My nucleus colonies, the ones over-wintered from 2015 and my new spring 2016 nucs, continue to amaze me. The beautiful virgin wax they are building on all my foundations is a sight to behold, but even better is the ever-expanding amount of honey, the different colors of pollen mixed down into bee bread, royal jelly and eggs galore. This shot is a wonderful capsule of an amazing spring so far. Just two weeks ago this was only foundation.
Same for this frame. In just two weeks, this and two other frames of Duragilt foundation has been drawn out beautifully, laid top to bottom with worker eggs and honey around the edges. You can't ask for much more than this. I was amazed at this new queen's production. And it's something I must manage (and will, thanks to Hive Tracks).
This was one of my production colonies which had threatened to swarm. Instead I artificially swarmed it's queen and 3 frames of workers and food. I kept their door screened closed for 3 days to prevent the workers from drifting back to their original stand. After 3 days, they were READY to get out. I loved seeing them flood the open air at once as soon as I removed the screen, and begin re-orienting to their new space.
Quickly they settled down after stretching their wings, as sundown was only a few minutes away. But they seemed thrilled. I certainly was.
My time was very limited thanks to the approach of twilight and a healthy to-do list. This hive I inspected the bottom brood chamber just a few days prior. This was the same nutty hive that keeps building comb on its screened inner cover. (See that solid inner cover in the background? That replaced the screened inner cover!) To be efficient I also did a quick inspection of its top brood chamber by looking at the bottom of the frames. You can tell a lot without pulling a single frame. I cleaned up the brace comb they'd built and looked for swarm cells.
No swarm cells yet, but I did find 2 or 3 queen cups. So they're thinking about it and staying in practice. I knocked these down as I saw them.
This colony is currently queenless (remember that artificial swarm I mentioned earlier?). I expect to find a bunch of capped queen cells made from eggs when I go back into this hive in just a few days from now. But I learned in seasons past that large queenless hives will put up a ton of honey during a nectar flow. So it was time to take advantage. I gave them their first honey super to draw out, using Plasticell medium frames up top.
Speaking of Plasticell, one of my nuc's quickly took to drawing out a beautiful frame on the black plastic core which I bought pre-waxed and added more wax to it (see my previous post on that here). Well, they are LOVING it and drawing out a gorgeous black frame. It is so weird and cool seeing the beautiful fresh white comb being drawn on the re-usable plastic core. They were working both sides of this frame, and the queen can begin laying in it already.
Speaking of, here is the queen in that same nuc. Quite a beauty, another of my young productive queens from this year's bevy of new queens. And hopefully one of many yet to come. Another color of spring I love: queen amber!
Ah, beautiful Easter weekend in Carolina, how I love thee.
It rained the majority of the time, preventing me from working the bees. But I had no need to this weekend, thanks to my spiffy new software Hive Tracks. It keeps me organized, including a constantly changing and updating to-do list. On that list? Installing new foundation into frames. I made the leap to Plasticell foundation from Dadant in all sizes, buying the waxed plastic sheets that are re-usable and sturdy. But just to make it even more irresistible for my bees to draw, I re-coated the sheets with their own wax, too. Having never done this before, I opted to use a shallow pan on my hotplate since I don't have a ton of wax. Doing this requires a cement floor and a place out of sight to hide the mess.
The shallow rectangular pan was a perfect size to dip the sheets into, deep, medium and shallow foundation. However, the pan expanded and contracted as the hot plate did its work, so I had to constantly watch the pan and make sure it didn't tip over (yes, it did a couple of times, so there I was scraping wax off the cement floor).
After 40 or so I got the hang of it, sliding and dipping one side, rotating it, then knocking it against the bottom of the pan to release excess wax. Then I stood the sheets up vertically to cool. After 20 were done, I went back and coated the undipped halves.
Once all that was done for this round of waxing foundation, I got some of the sheets installed into the frames. Remember my divided bottom bars on some of my frames? Well, Plasticell needs a grooved bottom bar. So on those I stapled a popsicle stick on the bottom and it was good to go. Those sheets snapped right into place, then bam, bam, bam I stapled in the wedge and one frame done in seconds. THAT makes me love Plasticell. I went with black on the deep and medium sheets to help my eyes see the tiny bee eggs when inspecting (the shallow sheets are yellow). As I was coating these sheets, I had a few visitors buzzing around my room. My bee room smelled so amazing and wonderful of beautiful beeswax. All in all I used up almost 8 pounds of wax on 20 sheets of deep foundation, 20 medium and 20 shallow sheets. Now that's cleared from the shelves. I also rendered my collection of wax cappings from last year's honey harvest I'd taken out of the freezer a day earlier, some stretched foundationless frames of partial combs and a whole bunch of burr comb my mentees and I had gathered off some boxes this spring. So I've got another round of wax ready to harvest and use to coat more sheets. "It's THEIR wax, give it back to them!" I kept telling myself, sometimes out loud. "They'll reward me with so much new comb, new bees and new honey!"
