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Friday, June 27, 2014

How/When Do I Insert New Bars?

Lately, I've encountered a lot of people asking:
  • I've added new bars to the hive. Why aren't my bees building on them?
  • How come my bees have stopped building comb?
  • When do I add new bars?
  • My bees have started building comb. Can I take out the divider board now?
Basically, all these questions come down to proper management of the hive. Les Crowder (who uses end entrances) and Christy Hemenway (who has side entrances) have both written in detail on this subject. I highly recommend checking out the detailed diagrams in their books, which clearly illustrate how to manage your TBH during Spring, Summer, and Autumn. I also recommend Wyatt Mangum's book available through his website. No diagrams, but lots and lots of notes on the subject.

Books by Les Crowder and Christy Hemenway

Wyatt Mangum's book

 I won't go into great detail on hive management in this post, but I will provide some basic info for people who just want to know if they should add a bar. Addtionally, I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but if you stick with me, I promise that we'll eventually cover the following issues:
  • How to add bars to your hive
  • When to add bars to your hive

Background Info

Before we dig into these bigger questions, though, let's skim over some basic stuff that we should all understand about TBHs and bees. 

The TBH is basically a horizontal box with lots of bars hanging across the top. The hive will either have end entrances or side entrances. The amount of space that the bees get is limited through the use of one or two boards called a divider board. Divider boards can be moved around to give the bees more or less space as needed.



When a package is installed, the bees are put into the hive closes to the entrance. If you have end entrances, your bees started off looking like this:


If you have side entrances, your bees looked more like this.

However, some time has passed, and your bees have built out some comb. They may have even filled up the space that you gave them. Right now, they're probably starting to look something like the diagrams below. Note:
  • Your bees probably have a thin band of honey at the top of each brood comb.  However, I didn't show this in my diagrams because I'm too lazy to draw them.
  • If you're lucky, you may have some dedicated honey bars. These form what is called a "honey barrier." Do not freak if you don't see any dedicated honey bars. Remember, you have a new package or nuc. Your bees are trying to build up their colony. You may not see honey bars until the fall. 




Obviously, it's time to add bars, but what's the right way to do that?
When you add bars, you want to do so in a way that manipulates the bees' natural tendencies, so you need to understand what it is they want to do.
  • Bees like to maintain proper "bee space" in their hives. This is about 3/8" between combs. If there is too much space between combs (which is what occurs when the beekeeper adds a bar), the bees will build comb to fill in the gap.
  • When foragers come home from their trips abroad, they bring home presents (in the form of pollen and nectar) for the hive. Like any weary traveler, they dump their luggage right inside the door with receiver bees. At night, the bees move the honey and pollen to where it needs to be. Some of it gets moved to the brood nest for easy access. Extra nectar and pollen get moved to dedicated combs for just honey at the back/edges of the nest. The division between the brood nest and the honey bars is called the honey barrier.
  • The queen and all her nurse bees believe in working smart and not hard. It's much easier for them if the brood nest stays consolidated in one area of the hive. Therefore, the queen does not like to cross the honey barrier.
  • Bees reproduce by casting swarms. However, bees are kind of like people in that they prefer to wait for just "the right time" to reproduce, when they have the resources for a "baby."
    So imagine this scenario: The bees are putting up honey and building a nice honey barrier. The queen won't cross the barrier, and there isn't any space in the nest to build new combs for her to lay in. This means that the hive is getting crowded, and the bees feel there are plenty of resources set aside to help a new queen get started. Once the bees become honey bound like this, their little bee brains think, "Hey, this is a great time to reproduce! Let's swarm!"
To stop your bees from swarming, you have to give them space. You have to add bars. Where should you put them, though?

How to Add Bars to Your Hive

These two diagrams show hives to which bars have been added. (I apologize for showing an end entrance, only, but I'll try to add notes that will help those with side entrances.) Hopefully, the expression on the faces clearly indicate which one is the correct way.

The Correct Way. An empty bar is been placed between the last bar of the nest and the first bar of the honey barrier. (Side Entrances: You can add a bar between the last two combs on both sides of the nest.) This gives the bees a choice. They can build brood comb, or they can build honey comb -- whichever they need.

When placing an empty bar into a hive, it needs to go between two bars that have been built out and have straight comb. This promotes the building of more straight comb on the empty bar. Any curves in the comb on adjoining bars will be repeated in the comb on the new bar, until eventually, the comb starts crossing bars and is a real mess for the beek. 


The Wrong Way. An empty bar is placed after the honey comb. This can cause a number of problems:
  • The bees are unlikely to build on it because it's not where they want to build. Remember, they like to keep their brood altogether and honey at the end. From their perspective, this new bar is too far from the nest, and their honey is already at the end of the nest.
  • Because the bees can't build brood comb on the new bar, the nest can become honey bound.
  • If one puts a number of empty bars after the honeycomb and the bees happen to build on them, the comb may become curved and messy because the bees don't have straight combs to guide their new construction.


In the diagrams above, I showed how to add a single empty bar, and the divider board is depicted up against the very last bar in the nest. In reality, I usually keep 2-3 empty bars between the last bar with comb and the divider. I don't expect them to build on the bars (and they generally don't), but when my colony is huge, I think it might give them a bit of air. However, I never give them the entire four feet of hive at once, though I know other folks who do. 

The diagrams also show how to add only one bar at a time. However, you can add multiple bars at once if you need to open up the brood nest. You can read more about opening the brood nest on Michael Bush's site. However, note that his page is geared toward Langs and also talks about checkerboarding, which is a related but slightly different conceptom. (Checkerboarding is a technique performed in Langstroth hives. It's done in the early spring before the maple blooms, I think, and encourages rapid comb building in advance of the main nectar flow.)

Also, note that when you add multiple bars, each empty bar needs to be inserted between two straight combs, and you shouldn't add more bars than the bees can cover. Remember that the bees need to cover their brood in order to maintain them at the proper temperature.


When to Add Bars to Your Hive

If your bees have built comb on all the bars up to the divider board, you need to add bars to give the bees room. 

If you see comb on all the bars up to/between the divider board(s) during spring or summer, then add an empty bar. In the autumn, the bees will be busy filling honeycomb and backfilling the nest (now empty of larvae) with honey, so you might not need to add any bars then. (Of course, if you have an amazing fall flow, you might need to add a bar. It depends on what's happening.)

If you're having an incredible spring flow, you will want to add bars -- frequently. Possibly multiple bars.

If you have a lot of bearding going on, that's a sign the bees are trying to cool off the hive. Consider opening up the brood nest with some bars so that it can cool off.

If you won't be able to check the hive for longer than 2 weeks, open up the brood nest with a few bars to make sure they don't get crowded while you're gone. 

Again, I want to reiterate, if you're adding multiple bars, be sure you have enough bees to cover them.

Hopefully, this post has answered basic questions about how/when to add an empty bar to your hive. If you need more details, please, check out the books listed above. They do a great job explaining how to manage your hive. Plus, they have diagrams and notes on special issues that come up for every season. If you have end entrances, try looking at Crowder's book. I recommend Hemenway's book for side entrances. Or get both. Books are always nice. ;-)

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