/a-new-queen-attack-of-the-zombees/

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  4. Sharon says:

    My near disaster swarm story: small cast swarm lands on a garden shrub, an easy capture? Rushing to cut the small branch into a nuc, I dropped the branch – bees on soil (splat). Every evening for a week I tried to smoke, scoop, cajole into a box, but never got the Queen – they survived a June rain drenching and for 7 days just lay on the ground. I was distressed, if only I had been more careful and SLOW in cutting the branch. In desperation I looked through my bee books – a 1957 book advised laying an old brood comb frame on top of the splat- within an hour the bees had climbed on to the frame and gave me an easy pick up into a box.

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    • Emily Scott says:

      What a great story! It’s those little practical tips which are so useful, isn’t it. They seem so simple once someone points them out to you but until then you can be scratching your head for ages about how to do it. Glad the splatted bees had a happy ending.

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  5. At least you did not get involved in a land war in Asia. 8)
    And huzzah for Nessa, our favorite Gavin & Stacey character, so unlike the actor who plays her.

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