When it wasn't raining, T's Bees were hard at work (and sometimes even when it was raining). Here a lovely bee works this spring's holly blooms, which smell so wonderful and permeate the breezes here in Carolina.
As Old Man Winter tightened his grip around Charlotte for an extended, cold season, it became clear the mountain of bee boxes chock full of old and damaged combs and frames would not clean themselves. <sigh> Time to make some wax. It's truly a cathartic process. And quite filthy. All of that dirt. Each frame of old, damaged comb involved me telling myself I should be better organized when it comes to inventory and equipment. I also noted which methods of frame building worked better than others. When you're hands-on up close with the combs, it makes a difference.
I instantly became aware that the easiest and best frames to work were the foundationless ones. The simple inverted wedge on the top bar and lack of foundation AND wires meant I could simply cut out the combs into a waiting tray and move onto the next one. Not so with foundation. You have to cut through all those damn wires, pull it out of the wedge ... it quickly becomes a messy nightmare. Even starter strips of foundation got in the way. Nothing beats a quick cut through the comb against the inverted wooden cleat. The WORST? All of those first-year frames I built using Duracomb foundation (has a plastic sheet in the middle) AND strung support wires along the frames. What a pain, and waste. All that time, money and effort into using what ultimately was completely unnecessary, and something the bees don't really prefer. I'll never use all that stuff again.
It was COLD (did I mentioned that?)! Yvonne's little heater helped a smidge as I spent hours on the back porch. After cutting the combs out of the frame, I brought a stock pot of water to a boil on a hot plate. I like to keep the hot plate in an old metal roasting pan. Makes it easy to carry, you can park your tools there, too, and it catches splashes, drips and trash. I filled the pot about half full of hot water and brought to a boil. In went the combs. I used a hive tool to get them under the boiling water. Then, I used a large metal kitchen strainer to sift out all of the non-wax materials off the top that I could. Old cocoons from inside each cell in the combs. Trash and dirt. Propolis. Wax moths, eggs and cocoons. Everything that's not wax separates out using the hot water method. The big strainer makes it easy to sift through the combs so that they quickly melt. Pull off all the junk off the top you can and then dump that out to the side before the next step.
Hey, did I mention how many boxes and frames I have to work with? Way more than I realized. It quickly became apparent that I need specific storage space JUST for my frames. I decided I'll store them outside of my boxes, so I can quickly pull a needed frame, drawn or undrawn, and use as needed independently of any box. Time to make those framing shelves I've been thinking of for the past year.
Once the wax has been melted and sifted through, I pour the liquid into a plastic bucket. Overnight the wax, propolis, dirt and water separate. Wax floats to the top in a nice cake. You pop that off the water, and scrape the loose dark stuff off the bottom of the cake. That's dirt. The dark stuff that sticks to the cake? That's propolis. I'll be saving and using that. Nothing wasted!
I did two rounds of wax harvesting. I then took the large wax cakes, melted those down, sifted and sifted through again. This time I used less water than the first time. The second round I poured into old yogurt containers lined with a bit of dish soap, which helps the wax cakes release.
A really nice clean cake of wax with a very specific propolis layer came out of each. All in all it weighed 9.75 pounds.
I painstakingly scraped the propolis layer off the wax cakes. I'll remelt the wax one more time for a third round of melting and straining. I want super clean cakes of wax to sell, trade and use. After all the scraping was done, I had a little over 8 pounds of wax on my first two harvests of wax. I still have some more to go. I'm liking this wax gig. It's messy as all get-out and takes work, but man, the smell of clean beeswax is amazing. And your hands feel unbelievable.
Scrape, scrape, scrape with a bread knife. I quickly figured out if you let the knife blade flex and use it's tip, you can get more done by letting it dig underneath the propolis layer. Scrape until you get beyond the shiny green. Some wax comes off, too, but I'll remelt that down and separate that wax from all that propolis, and eventually have propolis cakes for use in my products and to sell or trade, also.
Out of 9 12 ounces harvested, 8 pounds 3 ounces was wax only. The rest went into the propolis tray.
And here it is, round two of wax harvest complete. Next, let's repeat all that fun and glorious work (sarcasm alert). I remelted all and poured into their final molds, wax paper cups (perfect solution), for super clean wax cakes in various weights. It's hard work, but it's so rewarding to see something some folks with less gumption would throw away. My bees worked so hard to make these amazing hive products. I celebrate them by using everything possible. T's Bees will have more than honey in its inventory!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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