Erratic Bee Keeping: what not to do

I have a little Top Bar bee hive (TBH) out back.  It has been there for just over a year now.  I have not been into it since mid summer for two reasons.   Partly because it has a window on the side for viewing and, this is the important part, I only had a hood to wear and not a full bee suit.  Too many bee stings made me gun-shy.

That has all changed.  If you own bees you have to get into the hive and check them out during the warmer weather.   So, I spent the money and got the bee suit.

Amazing!  It gave me the confidence to do what was needed.

Happy beekeeper wearing the season’s latest fashion in Beekeeping attire!

I learned how to get my smoker to smoke too!

I’m not certain, but I almost thought I could hear them coughing… or maybe what I was hearing was the sound of thousands of angry screams?  (I hate using the smoker.)

Once inside however, I found that although my bees were very healthy they were over crowded with honey.  Further, the little bur comb that I had found earlier last summer and removed… well, they had built it back.  But worse than that, they had replicated it onto about 8 bars.  This essentially attached and locked them into place!!!


Notice the cut at the top?  This is where the comb was built with a spur connector over to the next bar.  This was replicated for eight bars through the center of the hive.  It was a mess to say the least.

Not happy.

Trying to loosen the bars worked, but I had to cut into the comb to separate it.  This weakened its structure at the top of the mass and the weight caused a couple of them to break off and fall into the hive.  One of the broken combs was a perfect pattern brood comb and I could not locate the queen.  (Can you feel me panicking?)

After I cleaned out the carnage and finished separating the rest of the connected bars, and I inserted some new bars into the Top Bar Hive placing them in between the remaining brood comb.  It is my hope that the bees will appreciate the new real estate and begin building new comb that the queen will find lovely for egg laying… This assumes of course that she is still there after all the bungling on my part.

What I did with the broken brood comb

Trying to salvage the mess I had made, I then took the broken comb and tied it into a foundationless Langstroth frame with cotton kitchen twine.  Next, I took two of the removed bars of honey, taken from the TBH, and inserted them into the Lang hive with the brood comb.  The Lang hive now has brood and honey with room to grow…

IF the bees will make a queen in time!  But here is the problem.  I was never able to locate the queen!  So, I have either one or none of my hives with a queen inside.  If they are quick, and make some queen cells they may be OK.  Or not.  Only time will tell.

Amazingly, the very next day the bees I moved to the Lang hive were defending the entrance fiercely from the bees from the TBH!  This I did not expect!  Seeing that, I turned the reducer to allow the smallest entrance in hopes that in their weakened state, it would help them to more easily defend their new home.  I have observed no further fighting over the past two days.

So now I wait.  It seems a bit of all or nothing at this point.


I noticed as I worked, that even with the problems I’d had, I was much calmer.  Towards the end I observed that this seemed to keep the bees happier than using the smoke… The slower and calmer I became the slower and calmer the bees became.  Next time I try the new approach, working without the smoker, and it goes without saying I will be wearing my suit.


If you keep bees then please feel free to comment on what I did, or give your opinions about what went wrong.   I could use some good coaching for the future.  Thanks!

16 thoughts on “Erratic Bee Keeping: what not to do

  1. South Carolina says:

    Thank you for posting in such detail. I am not yet ready for bees and part of it is uncertaintly about details such as this. Readings someone elses successes and failures and how they deal with different, unexpected problems is very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    • pixilated2 says:

      You’re welcome! Sometimes I think I “talk” too much, so it makes me glad to know that my wordiness helps! 🙂

  2. Emily Heath says:

    The bee suit makes me feel much braver too!

    The problems you had are exactly what put me off a top bar hive…don’t worry too much about not being able to see the queen though. I’ve had a government bee inspector go through my hive recently and not find the queen, and then she turned up a few days later. They hide away from the light. Finding eggs is the important thing.

    • pixilated2 says:

      Thank you Emily, I really needed that. I think most of what has gone wrong is my own fault for not getting the suit and getting in there MUCH sooner. Bygones. I will just have to be more attentive and aware from now on. I intend to get in there this weekend and have another look around. Again, Thanks!

      • Deb W says:

        Hey there Lynda! Sounds like you’ve already learned the most important thing about working with bees… Just like dogs, they can smell when you’re nervous; so good on you for getting a beesuit and lowering the stress levels. I don’t know how much you already know, so if there’s too much info, just ignore it ; )
        Okay, first things first, for your frame of brood to have survived, it would have needed all of it’s nurse bees back (which were most likely all knocked off of the comb when it fell.)
        For a “split” to succeed well, you need a donor hive that is strong enough to supply, without being left short itself… (BTW, these measurements are to make a langstroth-type nucleus hive, and all frames include their nurse bees) 1) a minimum of one frame of fresh (less than one day old) eggs for the bees to make 3-5 queen cells; 2) Two full frames of brood; 3) just to bee safe, a couple of frames of honey; 4) PLUS shake the bees off of at least two more frames into the super (bee box) which you have added 4-5 empty frames to finish filling the box and have also (really important!) previously stuffed enough handfuls of fresh, long grass/weeds into the hive entrance to force everyone to stay in the hive until the grasses wilt enough to allow the bees to exit their new home. This does two things… reorients the yard bees to their new hive mates/location (they won’t stay otherwise) and prevents others from robbing while the new hive gets organised.
        Sorry this is such a long response. If you don’t want to post the whole thing, that’s cool. If you don’t understand something, or have more questions, just email me, ‘k? I’m working off of my phone screen ’cause my computer’s in for repair, so I may have misspoke or just plain skipped something altogether. Meantime, bee well, Deb.

        • pixilated2 says:

          Hello again Deb! I don’t mind at all, and in fact, I was hoping for responses like yours. Thanks so much! Your information will be very helpful. Do you have a blog site?

    • pixilated2 says:

      Thanks Rich! So when do you think you will go into the bee business? I think you would be super at it! 😀

  3. missusk76 says:

    I’m positive you’re going to have the best hives around. Not because I know anything about hive keeping other than what you’ve just taught me, but because you are so dang thorough! 🙂

    • pixilated2 says:

      LOL! I do try very hard, but I failed on saving the split. The bees from the main hive raided the Lang hive, killed the bees there, and then absconded with all the honey! It was kinda sad really. But, they seem to have been none the less for wear in the TBH in spite of my misguided efforts! 😉

  4. Deb W says:

    Hi again, No, I don’t have a blog… although it is on my bucket list, it hasn’t yet risen to the top! ; )

    • pixilated2 says:

      DO IT!
      You seem to have quite a bit of knowledge that others might find useful AND you have a sense of humor to keep it from getting too technical and boring. I think I would enjoy reading what you have to offer…
      What do you say? 😉

  5. Deb W says:

    Oops, sorry!! This is the first chance I’ve had to get back here…
    Thanks very much for your encouragement! I know, you’re right – strike while the iron’s hot!
    Well, right at the moment, my computer is in for repair : (it’s starting to look more like a post-mortem – 5 weeks and counting!!). To be absolutely honest, I’m a big chicken about the whole commitment part of having my own blog. I don’t want to start and then be hit-and-miss about it, right? Anyway, it’s all moot until I get my baby back in working order; but I am still kickin’ the idea around; ) and pluggin’ away on my phone for everything… Ar,rrgh!!

    Oh, and I hope you’re healing well. Make sure to put HONEY on your bandage. You will be AMAZED at how it speeds healing! xo D

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