This time of year it seems there is always a large group of people at the bee meetings talking about how their queen has all of a sudden shut down, swarmed, or gone just plain missing. They don't know what happened and describe the state of their hive as something along the lines of a towering inferno of chaos!
It's a great time to go over the term "Honey Bound". Simply put, the queen's space to normally lay eggs has been decreased to make room to store nectar. The strong nectar flow has caught the beekeeper off guard, and the bees become short on space. The foragers start putting honey in the top of the hive and as it fills up, they work their way down, thus forcing the queen lower and lower until she has no room left. Without the space, she either shuts down or takes off for a roomier house. Worse still, after the old queen swarms, with little brood left in the hive, the chances of the nurse bees raising a new queen cell from 1-3 day old larvae are fairly slim. That's a depressing situation.
So here are a couple simple things to practice:
-Give your queen the space she needs. Give her room but not too much room.
-Take notes. Bring a pencil out to the yards and write on the outsides of your boxes what's inside and what's free space etc. For example, if a super has 3 frames of Brood, 2 frames
of Honey and 1 frame of Pollen write 3B/2H/1P on the outside back corner. I'll know by some quick math how many frames I still have remaining that are open for use. If you don't want to worry about the math for next time write /4E or 4 Empty. There is no hard rule here, just come up with a system that works for you. You want to get even simpler? If you notice a hive is starting to get crowded and you want to add another super on your next trip to the yard, place a rock on top of your hive at the front. If you think the hive has plenty of space place a rock at the back of the hive. The key is to be consistent in your marking with every hive because when you get over 5 hives, your memory starts to blend the hives together. ;)
Turn your towering inferno of chaos into a towering masterpiece of beekeeping lore with a simple system and some good preparation.