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Bees, Glorious Bees

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I’ve been doing so much traveling, I have not been able to visit much with our bees. Poor Lorraine had to take over beekeeping duties while both Mr. Neil and I were away. She did her best, making sure to give the bees more room to build as they filled in their hive boxes. We have one hive, the yellow Hannah hive that had been slow to build and draw out comb. Lorraine reported on Twitter that the hive had no new brood and whatever larvae was present was shriveled, other than that there was capped honey. We advised her to let the hive be, add a box if it needed it and maybe keep a food bucket on there. As soon as Mr. Neil returned from his trip and I returned from North Dakota, we’d check it and decide what do to. The shriveled larvae had me worried…did we have some new disease to deal with?

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Non Birding Bill and I headed out to meet up with Mr. Neil and Lorraine for a hive inspection. We started with the presumed queenless hive. I wanted to see if the Hannah hive was failing and if a disease was the cause. If she was merely queenless, we thought we might combine her with another hive, but we weren’t going to do that if she had something like foulbrood. However, when we go there, we could see a fair number of bees going in and out, some even arriving with loaded pollen baskets.

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There were a fair number of worker bees inside and they were rather laid back but did not have that queenless buzz, they sounded mellow but harmonious in their buzzing. We took out a frame to assess the situation.

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Not only did we find capped brood (larvae pupating into new workers) but we found very fresh, healthy looking larvae and eggs. The queen was definitely alive and kicking into high gear producing some larvae. We told Lorraine that she did the right thing by just letting the hive be. What she thought was capped honey was capped brood. I didn’t see any shriveled larvae, just plump healthy larvae. I tested a couple of capped off cells for the presence of foulbrood but they were healthy. What a big sigh of relief–we still have four hive for the summer! We just adjusted the spacing of the frames in the hive and let Hannah keep growing.

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The only big problem we encountered in any of the hives was the violation of bee space. The term “bee space” came from Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth who in the 1800s figured out that if a space of 3/8 inch is left in the hive for the bees to move around in, the bees will neither build comb in the space nor cork it up with propolis (bee duct tape). If you allow your frames to fall into violation of that space you get what’s called “feral comb.” As you can see in the above photo, the purple Yvaine hive had a major bee space violation going on. NBB and I had to pry off that excessive comb while Mr. Neil held the heavy brood box.

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We carefully scraped it off to ensure that the queen was not there. We couldn’t just leave it, the oddly placed comb would have caused more problems with future inspections and encouraged unregulated comb construction. Mr. Neil took care to properly space all of the frames in all of our hives so we could avoid future violations. Above, he’s using a frame spacing tool along with a hive tool to set all the frames straight and into proper alignment for good bee space. I’d heard from more experienced beekeepers that frame spacing tools were a toy, but for newer beekeepers, they really do help cut down on the feral comb. I cannot eyeball bee space.

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As we scraped of some of the feral comb, a few developing pupae came out. I felt bad, but again it’s worse in the long run to let the comb stay. The queen lays thousands upon thousands of eggs, a few lost larvae will not destroy the hive. Lorraine however, was a tad grossed out. Here’s a video of Mr. Neil properly scraping some feral comb with his tool and explaining larvae:

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One happy surprise was that our Juliet hive which started as a bit of an angry hive is mellowing out.

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We had to make some minor repairs to her base…well, NBB and Mr. Neil did. Lorraine and I sat and studied the chilled out bees while they worked (didn’t want to be in the way while the boys did the heavy lifting). It’s just so relaxing spending time with chill bees while they do what they do and how pretty they look, all golden in the sun. You can watch them here, if you would like to experience the mellow red Juliet hive.

Oh, one final note: How do the boys like to spend their time while working with the hives? They make up haiku:

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What a joy to have happy harmonious hives without the drama of the previous summers. Let’s hope that holds when our Russians arrive.

14 comments to Bees, Glorious Bees

  • That is a lot of burr comb!!! We found a huge bunch that our girls had built in their hive around the inner cover and empty honey super a couple of weeks ago and had to remove it. We ended up scraping the comb into one of our 10 gallon wine buckets (biggest container around that we knew was absolutely clean) and let the bees rob their honey back for the afternoon. We also took a small piece and sampled the honey. (could not resist!)

