8:35am. Here’s what I see when I look out the window.
8:35am. Here’s what I see when I look out the window.
We reversed the brood chambers in Hive #2 today (our one foundationless hive). I was convinced the foundationless colony was only living in the top brood chamber and was running low on honey. But when we pulled the top box off, we saw just as many bees in the bottom box, at least on the top bars. I’m always concerned that reversing the boxes will split up the brood nest and kill off some baby bees, but in our urban environment, swarm prevention is always a top priority, even if it means chilling some baby bees to death. The photo on the right shows the hive after we reversed the boxes. (The third deep super on top is sheltering a jar feeder.) Reversing the boxes took maybe 10 minutes. It was a smooth operation, no smoke involved, and the bees were well behaved the whole time. Here’s how it went down:
I removed the top cover and inner cover. I could see bees covering at least 7 out of 10 frames. I couldn’t tell how much honey was left in the frames, but when I lifted the box off and put it aside, it was heavy. That’s when I noticed the bottom box full of bees too. I couldn’t tell if the brood nest was down in the bottom box, but when I lifted the box, it felt much lighter than the top box. The bottom board looked like this — some dead winter bees, pieces of old pollen patties and dried up sugar:
I put the bottom aside and replaced it with a clean bottom board. I could have just scraped off the mess, but I wanted to install our homemade combo bottom board. I really love the design of that thing. It’s so simple and cheap and I think it’ll work perfectly. I may paint the corrugated plastic floor with some wax so the bees can get a better grip on it, though at the moment, the bees in that hive hardly use the bottom entrance anyway.
We the put the boxes (or brood chambers or deep supers, whatever you want to call them) back on the bottom board but in the reverse order. The top box is on the bottom and bottom box is on the top. The lighter (and probably emptier) box on top helps prevent swarming as the brood nest expands upwards. It was too windy to do a full inspection. We didn’t pull a single frame. But maybe that’s a good thing.
ADDENDUM (April 02/14): Here’s a Gmail reminder that arrives in my Inbox on April 2nd every year: “Reverse the brood boxes as soon as the CROCUSES have bloomed or whenever the bees are bringing in pollen at a steady pace . This should happen by mid-April. DO NOT wait for the dandelions in May. By then the population in the hives could be through the roof and drone comb will fill the spaces between the boxes. Thus the frames in the bottom box — that are glued to the frames in the top box with drone comb — will come up when the top box is lifted. It’s a horrible disgusting mess when all that drone comb is split apart. Reverse the boxes before it gets like that. IF the between-the-boxes drone comb can’t be prevented, carefully and slowly twist the top box — to break apart the drone comb — before lifting it off. The other trick is to reverse the boxes (or deeps) by transferring the frames in the top box to a new bottom box right next to the hive and so on. That way you can reverse the boxes (which may or may not help prevent swarming), re-arrange frames if necessary, and get a full inspection in while you’re at it.”
I wish we had a beekeeping supply store in Newfoundland so I could try on bee suits and jackets before I bought them. I have two beekeeping suits, one with an attached hood, one without. Both are supposedly exactly the same size, but one of them rides a little tight when I bend over or bend down. Very annoying. I keep that one around for guests who are shorter than me. I also have a hooded jacket that looks like this when I spread it out on our back deck at 5:30pm:
The jacket is my go-to suit now because the full bee suits are human-cooking machines when the sun is out. Here’s a tip for beginners: strip down to your underwear if you can before you put on a full suit. Because if you’re in it for more than 15 minutes on a hot a summer day, you’ll be sticky and stewed in your sweat by the time you get out of it.
I set up our camera close a hive entrance a couple days ago with the intention of playing back the video and counting how many bees entered and exited the hive in 60 seconds. Futility is the word for that. But here’s some of the footage I used, some of it in slow-motion and cropped in close (so it’s not the highest resolution). It’s just a video test, only for purists.
I’m trying to find a file type that doesn’t produce the ghostly after-image of the bees flying. It may look kind of cool, but it looks better in the original HD without the after-image. If anyone has any tips on how to encode a video file for upload so it doesn’t do that, I’m listening. Thanks.
A jar feeder, by the way, is a Mason jar or any jar with little holes poked in the metal lid. The jar is filled with honey or sugar syrup (in this case, for spring feeding, a thin 1 part sugar, 1 part water mixture), tipped upside and placed inside the hive over the inner cover (but sheltered inside an empty super). Got it?
Tip #1: Don’t place the feeder directly over the inner cover hole when night time temperatures can still hover around freezing. The syrup can expand and contract with the temperature fluctuations and leak all over the bees (speaking from experience here), and not just any bees but the baby bees that are right in the middle of the hive — the brood nest — directly underneath the inner cover hole. It may be easier for the bees to access the syrup when it’s directly over the inner cover hole, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. I don’t use jar feeders until nighttime temperatures are above freezing, which sometimes doesn’t happen until near the end of April. Tip #1-B: Place the jar between the inner cover hole and the top entrance (not between the hole and the back wall of the hive). That way if the syrup does leak, provided the back of the hive is tilted up a bit like it should be, the syrup will drain out of the hive or at least to the front of it — and not down the inner cover hole and all over the bees.
Tip #2: Rest the jar on two pieces of wood. When I first installed a jar feeder, I put it directly over the inner cover hole and blocked the hole. You don’t want to block the hole. Here’s a photo of a jar feeder sitting on two pieces of scrap wood. You can even see the path from the top entrance in the background, to the jar feeder, to the inner cover hole (some call that a beeline).
I probably shouldn’t even feed the bees now. I think they have plenty of honey, and if they eat their honey, it will free up space for the queen to lay more eggs. But until I can do a quick non-invasive inspection and I know for sure they have enough honey, I’ll play the paranoid card and feed them.
P.S.: This is one way to install a jar feeder. If I find a better, safer way of doing it, I’ll update this post with that information. I’ve been known to be wrong on occasion.
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.
It may have been too early to remove the mouse-proofing mesh from our hives, but I did it anyway because the entrance of one hive was clogged with dead winter bees and I couldn’t clear the entrance without removing the mesh. I also noticed the bees — at the 3:33 mark of the video — bringing in the first pollen of the year.
I pulled the mouse-proof mesh from the hives today and cleaned out the dead winter bees with a stick. The bottom entrance for the foundationless hive was blocked with dead bees (mostly drones, I’m guessing). I’ll post a video of that later. I inadvertently noticed bees from one of the hives bringing in pollen while I was at it. I looked around and saw these flowers — Crocuses, I assume — poking up through the dead colourless leaves and sticks around the front of our house.
I couldn’t get a good photo of the bees bringing in the pollen, but if you look at the anthers inside these flowers, that’s the exact colour of the pollen the bees were bringing in.
I didn’t notice the bees bringing in pollen last year until April 13th. Way to go spring. It was almost 20°C when I took these photos.
It went up to 11°C today. Is it safe to say winter is over yet? I don’t know.
The colony in the above photo was slow to wake up from winter. The foundationless hive that went into winter with a small cluster has been the most active in the past few weeks. That colony may have more Carniolan genes helping its population bounce back early. The slower-to-wake-up colony my have a greater Italian lineage, high on honey production but slow to build up in the spring. But who really knows? Either way, all four colonies seem to be doing well now. They went mad with orientation and cleansing flights today.