How to Fill Your Non-Standard Honeycomb : When I started beekeeping at the turn of the century, the choice of hives in the UK was National or WBC or, if you have bigger ambitions, Commercial. Langstroth is seen as the undisputed American and anything made of straw is just a freak, and at worst, disaster waiting to happen.
Now, less than 20 years later, we also have the Warré, horizontal scion nest, Lazutin, ZEST and other inner boxes, and for hay lovers, some interesting variants for the skeptic. This has created two new problems for beginners: which hive to start with and how to lure bees into it.
In those days it was easy: National was the top choice because it was everywhere. Those who like the look of the WBC and don’t procrastinate on the extra work can still use the same frames, even if they are fewer in number. You pay around £25 for a nuc that is too cold and about double for a hive and in an instant you are a new beekeeper.
Somehow, in a few decades, the price of nuc doubled, and doubled again, and again, and the price of wood tools also increased, so that now there is a significant cost to start a beekeeping. If you follow the conventional route: you can expect to put down around £500 for a hive with bees and basic equipment.
If you take the road less traveled and build your own top bar hive – vertical or horizontal – you could definitely save money on hardware, but now you have another problem: how to get bees into your hive, given that a standard 5 frame core doesn’t. ‘T. will fit into your oddly shaped box, and matching nucs are as rare as chicken teeth.
When I started teaching beginners about scion nests, we used a rather brutal technique we call “pruning and cutting”, which involved performing drastic and irreversible operations on standard truss and core combs to force them to conform to the trapezoidal shape of the trunk nest. . up horizontally.
It works pretty well, but requires a bee-proof covering over and around the framed bars and is very messy if there’s a full frame of broods to deal with. Better methods have to be found.
My standard advice is – and still is – if possible, start with a swarm. Ideally, start by fishing the herd directly into your nest, as this provides solid evidence that by choosing to be there, they consider it high on their list of ideal homes and they are more likely to thrive than not.
Flocks can be drawn to the nest by fishing them with a few empty combs from other (healthy) nests, rubbing wax and propolis around the wood, and by adding a few drops of my Magic Flock Bait, which consists of one part geranium essential oil to two parts lemongrass oil. . .
The great thing about swarm bait is that you can set up a number of boxes that are really just small nests – 10-12 bars are good for a TBH bait box – and place them in several different locations to double your chances of success. What’s not so great is that you rely on bees to find your box, which is most likely in an area with a fair number of beekeepers, but less likely the further you are from civilization.
If you are more than a few miles from a beehive or other colony living in the wild, your chances decrease exponentially (I suspect this follows the inverse square law: your odds are inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the nearest apiary).
You can be proactive and position yourself as a swarm catcher, which can lead to better results, as long as you don’t mind dealing with lots of questions about bees under cages, flies disguised as bees and real honeybees that have been living in the chimney. , attic and walls. Not to mention wasps and bees. With luck, at least once per season, you’ll be offered a main herd the size of a soccer ball, hanging from a horizontal branch of an apple tree, shoulder-high.
This is what mounts in your horizontal scion nest, by pouring it into the box as if it were liquid, or pouring it down a slope into your Warré. These bees are in perfect condition to get off to a great start: full of honey and enthusiasm, they’ll be busy making their combs and all you need to do is watch in awe.
But suppose the season passes and no flock appears. You’re desperate to get started, and you see an advert for nucs, which you suspect is headed by import queen. Or maybe a friend has a bee at their National, who seems to have big ambitions. How can you get a bee from frame to crossbar without hacking wood and brooding? Is that possible?
Fortunately, it’s not only possible, but quite easy to do.
For ‘standard’ scion hives (using 17″ stems), you will need temporary access to – or ownership of – the national hive master box containing 5-8 good bee frames and brooders, with or without super honey into the brood box. full size, or it can be a nest of friends who don’t mind playing with them.
(I must say that this operation can also be performed as described using a Langstroth or any other type of nest frame, provided the rods in your TBH are the same length as those in the frame frames. .)
