Some Pre-Winter Hive Adjustments

It was zero degree Celsius today (also known as the temperature at which water freezes). It was also extremely damp and miserable. Not a bad day to see if visual inspections of the clusters match the thermal images from my Flir One for Android camera device. Not a bad day to make some pre-winter adjustments to some of my hives too.

Hive #1. Other than dropping in some sugar over the top bars in a week or two, and maybe wrapping the hive, Hive #1 is just the way I like it.

Bottom to top:  Solid bottom board; 6mm / quarter-inch shrew-proofing mesh; 2 deeps; rim with extrance hole meshed in; moisture quilt full of wood chips; piece of scrap plywood / top cover. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

Bottom to top: Solid bottom board; 6mm / quarter-inch shrew-proofing mesh; 2 deeps; rim with entrance hole meshed in; moisture quilt full of wood chips; a piece of scrap plywood / top cover. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

A word about that top cover. Yup, it’s a piece of plywood I found in the corner of my shed. I put something heavy on top to keep it in place, but that’s it. I’ve had it on the hive for several months now, always meaning to replace it with a real top cover but never getting around to it. I may leave it on the hive all winter. Why not? The inside of the hive is warm and dry. Whether it’s a commercially made telescoping top cover dipped in wax with a metal cover, or a dirty piece of scrap plywood taken from a junk heap, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to the bees.

Top cover removed, moisture quilt open. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

Top cover removed, moisture quilt open. (Oct. 28, 2016.)

From this angle, it looks like the cluster is straddling the deeps.

From this angle, it looks like the cluster is straddling the deeps.


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Burr Comb

Today’s the day I removed all the feeders from my hives.

I placed a hive top feeder over a rim on one of my hives about a month ago. I removed the feeder today and found burr comb built up over the top bars, the bees filling in the space I created with the rim.

Burr comb built up over the top bars. (Oct. 23, 2016.)

Burr comb built up over the top bars. (Oct. 23, 2016.)

My best guess is the bees ran out of room for the syrup, so they began building comb above the top bars so they could fill it with syrup.
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Nucs: Day 6 – Removing Bare Foundation

I installed three nucs six days ago. Each nuc contained a frame of capped brood, a frame with bare foundation, and two frames with a mix of empty comb, pollen and honey (and maybe some small patches of brood). Each nuc was installed in a standard 10-frame Langstroth deep super with a frame feeder full of thin sugar syrup spiked with anise extract. The frames were placed in the deep in the same order and orientation as they were in the nuc box. I used frames of drawn comb to fill up two of the nuc hives and bare foundation in the other. I recorded a video of me installing the bare foundation nuc because most new Newfoundland beekeepers will probably begin their first nucs with bare foundation, not drawn comb. My intention was to provide an ongoing and honest record of what new beekeepers in Newfoundland are likely to experience during their first year of establishing a colony from a nuc. But what I found in that nuc hive today has compelled me to change my plans.

Nuc colony installed 6 days ago. (July 23, 2016.)

Nuc colony installed 6 days ago, and not much new brood. (July 23, 2016.)

I found some new comb with fresh brood on the original bare foundation frame that came with the nuc, but not much more new brood other than that. In my other two nucs that were full of drawn comb (not bare foundation), I found at least twice as much new brood — a full frame of capped brood and at least another frame of fresh brood. Bees were covering every single frame in the deep (compared to bees covering only four frames in the above photo). That’s a huge difference. The nuc colonies with drawn comb are expanding at least twice as fast. So…

As much I’d like to provide an honest guide for first-year beekeepers in Newfoundland, I’d rather have twice as much brood in my colonies. So…

I removed the top three frames of bare foundation from the nuc hive (as shown in the above photo) and replaced them with drawn comb. (The frame closest to the feeder was already full of new comb and syrup, so I left it alone.) Now the queen will have free reign to start laying immediately. She won’t need to wait for the worker bees to build comb over the bare foundation first.

