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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fist Hive Inspection

About mid-afternoon I decided today was the day for the inspection of the hive in my back yard. Then I got distracted by work and almost let the day slip away and I was rushing up against the dark to get the hive put back together.

The first think I noticed was that the hive has not grown much in the last month or so. I suppose this could be due to the lack of rain but as this is my first year with bees in my back yard I just have no real idea if they are growing at a normal rate. I know that the professional bee keeper placed two honey supers on his hives about 6 weeks ago and he is expecting them to be full. But bee that as it may I decided to spread the honeycomb out and give them more room.

My original idea of giving the bees a "more natural" setting to grow at a natural rate seemed to work well enough but I think I have a bigger problem that has caused them to become "honey bound" or locked into their current size. The issue is that I did not account for the humidity when I made the top bars. I knew this was a problem after the first week or two but there was really no going back and so I let nature run its course.

If there is one thing that I learned from all of the reading I did on top bar hives it is that the only measurement that is important is the width of the bars. For European bees, the ones that I have, the top bar should be 1 3/8 inches wide or 35mm, no more, no less. So I was very careful to cut the top bars to the exact measurement. The problem is that the wood I used, top quality pine, is kiln dried and kept in a temp and humidity controlled setting so it will keep its shape in human homes. So this wood is intended to be used inside of human homes. When it is kept out side, especially in Houston, it soaks up the humidity and swells. I don't know how much but I do know that I have had to remove one of the top bars or they swell so tight I cant get them out. Now the top bar are covered so there is no direct rain on them but they are exposed to good ventilation so when the humidity gets high there is plenty of water to make the swell. To add to this, the process of making honey is basically dehumidifying nectar. So a hive full of bees and honey generate a ton of moisture on their own.

So where is this whole thought process going? What happens when you put all those top bars side by side and they all swell? You might not be able to answer this without another hint. The reason the top bars must be exactly 1 3/8 inches is because that is how far apart bees build honeycomb, regardless of their surroundings. So if your bars are not exact, and sometimes even if they are, the bees will build what is called cross comb. Or in other words they will build honeycomb across the bars and not along them so you can't take the bars out to inspect. And even though the top bars only swell a little over the span of the hive, and just about where they stopped building comb they get to a place that they build almost exactly on the space between the bars or join two bars together. So this is lesson number one.

Allow the wood that is used in the making of bee hives "cure" outside until they have reached their "outdoor size" before cutting into top bars. I did read this some place on the internet but it was after the fact. No real worries. The bees tried to keep the comb on the bars. They made deeper comb and made them a little wavy at top until they finally got to the point that they just could not build along the starter strips of wax that I made and they just made it up and built right down the middle and effectivly glued two bars together. The bar just before it was way off center. So I decided to move them as a 2 bar unit, that worked well. It just will make it hard to get the rest of the hive filled with comb. This may be why they have slowed in their comb building.

One of the things my commercial beek told me was that in the old days it was said that a queen will not cross a honey barrier to build brood cells. But he also added that if I were to keep bees long enough I would realize that bees have a mind of their own and they always break the rules.

A honey barrier is the first full bar of honey without any brood cells. So with this information on this inspection I was looking for my honey barrier. With the hive entrance in the middle of the TBH there should be two honey barriers, one on each end.

I started the smoker, something that is optional and many beeks don't use a smoker at all or very little. The smoker discussion is one the most interesting discussions that I have read with opinions that range from it is essential to it is useless or harmful to the bees. So I am still experimenting with it. Some things I have noted so far: 1) The smoker is tricky to get a fire started in it. 2) it is easy to forget about it and let it go out. 3) No matter where I put it I always end up with a face full of smoke that chokes me. 4) It is supposed to calm the bees but I notice that the minute the smoke hits the bees they start to buzz really loudly. 5) Bees don't seem to like the smoke so they tend to run from it. 6) If for no other reason than the bees are concentrating on the smoke they don't seem to be as aggressive when there is smoke. So since I knew I was going to take this hive as far apart as possible I started the smoker.

When I took the top off the hive the first thing I noticed was that there were Small Hive Beetles skampering about on top of the bars. I also saw that there were gaps in my hive that allowed the bees to get through, as well as the SHB. So at the end of the day I plugged the holes with paper, I hope this keeps them all in where I want them. The other thing I noticed. Because of the top bars swelling I had to remove on of them and this left me with a empty spot that was not big enough for a top bar. I thought I was clever when I saw that the follower board would fit in that spot so I left it in the hive against the end. The problem is that I think this is a perfect place for the SMB to get away from the bees. The next inspection I will take the follower boards out. Not sure what I will put there but I have to reduce the hiding places for those pesky SHB. The good news is that the bees seem to be able to keep them on the run as I didn't see many running around in the hive, only on the ends.

Well there is a lot more to write about but it is late and I am sleepy. Good night.


Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

I'm enjoying your blog about your top bar beekeeping experiences. I'll make a point to drop by more often.

Re the smoke, no it does not calm the bees. It makes them think there's a forest fire so they preoccupy themselves with drinking up all their honey to prepare to evacuate. Then when the 'fire' doesn't come they regurgitate their honey back into the combs - that's what sets their productivity back about 3 days every time we smoke the hive.

Curtis said...

Thanks Barb,
I love to hear from other beeks.