Sunday, July 19, 2009

Building Comb in the Super - Week 6

Mmmmm Honey!

The bees have been working very hard, and through some pretty crappy weather.

They've been keeping themselves busy first with creating wax (bees have wax glands on their abdomens that secrete wax which they chew into shape to make honeycomb). They've been keeping busy taking this wax to build up honeycomb on top of the plastic foundation that I've given them inside wooden frames placed in a box called a honey super.

They started to fill the honeycombs with nectar gathered from flowers even before the construction of the combs was complete. Bees are workaholics. They're very driven--that is as long as there's a queen present giving off her pheromones to keep them organized and focused.

This inspection was to check the progress of the first (pink) honey supers on both hives and then to see the progress of building comb on the second (purple) honey supers. The main focus of the inspection though was to determine if the queens from both hives were laying eggs up in the honey super, not a very ideal thing for them to be doing.

I left off a piece of equipment called a queen excluder which would prevent the queen from being able to travel through the whole hive. My reasoning was based on advice from many long term beekeepers that queen excluders tend to slow the bees down to build comb. They simply don't like having to crawl through an excluders narrow bars to move up in the hive. I can't say I blame them. It's probably like doing a limbo and then having to double check you get all your important appendages tucked in so they don't get injured. It would certainly slow them down from moving freely.

The photos are all from the second hive, because we got busy when inspecting the first hive so didn't stop for photos.

Hive #2 had all it's frames drawn in comb in the pink super and the frames were full of honey. The central frames were half capped as well. No queen was sighted and there was no presence of larvae or capped brood. I opted to not put the queen excluder on this hive since the queen was staying down in the deep (brood box). I want the bees to continue upward with ease to the purple super because they need to build comb on those blank frames waiting for them. On inspecting the foundation on the purple super, the bees were at work building comb, but no frames were complete yet. But at least they'd got started.

Hive #1 had not started on their comb building at all in the purple super. This was as expected because this hive is slightly behind the other hive in their production and the weather has been so cold and rainy that I'm sure nectar flows that would help them increase productivity haven't been that great. (The existing honey in the supers is most likely a combination of nectar and sugar syrup honey because I was feeding the bees while they were building comb).

Hive #1 did have their frames drawn in the pink super and they were full of honey, capped and uncapped. I removed frame #1 which was full of honey up into the purple super and then replaced it with a blank frame. I'm hoping that frame of honey higher up will encourage the bees to move up and build comb in the top super.

(Photo - this frame has only a small strip of starter comb across the top. Notice the bees have festooned and are holding on to each other while they begin to create comb. The shape of the festoon should end up being the shape of the finished comb. This will be my honeycomb to harvest).

The Queen was sighted in the pink super on Hive #1 last week, wandering around. I didn't see larvae at that time but on this inspection a week later there was capped brood (no open cells with larvae could be seen) on both sides of about 3 centrally placed frames in this super. I'd say she's a prolific queen which is great and I think she's wonderful--but she needs to stay in the brood box below and do her laying there.

So I checked each frame to be sure the queen wasn't in either super, scraped away some burr comb from the top of the deep and then placed in a white plastic queen excluder. This will ensure she stays below. I was hoping I wouldn't have to do that--lots of rain can make bees unhappy and get them thinking of swarming and the excluder also can make the queen feel she doesn't have enough room but because of her laying above it was time to put it in.

I'll certainly have to monitor their activity but I'm determined not to open the hive more frequently than once a week. My next inspection will be to make absolute certain that the queen is below the excluder (by the presence of no new eggs or larvae) and to keep an eye out for supersedure or swarm cells.

I did see one large bullet-like cell on the left middle of a frame on Hive #1 which I wasn't sure if it was a supersedure cell or a drone cell so I opened it with my hive tool, unfortunately killing the larvae, but preventing another queen from being made if it was a supersedure cell. (Now after the fact I wish I had taken photos so I had a reference to look back at to be sure--but I'm finding I get so busy dealing with the busy bees, trying not to crush or kill them, sticky fingers and heavy frames, the smoke, etc., that it's hard to stop for the photos but they would give me something to look back at because I'm finding I get those 'senior moments' when I don't remember everything I did!)

I'll drop by mid week just to observe from the outside to see if they have a contented hum or not.

(Video - sorry I don't seem to have software that will allow me to rotate the video to make it upright).
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