The method is as follows:
- Place the occupied nest (which contains your core plus additional frames) in the exact location where your top nest will later stand, with the entrance facing the chosen direction so as not to disturb you or your neighbors.
- Split the frame containing the parents into pairs and place the top bar between each pair, restoring the distance to normal. (This is why you start with an incomplete frame.)
- Leave it for 7-10 days, then carefully inspect the bars for combs. The bee will draw a straight comb on each stem, where the queen will lay eggs, some of which may have grown to the pupal stage. You may find the queen in one of the new combs.
- On a sunny afternoon, move the occupied nest a few steps in any convenient direction, and place the TBH in its original position. You’ll see the hunters return home, looking confused that their house has changed shape, but quickly finding a new entrance.
- Carefully remove the freshly drawn scion comb, with the bees attached, and place them side by side on the TBH, checking to see if the queen is in one of them. If he is, well and good. If not, then you need to find it and transfer it to a new nest, being careful not to fly.
- Now you need to whisk about half the bees from the hive frame to the TBH, adding some sticks on either side of the existing ones. Place the follower board and close it.
- Close the frame nest, after adding a new frame to fill the gap created by removing the scion.
Now you have a queen-right colony in your top bar nest, with hunters bringing in food as if nothing happened, and a queenless colony in the National, with the resources to make themselves new queens (check if they have eggs and larvae) . appear). Unless there is a flow, I suggest you feed both colonies at this point: one needs to make a comb, the other needs to draw to make a queen.
The principle we’re leveraging here is the bees’ ability to return to the exact point in space where they know where they live – or where they went in search of food. This can be used to move bees from any hive to another, as long as the new box can replace the old one.
The added step of persuading them to get the comb to move properly before the transfer makes the process easier, but not essential. You may need to balance the population in the old and new colonies, which is where your judgment as a beekeeper comes into play.
Moving the colony from the frame to Warré can be done in the same way, but you’ll need to create some special frames and clear areas on both sides, to prevent combing in the wrong places. An easier method – especially during the manufacturing period – is to place the National master box on top of the Warré box, with a plywood ‘mask’ in between to reduce the opening to 250mm and a divider board in the National to prevent side expansion.
The entrance should be under the bottom box. The comb maker will be busy activating downward expansion, and if you place two or more squares under the first box, you can leave the National in its place until it fills up again with honey. Tighten up, because the setup is inherently very heavy.
The general principle that I discovered the hard way is that there is no point in placing an empty box – even a box containing the starting strip of the foundation – over an occupied nest. Most likely, they will refuse to start at the top and go down as you might expect, but will instead build combs up, and in all sorts of irregular shapes – from the top of the frame to the bottom box. The resulting chaos will take you some time and possibly a lot of curses to deal with.
It may have occurred to you that this process also has the effect of creating a new colony that is virtually free of Varroa, since most of the mites will be sealed into stem cells within the nest frame. (You can see for yourself how this can be adapted as a mite control technique.) On the other hand, this means you may be hiding a parasite problem in your frame nest, which may need to be addressed before it becomes serious.
However, the 3+ week period without a new brood will work in your favour, as the mites will have a diminishing number of stem cells to occupy and will be exposed to simple bio-mechanical treatments, such as powdered sugar, as well as the beekeeping activities themselves.
If you intend to move bees from frame to scion on a regular basis — as a service to your local beekeeping group, for example — it’s a good idea to build a convertible hive for the purpose. It is simply a long-framed nest, equivalent to at least two brood boxes side by side, housing a strong, grumpy and prolific colony, whose job it is to make combs on the scion placed between the pair of frames.
With a constant source of food, they will be able to make 3-4 combs of shoots per week throughout early to mid summer without breaking a sweat, decreasing slightly towards the end of the season. You may want to run this nest in tandem with a simple queen maintenance program, so that you can fill the nest with known inheritance queens and not have to rely on queens or emergency mobs.
Sometimes, we create problems for ourselves by trying to perform operations our bees don’t think of. Careful observation of the behavior of the bees will save you from inflicting this worst on your colony, but we are in love with our ideas, so our teacher is most often a cruel mistress named Experience.