Tuesday, May 1, 2012


 Of course, my exhilaration that my hive had made it over winter and swarmed was soon to be be tempered.
As I fervently read every blog I could about TBH beekeeping, I started hearing the term honeybound in regards to swarming and it started to dawn on me maybe my bees were honeybound.
My top bar was purchased through Backyard Hive and the goal of the hive it to encourage the bees to do what they would do naturally and swarm.  This increases genetic diversity.  I now have a hive with a new queen who has mated with several different drones, hopefully feral, and will increase the diversity, as opposed to purchasing a queen.  Swarms are how bees increase their populations, and this is a time when our bees need re-populating.
I was happy they swarmed buy had read that if the hive is poorly managed they can swarm themselves to death.
I started asking on beekeeping forums and started hearing yes, it sounded as though my bees were honeybound.
Luckily Sunday April 29th I was scheduled to take an intermediate beekeeping class with Backyard Hive bee guru Corwin Bell. His knowledge, respect for nature and love of the bees is so apparent, I can't imagine a better teacher.
Needless to say the class was wonderful.  Sitting under an old apple tree,  the hogback mountains in the distance, bees humming all around, listening to someone talk about natural beekeeping.  What more could you ask for? On a sadder note, as we went around an introduced ourselves in the beginning of the class, many of the beekeepers told tales of loss of their  hives this spring.  It was devastating to hear their stories.  Hopefully some of the advice, insights and teaching points will help us all be more successful.
On of the most important thing I gleaned was that I will have to manage my hive rather than just sit back and watch those cute fuzzy bees coming and going, harvesting the last 2 bars of comb every few months. They are not in a natural environment and hence they need to be managed to help them be more successful.
My bees were honeybound and needed managing.

The fist year bees make a ton of honey for thermal mass to get them through the winter.  The next year their goal is to swarm.  My brood chamber was filled and they had stored so much honey up front, that I was noting brood in the far back of the hive, comb that used to be only honey.  Everyone had advised opening up the brood area by taking off or moving to the back, the bars of comb directly next to the brood,
Since my hands off approach (read: too chicken to do anything) last year, several bars of comb were crooked near the brood, and any attempts I made to straighten them ended in broken comb, alarm and panic (me and the bees) and tears (just me).
Corwin's class gave me the umph I needed to get my butt in gear and get  things straightened out.

The first thing I did was enlist the help of my delightful and very zen husband. (He was the one who wanted to get bees in the first place, and despite my protests that our 2 boys would not be safe and that I was terrified, I am now a beekeeper)

Anyway, we were well prepared and used a great idea from the class; keep a box nearby that you can hang each bar from and cover up (many less bees flying).  Armed with my new and very effective backyard hive tool, and my husband's calming presence, we went to work. No smoke of course.  We moved slowly and deliberately, we kept most of the bees covered most of the time, and were able to cut attachments without breaking the comb.  The bees were so peaceful.  

That was until we got close to brood and had crooked comb with honey on top, brood below.  Two bars broke and we quickly harvested (I was sad to take the brood, but we didn't have a choice and I had been advised better to take brood now and have straight comb. Of course there was honey dripping and bees at the bottom.  We cleaned up best we could, put the bars back, and they got the hell out of there. I can't believe how much easier it is with another person helping.  David is unflappable, and moves so gracefully. I can't believe I ever tried this alone.  It is a two person job. 
I am always so sad if I kill any bees. The hive seemed to bounce back well and by afternoon it was business as usual.  Lots of action at the entrance and loud drones zigzagging away.  We did note new on larva inspection so I think our new queen is doing her thing!  Your Highness. (they always say that on the Tudors so I thought it appropriate)

Here is a bar of honey comb we harvested.  There was too much commotion to take pics during the harvest.

Here it is in the strainer, waiting to be mashed up!  It is amazingly sweet and delicious.

I am hoping that now that my bars are straighter and we are rid of the crooked comb, maybe it will be easier to manage.  Hopefully no dead bees.

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