    Your hives are looking lovely! Congrats on that, and hope everything continues so well. I’ll have to try making up haiku next time we work with our bees – very calming I’m sure! :)

  • Beeing haiku. How appropriate.

  • jennifer–I can rarely resist sneaking off a bit of fresh comb full of honey from a summer hive. It is the best candy you can ever taste in your life, so soft, so chewy, so sweet–especially when it’s warmed by the sun. I think if more people tasted that, they’d fight for beehives in their yards.

    Hope your hives do well this summer. I have a friend at The Raptor Center who is having the worst luck this summer. He’s doing everything right, he’s having bad luck with his queens, happens to us all at some point.

    Hey, Nat, looking forward to seeing you in person in a couple of weeks!

  • Great post! My sister and husband have had bees for years as did my dad. There’s just nothing better.

  • Dorothy

    I feel so lucky to have bee hives on my property, but I don’t have to take care of them. It’s sort of a rental thing…..they bring the bees out in the spring/summer and take care of them all season, then return to remove them for the winter…..while I get a case of honey for letting them! Wonderful, although I would like to eventually learn the trade. All I usually have to do is save a few bees when they want to come in the house when I pick flowers….they are so peaceful…I just tell them they need to go back to the hive and away they go!!!

  • I never thought about bees much before I started following Neil and Fabulous Lorraine on Twitter but now I’m very intrigued. Posts like this one are fueling that interest. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  • I came to this post via @neilhimself’s twitter update and it was a fascinating read.

    Two (possibly stupid) questions regarding the Russian bees: Will they look different and do they (Russian or other bees) get cranky when they travel?

  • AletaMay

    As always your bee posts make me feel all warm and fuzzy! And Buzzy!

    I really love those first couple of photos, and the last one of course. Makes me want to pet bees!

  • Those are not stupid questions at all.

    The Russian bees are supposed to be darker, like a carniolan bee.

    And I think all bees get cranky when they travel! In all seriousness, when bees are shipped, they are in a huge group that has been taken from their hive and introduced to a new queen and suddenly realize that the box they are in is not a good home, but has food. They go into swarm mode, stick with the queen an protect her in a big ball until a new home is found. Bees are less likely to sting when swarming.

    I’m actually getting kind of worried. The Russians were to have shipped Monday and here it is Thursday and they have not arrived…they have food in the box, but I would think they should be here by now.

  • Valarya

    Thank you for the wonderful post! I’ve been getting more and more curious about beekeeping since following Neil and Lorraine’s blogs. One thing I discovered while bee-searching over the vast internets is that they have a specific scent and heat within the hive that they would rather not get released.. and that opening the hive too often (more than twice a year) can release more of that than is necessary.

    Is that typical for all bees, or is that just the “natural beekeeping” method?

    I’m far from bee-expert and would love your insight! :) Thanks again.

  • Glad to see your hives are doing well. I had to requeen my new hive early on when the bees killed the queen–probably within the first 3 days of installing my package of bees. But now, they are doing well. I haven’t had problems with bur comb since the first couple of weeks.

    I bet you will like your Russian bees—I got a frame of them to help my hive.

  • Sometimes when I get a hive that creates a comb like that it is mostly drone. brood sized. I then put it in an empty frame with some cotton string and let them fix it in the frame and fill in the corners. I then mark the top with “DRONE” and use it as a trap for varroa. When it’s filled and capped I stick it the the freezer for 24 hrs to kill the varroa. You shouldn’t have issues with Russians since they tend to be varroa resistant, but ever bit helps.

  • *chuckles*
    Cranky Russian Bees!
    Although I do hope they arrive safely.
    *goes off to find a picture of carniolan bee. and squelch thoughts of story titles with bees in them*

  • So–it sounds like keeping registration between the official comb boards (I don’t know the proper name) is a problem. Why aren’t brood boxes made with slots that ONLY allow the boards to be put into the boxes at the proper spacing?