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.
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.
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.
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. …
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.
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… …
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.
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). …
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. …
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.
It’s November 2018 as I take a second look at this post I wrote in 2010. It doesn’t make me cringe, but almost. I’m impressed by my enthusiasm and fascination for beekeeping, my attention to every little detail that I don’t understand. These days when I meet new beekeepers or people who want to get into beekeeping, I can usually tell what kind of beekeepers they’re going to grow up to be. Bad beekeepers don’t notice too much. Good beekeepers notice everything. You don’t have to tell them what to look out for because they’re already looking out for everything.
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.
I didn’t use a smoker on either of the hives because I don’t like the way smoke agitates the bees, even though it’s supposed to make the bees easier to handle. This is what I saw when I pulled off the inner cover from Hive #1. That’s broken attached to the middle. I didn’t plan on sampling any honey, but I knew I could scrape some off the top without bothering the bees too much.
Here you can see how thick the comb is on top of the frames — and it’s full of honey. I’m not sure if I should be concerned about this, if I should clean it up before it gets out of control — I don’t know. The last time I used the smoker on the bees, the whole hive lit up with a rumbling buzzing sound. Not using the smoker this time, they acted like I wasn’t even there.
Here’s a close-up of the broken comb. The bees were virtually silent during all this. Maybe they were wondering what happened to the roof and why there’s honey all over the place now. Most that were on the honey stayed on the honey, eating it up, I assume.
Many of the frames were connected together with comb. It’s going to be messy when I have to pull out the frames for a thorough inspection, which I have to do soon. I wonder, should I break up these connections now before it gets worse? It seems like it might be trouble.
And this is what I saw under the roof of Hive #2, a well-behaved and tidy little hive — and no honeycomb on top to sample. These bees haven’t drawn out as much comb as those in Hive #1, probably because I didn’t feed them anything for the first week. There are more bees in the hive now than there were two weeks ago, and more of the frames have been drawn out — in both hives. So the hives seem to be doing alright. I will have to give them a thorough inspection soon just so I can see exactly what’s going on — how much brood is being reared, if there are any swarm cells and so on. I’d like to find an experienced beekeeper to help me out with that, but if I have to I’ll keep doing what I’m doing: taking my best guess.
Anyway, the honey is delicious.
November 2018 postscript: That’s burr comb I had to scrape off because the inner cover was upside-down. The flat side of the inner cover is usually face down in the summer. It’s unlikely the honey I tasted from the burr comb was pure honey. It was most likely fake honey created from sugar syrup. Today I would not place empty frames between frames of brood so early in the life of a nuc colony. I would put the 4-5 frames of the nuc in the middle of the deep and probably let them build out to 7-8 frames before I’d start inserting empty frames.