Opening the Bees

Yesterday was a beautiful, warm day and one of the least windy we’ve had yet (it’s always windy on our ridge).  My cranky and congested toddler was finally down for her nap, so my husband and I hurried to throw on our bee suits, gather up our gear and take our first opportunity to open up the bees.  My neighbors stopped their hammering on the shed they were building and came over to check out what on earth we were up to now.  They’d never seen anyone in a bee suit before.  It is quite a spectacle really.  🙂  After briefly chatting, we headed over the hill to see the bees.

With everything bursting into bloom all at once, there has been much activity coming and going from the hive the past week or two.  I’ve been eagerly waiting for it to warm up enough so that I could check out what was going on inside the box.  It was much like opening Pandora’s Box, because I inherited this entire started hive, knowing that it had been badly neglected and who knew what might be going on inside.  This was an escaped swarm and the gentleman I got them from was recovering from a broken hip at the time.  When he saw them going across the street and congregating high up in his neighbor’s tree, he quickly threw together a bait box and set it up on the brushy hillside and the bees did finally decide to take residence. 

Nothing had been done to them since then (last spring), until I moved them out here last fall.  Not an ideal situation really.  And me being new to all this, with only two beekeeping books and countless hours of scouring the internet and watching instructional videos on YouTube, who could tell what I was getting myself into?  I consider my stubborness to be one of my best qualities!  Advisably not the best way to get started in beekeeping, but I am going to try to make this work anyway.

I was not quite as nervous as I thought I’d be.  Brandon stood by to help when needed and manned the camera for me.  Here I have lifted off the telescoping cover and pried loose the inner cover and am sending a couple puffs of smoke beneath it through the crack.

I waited a bit, then gently lifted it off. 

Right off the bat, horror!  A section of freeform comb pulled up with the cover.

 Now I feel sick.  The first thing I notice, along with the destruction of large pearly white larvae which have been torn from their capped cells is this solitary swarm cell (queen cell) sticking out like a sore thumb.  This means they’re already thinking about swarming again.  Soon.

I pulled out the outermost frame to see what they were doing with it.  It’s about a third full of capped honey.  They’re already running out of room.  I should have swapped the two boxes sooner.  Bees start at the bottom and work their way up.  They would have moved up from the deep hive body (larger bottom box) during the winter, to eat the honey stored in the super above.  Now the brood nest is in this super, the center of which I just demolished by taking off the inner cover because of the absence of three center frames.  They hung their comb from the inner cover instead and it was cross connected to the frames on either side. 

There was no way to get this apart without making a mess.  Had I gotten them early enough in the fall, this super would have probably been nothing but honey stores and I could have dealt with this better, removing the damaged comb and giving them a hive top feeder to make up for the loss.   Shoulda, coulda, woulda….but this is where I am now, so I gotta come up with a plan.  You won’t read about this in the books, because assuming you have gone by the book you won’t find yourself in this mess in the first place.

At this point, the bees were still very docile, which really surprised me since I just wrecked their home.  I decided I should go ahead and switch the positions of the deep hive body and the super.  As I reflect on it now, I think maybe that wasn’t the right decision.  Maybe the bees could feel my nerves failing in light of uncertainty as to what to do next.  This was when they got really mad.  I am happy to report that my bee suit did its job.  No stings were received by either of us.

I had to lift everything anyways, because one of my main objectives for this visit was to take out the old, mouse-eaten bottom board and replace it with a new IPM (integrated pest management) bottom board.  I set the super gently on top of the telescoping cover on the ground and had my husband lift the deep hive body up so I could put the new bottom board underneath.  Then I put the super on top of the bottom board.  Because I lifted the super (my mistake), I ended up with a pile of damaged freeform comb on top of the hive body.  There were almost no bees working in the deep hive body, so it looked to be empty.  I am hoping they will move their activity back up into it now that the brood nest is below it.  I took an empty super and set it on top of this to encircle the large pile of damaged comb and brood and turned the inner cover so that the hanging comb would be accommodated by the remaining empty space.  There was a line of capped brood cells exposed, and they will die, but the majority of them were still capped and will hopefully emerge alright.  I feel sorry for the bees that they have to clean up this mess.

This photo shows a close-up of the damage to the nest.  Circled in red are the cells of capped brood.  Circled in green is the torn ridge of pearly white larvae exposed. 

I don’t know where the queen was!  I was very careful not to squish anyone.  I will be lucky if she was working over in one of the other frames.  This frame had no eggs in it, just honey and large capped larvae.  She may not be in there at all.  I really needed to go through more frames and look for new eggs and wish now that I had.  Maybe that is why they are already making swarm cells (or because of the lack of upward room).  I could not hang around to do much inspection now that I had really angered them.  I felt it was best to get done and close it up for now.

So this is what I did get accomplished:  I replaced the old bottom board, switched the deep hive body and the super containing the brood nest, added an empty super to enclose the damaged comb, and put the inner cover and telescoping cover back on.  I forgot to put an entrance reducer at the opening.  I will run down there and do that here in a bit.

My goal is to convert this hive over to a top bar hive.  I will have to do some more studying and work on that next weekend.  By then I hope the bees have forgiven me!  I tossed and turned all last night, feeling bad about the destroyed brood and wondering what to do next…

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