Most of the cranky hives right now have cranky bees because their brood nest is filling up with honey, and they’re preparing to swarm.
How to know the bees are preparing to swarm?
Time of year, experience and observation through hive inspections. Also helps when you have EyesOnHives alerting you of nearby hives which are also swarming or preparing to swarm.
It’s mid March, and in California, it’s swarming season in a big way right now (proof: check out the recent EyesOnHives post on tracking the swarming signal).
Here’s what it looks like when the bees are back filling the brood nest with honey – which triggers swarming behavior, and apparently cranky behavior.
With the regular brood nest filled with honey, as you can imagine, the queen no-longer has cells to lay in. This causes a change of behavior in the hive.
If you see a whole lot of extra brace comb that’s getting additional brood in it, this can also be a sign the bees really are out of room.
Cranky Bees does not mean kill your queen or hive
Look for the source of the issue. Give the bees room by checker boarding the brood nest if it’s full. Or make a split by taking the queen and a few frames into a nuc. Don’t kill your queen or hive!
If the hive is hard to work with and you can’t easily find the queen or a queen cell, a walkaway split is another option. Literally take half of the boxes and plonk them down on another baseboard with a cover, next to the original hive.
I’d checkerboard in a few empty frames so both hives have some room. So long as both have some brood, they should raise a new queen.
If there are a few frames of honey you can take and manually harvest, that’ll also keep your bees occupied.
This is a completely normal and natural time for bees to be spicy. They’re not Africanized unless they’re chasing you across town. They’re just mad because their house is too full!
Keep Eyes On both Hives
Inspect both hives each week and confirm that one is raising a queen. The hive with queen will continue to lay eggs if you gave her room, so I like to take one frame of eggs each week and give that to the queenless until I see that hive with a healthy queen laying her own eggs (timing is a month if you’re not starting with a queen cell).