180° of Worrying

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When we last visited the Kingdom, hopefully you’ll recall that Catherine had employed some crazy architects.  I suited up and went in to revoke their building licenses.  I opened the hive, and sure enough, for some odd reason they had started to build comb perpendicular on the last large piece of comb.  It was bizarre and odd.  It was “cross comb” !!

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I easily removed it and put it aside to take into the house to add to the wax collection in the freezer.

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One day, when I have enough, I’ll render the wax and maybe make a candle !  Or some fabulous lip balm!

I switched out their feeder and closed them up.  As is typical for these Girls, they were feisty and annoyed that I was bugging them.

I checked on them two days later and they had started to rebuild the cross comb again.  I decided I needed to relocate that particular piece of comb between two already completed combs.  The Girls would not continue to build cross comb if it would interfere with their “bee space”, which essentially represents the amount of space required for bees to walk between two pieces of comb.  It was the only chance of halting this insanity.  After the last cross combing incident, I had done a little reading and found out that instead of taking the cross comb and adding it to the frozen wax ball, I should have simple attached it to one of the top bars.  This makes sense seeing as how much energy and resources it takes to make wax.  So this time I decided to affix the cross comb to one of the top bars with comb currently being constructed.  I also determined that it would be an ideal time to perform a full inspection.  So once again, I suited up and went in.

Removing the cross combing was once again a simple procedure, as was affixing it to the top bar.  It was fresh wax and so beautiful and soft.  It molded easily to the top bar.  I started to begin the inspection.  I noticed a lot of drone brood as I started going through the combs.  In fact, it seemed to be all I was seeing.  I was starting to get worried.  Is Catherine a “drone layer”?  Oh great, that’s all I need.  But then I saw some, there it was, worker brood!

Hooray!!  But there was still more drone brood and more drone brood.  And the laying pattern of the worker brood was spotty at best.  The Girls were becoming extremely annoyed at my presence and dusk was approaching.  I closed up the hive and went back to the house, followed by a few angry Girls, that I finally managed to shake about half way to the house.

My heart was heavy.  Was Catherine going to rule with dignity ?  Or would I already need to be thinking about a plot to replace her?  I would give it a few days, I told myself.  I crossed my fingers, I crossed them Hard… Let’s see what happens.

And I guess a few days was all it took for her to get back on track, because now we are at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Catherine has generated so many offspring that I now am worrying about “swarming” !

Is there no peace for beaks ?  Is this all a huge exercise in worrying?  I haven’t done a full inspection, but was carefully observing the kingdom’s progress through the looking glass (i.e. the window).  I could see definite worker brood in most cells.

I was continuing to feed them regularly, until their comb approach the back of the hive !  Yes !  The Girls have constructed comb on almost every top bar !  Which is another reason for me to worry about swarming.  If the Girls feel overcrowded or confined, they may decide they need a new home.  That could lead to ALL of them leaving, which is called “absconding”, or they could decide to start raising queen babies.  If this were to happen, the Girls would build special queen cups and Catherine would lay eggs in those cups.  Those eggs would hatch into larvae that are feed a magical potion called “royal jelly”, which is a white goo loaded with carbs and other goodies.  It like a magical Merlin potion, because it turns a regular ol’ egg that would normally turn into another worker bee into a royal princess.

Catherine would then command about half, maybe more, of her loyal subjects to chow down on honey in the hive and then they would all take off for another kingdom, leaving my kingdom with half its original Girls, half its honey, and after the gestation period, a VIRGIN queen.  This new queen would then have to go out and find available drones from other hives.  This would be less of a concern if the Ferals were still around, but since they were evicted, I’m not sure how close the nearest hive is.  I do know of a few down the road, but am not sure if it is within 3 miles.  I’m not sure how far the Virgin Queen would fly to mate.

If she could not mate successfully, doom and gloom would quickly engulf the kingdom.  I would have to be able to quickly identify this situation, and if available, purchase a new queen.  Either way, my second year of beekeeping becomes another bust.

And starting on Monday, the Girls started “bearding” outside the hive in the evenings.

BE 36

BE 37

BE 34

BE 35

The bearding was so great on Wednesday evening that it was still there at 5:30 am Thursday morning.  However, by 7:00 am the Girls had mostly left to start their day.  I am considering whether I need to get a bed sheet and hang it in the tree to block the sun in the afternoon, even though the hive is only getting mottled sunlight.  The following day the bearding had expanded to this !!!

BE 40

BE 39

I know I must do an inspection quickly; however, I worry that doing it in the afternoon when i get home from work is too late and the comb may be too soft and might collapse.  That would be utter disaster, plus a lot of the Girls are already bearding by that point and I don’t want to disturb their ball.  So I plan on doing it Saturday morning.  The rain chance is low and the temperature will be lower.  I will give the Girls a chance to get out and about and then i will perform the inspection.  I will need to determine if there were/are any queen cells.  If there are not, which will be the best case scenario, I will need to see if there are any combs with only honey in them.  If there are, I will need to harvest one or two so there will be additional empty top bars for Girls to continue expanding onto.  If there are not, I will need to make difficult choices.  I need to have empty top bars in the hive, so I could have to cull some brood.  I would attempt to cull any drone brood first and I would also like to cull any of the old comb from last year as well.  The Girls have really boomed in their wax production this year.

