The main brood chamber is in the feeder box

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admanga

New Bee
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May 20, 2024
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Location
Grenoble
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warre
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Long story short: new beekeeper, I caught a swam 16 days ago using a secondhand hive, and the bees are now very active foraging and bringing back nectar and pollen. The hive consists of a brood box, wooden in-hive feeder layer, hive top board and metal roof.

Today I took a first look inside the hive to check on the level of crowding and to gauge whether a super would be needed anytime soon. The lime trees will be in bloom in a few weeks and I don’t want to leave the bees without space to store honey.

But I came across a major problem. On the day I caught the swarm, I had omitted to put a queen excluder between the brood box and the feeder, and I had put 500 ml of syrup in the feeder which I presumed would exclude any passage of bees (but 500 ml barely covered the floor - the feeder volume would be perhaps 14 litres). The bees have since moved into the feeder box and have almost completely filled it with comb, at least 5 rows. The comb seems impressively deep and I noticed worker cells were capped in places. There were very many bees crowding in these combs and on the underside of the top board, but I could not see the queen in this mass. Down below in the brood box section, which appears still to have mostly empty combs, though I only took out two to check, and saw that they were about 30% covered with bees and that the comb was only in its early stages of construction).

I presume the queen is in the feeder box, as that is where the bees were more densly crowded. It may be difficult to check those combs to find her, though they are only half as deep as a super. I could not take photographs on my own, too busy trying not to crush bees between the sections.

What to do? I have a few ideas.

Idea 1: let the bees continue using the feeder box as part of their main brood box. This means that I would eventually have to put the queen excluder and then supers below the brood box. Gives me an "upside down hive" organisation.

Idea 2: Find the queen even if it means breaking some of the new comb for access to her. Put her in the brood chamber and cap it with a queen excluder. The new bees will move down in due time when they hatch. Will this create some very angry bees if comb get broken?

Idea 3: Take out some of the frames from the brood box to create a space. Break all the comb off the feederbox and place as much as possible into the space left in the brood box. Brush all bees from feederbox roof into broodbox. Cap with a queen excluder. Risk of killing many of the brood by breaking comb. Risk of angry bees. Would the bees swarm again and leave because of broken comb?

Idea 4: Variant of 3. I have a spare hive which I could use as a place to move all the bees to. This means that I could concentrate on clearing out the feederbox before disturbing the bees on the frames in the brood chamber.

What would you do?
 
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Thank you Erichalfbee.
Probably not a solution I would try because the comb is attached to the hive top board, which has a central hole covered below in plastic mesh with its one way bee passages. This plastic "bee gate" would have to be cut or removed for bees to climb upwards, and doing that may break much of the brood comb in the feederbox.
 
Thank you Erichalfbee.
Probably not a solution I would try because the comb is attached to the hive top board, which has a central hole covered below in plastic mesh with its one way bee passages. This plastic "bee gate" would have to be cut or removed for bees to climb upwards, and doing that may break much of the brood comb in the feederbox.
Maybe you could try what others have done with boxes of wild comb. Take the brood box away. Turn the feeder upside down. Put a shim on top with a notch cut out for an entrance. Put the brood box on top. The bees seem to cope with having their world turned upside down.
The brood nest will eventually move up and you can take the feeder away.
 
I was thinking along the lines of @Erichalfbee , if that's not viable I think place the feeder to one side of the brood box, carefully cut out each piece of comb and shake the bees into the brood chamber, hopefully finding the queen in the process.
Then remove the feeder and accept you are sacrificing the brood in the feeder.
 
Thanks @Erichalfbee and @Sutty. Thanks to your comments, I'm thinking about how to do this with least disruption to the bees. Getting the queen to the right place should be my priority. If she is already in the brood chamber, then she would be undisturbed by the following. Next, I should shake/brush/chase with smoke all bees from feeder down to the brood chamber, and put the queen excluder in place. Come back a week later to see where the bees are clustering. If queen is now below which is expected, then the hive should go on to develop normally. I would let the brood hatch in the feeder, before removing that comb, so 22 days after putting the queen excluder in place. This should minimise bee loss if only I manage to move the queen down without incident.
 
Find the queen and put her in the brood box then add queen excluder between brood box and feeder. Some workers will go through the queen excluder to join her and attend to her and any new brood that she lays in the brood box, while the remainder will stay in the feeder to attend to the brood already up there until such time as that brood emerges as adult bees and move down. Then you can remove the feeder and clean the comb out.
 
Update: Still no solution to the problem, but a better understanding.

I opened the hive again, but I could not find the queen. Definitely not in the brood box, where there were just pockets of bees making comb. The bulk of the bees was in the feeder chamber. I guess the queen had dived deep into these combs.

What I discovered:
- queen is laying well. The newest comb is full of eggs. There are also some mid sized larva uncapped, and some capped cells. Some honey stored, but in open cells. But I broke two smallish combs, just with opening and closing.
- these bees are really passive; none tried to sting despite the mess I made of their comb. Only the returning foragers took an interest in me, but dived for the brood box once smoked.

From the photos, do you think they could be Buckfast? Would you expect the queen to be more orange than the workers?
 

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It doesn't look bad from the photos.
As others have advised put the queen in the brood box with an excluder between her and the feeder. If you can't find her shake, smoke, or brush as much bees as you can off the comb and hope she moves down with the rest.
 
