P. Michael Henderson
My oldest hive is now about six years old. I wanted a beehive to pollinate our avocado trees and made a deal with Bill, a beekeeper, for him to place a hive here in 2012. In 2015, he contacted me and said he was getting out of the business and I could have the hive if I wanted it, or he would come get it. I kept it and started trying to learn about bees. I didn't do much with the hive for the first couple of years. I basically just left it alone - treatment free - and it thrived. I harvested some honey from it in 2016 and 2017. The hive swarmed in 2015 but I missed the swarm - I didn't have the equipment at that time to capture a swarm.
Bill was a treatment free beekeeper and the hive did well. But Bill also believed in screened bottom boards - without slides to close off the light - and he didn't paint his woodware. As I learned more about bees, I came to believe that screened bottom boards are okay, but they need a slide to close off the bottom and keep the hive dark. I'm also an advocate for painting the hive bodies because the hive is a very moist place - the bees generate moisture from metabolism of honey and from ripening the honey (evaporating nectar). Unpainted wood will absorb moisture and possibly warp or get moldy.
So I wanted to replace the two brood box bodies and the bottom board - actually, I've wanted to do that for a while but was somewhat afraid I might damage the queen, and/or set the bees back in their spring buildup. But I finally decided that I should get it done so that's what I did today.
Here's a picture of the hive with the old woodware. You can see that it has an unpainted bottom, two unpainted brood boxes, and an unpainted excluder.
I took the hive apart, first the three supers, which I set aside, then the first brood box, then the bottom board and the lower brood box. I put the new bottom board and an empty brood box on the stand and started moving the frames from the bottom brood box to the new brood box. I moved eight frames (with the bees on the frames) and put two new wax coated plastic foundation frames in the center of the box (frames 5 & 6). I removed the two outside frames, frames 1 & 10. I want to try out the wax coated plastic. An experienced beekeeper recommended them - he said that they stay straight so they're easier to remove after the bees build out the comb. I've noticed that on wax foundation, the foundation is often not well centered so the built out comb sticks out on one side. The bees accommodate for that but if you want to move a frame, or insert a new frame, that comb sticking out can be a problem.
As I moved the frames from the lower brood box I saw the problem with a screened bottom board without a slide - the bees essentially ignored the comb in the bottom brood box. Almost all the brood and honey were in the second brood box. Hopefully, this new bottom board, with a slide, will encourage them to use the bottom brood box more.
I'm beginning to question the value of the screened bottom board. I've learned that you need to keep the bottom blocked off so that the hive is dark or the bees will not use the bottom brood box very much. And then, you have to clean out the area below the screen, on the sliding board that blocks it off, because brood cappings fall through the screen and build up. There's some kind of worm that will live in those cappings if you don't clean it out. If a solid bottom board was used, the bees would probably remove the cappings that fall to the bottom.
Another reason for putting new frames in the boxes is that the brood comb gets old. The bees keep raising brood in the cells and the new bee spins a cocoon. Some of the cocoon stays in the cell so the cell gets smaller over time. Over time, I'll rotate all the old frames out of the boxes. I labeled the new frames as "Plastic" and with the year, "2018".
Then I put another empty brood box on top of the first one and moved eight frames from the old second brood box to the new second brood box. As in the first box, I put two waxed plastic foundation frames in the center (frames 5 & 6) and removed frames 1 & 10.
Here's the hive with the new bottom board and the two new brood boxes. Also a new excluder.
Here's the old bottom board. You can see that part of the screen is clogged with the brood cappings and it just looks bad. This is the top side of the bottom board.
And the underside of the bottom board. I probably should have taken this out long ago but as a new beekeeper, I was hesitant to upset the bees that much.
I don't know how the bees will respond to the new boxes but my hope is that they will quickly adapt. I'm a bit worried about the hive - it just doesn't seem to be thriving like it used to. Perhaps the hive superseded the queen and the new queen does not have the genetics to coexist with varroa. I'll keep an eye on it to see if it builds up strongly as the weather warms up.
I also went into one of my new hives to replace one frame in each brood box with the wax coated plastic foundation. I didn't have any problem with the top brood box, but the comb was a mess in the bottom brood box. This hive is from a cutout and I took the comb from the cutout and put it into the frames in the lower brood box. But it's hard to get that cutout comb centered in the frame, and the frame was not full with the cutout comb. The bees built additional comb and some of that is not centered on a frame - some of it is across two frames. I put the new frame in position 5 in the top brood box but in position 1 in the lower brood box. I'll need to get more of this waxed plastic foundation into my two hives from cutouts so the brood comb is straight and regular.
I only did one of the new hives. I'll do the other hive later.
The bees were pretty upset but seemed to settle down fairly quickly. I'll see how they are tomorrow.
[Update 2/14/2018] The bees seem to be doing well. There's lots of activity at the hive. In fact, there was so much activity I was afraid they were being robbed - there were bees all over the front of the hive, on the outside of the brood box. I put a piece of wood to close off part of the entrance to help them defend against robbing. Later I went back and things look like they're back to normal, but with good activity.
I had taken some of the comb that I took out of the hive yesterday (frames 1 & 10), and put it in the area of the hives so the bees could collect the honey on the frames. But then I remembered that any feeding in the area of the hives can initiate robbing. After I saw bees all over this hive, I took the frames and put them some distance from the hives - and things went back to normal at this hive. Live and learn.