Oh!  And who knew that boxwood shrubs actually bloom and that the Girls LOVE boxwood nectar!  Last week I noticed quite a bit of activity in the front of the house.  Come to find out, boxwoods have tiny little bell shaped flowers !

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BW 26

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And on a final note, the Girls have seemed to calm down considerably.  I can perform looking glass inspections without any bother lately, which is an awesome sign.

A few other point of note:

1)  I have Golden Boys !  The drones are an incredible gold color, unless it is just because they are still young, I’m not sure.  In any case, I always like to appreciate the Boys too.

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Also, the Girls have finally found the pond.  I periodically see Girls going in for a sip.  However, alarmingly, I’m not seeing more.  It’s been quite hot and humid lately and if the Ferals had still been around there would have been a steady stream of visitors.  However, my Girls haven’t really visited, which is somewhat perplexing.  I would assume they are getting water, but from where I don’t know.

What’s Bloomin’

Here is where my Girls play and dine…

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  • Cat Mint (daily nectar foraging all day)

17A 17

  • Spiderwort — Widow’s Tears (daily early AM pollen foraging)

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  • Widow’s Cross

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  • White Clover (daily nectar foraging)

  • Chinese Privet (potential for pollen)

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  • Box Woods — at front of house (daily nectar foraging)  —  who even knew they bloomed !!

  • Dandelions — blooming again

  • Prairie Larkspur — still in bloom, but going to seed

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  • Gatinger’s Prairie Clover (never seen Girls on this, only Bumbles)

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  • Wine Cup

  • Primrose

  • Lavender — almost ready to flower

  • Tennessee Echinacea

  • Yellow Wild Flowers

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  • Purple Spike Flowers

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  • Ox Eye Daisy, the small Hairy Daisies, and the Skinny Medium Daisies

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  • Purple Butterfly Bush

  • Gerber Daisies

  • Dutchman’s Pipevine — still flowering

  • Wysteria – GONE

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  • Tangerine Cross Vine – GONE

  • Nashville Breadroot – GONE (but greenery is still around)

  • Tennessee Milk Vetch – GONE

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  • Little Yellow Ball Flowers, except in front of house  – GONE

  • White Baby’s Breath like stuff – for most part GONE

  • Rosemary – GONE

  • Crown Vetch

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  • Goat’s Beard

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  • Nine Barks

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3 responses »

  1. Is that a bottom board on the hive? I’m wondering if you should take that off. Do you have a screen attached above it? Maybe the bees are getting too hot and that’s why they are bearding.

    I hate to say this, because I really like Phil Chandler and most everything he’s doing, but I decided not to keep using my horizontal top bar hive. The reason I got into top bar beekeeping was because I wanted to follow a non-interference method…but my KTBH was full of cross combing. It turns out that you have to get into it fairly often to keep that comb straight. I’m told you just have to bend it straight, but I’m using 2 log hives and 2 Warre hives. The Warre hive is considered a vertical top bar hive.

    One more thought. On the advice of my mentor, I fed the bees that he had given me as a swarm. They built up VERY fast, but swarmed two months later. The virgin queen never came back and the wasps finished off that hive that had 45% drones. That was the KTBH. I don’t feed swarms anymore (the ones I collect). I’d rather they do it the natural way and build up slower.

    A second ‘one more thought.’ I saved all my comb. You can throw it in the freezer for a couple of days to kill the wax moth larva, but it makes a great attractant for your swarm bait boxes next year…(if you want to try to get some swarms)

    • That is the bottom of the hive, but it isn’t removable and there is no screen. I suspect the bees were warm. I culled a few combs last weekend (I will be blogging about that soon), and the bearding is less now.

      I actually have never had a problem with cross comb, except for what I discussed recently. I’ve been fortunate in that they always follow the top bar point. Maybe I’m just lucky. I have considered trying a foundationless Lang, but am not sure I can handle it! I have also looked at buying a larger (i.e. longer) top bar hive. Mine is three feet long and the one I am eying is four feet long. I’ve never had an issue with moths. I did have a slight issue last year with small hive beetles, but I have hardly seen any this year. But that could also be because there are so many bees this year they are keeping them in check by themselves.

      I do keep all of my wax, hoping to render it this summer for the first time. Log hives are interesting. Can you harvest anything from them ? Or are they purely to provide a living space for the bees and you do nothing ? I’ve also thought about Warre hives, but it sounds like you need all sorts of lifting contraptions to manage the boxes.

      Thanks for your input !

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