A Tale of Two Hives

Two days ago it was officially the first day of spring.  Seasons are a bit unpredictable around these parts,  though I think that could be said for most places nowadays.  It does feel like spring though.  Everything is beginning to sprout and I’m seeing green everywhere.  Still a chance another freeze is on the way, which would not be good for all the young buds, but that also isn’t unusual around here and the plants that survive are hardy.

Of course, for me, the biggest part of spring is the return to beekeeping.  And my two hives here at home have been showing signs of life for weeks now.  My first hive, has been very active, even on days I thought were too cold they were flying out and returning with huge globs of yellow pollen.  The second hive seemed lethargic by comparison, with only a few bees flying, even on warm days.

Not really sure why there is such a difference in performance between these two hives.  They are the result of hive splits, so they should be from similar genetic stock, though there is no way of knowing what locals the queens bred with.  The hives are basically the same design, though the first one is one I built from scratch and is made of heavier wood, while the second one was built from a kit and is a bit lighter, so it may be a matter of insulation.  The first hive also has an entrance pointing southeast and receives a bit more sunlight, especially in the morning than the more directly east pointing entrance on the other hive.  For whatever reasons, the second hive has always seemed to struggle a bit compared to the first.

This year I decided to experiment with a slightly different hive design.  Both hives are Kenyan top bar hives, a little different than the traditional Langstroth hive.  I decided to build a Tanzanian top bar hive this time around.  The only real difference between the two styles is that a Kenyan hive is shaped like an inverted trapezoid, narrower at the base than at the top, and the Tanzanian hive is basically a rectangle.  The Kenyan hive has become the most popular with the top bar beekeeping crowd.  They look a bit cooler, but the only practical thing I’ve heard as to why is that they say the bees aren’t as inclined to attach their comb to the sloping sides of the Kenyan hive as they are to the Tanzanian.  Not having the comb attached to the sides of the hive makes it a lot easier to move it around and inspect the hive.  However, I’ve not heard too many people that have actually tried the Tanzanian hive and have first hand experience with it.  The one person I have read about using them claims he has had no such problems.  I imagine a lot comes down to the bees.  Different colonies will build in different ways.  I get a little attachment in my Kenyan hives now, I doubt it will be much worse in a Tanzanian.   On the plus side, the Tanzanian hive is a little easier to build, since it is essentially just a long rectangular box.   I also made it the right dimensions to accept frames from a standard Langstroth hive.  This allows me to use the more common nucs, and accessories like feeder boards designed for a standard hive.

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IMG_20150316_192216

Mike, a beekeeping friend of mine that I met in an online beekeeping seminar, came up today to help me move the bees from my lethargic hive into the new hive I’d built.  We moved the old hive and put the new one in its place.  When we opened up the old hive to start moving bees over though, we didn’t find many.  The colony was very weak.  There was a ton of honey, but only a small patch of brood, and most of the bees appeared to be young nurse bees.  I managed to locate the queen and moved the queen and the two small patches of brood over to the new hive, along with a few bars of honey.  The rest of the old comb and honey I harvested.  I wanted to condense the hive down as small as possible to so keep parasites like small hive beetles and wax moths from moving in.  Oddly, there were no beetles or moth larva to be seen though, despite a lot of unguarded honeycomb.  We closed up the hive and I set the old hive right in front of the entrance.  I placed the old bars with the remains of honey comb on them on the old hive and left it for the bees to harvest what they would.  The bees went for the honey, but only a few seemed to be flying in and out of the hive, most of them were going up under the roof.

Bee Harvesting Honey from old bar

Bee Harvesting Honey from old bar

I think the hive has too low of a population to survive, but I’m going to give it a chance.  It does have a laying queen and some brood going, so it may yet bounce back.   The other hive (which I’ve been calling the first hive so far) was doing amazingly well.  It is already filling about 80% of the hive, and there was even brood comb and a queen cell.  I’ve never seen the population of a hive so high so early in the spring.  They may even be preparing to swarm before long.  It’s pretty impressive.  What I should do is simply kill off the queen in the other hive and move a bunch of the brood and eggs (or where I assume there are eggs, my vision is no longer good enough to see bee eggs unaided) from the strong hive along with a lot of worker bees and let them raise a new queen.  I could also just try moving brood over and leaving the queen in place,  though that may not work well if there aren’t enough workers to care for them.

If the hive should fail, I will likely still have a strong enough hive to do a split from it at some point, so I’m not terribly worried.  I also have a third hive out at a friend’s farm.  It did not do well last year, and was near starvation when I checked on it a month or so ago.  I fed them some sugar and need to go check on them again now and see if they are still hanging on.  They live in kind of a green desert, farmland isn’t always the best place for a hive because crops like soybeans don’t provide good forage for them.