Happy Solstice, Hive Style

by Lisa Linderman on June 21, 2011

in bees,honeybees

Today was the Solstice, and coincidentally it was warm enough to declare it Hive Day.  The bad news is, I woke up with a screaming migraine.  The good news is, I took a few painkillers, got an ice pack and went back to bed for a few hours.  By the time my headache was gone, it was midday and the perfect time to start on the hives.  Working on the hives in the middle of the day means the foragers are out, and the hive is a little less crowded than it would be earlier in the day.  Must be why I love bees…they like to get a late start, just like me.

First we took care of the hives at our house.  We peeked in the Langstroth, and yes, they’re building comb on the bottom of the stupid inner cover.  Sigh.  We simply lifted the whole inner cover and one hive deep, and slid the second deep under it.  The hive now has two deep bodies, a hollow super, and the inner cover.  Eventually, we’ll treat the inner cover and the super as if it were a Warre box and remove it whole, cut out the comb, and replace it properly.  Later.  For now, I see that they’re happy and bringing in bits of pollen, and all seems well.

We moved on to the middle hive, which is the newest swarm.  If you missed the Facebook update, that’s the swarm I dropped on my bare left arm.  Word of advice:  don’t do that.  I got 10 stings for my trouble, though I didn’t react over much to them.  Anyway, the swarm is building beautiful, surprisingly straight comb in the bottom box of one, and did NOT settle in the lid as I had feared.   When we hived them, most of them didn’t seem to want to go into the box, and wound up bearded all over the front of the hive.  Peeking in, they do have one box nearly full of comb.  I’m a bit concerned that the queen might have absconded with part of the swarm, as they seem a bit sparse for as large a swarm as they were, but 1) they’re bringing in pollen, which generally indicates brood to feed and 2) it’s hard to judge how full they’d be if all the foragers weren’t out in force.  I’ll just cross my fingers and hope.  Right now they have three hive bodies, so they have plenty of room to work with.

Checked on the second Warre, which contains the swarm I caught at my parents’ house last year.  It was full to the top at the beginning of spring, but the weather was so awful they’ve gone through a lot of the honey that was in the top box.  Given the weather right now (overcast, muggy, plenty warm) and the fact that the wild blackberries are blooming like crazy, I expect them to be able to fill it with honey in a week or two, at which point I’ll hopefully harvest it and then give them a new empty box to work with.

After we got done with those three hives, we went over to my folks’ house.   The hive there is a Langstroth I got from someone last year.  They said it had been “a while” since they’d worked it, and they just wanted it gone.  They said it swarmed every year, which means it’s strong.  But, the wood just flat needs to be replaced, and the comb is so old it’s black.  Ew.   The renovations are something of a new thing to me, so we’re taking it in stages.

Today, we lifted off the top box and set it on the ground, then lifted up the bottom box, removed the old bottom board, and replaced it with a new, screened board with a sloped landing porch.  After that, I put a new, empty, clean brood box on top of the bottom board, and we resettled the two old nasty boxes on top of the new one.  That’s a Warre-type box replacement, where you add new boxes to the bottom.  Usually with Langstroth, you swap the hive bodies, and if you do want to add a new one, you add it to the top.  This is kind of an experiment.  We’ll see what happens.

After we did that, we took off the lid, inner lid, and the old rank nasty feeder box.  I replaced them with a deep inner lid (where I can baggie-feed or patty-feed them if I need to) and new outer lid, and left them alone.   We brought the old nasty wood home, and we will be burning it soon. Some of the wood is rotten, and it’s just in bad shape.

In a few weeks, we’ll go over and see what’s what.  The goal is to take off the inner/outer lid, remove the old top brood box  and set it on a sheet of plywood next to a brand new empty box, then replace the inner/outer lid on what’s left of the hive while I go through the nasty box frame by frame.  Honey frames will be uncapped and set out in the yard for the hive to scavenge, then melted down later. Their place will be taken in the new box by empty , foundationless frames.  Brood frames will be put into the new box as-is, including their attendant bees.  Then once the new box has 10 frames either empty or full of brood, we’ll remove the inner/outer lid again, lift the remaining oogy nasty brood box, and put the newly renovated box in the middle of the stack, between the remaining old box and the lower box we just put in place today, then replace the inner/outer lid, so we’ll have one oogy box on top and two new ones below.

A few weeks after that, I’ll again see what’s what.  I’ll probably repeat the entire procedure, but ideally the top box will have little brood in it at that point, and I’ll be able to just ditch the entire top box.  We’ll see.  If not, hopefully I’ll be able to find a place for brood-heavy frames in the lower two boxes.  The key will be to make sure the queen isn’t discarded or squashed!

It’s a mellow hive, thus far anyway.  We futzed with it and completely ripped their house apart from top to bottom.  We gave them new hardware.  We rocked and shook and poked at their house.  And they mostly just got confused because we changed the appearance of their home.  Once they got that figured out, back to mellow.  None of them challenged me at all, or got up in my face.  They have quite an abundance of big fat happy drones, and small happy workers.  They’re not bringing in tons of pollen either, but they are bringing in some.  I did see at least one drone larvae when we opened the hive, because it was wedged into the burr comb between boxes (not where you want to find brood, really) and I ripped open that cell when we were rearranging the hives.  Bummer.

At any rate, I don’t expect to harvest honey out of either Langstroth this year, but I’m hopeful that at least the one older Warre will generate a box full for us soon!

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: