October 25, 2010

Advice Anyone?

By chance, we ran into Marty at the Delaney Farm apiary this weekend. He was checking on a nuc that he's going to overwinter. It was "light" and he brought combs of honey for the little colony. He thinks the colony, being small and unable to defend itself, got robbed. That, or they ate all their stores because the Fall was so dry, he said. I imagine the Delaney bees forage where our girls forage: at the City's Xeriscape Garden which was rife with rabbitbrush through September, and the open fields by Kaiser-Permanente which had alfalfa up until very recently. Yes, it's been incredibly dry with no appreciable rain since the 4th of July, but I'm leaning towards the robbing. Marty put an entrance reducer on and called it a day at the apiary.

Marty's been keeping bees in top bar hives since the mid-70s, so before he took off, I asked for his advice on something that's been bothering me. What to do about the combs in our hive, between the honey stores and the brood nest. Combs 14 through 10 should've been backfilled with honey as the brood nest shrunk but, for whatever reasons, the bees neither filled them nor moved the cluster onto them.

Now, Marty doesn't know our hive is in a greenhouse, allowing the bees to break cluster occasionally, but he said we should take the empty combs out and move the food stores forward, up against the cluster. Problem is, I don't want to pull the empty combs out because 1) there are older ones in the hive that should come out first. Unfortunately, the bees are actively on those combs. 2) We'd have to do a major manipulation, breaking the propolis seal and cutting all the honey combs loose from the hive walls to move them forward. We're asking for advice on the biobees forum. What's your advice?

Everybody else was right. The bees would not abandon a small patch of brood. Actually it was two small patches. The divided cluster died from isolation starvation. Always remove empty combs and move the honey stores right next to the brood nest. And never be afraid to break the propolis seal or do any manipulation. The seal is a much smaller concern than the bees needing help. If they need it, give it without delay.


HB said...

I asked the biobees forum for advice, and here's what they said.

'The Professor,' a super bee: It's a tough call. If the queen continues to lay in the brood combs over the winter they will be reluctant to move away from them. Remember that some queens will lay even in the dead of winter even if only a small amount, Italians like to do this. As they usually place some honey in these outer cells as well they have no real incentive to move. If the weather becomes so cold, without a warm break that allows the winter cluster to shift from that location, then yes they may die out from starvation even though there is ample honey on the other side of the empties. I would take the empties out just to be on the safe side. Their survival is dependent on how cold and how long it stays that way. In a warmer climate I wouldn't take them out. I would err on the side of caution. Others may have another approach.

And the Barefoot Beekeeper, Phil Chandler himself: I agree with the professor - take them out. The bees are going to move onto the store combs anyway, so you can still remove the old ones in spring.

From what I hear about winters in CO, leaving a big gap like that would be a mistake IMO.

-- So it looks like we're going into the hive one more time.

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