Wow, have I had lots of successes ... just to see some of them wiped away recently by screw-ups, or beekeeper error. I take the blame when pests take over, and yet again it's happened. But first, to a success. Two weeks ago, on hive Bullwinkle, I found this, one of two virgin frames of capped honey. This is comb honey waiting to be harvested. Hopefully it'll be there when harvest time comes this Saturday. I'd put in several fresh frames with starter strips of foundation to see if my bees would draw it out faster than just using the top wedge alone. Sure enough, they drew out several empties into 3/4-full frames in just 3 days. Amazing.
In fact, every single frame inside Hive Bullwinkle was chock full of nectar and honey. Some were frames of pollen and bee bread, which is packed pollen mixed with honey and nectar. Uh-oh, this hive is queenless. Boggling my mind, the bees, with no young ones to take care of, turned all their attention to making honey. Next year I'm going to temporarily make some booming hives queenless and broodless to get maximum honey production. This will only be for a short period of time. I may insert a single frame of brood every few days to keep laying workers from developing. Surprisingly, Bullwinkle had no laying workers! I had to do something. It looked like combining the hive was my next step. But first, it was time to upgrade Bullwinkle to a deep hive body, with a super on top. While I was at it, I started the installation of a single, larger hive stand (one of 2) to give me more elbow room to work the hives and also get more hives in the same amount of space in my apiary. Bullwinkle's the one on the left.
By the way, my split off of Boris, which is hive Rocky (far right), was doing great. It loved my homemade screened bottom board. I can do this!
Here is my prep supplies for upgrading Bullwinkle. I lost my handy hive tool with a frame lifter built into it. I'm using an old-school one. But my big brother also gave me a super cool frame lifter, and I LOVE it. It does a much better job than the hive tool. I like the old hive tool better. Also, I now go into every visit with a turkey feather (or brush, but the feathers are gentler on the bees) and a bread knife to correct any cross-combing I find. I also put the homemade tupperware beetle trap on Bullwinkle, too.
The day before this inspection, which was two weeks ago, I was cleaning equipment left behind when yet another hive, one of my best that'd survived winter, went silent. This was a big mystery to me. No small hive beetles. Food in the frames. No bees. No bodies. No wax moths. And then out of the corner of my eye, on some natural burr comb they'd built off the lid on the hive, I saw her, A QUEEN! I quickly caught her.
I wasn't planning on installing a queen that Sunday night, just doing some cleanup before dinner. Suddenly I was installing a queen! I put some drops of sugar syrup on the queen catcher bars for her to eat, which she appreciated. Then, once in the hive I put the cage on the top bars. It didn't take long for her to attract attention. She was mobbed. I was definitely going to leave her in there for a few days so they'd accept her. Putting in a fresh queen will result, most likely, in her being "balled" by a mass of bees, in which she's killed by their overheating her. Sometimes bees make knee-jerk reactions, too, and need a little help calming down. Just like me. The next day, there were still a ton of bees around her, so I thought caution was best.
So I waited 2 more days, knowing that if they kept her alive by feeding her, they'd accepted her as their new royal majesty. Apparently 3 days works the charm. Note to self on future introductions.
Unfortunately, I decided to release her and her workers onto the top bars of an empty hive box with frames and comb, and then put the Bullwinkle box with frames on top of that. Buuuuut, I screwed up, while trying to video the affair. I flicked the queen catcher open, then flicked again, and she flew away. WHAT was I thinking?? My inexperience got the better of me. DOH, what a hard way to learn! Bullwinkle will just have to keep packing in the pollen and honey for the time being.
But not everything had screwed up. Hive Rocky had also drawn out frames quickly. I used starter strips on some, and not others. I was delighted. Yes, if all goes well, there will be honey to harvest, possibly cut-comb honey at that! It's old-school and hard to find. I love virgin comb so much that I want to share the joy of cut comb honey!
And yet another one. What beauty. This split, Hive Rocky, is amazing me. At least with all my screw ups this spring, I've got one big success ... and maybe a few others, as well. :-)
This is what it's like seeing virgin comb when I go into a hive (this one was Bullwinkle). Pretty awesome.
So enough lolly-gagging, I had to get to business, even after screwing up the queen release. I had to get Bullwinkle into its new digs. Working with no gloves (I don't use 'em, and I'd loaned mine out anyways), I transferred the frames into the 10-frame deep.
Things were going well. I didn't get stung when I emptied out the remains of the nuc box onto the deep hive body below. This means, shaking the box like crazy and bapping it with your hands. I know, high-tech.
After the bottom box was emptied, I had to empty out the slatted rack and then screened bottom board. There were only a few bees remaining. But one of them decided to pop me on the finger. Again it was my middle finger. That's the second time I've been given the bird by my hives in the past year.
I also cut off some beautiful extra comb off the bottom of one of the frames. Always bring your bread knife. They'd even begin capping honey on this little piece!
This made an excellent starter piece to use later. I use a hair clamp to hold it onto a frame, and hold the hair clamp on by way of zip ties. I got this off of YouTube, thanks to OutOfABlueSky (what a handle). After the frame is drawn out, I'll cut out the hair clamp and remove the ties and use the clamp again later.
Hive Bullwinkle now was ... well, at least in better digs than before. They were in a standard deep box, and had an extra super to store honey in. I'd made sure they didn't have a queen by bungling her release, but they were in new digs at least. I set up a temporary stand in front of the old shorter stand. With dinner getting near, I put off installing the larger hive stand for a few more days. And then I'd combine Bullwinkle with my Fort Mill hive, I decided. More on that later. This sure is an excellent way to end your day immediately after work. I just have to contain all my excitement when I go in and not babble incessantly about bees to my wife while trying to eat and watch TV. Man is that hard!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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