Adding a Second Brood Chamber

Another long post packed with photos…

We added a second brood chamber (or deep body or brood box) to Hive #1 yesterday. As far as I can tell, it went well. The bees were extremely calm being misted with sugar water, way less agitated than when we’ve used the smoker on them. All the frames had drawn out comb except one. We put about half the drawn frames in the new box on top with empty foundation frames between them. We installed 4 foundationless frames in the original box, placing them between drawn out frames. The honey and the brood seemed mixed together on the frames, so there were no all-brood frames or all-honey frames. There was brood in just about every frame we inspected. We saw some honeycomb hanging off the bottom of one frame, but no swarm cells. Hive #1 appears to be doing great. We’ll see how the colony adjusts to the new box and having all their drawn out frames spaced out. The big experiment is the foundationless frames in the bottom box.

Here’s a shot of the bees after we removed a few frames from the hive:

I’ll upload some video of the procedure soon. (UPDATE: The video is posted.) Until then, allow me to present a big load of photos and descriptions of what we did.

This is what we saw when we lifted up the inner cover. Not too many bees and more honeycomb built on top of the frames. (UPDATE: We were informed that we’ve had the inner cover upside-side down all this time. That’s why we kept getting burr comb — the honeycomb on top of the frames — in this hive. The flat side of the inner cover should face down, maintaining the crucial 1 centimetre of “bee space.”)

We scraped off the honeycomb before inspecting the hive. The comb was glistening with honey, most of which was sucked up by the bees or dripped back into the hive.

Here I am pulling out the first and only empty frame from the hive.

One of the original frames from our nuc box (it came with white foundation), half-filled with honey.

Most of the bees were front and centre by the time we began pulling out frames. It was a moving carpet of bees. The population in Hive #1 has easily doubled since we first got them 4 weeks ago. This is only a guess, but I’d say we have about 20,000 honeybees in Hive #1.

Here I am inspecting a frame and then trying to put it back in the hive without squishing too many bees. My on-the-fly technique for this is to move gently without hesitation, slowly nudging the bees out of the way. We have a frame grip, but it’s more fun using our hands and feeling the direct buzz of the bees through our gloves. (It could be awhile before we go gloveless.)

Spraying the bees with sugar-water instead of smoking them — we’re 100% sold on this method of keeping the bees calm during an inspection. The bees got agitated sometimes after we pried a frame off with a sudden movement. It was so hot in our bee suits, the sweat was dripping off our faces about 5 minutes after we put them on. I exhaled from exhaustion right onto the bees at one point, and they began to buzz like a bear just stuck its nose in the hive. Then we hit them with the magic sugar rain from the sky and they forgot all about us.

Here’s a frame of brood. The top half is capped brood. The bottom half is uncapped. Can you see the little larvae?

Can you see them now? Hive #1 is full of brood like this. I love it.

Another frame of brood. If anyone with a good eye can spot the queen in any of these photos, please let me know. Our intent during a full hive inspection is to get in and out as quick and calmly as we can. We keep the frames over the hive or the flipped top cover the whole time in case the queen falls off her frame, we don’t flip the frames to inspect them, and we don’t spend much time looking for the queen.

This is Jenny sliding a frame flush against the other side of the hive — and trying not to squish too many bees in the process. All the self-spacing frames have to be pushed together to maintain the “bee space” of 1 centimetre between the frames. That’s what’s cool about the Langstroth hive: “if a space of 1 cm (3/8 inch) is left in the hive for the bees to move around in, the bees will neither build comb in the space nor cement it shut.” Two frames were improperly spaced in Hive #2 and the bees immediately built a warped comb between the two, which was a mess.

Here you can see Jenny arranging the frames in the bottom brood chamber. Two things are happening in this shot:

1) Empty frames are being placed between drawn out frames. So we have one drawn out frame full of brood or honey (and perhaps pollen). Then an empty frame. Then another fully drawn out frame. Another an empty frame and so on. This arrangement, sometimes referred to as checkerboarding, apparently encourages the bees to build on the empty frames quickly because they don’t like having empty spaces between drawn out frames, and it prevents swarming (supposedly). But I’m wondering if we took the concept too far and should have kept more fully drawn frames next to each other. I don’t know.

UPDATE (Feb. 16/11): Read the Wikepedia entry on checkerboarding for a more precise description, because what we did wasn’t checkerboarding. It was similar in that we alternated capped honey frames with empty frames to encourage the bees to fill in the empty space and to prevent the colony from swarming. But we probably inadvertently split up the brood nest, too, and that’s never a good idea.

2) The empty frames are foundationless — and this is the big experiment. To quote myself: “I’ll quickly check the foundationless frames next week. If the bees are building comb on them, hooray! If they’re not, the experiment is over and I’ll insert foundation into the frames. I will be thrilled if it actually works…”

We used the bee brush to remove the bees from the edges of the bottom box before we placed the second box on top of it, but the brush only made the bees angry. So…

We took out our trusty spray bottle again, set it to jet, and squirted the bees out of the way. A little undignified perhaps, but it was better than squishing them.

