May 25, 2012

Moving the Swarm Into the Warre Hive

Three weeks after trapping the swarm in the Langstroth nuc box, we decided to move the bees into a Warré Hive, which is a vertical top bar hive. There were a couple of reasons why we waited three weeks. First, it took that long for the mail order hive to be built/shipped. Second, Marty told us to leave the bees undisturbed so their momentum would not be disrupted.

After three weeks' time, while the population hadn't yet exploded, we needed to move the bees. The swarm trap had been baited with Warré top bars (12 1/2 in.) attached to paint stirring sticks, cut fit the Langstroth box (19 in.). Had I thought about it, it would've been smarter to put in a false back, to shorten the interior of the nuc. But who thinks when their bees are swarming? Somehow it made sense to go to Home Depot, slyly nab 4 giant paint stirrers, rush back home, cut them down to 19 inches, then screw/twist-tie the Warre top bars to them. So that's what we did.

Bees that swarm are comb-builders, so the longer we waited, the more likely their comb would need to be trimmed. We cleared a space in the garden next to the nuc and settled the Warré Hive in place, as level as possible. Between the peonies and lilacs, it was a bit awkward working over the nuc box but the bees were very calm and not too flighty.
The first top bar held a heavy comb of honey we provided, screwed onto a paint stick.
We expected the first comb to be the easiest to pull out, as it was an old (i.e. strong) comb of honey we had given to the swarm to feed them and to help them build comb faster. Bees naturally brace honeycombs to support their weight, but even after cutting it free from the wall it resisted being lifted out. The bees had attached it to the floor of the nuc as well, so I had to break it.
The second top bar we pulled was a double (on one end only).
The second comb was of their own design. The comb was only slightly wider than the Warré top bar so not much had to be trimmed off the left and right sides. There were eggs there, reassuring us that our timing for this manipulation was good. Any longer and even more bees would've been sacrificed. This round of brood is critical to the survival of the colony, as during the 3 weeks they've been metamorphosing the swarm bees have been dying off. However, to encourage straight, inspectable comb-building we need to remove one of the lobes. For now, though, we chose to let the colony recover from the manipulation and to return another day to correct the problem.

Third comb: a perfect example reflecting the mentality of a swarm – the need for more workers
This comb was perfectly constructed on a cut-down top bar. It was about an inch too wide on each side, though, so in addition to eggs, a couple of larvae were trimmed off, too. The bees remained very calm despite the loss.

Fourth comb: more worker brood, some pollen and capped honey
The last comb was the least developed comb and didn't require any trimming. It's the one we saw the Queen on, on the 5th, and probably where she was again today but we didn't take the time to look. We thought it best to just move the bees into the hive and leave them alone. The bees are pouring all their energy into rearing brood, using pollen and nectar as fast as it's coming in so I was surprised to see capped honey. They must feel comfortable with the nectar flow, but I still want to feed the bees. Next week's weather forecast looks like it may have some non-flying days so I'll show you how the hive-top feeder works then.

The first comb freed from the floor and placed in a comb saver.
Based on the brown color of the cappings, I predicted these bees would emerge first. Cappings, whether on brood or honeycombs, get darker and darker with foot traffic. Dark brown = more foot traffic = more days, so I read this comb as having the most developed brood of the three. But Ron Brown* says that brood "cappings on older combs will always be darker than those on new, yellow combs, as wax is recycled from neighbouring cells." This comb is two years old, so explains why the capping here are so much darker than those on the brand new combs. So I really don't know which brood on which comb will emerge first.

What I do know is that this cage can't stay in the hive. It's preventing the roof from sitting on the hive correctly. Conveniently, Brown goes on to say, "Somewhat lighter cappings, especially next to an area of pearly white larvae (open brood), suggest that no young bees will be emerging from that particular comb for at least a week or ten days." If you enlarge the photo (click on it) you can see larvae on the edges. So in a week or so, we hope this brood will have emerged, we'll also fix the double comb issue and we'll install the hive-top feeder.
*"Beekeeping: A Seasonal Guide - A New Edition of the Classic Work by Ron Brown" p. 89

The Queen in the horizontal Top Bar Hive is laying beautifully!
A Quick Thought on Horizontal vs. Vertical Top Bar Hives  It had occurred to me that the combs from the nuc would be too deep for the Warré but it was a fleeting thought. With a horizontal hive, you can easily see the floor and whether an introduced comb will hit it. The Warré is our first vertical hive, and I've discovered that it's harder to see down into stacked boxes. It's entirely possible that I pressed the bottoms of the brood combs onto the top bars below. Hopefully not, but if it's a lesson learned, I'll be sure to share it with you.

Langstroth vs. Langstrom
For some reason, quite a few people find my website using that search term. I don't have anything against Langstroth hives, but it really bugs me when people use the word Langstrom. It is a perfectly cromulent word only in DC comic-world.

P.S.: In case you're wondering, our Warre hive sits on a hive stand made out of 2x4s and is outfitted with a sump bottom, which is a bottom board that is extra deep. It elevates the hive bodies a few inches more than a standard bottom. You can see a picture of it on Instagram.


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