Archive for the ‘natural comb’ Category

An update from Ken

August 4, 2008

Since then I have put the legs of the hive in bowls of oil, because I noticed a line of ants marching in and out of the hive.

That seems to work very well (stopping the ants), only drawback was it appears the bees either found the oil very interesting or something, there were quite a few drowned victims in the oil and sadly a few that tried to crawl out only to die in a “frozen” position on the legs. Next task is to put a screen over the oil in a manner that the bees are not able to fall into the oil, but the screen cannot be connected to the bowl so the ants do not have a bridge over the oil. Very complicated! I will take a picture when I have done it. Ants drive me nuts!

Anyway, on this visit, my goal was to have a look at the furthest back combs, the first ones they started near the follower board. I have never looked that far back in my previous inspections.

Here are some things that I noticed:

They are busy with propolis, but not nearly as much as I would have expected. I thought they might try to close up all kinds of gaps, but not the case. They were doing some inside near the roof line, but nothing out of the ordinary.

They are building new comb right on track. Last time I accidentally broke some comb that was sharing a bar, but the new comb is right on place without any coaxing on my part.

I did not use smoke this time, until I was closing it up. That seemed to be great. During the time I had the hive open, the bees were busy and a little disturbed that I was nosing around and brushing them, a few pinging off my veil, but I felt the situation was normal considering that I was all hands and cameras inside their home. THe only time I used smoke is when I was closing up the hive, putting the bars back and trying to push them together, the bees seemed to come up and congregate right in that space between the bars. I would try to brush them down, but they would just come back up to check me out. So I lit the smoker, gave them a puff, and sure enough, down they went, and I was able to push the bars back in place safely.

So attached is my photos of the two last (furthest back) bars. I was expecting (hoping!?) to see ripe honey stores, but not the case.

Things appeared very healthy and normal. I was much more calm and relaxed during this visit. I took my time and worked slowly and deliberately. I liked not using smoke. It seemed to distract me, and it seemed to annoy the bees. I did get one sting through my long sleeve tee-shirt. That is only my third since beginning.

One of these days I am going to slide out the bottom board and clean it. It seems dirty, and I should check for any “foul play”

Until next time,


The hives on Memorial Day

May 31, 2008

Well, it feels like it had been forever since I was out to check on the bees. I’ve been pretty busy, but Memorial Day gave me an opportunity to check on them.

Both hives looked busy when I arrived. Hive #2 had more bees at the entrance, but both has a nice amount of traffic. Sine we have now pasted a couple of the nectar flows for the year, I was hoping there might be something to harvest.

First, Hive #1. This hive seemed to be stronger earlier in the year, and I was interested to see what they had done since I checked last. When I opened up the hive, it was clear they had been working. They had build new comb, and were filling it nicely. The comb pictured below is quite thick. They actually curved it and attached it to two top-bars. It pretty much filled the space of those two bars. I want ahead and harvested both this and another top-bar. I simply cut the comb off the bar and placed it in a ziploc storage bag. Probably “simply” is the wrong way to say that. It would have been better as a two person job. I flipped the comb over (with the top-bar sitting on the ground so that I could use both hands. It was still fun cutting the comb loose while holding the bag open and trying to transfer it. I made a little of a mess, but got to test the honey when licking my hands. I’m very lucky the landowner has a hose, or I would have gotten my car very messy on the way home. I ended up with two bags full from the two top-bars I harvested.

I am happy to say, not a single bee died in the sticky mess. 🙂 I first moved the top-bars to the empty space behind the follower board, and brushed the bees off there. Once the comb was clear of bees, I walked 10 or 15 ft away before trying to harvest the comb. Happily, my bees were as nice as ever. I was in shorts and didn’t use gloves, but got no stings. Even with all the brushing and indecisiveness on my part as to how I should do the harvest, the bees were very calm and never showed much aggression. I’ll go though what I did with those two bags of honeycomb in my next post. 🙂

Hive # 2 … This hive seemed a bit weaker earlier in the year, and they show it still. They have honey stored, but no full combs. I didn’t end up taking anything from them. They haven’t built as much new comb either. I started from the back, and when I got to the first brood comb I was a little worried.

