Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My Lawn Gets Cropped & Other Stuff

It's that time of year again. The spring flow, which was kind of pathetic this year, is over. Basswood (aka linden/lime/tilia) is done. Summer flowers have begun, but the boom is over. The real tell-tale sign that the dearth is on us, though, is that my bees don't seem very interested in building comb.

White clover, which was so plentiful in my lawn a few weeks ago, has been petering out, too, so my backyard, which hasn't seen a blade in months, finally got cut. I used to mow crop circles around all the flowers, but a couple of years ago, I gave up and started giving my lawn mullet -- short in front & party in the back!

Tidy lawn. A true sign that the spring flow is done.

BTW, this is sort of a rabbit trail, but I've been thinking that time savings is one of the fringe benefits of beekeeping. I estimate that my backyard alone takes about 30 minutes to cut with a riding lawnmower. So if I do the math correctly, 30 minutes once a week from about April to mid-July is 7 hours. (14 weeks x 30 mins/week). So just by letting the weeds grow, I saved 6.5 hours of yardwork! Not too shabby!

Haven't inspected in awhile, so I decided to get that done before our 90 degree temps started kicking in. One of the big things I wanted to do today was start prepping for the autumn flow. For me, that means a couple of things.
  1. Condensing the hive: In spring, the bees are building like mad & nectar is pouring in. So I like to have a lot of empties throughout the hive for them to build on. This time of year, I remove most of the empty bars. (I do like to keep one between the brood nest & honey storage area). I also like to move partially built-out honey combs toward the back. 
  2. Moving dark brood comb: If I see any really dark brood comb that has been filled with nectar, I move it to the honey area where it can be finished off by the bees and pulled in the autumn.
So here's a rundown of the hives.

This is the first one I opened, and she was nearly empty and full of queen cells (open & capped). A virgin queen was running around, too. After some Yosemite Sam style ranting, I gave her a bar of capped brood from Elsa and closed her up. Poop.

Queen cell near bottom

Can you find the virgin queen?

Because she's so full of honey, I wanted to do a full inspection for queen cells. But halfway through I came upon a bar that had fallen. It was still straight and stable, but it was connected to the floor and sides, and I just didn't want to deal with it at the moment. Besides, I'm hoping that if I give them another week, they'll cap the bar (and won't swarm, fingers crossed)  and I can just pull it out for me.

Also incredibly empty. At first, I thought she'd absconded or swarmed, but then I found the queen & some eggs. I noticed that there was a lot of dark comb in there, too. As I recall, when I hived a package in Persephone last year, I gave her a lot of old comb to get started, but she didn't do well. Wonder if that old comb was a contributing factor. Feral colonies will abscond once the comb gets too black.  I think I'd kept that dark comb (both in Persephone & Peach) because it was full of pollen. Next year, though, I probably won't bother trying to save bee bread. It seems the risks may outweigh the benefits, and bees seem to prefer fresh pollen anyway.

Anyway, pulled a couple of the worst combs that were mostly empty and replaced them with newer comb. Also donated capped brood from Austeja. Since the other hives have so much honey, I may pull a few more older combs from Peach next time and replace them with cleaner honey combs.

The queen appears to have emerged right on cue, but she was nowhere to be seen. Hopefully, she's on a date.

Persephone's queen

This hive that has loads of spring honey that crystallized. One of my fall prep tasks for her was moving the bars of crystallized honey to the front of the hive, just after the pollen bars. Hopefully, if the girls get hungry over the summer, they'll eat that first to make room for the brood nest. If not, they'll have it over winter.

Couple of weird honey things were happening in this hive, too.
  1. She used to have more crystallized honey. I don't know if it's melted in this heat/humidity, if the bees have eaten it, or if the bees have simply stored more liquid honey over it. Strange.
  2. They've started capping some honey even though the cells aren't full. 
Notice the white comb near the top?
See how the honey has been capped even though the cells are not full?

This hive has mellowed out a lot. For the first time in over a year, I've been able to inspect her without gloves. She's got plenty of bees -- just lost the bad attitude.  That's right, girls (three snaps up)! Don't mess with the regicidal beekeeper.

Look, Ma! No hand protection!

I still don't have any harvestable honey, but quite a few bars are about 50% capped now. Hopefully, the bees won't eat the rest before fall! Meanwhile, after all that work in the blazing sun, I've earned some Samanco time!

My weekly guilty pleasure. After a hot afternoon in the sun, I like a frozen treat.
This is a Korean ice cream with red bean paste. Weird, but delicious.
Way better than American ice cream bars.


  1. Hi Julie, It is interesting what you say about the really dark comb causing the bees to abscond, I was wondering something similar. I have a framed hive with two reeeeaaaallllly black combs that I inherited with the nuc last year. I split the colony this year leaving the queenless bees on these combs. This colony has thrown two cast swarms and there is no queen and very few bees in the that box. I was wondering whether this a survival instinct to clear a hive so wax moths can chew the comb down and another colony can start over. *shrugs* I will be pulling the black stuff this weekend and we cut it up and use it as swarm lure.

    1. Thanks for sharing that observation! It's helpful to hear that someone else is having a similar experience. Will have to go into that nuc with all the dark comb and get a bit ruthless about pulling it out. Lesson learned. Sigh.

  2. Moving/culling old comb is a good idea. I've never had the absconding problem, but the queens definitely love to lay in fresh comb over old comb. That's why it's always good to put an empty bar in the brood chamber every now and then.

    One of the problems I run into, is that just when I'm ready to move dark comb, the queen starts laying in it. I need to be a lot better about dating my bars - I've been thinking about using your colored pins idea and using the color of marked queens by year to figure out how old each comb is. At least I was able to move a lot of old drone comb this year and they've been filling that with nectar.

    It's interesting that Elsa had a collapsed comb with all her insulation. In general, do you thing the insulation is keeping her cooler this year? Glad to see that you've tamed the beasts a bit!


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!