The Good News

Here’s the good news as promised, Reader. The bad news, as you’ll recall, is that the bees from the tree have now been combined with the Girls of Summer, and the small swarm I collected last week absconded.

But on Sunday’s inspection of the remaining four hives, I found two absolutely gorgeous queens at work. The queen in Tomboys was moving around on comb the bees had drawn on their foundationless frames. It was beautiful to see. And the queen in Girls of Summer is HUGE. I was spellbound watching her (also moving about on comb drawn on foundationless frames). I don’t know why it’s so uplifting to spot the queen and then to see how healthy she looks and how calm she is and how wonderful the hive is doing. But, I was uplifted.

Another thing that really surprised me was the health of the split hive. In July I took a frame containing one or two queen cells from Tomboys; from other hives I added two frames of brood and a frame full of honey, and I started a new hive. And though they haven’t drawn new comb since then, they’ve certainly filled the frames with which they began, and those frames were covered with bees. The colony seemed calm and relaxed and healthy.

I’ve decided to move the split hive into a 5-frame nuc for the winter, though. There’s too much empty space around the filled frames (they’re currently living on 4 deep frames hung in a stack of 2 medium boxes), and that’ll be hard to heat in the winter.

One thing I’m learning about beekeeping…timing is everything. Seriously…that “To everything there is a season” thing from the Bible makes more and more sense as I get older.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.

More Space Has Stopped the Bearding

Success!

Yesterday I inserted a box I fashioned from two shallows between my two brood boxes in Girls of Summer. They’re the most robust of our colonies, and they’ve been mighty crowded and hot and bearding like crazy.

So, I pulled deep frames of brood up from the bottom box and into the center of the new box; I interspersed medium, undrawn foundationless frames among all the fully drawn comb in the bottom two boxes. Then, I restacked them. This should give them the room they need to operate.

Yep, I’ve got a real mishmash of frames going on in there now, and there’s quite a bit of empty space that the bees will surely fill up with wild comb, but I guess I can figure out how to deal with all of it later.

My goals:

  1. Keep these bees from swarming before winter.
  2. Keep these bees alive over the winter.
  3. Switch from deep boxes to medium-depth boxes.
  4. Harvest some honey next year.
  5. And do all of this without introducing any chemicals.

So, now that I know this addition of space and new frames has stopped the bearding in Girls of Summer, I need to do the same thing for Amazons and Tomboys. Which means I’ve got to head down into the basement and make 20 frames today.

Here are some pictures. They don’t show you much other than what it looks like to rearrange a bee colony.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.
Rearranging a bee colony. (The lighter colored frames are foundationless and are interspersed among frames already drawn)
Rebuilt Girls of Summer (including the two-shallow box in the center)

My First Split

I discovered a couple of swarm cells in Tomboys before I left for Florida last week. I thought for sure Tomboys would swarm before I returned, and they may have…hard to tell.

Today the swarm cells were still there, so in order to keep the bees from swarming and to take advantage of the new queen cells, I used the swarm cells from Tomboys to make a split and create a new hive.

(I KNOW…I should have taken more pictures, but here’s the problem: My iPhone operates by touch, and my gloves aren’t exactly like skin, so in order to use the iPhone for pictures, I have to take off my glove, take the picture, put the glove back on, etc. Time consuming and awkward.)

Anyway, I took Michael Bush’s advice from Beemaster.com: I stacked two medium boxes together; in the center of the top box, I put 4 deep frames (one containing the swarm cells [these will supply the queen], one containing honey [this will supply food until there are active foragers] two containing brood [these will build up the colony with workers]; I filled the remainder of the boxes with empty, medium-depth, foundationless frames. The bees will certainly build some funky comb beneath the deep frames because there’s so much empty space there, but I can clean that mess up later.

I scooted Tomboys over a little bit, and I placed the new, as-yet-unnamed hive facing the entrance of where Tomboys previously sat. The foragers who left Tomboys this morning (before the move) should be confused as to which hive they belong when they return—50% should enter the new hive and build up the population there; 50% of them should head back into their Tomboys home. I’ll to reverse the two hives in 7 days to balance it all out.

I don’t know if I should name the new hive yet or not. This thing feels quite experimental, so I don’t want to pin any hopes on its survival.

Here’s what the set up looks like now:

On another note: Girls of Summer are building great comb on their new foundationless frames. Neither Amazons nor Tomboys are doing a thing with theirs yet…but I think each of those hives is trying to build up post swarming, so they aren’t drawing any comb whatsoever.