If you look closely, you will see that the capped brood in this comb is not flat. Each cell has a rounded top, with kind of a bullet shape. Those are drone cells, not worker cells. I’m not really experienced at this, but this is the largest patch of drone cells I had seen in my hives. If the queen is only laying drones, that won’t help the hive at all (they don’t do any work). It could also be a sign of a problem with the queen. Luckily, as I move forward to the next comb, there was normal worker brood.

The first picture shows some worker brood, but the second one shows some more drone brood. If you look carefully at the second picture, you can see the queen. (the blue dot help)

At least I can see that the queen is still there. It still seems like more drone brood than there should be. In fact, you can see a number of drones in the picture with the queen (the big ones with the big eyes). I hope there are not to many putting a drain on resources, but then again, what do I know. I’m not a bee. Maybe they want that many drone for a good reason. It could also possibly mean the queen is petering out. If she is, I think I will just let nature take its course. The bees should be able to handle it. She may be fine too. I’m hoping that know what they should do. Regardless, the next combs looked good. Nice worker brood.

The empty spots in the middle of the brood comb could be a sign of a couple things. 1) Hygienic behavior (a good thing). There might have been mites or diseased brood there and the bees removed them. 2) The queen missing cells or laying bad eggs that the bees removed (another possible sign of her petering out). I’m not sure this is the case though. I think if you look back, my hive seemed to have had some of this “shotgun” pattern last year too. Again, If there is a problem, I hope the bees know what to do. I’m leaving it up to them and nature for now.

I went ahead and opened the entrances all the way. The screened bottoms are already open. The weather is starting to hit the uncomfortably hot time of year. Summer is definitely in full swing.

More about Ken’s Bees

May 24, 2008

Post by Ken  – 05/22/2008:

Well, After my first open hive check, I thought everything was going so well. And they were, for the bees, not so much for me!
I might have mentioned that they began building from the rear, starting from the follower board where the sugar syrup feeder poked through, and moving forward toward the front. They had comb on the last six bars, biggest in the rear.
On my first check, I was able to pull out all six bars and they had built comb right down the middle, no problem. These are the 1-1/2″ wide bars by the way.
Today when I opened it up, they had only progressed forward by one bar, on to the 1-3/8″ wide set.
Well, that was not so easy. They had attached comb to the bar behind it and put two on that 1-3/8″.
I had to cut through the comb on top just to get the bar out, and squished a few bees, popped open some honey or nectar and pollen stores, some eggs, larvae and who knows what else. What a mess! I felt terrible.
I took a picture and put it back in, and thought I would try to look at the progress of one of the back bars that started off well.
I guess I was losing confidence in my self because I was trying to pry the bars apart, would see wax, decide not to take it out, try to put it back together, trying to be careful not to squish anymore, working slowly, trying to get them to go back down inside with the brush, trying to push the bars back together, and close it all up. Ah. I just wanted to get out of there. I felt like I was just disturbing the whole thing.
This was the second time I used smoke, and boy, it does not seem to make them calm. I would give them just a little puff near the entrance, and wow, they would really fly out and hover around. When I was working inside, it seemed like the smoke really agitated them and made them busy and buzzy. They did not “keep their heads down”, quite the opposite, they came popping out of every crevice and seemed to not want to go back inside.
Not a good visit.
Although, when I put the smoke out and the roof back on, it seemed from the outside like nothing ever happened. Just a few coming and going while I cleaned up my workbench.
So If I listen to the bees, I wonder what they are telling me. I wonder if they do build different thickness of comb depending on their needs. How do I know what thickness of bar to use? When do they need or want it? I guess this is where years of experience comes in handy. I read somewhere that -anticipating- their needs is the beekeepers best tool.
Oh well.

Ken’s hives and new bees

May 23, 2008

Post by Ken – 05/07/2008:

