Buttercups have been in bloom around these here parts for the past couple weeks (before that the weather was cold and miserable most of the time).
Two weeks ago I wrote a post on Swarm Prevention. I talked about knowing when to stop feeding to prevent swarming and all kinds of good stuff. I also said something like this:
In a standard Langstroth hive with foundation, all the foundation usually has worker-sized cells imprinted on it, so the bees tend to build worker brood comb on it, not drone comb. That leaves the queen with nowhere to lay drone comb, so she’s forced to fill the space between the boxes with drone comb — drone comb that is a big ugly mess to clean up in the spring.That’s why I insert at least one foundationless frame into the brood nest of every colony. Given the choice to build comb however they like it, if they’re short on drones (and they usually are in a Langstroth hive full of plastic foundation), the bees will (usually) fill the foundationless frame with drone comb instead of gunking up the space between the brood boxes with it.
I added such a foundationless frame to my one colony that’s in pretty good shape two weeks ago. Today I took a look at that foundationless frame and found this…
…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.The wax is yellow probably because the bees have been collecting dandelion nectar and pollen for the past few weeks.
Click the image to see a much sharper close up view of the comb.
Does adding a foundationless frame to the outside of the brood nest prevent swarming? I don’t know. I still think the #1 method for preventing swarming is the give the queen space to lay by adding drawn comb, replacing frames of honey with drawn comb if necessary. Second is to give all the bees that emerge from the brood frames space so the hive doesn’t get congested with too many bees. The pheromones from the queen and from the open brood don’t circulate well around a congested hive. The worker bees get swarmy when they can’t smell those pheromones. Third, give the rapidly-growing population of worker bees something to do. That’s another reason why I toss in foundationless frames. The bees in a crowded colony usually want to fill in that space as quick as possible. They will eat honey to make wax so they can build comb to fill in the empty space. Eating honey frees up space for the queen to lay. Then the new comb will give the queen more space to lay (probably drones). So in a perfect world all of these things balance out so the hive doesn’t get gunked up with drone brood between the boxes and the queen has enough room to lay so swarming isn’t triggered. In a perfect world.
I added jar feeders full of honey to some of my hives about two weeks ago (the last time it was about 10°C / 50°F). The bees emptied the jars, so today I added some jars full of crystallized honey. And guess what? They like it!The weather stinks. It’s so cold the bees can barely do anything. None of my colonies are in great shape and this weather doesn’t help. Stupid weather.
June 15th, 2016: Here’s a better example of it from 2013:
The honey in the video was rock solid crystallized honey. That seems like the best way to do it.
This is my cautionary tale for people who probably shouldn’t bother with beekeeping. If “it doesn’t take much time” is the final selling point for you, maybe you should just walk away right now and save yourself the sinking feeling of realising that beekeeping isn’t the wonderful world of golden flowing honey that simply falls from a tap on the side of your beehive while bees gently hover around you in a state of joy and bliss. That may be the idealistic vision of beekeeping that draws most people in, and at the very beginning if absolutely nothing goes wrong, that dream may at times seem like a reality, an experience so wonderful that you barely believe you’re living it. But those are fleeting moments. They don’t tell the whole story. There’s more to having chickens than collecting the eggs. There’s more to owning a dog than playing fetch. Sometimes it gets kind of dirty. Often it gets kind of dirty. And if you think you can care for a dog and raise chickens in your spare time, I’d like to know what world you’re living in. Because beekeeping isn’t that much different.