Remove Bee Quilts and General Checkup
P. Michael Henderson
I went into the hives today to remove the bee quilts and to re-arrange the frames in the supers, as well as a general checkup.
I'll start by saying that I think I'm getting better at handing a hive. I learned some things at the Cal Poly Pomona seminar, as well as reading Langstroth's "The Hive and the Honey Bee", about how to work a hive.
From Langstroth I learned that honey bees will not be defensive if they're filled up with honey. And the reason we smoke a hive is that the bees will each fill up with honey in anticipation of having to abandoning the hive (they think it's a forest fire). [Edit: This is contradicted by other researchers. These researchers indicate that the primary benefit of smoke is that it interferes with the pheromone signaling between the bees - so that the "alarm" signal does not propagate through the hive.]
Also, Langstroth recommended spraying the bees with a solution of sugar and water - and that the bees will concentrate on gathering the sugared water and leave you alone. [Edit: While researchers have indicated that smoke mostly interferes with pheromone signaling, when working a hive, I see bees with their head into honey comb cells, apparently filling up on honey. It can be difficult to get those bees out of the comb cells when harvesting honey. So maybe there is something to Langstroth's observation.]
So this time, I smoked the hive and then waited a while to let the smoke take effect - meaning the bees were rushing to the comb to suck up the nectar. Then when I opened the hive, I smoked the place I opened and after I removed the top (or a super), sprayed the frame tops with sugar water.
But I was up in the supers and the bees are much less defensive when you're in that area. If I had had to go into the bottom brood box, I expect they would have been a bit more upset.
Anyway, I removed the bee quilts - we're finished with cold weather - and I rearranged the frames in the supers. I took the frames from the middle, which were filled with honey, and put them at the sides, and put empty frames in the middle. My hope is that they'll fill the middle frames and not move honey from the outer frames. That way, when I go to harvest honey I'll have ten frames filled and capped in the supers.
My Rio Bravo hive appears to be a bit more defensive than my other two hives so I removed the super from that hive (it was empty). I'm going to try to congest them to get them to swarm so that I'll have a new queen in that hive.
Of course, I could be wrong about which hive is the most defensive but this is a reasonable thing to try. And there's no guarantee that the new queen will mate with drones that produce less defensive workers.
My Loma hive is really going great guns. They've started making honey in the super. I took the frames with the most honey and moved them to the outside. I'll have to keep an eye on them and add another super when they're close to filling the first one. I did not put two frames of plastic in the middle of each brood box in this hive. By the time I went to do it they had filled both brood boxes - the outside frames were filled with honey. Maybe when I harvest honey from them, I'll take the four outside frames from the brood boxes and put two plastic frames in the center of each brood box. I suspect the comb is a mess in the bottom brood box.
I did put frames of plastic in the center of the brood boxes of both the old hive and the Rio Bravo hives. The bees have to draw out the comb for those hives and that probably set them back a bit from producing and storing honey.
Here's a picture of the Rio Bravo and Loma hives. Note that the bee quilts are gone and the super has been removed from the Rio Bravo hive.
And here's a picture of my old hive with the three supers on it. I was worried about it for a while but they seem to be vigorous, with a good population.