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.
Destroyed drone comb between the brood boxes after an inspection. (May 05, 2012.)
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.
…naturally drawn out drone comb with freshly laid eggs inside most of the cells.
Close up of natural drone comb made from dandelion nectar. (June 05, 2016, Flatrock, Newfoundland.)
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.
My bees have been bringing in yellow pollen (when it’s not freezing cold and snowing like it was yesterday) for the past few weeks now. I don’t think they’ve been getting it from dandelions, but I don’t know one way or another. Today is the first time I saw a honey bee on a dandelion. I like to post this kind of info for my own records.
First honey bee on a dandelion I’ve seen this year. (May 14, 2016, Flatrock, NL.)
There’s not much to see here except some honey bees messing around on some dandelions.
I’m just using the bees I saw in my front yard today as an excuse to spread this message again: Dandelions provide honey bees and other pollinators with a much needed boost in the spring, especially in seasonally delayed places like Newfoundland where dandelions and other wild flowers don’t begin to bloom in large numbers until June. If all dandelions were mowed into mulch or destroyed by pesticides, some honey bees and native pollinators in Newfoundland would be in pretty hard shape. Strawberries and a variety of fruit trees that benefit from honey bee pollination would lose out too.
February 2019 Introduction: I look at this video and I sort of half wish I still lived in St. John’s because I actually had more land to keep my bees on in the city than I do where I live now in a rural-like location outside of the city. Just look at the video and check out the field I had behind my house. That was my property. Pretty sweet, eh?
Unfortunately, the field was also used as a local hangout for high school kids who lit the whole thing on fire at least once a year and regularly used it as a drinking spot. My hives would have been an easy target for vandalism like everything else back there. My next door neighbours were also extraordinarily unpleasant people with vicious tempers and a mean junkyard dog that barked and foamed at the mouth half the time I did anything in my backyard. I loved the house I lived in, and I loved that back field, but within months starting up my hives, I realized I was in the worst neighbourhood for keeping bees.
The moral of the story is: Urban beekeeping in a crowded neighbourhood and a tiny backyard is entirely doable, but it’s not much fun if you’re not surrounded by good neighbours. You gotta have good neighbours.
There’s not much to see here but I’ll show it to you anyway. It’s a raw video of me walking through the field behind my shed looking for honey bees on dandelions. The field fills with a variety of wild flowers during the summer and fall. I might explore it again later on in the season when there’s more to see. (Note: The video contains some brief G-rated profanity.)
The video demonstrates how difficult it is to get a precise focus on the bee. It’s been cold for the past week and the bees have been stuck in their hives. Sunnier skies and warmer temperatures are supposedly on the way. I hope so. We only have four months of the year that aren’t cold, wet and windy (that is, they’re not as cold, wet and windy as the other eight months). I’m ready to make the most of it. I think the bees are too. Come on summer, let’s get on with it!
2019 Postscript: Here’s the Google Street View of my old house at 43 Golf Ave in St. John’s. That’s my black Honda Fit in the driveway and my mean neighbour’s Jeep in the adjacent driveway. Flip the camera around and you can see the corner store directly across the street. (Personal advice: Don’t ever live anywhere near a corner store. Trust me, you won’t like what you see.) I like to think the neighbourhood has improved since I lived there, but I can’t say I miss it one bit. Once you move the country and love it as much as I do, you can never go back.