Hive Inspection: Differences

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Cracked open my three hives today, and I’m beginning to see some real differences between them.

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Hive 1 (far left), which was started from a nuc in May, has two deep brood boxes and a honey super. I’m switching to foundationless frames and all the uppermost supers have them, so while they still haven’t touched their honey super, they have absolutely filled their top deep with capped honey. I could barely lift out the frames!

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This hive is always super active with lots of new bees doing their orientation flights each day, so I didn’t look into the bottom box. I probably will check it in a week or so just to make sure they’re not honey-bound. I fed this hive for quite awhile so I won’t be harvesting honey from them this year, but there’s still time to make more bees. I’ve also noticed that this hive really likes to propolize! It’s like a sticky orange wonderland in there.

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Hive 2 (middle) seems to be doing the best of all the hives. It was the half of the split I did in May that had the queen in it, so they’ve been going strong since the beginning. They haven’t touched their topmost super either, but they have already filled the one below it. When I looked at it I saw lots of capped honey but also a small amount of open and capped brood.

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I don’t mind a bit of brood in the honey super as I won’t be harvesting from this hive either this year, since they were also fed for a short time. Eventually I plan to move to all medium boxes so anything they want to do is fine, it can always be moved. Despite all the brood, strangely this hive is the one where there is not a whole lot of entrance activity on most days.

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Hive 3 (far right) is the half of the split that made their own queen. They’re still doing just fine and have two supers full of honey now, although the top box is still undrawn as with the other hives. I did notice this hive is slightly more defensive. There were more bees flying and I actually received a sting on the back when I mowed in front of it yesterday. Just a subtle difference really but interesting to note. I wonder if the queen found some feral bees to mate with which might explain it?

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Today I came prepared with a bottle full of sugar syrup to spray on the frames of all the untouched top supers. Hopefully once they start to clean it up they’ll be inspired to start drawing out comb. They’re all certainly running out of room and the pollen and nectar keep flowing in.

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One of my reasons for switching to foundationless frames is that I want to breed smaller bees. Bees will grow to the size of the cell they develop in. Natural cell size is about 4.6mm to 4.9mm, while over the years we’ve moved them up to a standardized 5.4mm. That’s the size of most of the foundation you’ll find commercially available. We did this because bigger bees have longer tongues that can access deeper flowers, and they can collect more nectar and pollen. However, varroa mites like bigger bees too because they take longer to gestate, which is how the mites reproduce.

If you let the bees draw their own comb, eventually after a few generations they will revert back to natural cell size. This will give them an added advantage over varroa. Since treatment free beekeeping is my objective, this will help us get there.

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