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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All (Queen) Right!

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Look at all the beautiful brood!

It’s been a little less than a month since I did the walkaway split with my largest hive. I had intended to check it at two weeks, but tax paperwork, weather and farm chores all got in the way. All three of my hives looked busy and healthy from the outside so I just let them “bee”.

Today was a beautiful sunny day and I decided it was time to open everyone up and see what the situation was. First I opened up the hive that I started from a nuc back in May. They were doing great, lots of bees, lots of brood, lots of honey. No problems there.

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This hive is so gentle it’s like they don’t even realize I’m there. Not to mention it’s nice working with a hive that’s all fresh new woodenware and frames. They were getting pretty full so I gave them a new honey super with half plastic foundation and half beeswax starter strips. The frames with foundation will hopefully help to keep the comb on the foundationless frames straight. I’m excited to see how the frames with the strips work out because I’d rather move away from plastic if I can. The beeswax strips are cheap, easy to install, and will allow the bees to build any kind of comb they want. If they want to fill it with drone comb, they can bee my guest. I just want it built straight!

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The starter strip is taken from a sheet of Dadant size wax foundation. I can get five 1 1/8″ strips from one sheet so two sheets will do all ten frames. The strip is secured by dripping wax from a beeswax candle into three spots and holding the strip straight until they harden. Easy. Plus this way I’ll be able to harvest some comb honey at some point which is the ultimate goal.

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Next I opened the hive that I suspected had been the queenless half of the split. Same thing, lots of bees, a beautiful brood pattern and eggs and larvae in all stages. I did also find what looked like a single opened queen cup. Didn’t see the queen, but I know she’s in there doing a fantastic job.

One thing that concerned me a little was the condensation buildingĀ  up under the lid. Just another reason I would like to build and install some top quilts before winter as well as look into some slatted racks and screened bottom boards. I think more ventilation will be a good thing.

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You can see a few empty queen cups

Hive three had been the stronger side of the split, with two full boxes of bees to start off with. I had assumed the queen was in this hive, but when I opened it up there were a good dozen or so queen cups that were long empty. This hive was the least gentle of the three, which wasn’t to say they were aggressive, just a little more upset that I was taking their house apart. It could have been partly because there were quite a few frames sticking together when I lifted the top boxes off and they shifted around a little. Also maybe because my smoker was kind of puttering out by that point. Still no stings so I’m not complaining.

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Hive three looked pretty darn good! Tons of capped brood in a good solid pattern and lots of honey, even though this was the hive I hadn’t fed.

I did a cursory inspection for varroa mites, and couldn’t see a single one clinging to any bee in any of the hives. Once I get my screened bottom boards I can do a 24 hour mite check and that will help determine if I need to treat before winter. I think I prefer the method of allowing the bees a frame to build up with drone comb, and then just freezing it once it’s filled with brood. Varroa mites prefer drone brood because their gestation is longer, so that’s a good natural method of control.

Once again I didn’t use my gloves today. When gloved fingers get covered with propolis and stick together, it can be dangerous and I almost dropped a frame the one time I did use them. I suppose my hands are now stained orangey-yellow for awhile, but maybe the propolis will help to heal the dozen or so barn owl bites I got from gearing up an uncooperative male with his transmitter yesterday!

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