I live in Los Angeles, and built two hives base on kawayanan’s plans.
They have been sitting in my garage for months, and my wife was tired of looking at them!
I was having trouble ordering bees from apiaries, hobbyists don’t seem to be at the top of their priority sales,
and the shipping from far away seemed to pose some logistical problems,
My wife opened the yellow pages, and said “Why don’t you call this guy- The Bee Man” so I did not thinking too much of it, left a message.
A day later he called, my wife answered and spoke with him. His business is bee removal- but then he sells them on the side to the growing interest in hobbyist like myself.
So I got on his list of interested parties, and a few days later (Saturday) he called and said he was in the area, and had a swarm.
We arranged to meet at a Starbucks parking lot, and gave me the bees for $45. He was a nice guy, we spoke at length, I described the hive that I (we) have, and he had never heard of a top bar hive and was a little/very skeptical. He understood and was interested in the more natural approach, but said I would not get nearly as much honey as a Langstroth and cross their comb…. But that’s not the point! For me its more about observing and interacting with these fascinating creatures.
Anyway, I got them home that evening, sprayed them with some sugar water, filled up the feeder and plopped them in the hive!
The next morning, they were busy! Locating themselves.
I have a window on the side of mine, it has been great to satisfy my curiosity. I wouldn’t know what to think they were doing with out it.
I have noticed that they broke up into three different clusters, toward the back of the hive near the feeder. Today, there were two clusters, one much bigger than the other. I will have to peer in again to see if they had started building comb. Maybe they had a dis agreement on who would be queen.
Since they are on the back on the follower board and last few bars, I don’t know how I am going to get that feeder out of there to fill up again. I have another feeder, so I will just put it out near the hive and hope the bees get more of it than the ants do.

The first is an overall shot of my garage (I was standing on my house
roof to take the picture), where I have built two fences blocking off
the hive area completely- safe from small or large children or curious
adults or animals.
Some pictures of the hive set up and operating,
Hive with roof removed before the bees were installed, showing the
movable follower board with the feeder. I ended up putting more bars in
when I installed the bees, and they all clustered around the back near
the feeder, and started building the comb from the last bar working
Some pictures of the new comb after seven days of their work. They have
made comb on seven bars so far, starting from the back to the front.
What may be of interest is that the larger bars are located in the back,
they are 1 1/2″ wide. The middle bars are 1 3/8″ wide and the front bars
are 1 1/4″ wide. I made them this size according to the “bee space”
between what I thought would be egg/brood raising up front,
pollen/nectar storage in the middle, and honey storage in the rear of
the hive. Apparently not the case! It should be interesting to see what
they do when they come to the smaller bars, and how they use them.
You can see in one of the photos taken through the side window how humid
it is inside the hive, with the moisture beading on the glass. The bars
which were so perfectly straight when I made them have twisted only

Inspection of Hive #2

September 22, 2007

I realized while I was uploading the pictures for this post, its been 3 weeks since I posted last. I also hadn’t checked on the bees in that length of time too. When I went out to check on them though, they seem just fine.

The first thing to notice was that there were a whole lot fewer bees on the front of the hive. There were still plenty at the entrance, and a good number coming and going. This isn’t to much of a surprise though since it has finally cooled down a bit. I believe that today is supposed to be in the low 90’s, but this last week had been in the upper 70’s and low 80’s. The nights have also been down into the 60’s which feels much better (it had been very hot). Even better, we got a bit of rain. Not nearly enough to refill the reservoirs, but every little bit helps.

Its been 3 weeks since I had checked on the bees, so I hadn’t given them any sugar syrup in at least that long either. I can’t remember exactly, but I don’t think I did the last time I went either, meaning its been over a month. In any case, I haven’t ever given them as much as they would take. When I make sugar syrup, I use 6 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water (it make a little over 2 quarts). Split between two hives, that amount never lasts even a week. I had been hoping that there would be at least a small fall flow for them to build up stores. I figured they needed some feed though because back in mid July they had essentially no stored honey. As I check hive #2 however, I was pleasantly surprised to find some capped honey. They also had a good bit of uncapped nectar also. Since I haven’t fed them in a while, it appears that they have found something to collect. 🙂 The few small recent rains may have helped.

Since I was not sure how they were doing I had made up some sugar syrup before going out so they got fed too. Though there were fewer bees on the front of the hive, the population in the hives seemed fine (I think it was just the cooler weather). I pulled a number of combs to check, and saw some stores along with a small mount of capped brood and larva. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of brood as they wouldn’t want to be building up now, but its nice to see some at least. I also ran into the queen, and she seemed fine. I saw a couple of small hive beetles, but not many (no sign of damage). I still haven’t seen signs of varroa problems yet either. Over all, the hive seems healthy though still a little short on stores. I keep an eye on that going forward.