Unleveled hives

Transitions Are Tricky

I spent a little bit of time yesterday leveling my beehives. Why do that, you ask? Well, I’m slowly shifting from using foundation in my frames to using only foundationless frames, that’s why. And when bees build comb into thin air (and it is beautiful and perfect comb…I don’t know why we ever ever ever ever switched to using preformed, recycled beeswax as a guide) they let gravity lead them. And gravity always pulls one way…if the hive isn’t level, the comb will not be straight in relation to the hive. See? It could get quite messy.

So, as nice and “homey” as those hives look up on the unlevel hill, I had to straighten them out.

From Home Depot I bought enough cinder blocks (of various sizes) and 8′ 4×4’s to construct a platform for the colonies. I have enough room on this platform to add one more hive; and I have enough material to construct another platform. Deb’s gonna freak out when she learns we now have material enough to hold 8 hives.

I also raised the hives a little bit. This will keep the rascal mice out and the skunks and possums from disturbing the bees.

In the after-leveling picture, you’ll see a blue tarp in front of the hives…I’m killing the tall grasses that grow right in front of the boxes because I think it may be disrupting flights.

I’m transitioning all around…from using foundation to foundationless frames; from 10-frame deeps and 10-frame shallow supers to all 8-frame mediums; and from bottom-entrance hives to top-entrance hives. These transitions will take some time, but I think they all make great sense. So, once I move to top entrances, the grass won’t matter too much because the bees won’t need to reach the bottom of the hives. But, for now, I have to kill the grass and raise the boxes.

Unleveled hives

Don’t you think the raised cover below makes Tomboys (center hive) look like a little tomboy with her baseball cap tilted back? I love it. She looks like my friends do in the summertime…happy, relaxed, sweaty, worn out.

Leveled and raised hives

I’ll be glad when I get to lower the new platform a little bit. I don’t love seeing it, but I guess it’s the best alternative for now.

View from the yard of the leveled hives

Beautiful Comb Drawn (in One Week) on Foundationless Frames

Upon today’s hive inspection I have one very clear realization: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Why on earth did I think I could manage a hundred-thousand bees? I am not as smart as I look.

Seriously, I get in there with those bees and all those cells and eggs and larvae and brood and nectar and honey and pollen and whatever else the hell goes on in those alien worlds and everything I think I know disappears. Then I realize that I know nothing.

I keep asking the bees to forgive my clumsiness. They seem to. I hope they can teach me.

One thing I do know: Those foundationless frames work great! Look what my wonderful Girls of Summer did with the foundationless frames I gave them a week ago (and started from popsicle sticks as described in an earlier post):

On Second Thought

You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d better stick with beekeepers who share my newly emerging philosophy of natural beekeeping: chemical-free hives, foundationless frames, small-cell comb, etc.

Then again, if I don’t work with beekeepers who subscribe to other philosophies, how can I hope to spread what I’m learning about natural beekeeping?  I don’t want to come off as an elitist know-it-all. And I’m sure I can learn a lot from experienced beekeepers of all philosophies.

But this fellow I mentioned in an earlier post greeted me by immediately telling me all about the chemicals with which to treat the hives at what time of the year. That’s not at all the way I want to go.  It doesn’t sound like fun. I want keeping bees to be a fun and innovative and creative and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.

popsicle sticks on foundationless frames

Preparing the Ways

Yesterday I began the process of converting to foundationless frames. I’m going to let the bees do their thing without purchased, pre-formed beeswax. Why? Well, there are good reasons, none of which I will go into here—I think these past few posts have been sort of boring because there’s just too much detail.

To prepare my new frames, I used melted wax to attach popsicle sticks to the bottom of the frames. Hopefully, the bees will use these as a guide with which to build their comb.

I made sort of a mess of things, though. They sell special wax-applying gizmos, but I don’t want no stinkin’ gizmos. I melted my wax in a glass measuring thingy that I’d placed in a pan of boiling water. Problem is, spits of wax splattered the stove and the countertops, and Deb’s freaky freaky about keeping those things spotless. It took me forever to clean it off. I can see already that I’m gonna have to buy a little hotplate and do all this work in the basement at my workbench.

Here are the globby frames. My bees have to be very patient with me.

popsicle sticks on foundationless frames
popsicle sticks on foundationless frames

Also, I mowed a nice, wide path to the bee yard. Poison Ivy in the path had become an issue. Every time I took someone to see the bees I had to ask, “How are you with Poison Ivy?” Invariably everyone stood there like a frozen sissy. So, I mowed the sissies a swath.

new path to the bee yard