With 2014 being a "comback year" for T's Bees, the final cold months of winter were time to get ready equipment-wise. I quickly realized the overwhelming scope of all those frames I'd been ignoring and tripping over. I had 3 different sizes, shallow, medium and deep. A supplier sold me a couple or 3 medium boxes and 30 or so medium frames as deeps. I was too ignorant at the time to realize it. So when I built my overhead frame shelves in my little storage room, I decided to segregate the sizes. Makes pulling a specific size frame out quite easy. I ended up building 5 of these shelves, out of 1x2's and old shelf supports. Currently I can store over 200 frames in my storage room, and I still have plans to build more frame shelves. No more pulling out boxes filled with frames wondering if they were clean and ready to use, or needed lots of work, let alone what size they were. Quick and easy, see it overhead and know where you're at and what you have. Boxes? Store separately.
A lot of my frames would've gone on the kindling pile of most of my fellow beekeepers. Last year I did the dumbest of things: store equipment, including frames and comb, outside and in the apiary. What resulted was a small hive beetle and moth explosion that caused lots of ruin and heartache for my bees and I. But being stubborn and miserly, I just can't afford to toss out $1.30 at a time. I rehabilitated my frames instead. After harvesting the combs for wax, I painstakingly scrape off all excess wax and propolis, remove the wires, remove the wedges and clean out in-between the grooves. Spackle if necessary. Ugh, so much work! And then sand off the year I'd written in black magic marker on the top bars of each frame to date the frames. After all that? Give each a bath in bleach + water solution (1/4 cup per gallon), to kill any remaining eggs from wax moths or SHB that were overlooked, as well as any mold or mildew. I stuck the frames end up in an old cat litter container and set the timer for 10 minutes. Then it was time to rotate the frames so the other half got a bath. Another container holding bird seed made a good weight to keep the frames from floating out of the bath. The frame wedges were removed and got a soak, too. After 10 minutes each side, I rinsed all with a long, powerful spray.
Then I applied my new dating system. A simple colored dot will do. The color corresponds with the queen color for that year. Each year, queen breeders (are supposed to) mark their queens with either a white, yellow, red, green or blue dot, depending on what number the year ends in. Years ending in a _ or _ get (color):
1 or 6 get white
2 or 7 get yellow
3 or 8 get red
4 or 9 get green
5 or 0 get blue
After all the cleanup, these frames looking like they were on their last legs sprang anew. I couldn't believe how new these oldest of frames looked after cleaning. When I started keeping bees 4 years ago, frames were $1 each. Now they're $1.30 each, with some places even selling for $1.45 each. Multiply that in the hundreds as you expand your apiary, and you quickly see how that adds up. I suspect one day I'll be building my frames. But regardless, a bit of organization and thorough cleaning will keep these frames in service for years to come.
Frames weren't the only thing getting cleaned and spiffed up, ready for a new beekeeping year. I've got so many boxes needing work. So I started with the first two hive bodies and outer covers that would soon be home to my two packages I'd bought for this spring. Each interior was cleaned with a hive tool, some curse words, a going over with a wire brush, some glee with a bit of sanding as it really did the trick, and an application of bleach + water spray before being thoroughly rinsed and allowed to dry.
I also decided to use my last few frames of drawn comb in my new hives. It's something I'd debated much about. Should I start completely fresh and virgin? If so, I'd need to alternate my empty frames with frames and foundation. I just hate using that stuff. Chemical-laden wax from commercial beekeepers make up foundation. And, it gets in the way. I decided to roll the dice and use my last remaining drawn combs from my last hive that I'd saved and not melted down. The combs had been frozen for at least 48 hours and then thawed. Cursing about the bozo who sold me the medium frames, I quickly cut out some comb off the mediums and did one of my favorite beekeeping tricks: suspend the comb on a frame using hair clips and plastic cable ties. Works like a charm! I decided to give my two packages a big head start with having some drawn comb. Each got 6 empty frames, and a frame or two of fully drawn comb and a couple of partially drawn frames like this one that they'll need to finish out. So my bees got a good 40% head start on drawing out their deep hive body. So far nectar hasn't started flowing yet, and the tulip poplar trees in the neighborhood only just sprang out their leaves by the end of the first week of April. It's looking like the main nectar flow is still a few weeks away. My goal is to get these girls to draw out combs and then explode in numbers. We'll see if it's in time to harvest a little bit of honey. It's a long shot, but weirder things have happened. I'm not counting on it, but maybe I'll just get lucky.
Spiffing things up also meant painting. The new Freeman bottom boards (background) got primed and painted, and Boris & Natasha each got fresh coats of yellow after I painstakingly repainted their cartoon faces. While I was at it I decided to use white as a spot color for their flesh tones to really make 'em pop. :-)
After a couple hurried weekends of all that work, it was soon time to install the packages. Here you can see those few remaining bees that didn't get shaken out of their packages making their way to the entrance of their new home. It was a glorious sight to see in no time a few fanner bees out front at the entrance, fanning their Nasinov glands to tell the stragglers, and world at large, exactly where their new home was. I made sure to reduce each entrance, since feeding's underway.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the packages were finally put to bed, as blueberry blossoms are filling our nearby bushes. Berry season is just beginning, and the apple tree is unfurling its spring blooms as well. I'm so glad that my bees, and I, made it in time.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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