It’s November 2018 as I look back and slightly revise this post. There’s a lot I would change, but I’ll leave most of it alone. Instead I’ll jump in here and there with some comments about what I would or wouldn’t do today.
I added a second deep (or hive body) to Hive #1 yesterday. As far as I can tell, it went well. The bees were calm after being misted with sugar water, way less agitated than when I used the smoker on them. All the frames had drawn out comb except one. I put about half the drawn frames in the new box on top with empty foundation frames between them. I installed four 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 I inspected. I saw some comb hanging off the bottom of one frame, but no swarm cells. Hive #1 appears to be doing great. I’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 I 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 I did.
This is what I saw when I lifted up the inner cover. Not too many bees and more comb built on top of the frames. (UPDATE: I was informed that I had the inner cover upside-side down all this time. That’s why I kept getting burr comb — the comb on top of the frames — in this hive. The flat side of the inner cover should face down in what’s called the summer position, maintaining the “bee space.”)
These days (in 2018), I don’t think I ever put the inner cover in the so-called summer position, whether in a single-deep hive or more. I’m not sure if the summer position is crucial to building up a colony from a nuc. I’ll say more about this when we take a look at the last photo in this post.
I scraped off the burr comb 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 I began pulling out frames. It was a moving carpet of bees. The population in Hive #1 has easily doubled since I first got them 4 weeks ago. This is only a guess, but I’d say I have about 20,000 honey bees in Hive #1.
Considering that I had the bees for less than a month at this point and that they began essentially as a tiny 4-frame hive with a single frame of brood, doubling in size is pretty good work. Today I would try to build them up even quicker by using feeders that encourage more rapid uptake of the syrup — just about any kind of feeder except an entrance feeder or an insert feeder. I would add a few drops of anise or lemongrass oil to the syrup to attract to the bees to it. I sometimes add pollen patties to nucs as well. The bees usually consume the extra pollen (or pollen substitute) if they need it and ignore it if they don’t. Syrup is crucial. Pollen patties are not, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
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. I have a frame gripper, but it’s more fun using my hands and feeling the direct buzz of the bees through my gloves. (It could be awhile before I go gloveless.)
The bees are pretty easy to handle when a colony is building up from a nuc and is still contained to a single deep. Unless there are some nasty genetics in the bees, they don’t usually need smoke at this stage and they barely need any mist to keep them calm. I often only put on a veil with shorts and a t-shirt when I’m working with such a small number of bees. If there is a good time to go gloveless, this is probably the best time to give it a shot. I only tried going gloveless a couple years ago and I love it. I can’t and don’t do it all the time, but I go bare handed if I’m confident the bees are in a good mood and easy to handle, which they usually are at this stage (and it’s a warm, windless sunny day).
Spraying the bees with sugar-water instead of smoking them seemed to work well for keeping the bees calm during the inspection. The bees got agitated sometimes after I pried a frame off with a sudden movement. It was so hot in my bee suit that the sweat was dripping off my face about 5 minutes after I put it 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 I hit them with the magic sugar rain from the sky and they forgot all about me.
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. My intent during a full hive inspection is to get in and out as quick and calmly as I can. I keep the frames over the hive or the flipped top cover the whole time in case the queen falls off her frame, I don’t flip the frames to inspect them, and I don’t spend much time looking for the queen.
I was a bit paranoid about injuring the queen when I first started out, so I didn’t put a great deal of effort into spotting her. But it’s usually easier to spot the queen when there are fewer bees in the hive, so now is a good time to give it a shot. Some people catch the queen, put her in a queen cage and put her aside while they’re inspecting the hive so they don’t have to worry about her. When I spot the queen on a frame, I usually just slide her frame out of the way and carry on with the inspection. Whatever works.
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.
Two things are happening in this shot:
1) Empty frames are being placed between drawn out frames. So I 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 I took the concept too far and should have kept more fully drawn frames next to each other. I don’t know.
February 16th, 2011: Read the Wikepedia entry on checkerboarding for a more precise description, because what I did wasn’t checkerboarding. It was similar in that I 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 I probably inadvertently split up the brood nest, too, and that’s not always the best thing to do.
Many beekeepers talk about maintaining the integrity of the brood nest. They would probably never insert empty or blank frames between frames of brood like I did. I think I got lucky during my first summer because the weather was unusually warm and sunny and even splitting up the brood nest didn’t seem to slow down the growth of my colonies. However, I insert foundationless frames between frames of drawn comb all the time now because the bees don’t like empty space and will usually work quickly to fill it in with comb. But in a colony that’s small and contained to a single deep, I’ll insert those foundationless or blank frames on the outside of the brood nest, just to be safe.
2) The empty frames are foundationless — and this is the big experiment.
I used the bee brush to remove the bees from the edges of the bottom box before I placed the second box on top of it, but the brush only made the bees angry. So…
I took out our trusty spray bottle again, set it to jet (not mist), 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 I put the roof back on.
Here I’m putting the inner cover back on [upside down]. Notice that I 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).
In the above photo, you can see the inner cover is being slid on in the “winter position” with the flat side on top and rimmed side underneath. This provides the bees extra space under the inner cover which they often will fill up with messy burr comb when they’re in heavy duty comb-building mode. Here’s my take on the winter and summer positions for the inner cover:
When building up a nuc and the bees are contained to a single deep, the winter position is okay because it helps keep the air inside the hive warmer for the brood. I’ve noticed that bees that walk into the top entrance (in the summer position with the flat side down) often waste time wandering around the inner cover looking for the hole in the middle before they can even get inside the hive. But that’s not a big deal because most of the bees usually use the bottom entrance anyway, at least when they’re still in a single deep.
When the inner cover is flipped the other way around in the winter position, bees entering the hive through the top have instant access to hive and get down to business in no time — much more efficient for them — but that top entrance also lets out a lot of warmth. So there are pros and cons to each inner cover position.
I usually put the inner cover in the summer position (flat side down) when the bees are contained to a single deep, and then switch to the winter position about a week after I add the second deep, thus providing instant access to the hive through the upper entrance. As with many things in beekeeping, it’s really simple but explaining it makes it seem complicated. I’ve probably just made things worse. Sorry.
To stir up the fun times even more, many hive designs don’t have inner covers like mine. So when in doubt, go with the winter position all year round and forget about it.
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.