Making a few final adjustments to the hive before we put the roof back on.

Here we are putting the inner cover back on [upside down]. Notice that we slowly slide the inner cover back in place to avoid squishing bees. It kindly nudges them out of the way (though I think one or two still got squished).

All done, and only a tiny amount of sweat on our photographer’s lens (she was wearing a bee suit too) making the shot slightly out of focus, but what odds. Or maybe we sprayed her with some sugar-water. Anyway…

Ten minutes later the bees were back to normal. We’re supposed to have excellent weather for the next week, so I hope they make the most of it. I’ve been watching them all day today (it’s about 4pm now), and the hive looks fantastic to me.

I’ll report back next week with an update on their progress. In the meantime, he’s a slideshow of all the photos that were taken by our friends, Vanessa and Elaine.

P.S. (Feb. 16/11): The proper title for this post should have been “Adding a Second Brood Box,” because, technically, the two boxes together make up the brood chamber.

Related posts: Expanding the Hive (Video), Dead Baby Bees and Foundationless Frames.

PHOTOS NOTE (AUGUST 2015): The photos in this post may not display properly because they were uploaded through Google’s Picasa online photo album service, a service I no longer use because certain updates created more work for me instead of streamlining the process. I will eventually replace the photos with ones hosted on the Mud Songs server. This note will disappear when (or if) that happens.

12 thoughts on “Adding a Second Brood Chamber

  1. Impressive… most impressive. Great photos of the suits, too.

    What will happen in the winter, will you put the hive in the shed?

  2. What will happen in the winter, will you put the hive in the shed?

    The bees will hunker down for the winter outside in their hives. They huddle together in a big ball to stay warm and protect the queen, and slowly eat away at their honey stores.

  3. Looks good Phillip.

    Are you going to add the black felt around your hives for the winter? I am thinking about adding foam around the North and West side of my hive for the winter with a layer of black felt in under so that in Late February and March I can remove the foam on the warm days so it heats the frame and warms the bees.

    The first thing for having the bees prepared for winter is having the critical mass (of Bees) and having the honey and pollen stores they need.

  4. I have no idea what I’m going to do for the winter. I need to visit Aubrey and see what he does. Nothing I’ve read about wintering bees is consistent. Everyone does something different and few seem to agree on what’s best.

    My first thought was simply to use a screened bottom board and that’s it. But I really don’t know what to do.

  5. How do you work with those gloves on? I tried them once and haven’t used them since. I find with the gloves I just do not have the dexterity and I really don’t look forward to squishing the bees.

    All I have been using is my veil, tee shirt and jeans.

    I find the more that you squish, the more pissed off the bees get. So without the gloves the sense of touch is better. Still a little eerie when the bees are crawling up your finger. I felt something crawling up my leg one time. I pulled the pant leg up a bit and shook my leg. The bee fell out on the ground. I find being gentle with them, they are gentle with you.

  6. I have no problem feeling the bees through the gloves, which are made from a thin goat’s skin. I don’t squish any of the bees with my hands, only when replacing the frames. The bees are thick and sometimes don’t move fast enough.

    All I have been using is my veil, tee shirt and jeans.

    So have you been stung yet? I’ve been stung, but not while actually working with the bees. I know Andrea and Paige only wear a veil. I’d like to do that too. Our bees seem pretty calm most of the time. We could probably do it. I’ll have to think about it.

  7. Your inner cover is upside down. Flip it over so flat side is down or you are apt to end up with a LOT of burr comb.

  8. The way it is shown in the photo is the inverted (winter) position, which provides a little more headroom for the cluster to move laterally, and creates an upper entrance for winter ventilation and cleansing flights.

  9. Thanks, JG. I’ll flip the covers later today. It’s probably not the only thing I’ve done with the bees that isn’t exactly on target. I’ve done as much research as I can through the internet, but in many ways I’m flying blind here.

    I appreciate your input. Thanks.

  10. Funny thing. Last evening I decided to check my bees. And I got stung for he first time. It was crazy, out of no where came the bee while I was holding a frame in my right hand and stung me on my right hand. I’m sure she was on a kamikaze mission. Out of no where this bee flew in and stung me on the thumb, best of all I couldn;t let teh frame go as it was capped with brood. It was total unprovoked and unexplained. Still other than ichy the sting isn;t to bad. I’ve picked up a couple of ep pens now just in case by standards get stung. Andrea recommended to get stung once a week anyway. I’ve had the bees walking over my fingers before and they didn;t mind. I find if I’m gentle with them they are gentle with me.

  11. I flipped the inner covers on both hives today. Now that I see it, it makes a lot of sense.

    It was able to look at Hive #2, which has been slow to grow compared to Hive #1. They’re doing okay, but they’re still not ready for a second box. They probably won’t be ready until the end of the month. I have two feeders on that hive now. I also have some frame feeders on the way. I’ll install those (and not bother with the Boardman feeders anymore) in both hives as soon as they arrive. The board feeders attract ants and wasps, and today I even saw bubble bees trying to get into the hive. One came very close, but I assume it would get killed pretty quick if it got inside.

Comments are closed.