June Bee Hive Inspection
In advance of this week’s honey harvest, I inspected all of or our hives to see what each colony was up to.
The Hot Tub Bees
Background: It’s a good thing that these bees live in my yard, because they’d never make it as corporate bees. They suck at building. Earlier this spring I added two additional supers to this hive in advance of the summer nectar flow. Months later, they still haven’t bothered to expand beyond their original two boxes into the new space. Also, these ladies refuse to build straight comb, so the entire hive is a wreck of burr comb. Last November I added two frames of straight comb from another hive to serve as a building guide to teach the hot tub bees the merits of building on a grid.
What I saw: Today, there is no evidence of those example combs which means that instead of using those combs as a building guide, the bees chewed out the old comb so they could reuse that space for their lumpy, messy architecture. Also, there is exactly one frame of capped honey that’s not dotted with random brood cells.
Bad bees. Bad, bad, bad bees.
While searching for brood-free honeycomb, I spotted the Hot Tub queen bee. She glanced up at me briefly, totally unconcerned that I was yanking apart her home, before stickily traipsing across the honeycomb in search of another random open cell to pop an egg into. In comparison to her tiny entourage, the Hot Tub queen is enormous, but not particularly regal. She’s like the Sarah Ferguson of apian royalty.
What I did: I really should combine this colony with another hive to make them more productive. They’re terrible at building comb. They don’t produce a lot of honey. They are obsessed with propolis, so everything inside the hive is spackled with a thick, sticky layer of tree sap. Luckily for them, they have winning personalities, so I’ll never risk changing the gentle demeanor of this colony because this hive is a major tourist attraction in our yard because people can get right up next to the hive and the friendly bees stay calm even in the presence of spazzy children. They are excellent beekeeping ambassadors
I will return next week to grab the one frame of brood free honey. In the meantime, I pulled that honeycomb and a comb of brood from the second super and put them into the middle of the third super. I’m hoping that this change will force the bees to build up and out of the two bottom boxes. I removed the fourth super, so I could add it, instead, to one of the other, more productive hives.
The Malibu Bees
Background: Unlike the Hot Tub Bees, the Malibu Bees build perfectly straight comb. But, they are extremely slow builders. Part of this could be that their hive is in partial shade for most of the day. But even when the sun hits the hive, these bees just aren’t that into working. Earlier this year I added two more supers onto the hive in preparation for the summer nectar flow.
What I saw: The top super was totally empty and the third super had uncapped honey comb built only on the front six inches of all the frames. What was surprising about this hive was the fact that the bees had made separate dormitories for the drones and the worker brood. The second super is a mixture of 25% drone comb and 75% capped honey comb, while the bottom deep super was 90% worker brood with just a skinny halo of honey around the edges of each frame.
What I did: I removed the empty fourth super so the hive would be easier to cool and patrol by the small Malibu colony. I will return next week to harvest a couple frames of capped honey.
The Speaker Bees
Background: Our first honey harvest came from this colony. In January we cut these bees out of the speaker they had been living in and installed them in a lang hive.
What I saw: Well, I didn’t see anything because the top super was so heavy I couldn’t lift it by myself without possibly knocking over the five layer hive. I had to wait until the B-Friend came home so he could help with the lifting. When we did get into the hive, we discovered that even though the fifth super was empty, the fourth super was completely full of capped honey and the third super had four full frames of capped honey.
Surprisingly, the Speaker Bees immediately became our favorite bees in the apiary.
What I did: I removed the four frames of capped honey from the third super and replaced them with empty frames. Then I put those four frames into the empty fifth super. I placed Sue’s escape board between the third super and the fourth super to separate the brood comb in the lower three levels from the pure honey comb in the upper levels. Hopefully in the next 48 hours the bees working in the pantry section of the hive will move down to the brood comb and I’ll have fewer bees to deal with when I harvest the honey later this week. Once I harvest the honey, I’ll put the two supers back on the hive and add a sixth super that I took from the Malibu Bees to give these ladies more room to keep growing.
The BBQ Bees a.k.a The Crotchbanger Bees
What I saw: Even with some heavy duty smoking, several hundred bees came flying out of the hive when I removed the top. I think I just discovered which colony of bees contain the grumpy bees that always buzz me when I’m trying to garden in the backyard. There wasn’t a lot of honey in this hive, just two supers that were almost full of brood.
What I did: Since these bees could be grumpy from crowding, I added the super that I had removed from the Hot Tub hive, so the BBQ hive is now three stories high.
The Log Bees
About two weeks ago I noticed that the log was empty of bees. After throwing at least two swarms this year, the remaining colony either left for bigger digs or died out. At any rate, I’m letting the ants clean all the remaining junk out of the hive. When the ants are done, I’m going to move the log out of the center of my vegetable garden, replace the ugly plastic bin that I’ve been using as a roof for that hive with a cute, orange painted circle of plywood that will match the other hives, and replace the milk crate base with a nice terra cotta saucer. I’m going to put the log under the bougainvillea at the end of my yard where hopefully it will operate as a swarm trap next spring.
The Lincoln Log Bees
Background: The Lincoln Log Bees were my first swarm capture earlier this year. They had swarmed out of the Log Bee colony in search of bigger digs. I installed these bees in a cardboard nuc and four weeks later the Lincoln Log bees swarmed AGAIN, this time to parts unknown. I was really annoyed with myself over that situation, because I felt like they’d swarmed from the nuc box because I was behind on assembling my woodenware. If I’d moved them from the nuc box sooner, I would have had more bees and honey for the rest of the year.
What I saw: I feel a little better about my swarm control short comings after looking inside the Lincoln Log Bees’ hive. It’s two supers high and the second super is only half filled with empty honeycomb that’s built diagonally across three frames. The second super is a mess. It’s definitely our smallest colony with all the brood and honey in just the bottom super.
What’s even more exasperating is when I inspected the brood nest in the bottom super I counted six, yes, SIX, swarm cells on the bottom of just one frame. I thought that the Log Bees had swarmed because they ran out of room in their tiny home and that the Lincoln Log Bees had swarmed for the same reason. Now I realize that I was only part of the problem and the real issue is that the Lincoln Log Bees are damn hobos, who are just using my yard as a way station. Even though I’ve given these bees plenty of room, they are planning on eating and running AGAIN.
What I did: Nothing. However, as a means of preventing future swarms I’m going to try and use Walt Wright’s method of checkerboarding that he and Michael Bush are currently road testing. In preparation for the checkerboarding, I’m going to put the escape board between the first super and the second super to get everyone out of the second story and off the crooked comb. Then I’m going to rip the junk comb out and force those bees to build new, straight comb. Hopefully, the straight honey comb that I pull from other hives will act as a guide, and the Lincoln Log Bees haven’t been taking lessons from the Hot Tub Bees on how to disappoint their beekeeper.
From Michael Bush’s excellent site:
“Checkerboarding is a technique from Walt Wright that involves interspersing drawn and capped honey OVER the brood nest. It in no way involves the the brood nest itself. If you’d like to know about this technique and a LOT more detail about swarm preparation and what goes on in a hive at any given time in the buildup, I would contact Walt Wright. This is a method that also fools the bees into believing that the time has not yet come to swarm. It works without disturbing the brood nest. Basically it’s putting alternating frames of empty drawn comb and capped honey directly ABOVE the brood nest. If you would like to purchase a copy of Walt’s manuscript, it’s about 60 pages long and last I heard was $8 in a pdf by email or $10 on paper. You can contact him at this address: Walt Wright; Box 10; Elkton, TN 38455-0010; or WaltWright_at hotmail dot com (Encoded to avoid the spambots. Don’t forget the underscore).”