August 05, 2008

Honey Bound

In retrospect, we should have had faith that the bees knew what they were doing when they started building from the back of the hive on Bar 16. We should have left them where they were, instead of taking the advice to push the combs forward. [LESSON LEARNED: trust the bees and trust yourself.] We created a potential honey bound situation.

A colony can become honey bound if there is no more room for the queen to lay eggs because a) the honey stores are full and the brood nest can't expand into it or b) the bees think the honey area is full and the bees won't expand into it. Even if there is empty comb beyond the honey stores (which there is), the bees will not let the queen create a second brood nest. They can't keep two separate nests warm. So they pack the honey combs full, and sometimes even start backfilling into the brood nest. With a full nursery, this perception of confinement might make them decide that this house simply won't do and they could swarm or abscond. Bye bye bees!

The odd thing about bees is, as smart as they are, they have an uncontrollable desire to store honey. Controlling their population is easy, such as when they kick the drones out in the Fall. They'll even pull brood out of the nest if food is scarce. But for the bees, storing honey is like money in the bank. You can never have too much, right? Unfortunately there's only so much they can stuff under the mattress. And here's where hive management comes into play.

Since the bees don't want to put honey into the vast space, it's our job as their keepers to move the honey out of the queen's way, to make room for her growing family, as necessary. Some might take the honey for themselves, calling it a harvest; some beekeepers would call it "robbing." With a colony that's just getting established, we're simply moving it away but within the hive, into the back. (In a Lang, you could consider checkerboarding. Use the Bookmark to the right "A Dictionary for Beekeepers" to learn what checkerboarding is.)

Because our colony has not filled the hive with combs yet, we have room to work with. By simply rearranging the order of bars – moving the honey comb abutting the brood nest toward the back and replacing it with a blank – we can give the bees room to stretch the nest.

This manipulation should relieve the pressure, even if it is only perceived, and the bees' instinct to swarm should be quelled. Next year, when our colony is 40,000 (or more?!?) strong and has filled the hive with comb, honey and bees, and the only blank bars are the extras we have stored in the garage, we may harvest a comb – maybe two if we're lucky. We're really in this for the bees, but a little honey for ourselves would of course be nice. If we do have to pull 2 combs, we'll save one in the freezer in case they need feeding. I wish we had one now to give them. The heat wave has kept them mostly house bound. It's just too hot to do anything other than get water.


A Whole Lot of Nothing Going On
Waiting for the Weather to Break has been Agonizing
The 23-day heat wave has also prevented us from doing an inspection, so we don't know whether or not anything needs to be done. Perhaps they've been surviving on stored honey and now there's an empty comb, usable by the queen. I hope so, because then we need do nothing. If they are indeed honey bound, we're in a bit of a bind. Comb manipulation would be too risky right now. The warm, fragile wax combs can break too easily, and we'd either have a sticky mess on our hands or, worse, a destroyed nursery.

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