Saturday, May 24, 2014

Burr comb and Queen Cups

I did another hive inspection last week (you really are only supposed to do it every other week or something, but it doesn't hurt TOO much to do it every week, or so I've been told) and things were a little weird.

As I said before, I put on an extra hive body last time, but I didn't know for sure that they had filled the bottom.  When I opened it up, I found large sections of burr comb growing up from the bottom body.  A couple of the foundation frames had some comb drawn out, but they were drawn from the bottom and one of the burr comb pieces was growing out from the side of one of those, into the gap inside a foundationless frame.

Another section, the one to the right, was growing up from the top bars of the bottom body, into the gap.  (It's still weird holding something like that with that many bees on it, especially when some of them started crawling up my hand).

Here's the view immediately after taking the top box off.  (That pallet is the old hive stand, and I've still got their water on it.)

Left center, and right center (covered by bees)
I took out all of the burr comb, or most of it, and then moved down into the bottom hive body and found this.  It's a pair of queen cups.  When I looked them up later on line, just to make sure I was right that the hives sometimes just keep those around, I started to get worried.  Everything I read said that they were definitive proof of the hive getting ready to either swarm or replace the queen.  Then I realized I was searching for queen cell and that there is apparently a difference between that and a queen cup.  A queen cell implies there is an actively growing queen being raised.  A queen cup is just an empty cup available to be used, but currently still unused.  I'm 99% sure these were completely empty, but I'll check again just to be absolutely positive this next weekend.  If they are growing a queen, I can't waste extra queens by letting one kill them off, and I can't lose half my hive to swarming.  I'll try to put a few bees into other boxes and let them each raise a queen, but I'll need to get external advice before I do; I'm not positive my hive is strong enough to handle even a single split, and I don't know the minimum number of bees I need to put in to help ensure survival of the split.

So, the second hive body, especially with foundationless frames, was a failure.  This next weekend, I'll try again, but I'm going to swap the bodies.  I have the bottom body stapled to the screened bottom board, so I can't move the whole thing, and my tools to fill in the gap or re-staple are at our rental property for the remodel.  So I think I'm going to go out with the hive body I took off, but empty of frames and a new hive body (which hasn't been painted) with the frames from the one I took off.  As I inspect frames, any frame with brood (along with the queen) will go into the hive body I took off last time, pushed to the center.  Any other frames will stay in the current body, with a gap in the center.  Then I'll take the frames I took off and fill in the gaps in both bodies and put the brood body back on top.  This way, the brood and queen are still together in the top body, there is honey/syrup store in the bottom, and the bees can build comb from the bottom of the brood down and hopefully build properly.  They will also have more room in the brood boxes to keep building out, without me breaking up the brood, and hopefully will more willingly fill the center of the bottom box, since the filled frames are already on the outside.

In addition, I don't plan on getting any honey off of this hive this year, and probably won't even put on a super, so I'm not worried about the queen being that high and having to keep her out of the supers.  In the fall, though, if she is still that high, I'll have to work out how to reconsolidate the hive.  I've heard that in the winter, they move up, so you want honey above them.  If they still have the brood in the top by that point, I'll have to move it down and get honey above them to help keep them from starving this winter.

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