We've had an unusually cool spring which has somewhat limited the beekeeping activities. Last week though we had a streak of hot weather and the bees shifted into high gear building several bars worth of new comb. The population appears to be steadily increasing and they are now occupying nearly half the hive.
From the level of activity in and around the hive and the amount of pollen I’m seeing on returning bees they are apparently having no problem finding suitable forage. The clover is beginning to bloom here so they should continue to have plenty of flowers to visit.
On one of my inspections I saw a couple of large cells being built out from the comb. I think these may be new queen cells. If so, the colony is either preparing to split and swarm, or they’ve decided to replace the current queen. Since this queen has her wings clipped I really don’t want them to swarm. The queen can’t fly so she will just drop to the ground and the swarm won’t really go anywhere. If that were to happen and I lose the queen all would not be lost as long as one of the new queens in the hive managed to successfully mate and return to the hive. However, I don’t want to leave that all to chance so I’m hoping to be able to split the hive myself, which is basically creating an artificial swarm.
I just put together my second hive. This time I purchased a top-bar hive kit from Honey Bee Habitat. The kit cost $100, plus about $35 for shipping. To that I had to add a couple of 2x4s for legs, and the lexann window for the side (not necessary, but I like to be able to check on what is happening in the hive without disturbing the bees). All said, it was just over half the cost of the hive I built myself, and a fraction of the time to put together. The hive itself is not quite as stout as the one I made, and has an open bottom with a screen. I’ll likely have to come up with a board to close that off come winter, but the screened bottom is supposed to help with pest control as mites, beetles and other critters will fall out the bottom. The roof is covered with painted sheet aluminum and is much more manageable than the shingled monstrosity I put on top of mine. The top bars for this hive are about the same size as the ones from my first hive, but a slightly different style so moving bars between hives won’t be as seamless as I would like, but still doable. They also chose to use two different widths of top bars, which I don’t like. Some beekeepers say that you need to provide different size bars because the bees will make different widths of comb for brood and for honey storage. Others don’t think this is necessary and believe you should just provide them with consistent bars and they will build what they need (I belong to the latter camp). If I decide that the difference in bars is too big of a problem I can always replace them with ones of my own. Overall though, I’m happy with the kit and think it is well worth the money. If anyone is looking at getting into top-bar beekeeping and want a relatively inexpensive way to get started I would recommend it. Once I get it placed I will put some pictures up.
So back to the split. If they are indeed getting ready to swarm the best way to deal with it would be to take several bars worth of comb containing a lot of brood and honey stores along with a good number o workers and the old queen and put them in another hive. Since the purpose of the swarm is to find a new home this fulfills the instinct and hopefully they will settle into the new hive and the old hive will get a new queen and I end up with two healthy hives moving forward. Today I took four bars from the new hive and put in the old. Hopefully they will build both honey and brood comb on these and then I can move them over. If not, I can still move some of the original bars over if need be.
I didn’t get as thorough of inspection done as I would have liked, so I’m still not sure if they are really producing queen cells. They have built the comb out rapidly and have started attaching it to the sides and gluing the top bars together, so I had to break the bars free to look at them. They also seemed to be very temperamental and every move I made had me being dive bombed by numerous angry bees. I’m still not quite comfortable working with them when they are that agitated and backed off a few times to let them calm down. Ultimately I ended up crushing a few replacing the bars. While I try my best not to, it just seems unavoidable at times, and after reviewing a few things on forums and youtube I find that this is fairly common. So I don’t feel too bad about my abilities, just going to take a bit more time to gain the experience and finesse needed.
While I’ve seen no evidence of mites yet, what I do see is lots of ants on and around the hive. At first I was concerned with this, but most of what I’ve read indicates that ants are more of a nuisance to the beekeeper than to the bees. Besides the ones that fall into the hive when I open it up, I’m not seeing ants in the comb. With the amount of sugar water that gets sprayed on the outside of the hive I’m not surprised that ants show up. I’m also curious if maybe they might deter other pests from setting establishing populations in the hive. So, for the moment I’m keeping an eye on them, but not taking any drastic actions to get rid of them.