You can get a feel for a what's going on inside a honey bee hive without ever opening it up: just be observant. How many orientation flights have you witnessed in front of your hives? What does it smell like? How heavy are the boxes when you heft them? Are they defensive at the entrance or mellow? This is one wonderful sight to behold. These hives have been orienting quite a bit lately = this is great!
Both hives were backfilled with honey two weeks ago and the nectar flow is underway, so I stopped feeding. I was hoping this would mean they'd eat a lot of the extra food to free up space for the queens to lay. That worked, and I'm going to remember to feed until they back-fill, then back off. The combs that were 20 and 30% drawn a couple weeks ago were almost finished, some at the 95% mark. The capped brood patterns are nice and tight. Where there are holes there are larvae about to be capped, and surrounding the capped brood are beautiful new worker cells filled with royal jelly and single eggs. Both hives are doing great at bringing in a good amount of pollen and positioning it around the brood, as well as nectar and putting up honey on the outside fringes of all frames. The end honey frames are filled with nectar and they're starting to cap those over as well.
Since traffic has increased, it was time to switch out entrance reducers. I removed my 3-hole reducers on both Boris and Natasha and installed a reducer with a larger opening to allow for more traffic. Soon, I'll be removing the reducers altogether. I'm keeping them on since they're still small hives, and just to be safe.
These frames are from Natasha. I was worried when the first brood frame I pulled, from position 3, was intermixed drone and worker brood in the center, which is odd. Is this queen a drone layer? She even put a couple of random drone cells here and there. But the brood patterns are still tight, even though it may not look like it here. Each of these cells are filled with single eggs. You can see the small bands of workers busy spinning out the comb on the bottom and edges of the combs. How cool is that? Once I got into her other brood frames, she had one more frame of brood and eggs in her hive than Boris, and most were top to bottom worker brood. It's early spring and mating season, and drones are being added to the gene pool. Something to keep an eye on, though. It could be that as this comb was being spun that it stretched, making some cells larger and more suited to drone than worker. Time will tell. You can even see the eggs in the freshly built cells in the closeup. Just beautiful.
Fresh comb is just beautiful and I never get tired of watching the girls spin out comb. A starter frame of old comb hung by hair clips and cable ties had been filled with nectar. The cells were large and fit for drone and honey. The weight of the nectar made the comb sag in the middle and it was going askew. Time for some surgery. I added a third clamp and then 3 rubber bands for support and straightening. When the girls are finished with this, they'll chew through the rubber bands and break them off. I'll cut out the hair clamps once they finish the comb.
Here are the charts for Boris and Natasha. As you can tell, things are trending up. Soon, it'll be time to add another super on to give the colonies more room to grow! :-) Here is how Boris is doing. Note, on the combo chart at right, a "3" is the highest mark on a 0 to 3 scale. Boris registered a 3 average on brood pattern! You can also see that removing the feeders did free up brood space, as frames of bees increased and nectar and honey went down from 3 (when it was seriously back-filled) to a 2.
And here is how Natasha is doing. At left you can see she has one more frame of brood and eggs than Boris. :-)
Needless to say, Yvonne got lots of extra kisses and Twisted Teas for all her hard work in setting this up for me and showing me how it's done. Whatever system you make for yourself, as a beekeeper I am convinced you should collect data and take notes on every visit. It'll make you a better beekeeper, which means ... more bees!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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