Fresh Comb
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Happy bees very quickly filling up their one-box home.

Happy bees very quickly filling up their one-box home.

I borrowed a frame of brood and nurse bees from my strong hive to bolster a struggling hive and I put an empty in it’s place. While I was in the strong hive, I split the brood up. I opened up the brood-nest, leaving an empty frame between every two drawn and populated brood-frames. I only had three empties – they were filling up the box fast! That was last weekend. Today I decide to go give the hive another looksee. Normally I’d ignore the hives for several weeks while they’re busy working, but with seven of ten frames of this hive occupied, this one is nearing maximum capacity and in need of another box. If I wait too long, it will form a swarm-cell to raise another queen and then it’ll swarm, removing several thousand bees from the work-force and setting back honey production for that hive.

Comb drawn out like drapes, quickly filling in most of the frame after only a week.

Comb drawn out like drapes, quickly filling in most of the frame after only a week.

I pulled a frame to inspect it and it turned out to be one of the empties I put in last Sunday. Lo and behold – it’s already over half-way drawn. It’s neat to see how several combs were started on this frame and then joined up into a single comb, perfectly built. The other empties were likewise filling with comb too. I didn’t look for eggs, but after examining one of the pictures I took of it later, I could easily tell that the frame was heavily laid with fresh eggs. The queen was busy and the colony is ballooning rapidly. I’m very happy about that, what with the set-backs I’ve had this and last year. I’m hoping to get a little honey harvest from this hive this year and perhaps a much bigger honey harvest next year.

Fresh, well made comb without any help from foundation whatsoever.

Fresh, well made comb without any help from foundation whatsoever.

I decide that they’re full enough for another box. I remove four brood-frames from the box – in this case two of the new ones and a couple full and mature frames that are mostly capped – and I place them into a waiting empty brood-box. I put them in the center then divided them with an empty frame so I had two pairs of frames with room for expansion in the middle between the pairs and to the sides of the pairs. This became the bottom box. They now have room to build more comb as the colony exploits the robust nectar flow in this area.

Soon the mesquite will be flowering and I want a large population of bees to get that good nectar. While neighborhood trees and flower-beds as well as wildflowers in the area represent the primary nectar flow in the Spring, the bulk of my honey comes from the abundant mesquite trees in this area that blooms when the other blooming plants are subdued for the summer.

And no sooner is the comb made, before it's even finished, the queen is busy laying eggs in it, visible here looking like little kernels of rice.

And no sooner is the comb made, before it's even finished, the queen is busy laying eggs in it, visible here looking like little kernels of rice.

In the original box I now have room for four empties. With the speed they filled up the three empties from last weekend, I have no doubt they’ll repeat their performance with these. I’m building combs that I’ll use for the next several years here, on foundationless frames no less and they’re as straight as cardboard. The comb-guides help a lot, plus the straight combs on either side of the empty frames. In the original box, I put two empties on either end. I put the other two empties spaced between two or more combs within the broodnest. All brood-combs are at least in pairs so that there’s enough nurse bees grouped together to keep the brood properly maintained – no brood comb is isolated between two empties.

I removed the original box from the bottom-board and put the new bottom on, then placed the original box on top of this. More occupied combs on top and less occupied combs on bottom. This exploits the bees tendency to build downward. They’ll fill the spaces in the top box and will be drawn into the box below by the occupied brood-combs down there. If they build this up fast enough, I may add a third  box in late May to hopefully get a small honey harvest from this colony come August. With a third added on this year, a fourth will go on early next Spring right as buildup begins and then about this time I’ll cut the hive in half and make two hives of it to begin my walk-away splitting process of multiplying the strong hives. I can hardly wait – this one is a very strong and happy hive.

May 2nd, 2010

Michael Vanecek

I've been keeping bees with no treatments whatsoever for several years. I've followed a basic philosophy of if the bees don't bring it into the hive then it doesn't get put into the hive with good success. After a life-time of naturalism, this was simply the logical course to take with honeybee husbrandry and proof is out there buzzing and making honey right now.

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