My 9 year old grandson had a similar-ish problem when a swarm arrived in a bait hive last year. It was his first beekeeping experience but after a week or so we realised that the swarm had not actually gone into the hive but gone underneath where she seemed happy enough laying away in the comb the worker were building for her. Worse still the colony was now stuck to the gap in the pallet the hive was on. A WhatApp inspection with him and he lifted the hive off and turned the pallet over and removed the comb gently and shook and brushed all the bees off into the brood box now with a few frames of drawn comb and put the wild comb above an excluder up right in a super - not that there was a lot of it but a shame to waste the bit of brood. This was all removed as soon as the bees emerged over the next weeks by which time the queen had got going on the frames below. A real baptism of fire for William who had never gone into a hive before. The colony produced no honey but was well fed in autumn and has come through winter and the queen has been seen and marked pink, and there is a good colony of bees now. There is a super on so fingers crossed after all his work. If he sticks at it he'll be able to tell his grandchilden how he started. He lives very remote in North Yorkshire and no beekeepers close by and I am hoping this is a feral lot with a good varroa resistance - time will tell but I am inclined for him not to treat.
 
My 9 year old grandson had a similar-ish problem when a swarm arrived in a bait hive last year. It was his first beekeeping experience but after a week or so we realised that the swarm had not actually gone into the hive but gone underneath where she seemed happy enough laying away in the comb the worker were building for her. Worse still the colony was now stuck to the gap in the pallet the hive was on. A WhatApp inspection with him and he lifted the hive off and turned the pallet over and removed the comb gently and shook and brushed all the bees off into the brood box now with a few frames of drawn comb and put the wild comb above an excluder up right in a super - not that there was a lot of it but a shame to waste the bit of brood. This was all removed as soon as the bees emerged over the next weeks by which time the queen had got going on the frames below. A real baptism of fire for William who had never gone into a hive before. The colony produced no honey but was well fed in autumn and has come through winter and the queen has been seen and marked pink, and there is a good colony of bees now. There is a super on so fingers crossed after all his work. If he sticks at it he'll be able to tell his grandchilden how he started. He lives very remote in North Yorkshire and no beekeepers close by and I am hoping this is a feral lot with a good varroa resistance - time will tell but I am inclined for him not to treat.
I can't stop thinking about William. That's such a great story. Better than playing some indoorsey PC game. Go William!
 
Nice story @GarryR

@emoclewbee Finding the queen is the problem. The bees pack tightly between the combs (after smoking) making it impossible to spot her. I think I can only expose her by breaking the sheets of comb off the inner cover unless I can use something else to get them out from these combs.

I discussed this with a beekeeper colleague, and asked if there is a way I could reduce harm to the bees wedged between these combs. He suggested a light blowing with a hairdryer after smoking would get them running. Is there any risk of hurting the bees with a hairdryer - concerned that its heat might damage their wings?

I just learnt that the hive has 250 mm deep frames instead of the expected 300 mm frames. I guess the beekeeper who kindly set it up for me was either short on frames of the right depth or perhaps strategically leaves space for the bees to build their own style of comb below (my guess would be to allow room for drones cells, to dispose of in varroa control). Your opinions on this would be very welcome. Did I buy a lemon, and now I need to replace the frames with full length Dadant frames? Or is the Langstroth depth frames in a Dandant box common practice?

Given the opportunity provided by the "wrong depth" frames leaving 50mm at the bottom of the brood chamber, I will next try moving the combs from the feeder and placing them in the space at the bottom. Gives the existing brood on that comb a chance to hatch in the main brood chamber, and the queen should move up to the frames that the workers are already filling out with comb.
 
Nice story @GarryR

@emoclewbee Finding the queen is the problem. The bees pack tightly between the combs (after smoking) making it impossible to spot her. I think I can only expose her by breaking the sheets of comb off the inner cover unless I can use something else to get them out from these combs.

I discussed this with a beekeeper colleague, and asked if there is a way I could reduce harm to the bees wedged between these combs. He suggested a light blowing with a hairdryer after smoking would get them running. Is there any risk of hurting the bees with a hairdryer - concerned that its heat might damage their wings?

I just learnt that the hive has 250 mm deep frames instead of the expected 300 mm frames. I guess the beekeeper who kindly set it up for me was either short on frames of the right depth or perhaps strategically leaves space for the bees to build their own style of comb below (my guess would be to allow room for drones cells, to dispose of in varroa control). Your opinions on this would be very welcome. Did I buy a lemon, and now I need to replace the frames with full length Dadant frames? Or is the Langstroth depth frames in a Dandant box common practice?

Given the opportunity provided by the "wrong depth" frames leaving 50mm at the bottom of the brood chamber, I will next try moving the combs from the feeder and placing them in the space at the bottom. Gives the existing brood on that comb a chance to hatch in the main brood chamber, and the queen should move up to the frames that the workers are already filling out with comb.
I don't see the problem.
Use the crown board upside down as the floor. Put enough eeks to go round the comb that is there, put the brood box on top of that. Give a top opening and wait until they move up.
 
I didn't disturb the bees this weekend as they are approaching a difficult period for their survival. They are at day 22 after swarming and inhabiting this hive. The flying bees will be dying off soon and the new junior bees have 20 days to go before they start flying.

Your suggestion is difficult as I have very little spare equipment, such as an eek or super that I can cut to make a new entrance. The inner cover the bees have built on includes a bee escape fixed to it by screws. I could cut into that to make a way through from the entrance to the brood box, if following your idea. But I'd rather not.

Plan to wait for the queen to reach the brood box on her own, and then add a queen excluder above.
 
Adult bee emerges at day 21, works as a hive bee for around 20 days, then becomes a field be for the rest of her days.

It's really not that simple though. There's a good deal of flexibility depending on what tasks the bees have needed to perform. In a pre-existing hived colony you might be able to make assumptions on that basis without too much chance of a hideous error, but swarming is an "unusual" time for bees and they don't necessarily behave the same way. For example, because juvenile hormone levels are affected by feeding brood (and in turn affect worker behaviour), in a swarm where there is little or no brood for a while the pattern may shift until the nest stabilises.

James
 

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