On the “not a bee but still a bug”, here is a gratuitous spider picture. My wife actually saw this guy on some crape myrtle near our house while we were on a evening walk with our daughters. I checked the next morning if it was still there and was able to get a few pictures. It’s a nice green color that blended well with the seed pods/fruit and leaves.

Bees in a drought

August 26, 2007

Well, even with some record heat and a good drought, the bees are still hanging on here in there. Both hives still appear strong, but have all but halted brood rearing I think. The last time I did a full check, the was some brood but almost no honey stores. I haven’t done a full inspection since then, but yesterday I did pull out a few combs to check.

One of the first things I always look at when I get to the hives is the front entrance. Its interesting to see what the bees are doing there and watch them work. Sometimes there are lots of bees hanging out there, sometimes just a few. Interestingly, hive #2 almost always has more outside on the front of the hive. A week ago, there was probably the largest number I have seen hanging out on hive #2. In adition to the face, they were also covering the underside of the roof overhang and getting into the “attic”.

Sometimes they are washboarding, sometimes not. Before I do anything else, I always just watch for a few minutes at each hive to see what I can observe. I always feel good seeing bees coming and going. Even now in a drought, I can still see bees coming in loaded with pollen (orange and yellow). I obviously can’t see if there are bees coming in with nectar, but I assume some are since I see a good number coming and going (they are probably also bringing in water due to the heat). Here are what the entrances looked like yesterday. (hive #1 on the right, #2 on the left)

Since they were so low on stores, I have been giving them sugar syrup each week when I go out to check on them (usually every weekend). I make 1×1 syrup using 6 cups of sugar and 6 cups of water. I’m not sure of the exact volume that makes, but I split it between the two hives. Its always gone when I come back a week later. When I checked back on a Wed. on week, it was gone then too. They are obviously taking it pretty fast. I was just hoping that it was at least covering their energy needs for the week. When I pulled a few combs from hive #1 yesterday, it does appear that they are storing some. This means that even though they are taking the syrup quickly, they are storing it and it is at least lasting until I get back the following week. Here is a picture that shows some syrup in the comb (you can see the wet reflective look). I was also able to see the queen (I just got lucky she was on one of the combs I pulled).

I’m happy to know that they aren’t starving. They will definitely need much more stores before winter, but I’m hoping we get some rain here at some point and maybe get a fall nectar flow (there is some goldenrod blooming now). If we don’t get any good flows, I’ll have to feed them to build up winter stores before winter (I think what I am doing now is more like subsistence feeding).

Inspection of Hive #1

July 15, 2007

With the things that have gone on lately, I have focused on hive #2. It has been a couple of weeks at least since I checked out hive #1 at all, so this time I did a full inspection. I didn’t touch hive #2 at all, so hopefully they didn’t make any more mess of their comb.

Both hives have a good number of bees at their entrance. There are some washboarding, and a good number coming and going. I watched bees coming into both hives with pollen. The incoming bees do seem to have to push by bees to get in , but thats as big as I made the entrance. Hopefully its not causing them any difficulty.

When I opened up hive #1, they were still at 8 combs. Comb #8 is not too much larger than what I had seen before, but the remaining combs are completely filled out. The filled out combs make a very nice isosceles trapezoid. I didn’t have any combs attached at all on the sides or bottom, and none across multiple top-bars (like hive #2 had). There are some whose comb is not exactly centered on the top-bar, but at least they are not across multiple top-bars. Here are combs 8, 7, 6, and 5 (first picture) and 4, 3, and 2 (second picture).

Did you notice the lack of a picture of comb #1? There’s a reason for that. I’ll get to that later.

There are lots of bees, but I think that the queen has slowed laying (notice comb #6 is pretty empty). That would make some sense too, because I don’t think there is too much nectar available right now (and I haven’t been feeding them). You may also notice that there is very little if any nectar stored, and I didn’t see any capped nectar. Since we are likely in a dearth right now (and they lack supplies), I went ahead and gave some sugar syrup to both hives.

I find it interesting to see the progression of the top-bars, and what the bees are doing where. Toward the very back of the hive they have new comb and nectar (if they have any :p ). They keep their brood in front of that, and seem to keep their pollen stors at the very front of the hive. I ran into the queen (still the original one – no supersedure yet).

