Thursday, May 6, 2010

Houston, we've had a problem

If you recall from our last episode, Clare had some issues with comb where the queen cage had been wedged between the frames. The comb was dangling from the top bar. I didn't remove the frame last week because it looked like the comb would fall right off. I thought the bees might repair it once I pulled the queen cage and in the interim I would seek out some expert advice.

I searched the books high and low, I searched the online forums. I came up empty. I decided not to bother any of the local beekeepers because we had our first stretch of nice weather and I knew they would have their hands full. Any help would most likely have required on site assistance because I didn't have any good pictures of the problem from my last hive inspection.

Today I went back into the hive to see what the bees had been up to. I was determined to get a good look at that problem frame and at least get some pictures so I could take them to a local beekeeper for a review.

At first glance it was obvious the bees had made great progress over the past week. The 8th frame (at the farthest edge of the hive body) hadn't been worked yet but the seventh was almost fully drawn (meaning the bees had built honeycomb cells on it for storing brood, honey, etc.) The 6th and 5th frames were fully drawn and had capped comb.

Then came the problem frame which should have been number 4 but in fact was 4 plus an extra as shown in the picture above. The bees had used the space created by the queen cage to build 2 sections of comb attached to the same frame.

As I slowly turned the frame to examine it closely the extra section of comb broke free from frame and landed on the top of the hive.

I was knee-deep in it now. No time to go hunting for experts. The bees had spent 18 days investing in this comb and the loss of that investment could doom the colony.

I decided the best approach would be to take the foundation out of the number 8 frame and try to attach this section of comb to the empty frame. I had wired the frame so if I could just press the comb into the wires it might support it well enough.

I hung the #4 frame on the support and went to work. I positioned the empty frame around the comb and pressed down but the wires were not penetrating enough so I put one hand under the comb and gently pressed upward. The bees on the underside of the comb were not particularly fond of my fingers pushing them and their comb and one of the bees let me know about it. My first sting while working in the hive. I barely felt it and continued on.

As I tried to bring the comb to an upright position in the frame it felt like it might break apart. I needed more support.

I ran down to the garage and grabbed a roll of framing wire to loop around the frame at a couple points to keep the comb in the frame. Then with the hive tool I trimmed off the excess comb at the bottom so that the bottom edge of the comb fit snugly on the bottom of the frame.

It looked pretty good or at least much better than I had found it. Hopefully my beginner's mistakes do not cost the colony too dearly.

So frame 8 was out and what was frame 7 became frame 8 as everything was shifted over. And the "extra" frame became frame 5. I was fortunate that frame 8 had not been worked and was available for this emergency because frame 1 at the other end of the hive had already been drawn. Otherwise, I would have had 9 frames in an 8 frame hive body.

There's plenty more to tell about today's hive inspection. I haven't yet touched on Galway but the good news is that the girls seem happy and they are doing what they are supposed to do even as I stumble.

Both Clare and Galway are doing well enough that I added a second hive body to each hive. Matt asked how tall they would get. Hopefully they'll get 4 stories high before the end of the season. The first 3 stories are for the bees. They need enough stores to make it through the winter. I can harvest the honey from frames in any hive body beyond those first 3 stories.


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