Bees Can’t Read

Did you know that even though we went to classes every week, attended field day and, admittedly, only skimmed the coursebook, bees don’t attend the same things? No, the bees just show up, move right into their own home and proceed to do one thing to get off the ground: build.

After we installed our hives, we let the bees be for a week. We wanted them to get used to the queens, accept them, and build up some beautiful comb for them to lay in.

Well, they seemed happy enough with the queens and they did build, but rather than build on the foundation and frames, they built comb stretching off the inner cover like this:

And then they built more comb that completely encased the queen cage. Both of our hives did this.

So we had to pull the queen cages out and try to carefully peel back the wire on the queen cages. Of course, we didn’t find any queens there, only a few dead bees. Attendants? Queens? We weren’t sure. Worried that we had just lost both queens, we laid out the two cages in hopes the bees would go home at dusk.

They did eventually all go in, and yet there were no dead queens in the cages. At a loss, we called Tom.

Now’s the time to say that Tom is who I consider our “mentor,” and he is President of the Howard County Beekeeper’s Association. We did our field day with him and we have called him so many times to ask questions and for help, whether to know how many holes to put in the feeders or what to do with all this wonky comb. Finally, we had to call him to see what to do now, not knowing if we even had queens anymore.

Well, Tom is great, and we had the pleasure of seeing his setup when we attended the field day at his house. Aside from the bee bumps, we’ve had a great experience and I’m so grateful that we went to the Howard County Beekeeper’s Association’s short course and got to know some like-minded people, and that we learned and made connections with others that are willing to help and train and walk you down the path of beekeeping.

But why exactly is Tom so great? He came out to our house. He lives about 30-40 minutes away in Carroll County, but he came out to our house about a week later to help us inspect our hives. I was a little nervous but tried to help out. Another student came with him, and she was great to meet and much braver than me, no gloves! That day was so very helpful for us, because not only did he give us some advice, but he helped us find our queen for the blue hive!

We were very surprised, as the blue hive had always looked weaker. Less bees came in and out and it was the hive that had more dead bees in the package and yet it was the hive with the queen. We got to mark our lady (pink!), pull out any crazy comb they had built, and close them up. The yellow hive, our strong sunshine hive, however…. While they were perfectly calm bees, we couldn’t find a queen or even eggs. We were able to remove some of the comb they’d made on the inner cover and inspect each frame two, three, and four times. But we never found a queen.

Luckily, Jim Fraser at Maryland Honey Company was able to get queens and gave us one–for free. Since our package failed, I drove in the Jeep one rainy day after work to pick up our lady. A week later, we were letting her into the hive and this weekend we’re going to get in there and make sure she’s doing her job.

My fear? My fear is that all of the bees have grown out of their box and are preparing to swarm. Knowing how many things haven’t gone according to plan, and knowing that we haven’t been in the blue hive in almost three weeks since Tom came out, I’m worried. As a result, Mike and I spent 3 hours last night building frames, feeder boxes, and getting the supers ready so that this won’t happen again. Today I’m painting them so we can give the girls more space tomorrow.

Hopefully tomorrow I’ll have good news and no swarms!

And to end the post, our building pursuits and a few links:

  • Howard County Beekeeper’s Association:
  • Tom’s alpaca farm, Pearl Moon Alpacas:
  • Jim Fraser doesn’t have a site that I know of, but a Google search for Jim Fraser and honey will get you a contact for him, and a search for Maryland Honey Company will get you an address.

3 thoughts on “Bees Can’t Read”

  1. Good luck with the bees! Do you see many wild ones by you? You can try catching a wild swarm and save yourself the hassle of queen introduction.

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