Drawn comb is worth its weight in gold. I’ve never seen such a dramatic demonstration of that fact. (Sorry I don’t photos of the other nucs full of bees. Technical difficulties.) Okay then…
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Benefits of Frequent Hives Inspections

Hive inspections every two weeks aren’t always such a bad thing, especially for new beekeepers, because one of the best ways to learn what the bees are up to is to see what the bees are up to. (Collect that data!) I found an excuse to dig into my hives at least once a week during my first summer of beekeeping, and I learned more from my intrusiveness and observing everything up close and personal than I ever did from reading or watching the bees from a safe distance. Yes, there is a risk of disturbing the bees and killing the queen, but I was careful and gentle and made sure to put all the frames back the way I found them, and everything worked out fine.

Regular inspections also allowed me to remove comb and propolis that would have otherwise gunked up the frames and made future inspections messier, more difficult and perilous for the queen.

Messier — because comb connected between frames will often split open and scrape against honey in adjacent frames and spill honey all over the place. Drone comb, especially between brood boxes, is exceptionally gross when pulled apart.

Difficult — because frames that are bonded to the hive box with propolis don’t move. It requires careful maneuvering to pry out the frames with a hive tool — to snap off the propolis — and even then all the extraneous comb between the frames tends to squish bees and tear up honeycomb as well as brood comb along the way. Whereas frames that are cleaned up every two weeks can usually be pulled up with bare hands.

Perilous for the queen — because any comb between the frames or the brood boxes can easily trap and kill the queen (along with other bees) while the frames are being pulled out. (Some refer to this as rolling the queen.) Comb between the brood boxes leaves no space for the queen. If the queen is on that comb while a frame is slid back in, she’s dead.

I’ll try to update this post in the future with more detailed photos that illustrate what I’m talking about. For now, though, here’s a photo of a hive that I haven’t touched for almost three months.

Most of the frames are stuck together with wax and propolis after three months of not being touched by humans. (Oct. 12, 2015.)

Most of the frames are stuck together with wax and propolis after three months of not being touched by humans. (Oct. 12, 2015.)


Those frames are super-glued to the hive box with propolis and are held together by brace-comb as one big solid 10-frame block. Pulling those frames will be one seriously tangly experience (an experience I’m glad to have avoided during my first summer of beekeeping).
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Big Time Burr Comb

Here’s a question I’ve heard a few times about the insulated inner covers we use: “Won’t the bees build a lot of burr comb over the top bars?” The answer is: “No, because the bees don’t build much comb in the winter.” But they sure do build comb once spring arrives, and you better get the covers off before the bees start bringing in pollen. You better remove any rims (or ekes) that are placed on the hives for dry sugar feeding too. We were too busy with work to remove them until today, and look what we found under one of the covers (in our one hive that happens to have follower-boards):

That’s about 3 inches of burr comb under the insulated inner cover (flipped upside down) — several large mounds of comb. It wouldn’t have been as bad if we’d removed the deep rim a couple weeks ago, but we didn’t, so it’s bad. Lesson learned.
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Science Fiction Honey Comb

I scraped off a large amount of burr comb full of honey from one of our nucs during a hive inspection recently. I left it on top of the inner cover afterwards so the bees could eat up the honey. This is what the burr comb looked like a couple days later.

The bees took all the honey from the comb and then began working on the comb, sealing it to the wood and creating a set for a yet-to-be-produced science fiction film.

See more photos in the Science Fiction Honey Comb photo album.

Video of Mini Hive Inspection (in HD)

Here’s the video of the non-intrusive hive inspection I did earlier today, recorded on my new fancy pants high definition camera. (Change the settings from 720p to a lower resolution if the video doesn’t load or play back seamlessly for you.)

Related post: Non-intrusive Hive Inspection.

UPDATE (Jan. 24/11): The honey comb under the inner cover is called burr comb, and the bees built the burr comb because I had the inner cover on upside-down. Whenever there is more than about 1cm of space in the hive (called “bee space”), the bees will try to fill it in with comb. The upside-down inner cover provided too much open space.

First Taste of Honey

HONEY
I got my first taste of honey from one of our hives this morning (5 minutes ago), and there is no doubt about it: It’s the best honey I’ve tasted in my life.

This is what it looks like at the bottom of a Mason jar, a mouthful chunk of comb with honey in it.

I decided to inspect the hives this morning because it’s going to rain for the next few days and I knew I’d be too busy with my silly job next week to poke around with the bees.

I wanted to look down at the frames to see how much comb has been drawn out, but I didn’t want to pull out the frames and disturb the bees too much.

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