The beeyard at 10am on a cool spring morning is not a happening place. I had no idea if the girls had stayed put last night. If they had found the new hive unacceptable they would have swarmed again and headed off for something more to their liking, like a cardboard box. There were still bees hanging out on and in the carton, around the exposed frames and there was a cluster of them on the tree trunk closest to the hive. Were they swarming up again? There were some dead bees on the ground and on the landing pad. Casualties are expected. There were no bees coming or going in the new hive, but there were none coming and going in the other hives, either. It was still too cool. Since I was not dressed appropriately for encounters of the bee kind, I went back into the house.
I spent a couple of hours planting and sneaking looks at the hives. Now there were take-offs and landings, a good sign. The bees were still clustered on the tree. Late this afternoon, I was ready to suit up and check on the first three hives. I had bought some special equipment to make comb honey and would have installed it yesterday had I not gotten sidetracked by the swarm. I meant to take a picture of the Ross rounds before I installed the box but my head was full of bees and I forgot.
Comb honey can be produced a number of ways. The foundation we use is made of beeswax stamped into the familiar hex shape of the cells. Wire is embedded in the wax for support. Have you ever seen honeycomb for sale with wire in it? Me, neither. When we want to cut the honeycomb we use foundation without wire. The comb can then be cut and plunked into a wide mouth jar. Or it can be cut out of the frame with a big square cookie cutter-like gizmo and then the sticky squares are dropped into clear square boxes.
Honeycomb is quite fragile. When I accidentally mash it with my hive tool, the honey oozes out. The idea of using a square cutter sounds like a big sticky mess to me. Ross rounds are shallow frames that fit into a shallow wooden box which sits on top of the honey super, but below the inner and telescoping covers. The two halves of the frames each have plastic inner frames with four circular openings. Rings fit into the circles, wax foundation goes between the halves and then the halves are snapped together. The wooden box holds seven of these frames. The bees, programmed to build comb and store honey, have nowhere else to do it so they build comb right inside the rounds. Then they fill it with honey. I will have to monitor their progress and as they fill the rounds, I will remove them and snap clear plastic tops and bottoms around their fine work. Voila! Comb honey! Do the math! If the honeybees do their jobs, each time I set up the works I will have 28 containers of round comb honey. In reality, I will remove the frames as they are filled and replace full rounds with empty ones. At some point in the summer, I will remove the equipment so the bees can continue to store the honey they will need for themselves.
How I wish I had taken photographs of the Ross rounds.
At 4:30 this afternoon, I suited up and smoked what used to be Hive 2 and is now Hive 3. I have decided to take less invasive care of the hives this year. Instead of taking out each frame, looking for the queen, looking for brood, looking for those tiny eggs I can NEVER seem to see and working my way to the bottom of the hive, most of the time I intend to check out what's going on in the top box. I need to see if honey is filling the frames, and if so, I'll put on another super. I am going to trust the bees to do their thing. And the less time I have the hives open, the less I will upset the bees and hopefully, this will result in fewer stings. Please! There were bees in the upper box and the cells were glistening with honey, but they had not capped the cells. This hive was not ready for another super.
Hive 4, (previously 3, where the cranky bees lived last year) was loaded with honey, much of it capped. I made the decision to put the Ross rounds on this hive.
In Hive 2 (previously 1), I found frames heavy with capped honey. Most of the frames were full. This hive needed a honey super.
I really wanted to take a peek under the cover of the swarm hive. First I moved all the empty frames away from the hives. Then I checked the cardboard boxes for live bees. There were none, so I moved them away, too.
This is the inside flap of the box the swarm had made home. The white squiggles are beeswax where the burr comb had been attached. Here's a close up.
Yesterday, I guessed there were 6-8 pieces of burr comb, but this shows 10 good sized pieces and the dots are where the bees had begun to build two more until I intervened. I love how the wax is so carefully spaced. The remains look like fern or fish fossils. Imagine this flap of cardboard turned back inside the box, horizontal to the ground. Each squiggle had oval shaped, fully formed wax honeycomb suspended inside the box. Row after row. If left alone, the bees would have filled the entire box with these structures, the queen would have laid eggs and the whole thing would have functioned exactly like our modern box hives. Modern? The design we use today is called a Langstroth hive and it was patented in 1852. It is an improvement on previous designs (including wild hives) because the frames of honeycomb are moveable to allow a beekeeper to work with the hive and to collect honey without destroying the hive.
When I opened the swarm hive, now known as Hive 1, the upper box was loaded with bees. I pulled a few of the frames and could see into the bottom box where the burr comb remains, for now. I have no idea how many bees were hanging out in the bottom box and I didn't want to disturb the girls any more than necessary, so I didn't open up the whole hive. The frames in the top hive already had some honey. If the queen is in there, she would already be laying eggs, but these old eyes can't quite see them, so I didn't waste time looking. Since I will be away for a few days, I decided to add a box to this hive, too. When I return next week, I'll take the hive down to the bottom and replace the burr comb with frames.
I came back to the house to take two boxes with frames from the basement to the beeyard for Hives 1 and 2. The frames for Hive 2 already have drawn comb from last year. The frames for the swarm hive have new frames with foundation without comb. I was told that bees that have swarmed produce comb quickly and I figured these girls need to be kept busy.
This is what the beeyard looks like now. That's the swarm hive on the left.