Moving forward, you see brood combs. Comb 6 had little capped brood, but had a patch of larva. I didn’t get picture of comb 5, but I did get them of 4, 3, and 2. Notice that 4 and 3 both have caped brood with some younger larva. You can see that in comb 3, you start to see some pollen packed into some of the cells. Once you get to comb 2, there is lots of stored. Here are combs 6, 4, 3, and 2.

Comb #1 was a different story. Like the others it was not attached to the sides, but it was curved toward the from of the hive. The bees had then attached it to the front wall of the hive. When I tried to remove it, the comb ripped. It was an interesting comb. On the back side, it had mostly pollen with some capped brood. The front side (the side that was attached to the front of the hive) was close enough to the front that it didn’t really have cells on the side that was bent forward.

This side of the comb shown here is what was surface directly facing the entrance of the hive. I kind of wonder if the bees didn’t want to have cells facing out the entrance and therefor had this facing it. It kind of ticked off the bees when I picked up the fallen comb (it was covered with bees). For the first time, I got a number of stings on my gloves. None of the stings made it through the gloves, but they tried. After I cleaned out the dropped comb, I closed up the hive.

I guess the one plus of the problem with comb #1 was that I had the chance to check for Varroa mites. The mites breed inside the cells of capped brood where they feed on the developing bee. Since there were some capped brood among the pollen in the part of comb #1 that gave way, I could open the cells and check for mites. This would give me some idea of the size of the current mite problem in the hive. I pulled out 25 pupa. To my surprise, I did not find a single mite. Some of the pupa had what looked almost like very fine sawdust on them though. I think it might be bits of the capping material, but I am not sure. It actually looks a lot like the crap that I found on the bottom board of the hive before I removes it. I plan on posting a picture on BeeSource to see if it means anything. I took a picture of the one with the most stuff on it. I think this particular one had actually already bee uncapped by the bees before I checked the comb (there were a few that had been uncapped, probably to be torn out for some reason).

Though I didn’t see any mites, while checking out the comb however I did spot a couple of larva that I thought might be small hive beetle, but the could also be wax moth, I’m not sure. The hive is still pretty strong, and I very rarely see adult beetles (only saw one today – I smashed it), so I was a little surprised to see the larva. I haven’t seen any signs of wax moths.  I’ll have to keep an eye on it to make sure they don’t become a problem. Here is what it looked like right before it was smashed.

Overall, the hive seemed to be doing well. It does need stores, so I did start feeding sugar syrup again. Hopefully we will have some good nectar flows before winter so they can build up store to hold them till spring.

July 7th Inspection

July 8, 2007

I went out to check on my hives yesterday, but forgot to take my camera along.  As I explained, hive #2 had a bit of a mess last week due to some comb that was attached to two top-bars and ended up collapsing.  I had left the comb behind the follower board for the bees to clean out (it had nectar in it).  I wanted to remove the collapsed comb, and check on their work to repair any of the other comb.

I only check on hive #2, but did watch bees at the entrance of both hives before starting.  Both hive have busy entrances, with lots of bees coming and going.  Both also had a good number of bees washboarding again.  I saw a good number of bees coming into both hive loaded with pollen.  Interestingly, hive #2 was bringing in only orange pollen while hive #1 was bringing in mostly pale yellow pollen (with an occasional bee with orange pollen).  I find it interesting that they seen to have found different pollen sources even though they are located right next to each other.

In hive #2, I removes the fallen comb from behind the follower board.  As I had hoped, they had cleaned it out of nectar.  Being good little builders though, they didn’t seem to want to leave it sitting loosely and had made it sturdy.  I had left the comb on top of a piece of plywood that I used to set the feeder on.  The bees attached all the comb together ands down to the plywood.  Its fascinating to look at, and reminds me of columns and buttresses in some type of cathedral.  It also smells wonderful (just like honey). 🙂


Just out of curiosity, I also measured the cell size.  They all seem to measure about 5.3 mm (5.3cm for 10 cells).  It as shame that this beautiful comb can’t be used by the bees, but I am sure they will replace it.

The bees had done some work repairing the combs that were still hanging.  They had reattached the lose combs, and were building more comb.  Nothing was attached to multiple top-bars, but I can also tell that its not all cleared up yet.  I’ll have to keep an eye on them to try and stop new problems before they get to big.