Weak Swarm

Swarm with half of the bees out foraging.

Swarm with half of the bees out foraging.

My first swarm of the year hasn’t done a whole lot just yet. But then, the nectar hasn’t really kicked in yet. My other hives are also pretty dry too – they’re certainly ready for the flowers to kick in. Currently we have bluebonnets in bloom and have had a few trees in bloom this season so far so the bees are not starving, but the main flow from the mesquite and wildflowers just hasn’t happened yet.

My first swarm this year looks a bit weak so I decided to cut out a comb from one of my top-bar hives to at least give them a place to begin laying and storing honey – a jump-start. This also gave me an opportunity to experiment with cutouts on frames rather than top-bars. Eventually I’m going to cut out both of my top-bar hives and transfer all the bees into the Langstroth equipment I have so this helped enormously. Unlike my wall cut-outs, a top-bar hive cutout will be largely anti-climatic – I’ll be cutting it one bar at a time so the entire hive won’t be opened up so there will be less bees flying around. Once I get the first comb of brood framed up and put in the Langstroth equipment, every frame of brood I pull from then on I will be able to just shake the nurse bees off into the new hive – they’ll quickly populate the combs that I’ve put in there.

In any case, I set to prepare the frames to receive cut out comb. While the common recommendation is to use large rubber-bands to hold the pieces of comb in place, I don’t have any. I do have an abundance of string tho. So I threaded a string thru the holes that the wire is threaded thru. I set up several frames in an empty hive because I saw a queen cell in my larger top-bar hive, so I had a few prepared frames handy. The queen cell was empty tho – from last year.

Tied up comb for swarm hive.

Tied up comb for swarm hive.

I searched thru the top-bars and settled on nice straight comb near the back. Less drama for the bees – only a few nurse bees on this comb. I sized it to the frame and found it was slightly taller. I cut it with a pair of scissors so it fits, leaving about one inch of comb for the bees to drawn down again. I lay the cut section on the wires and marked where each wire touched the comb. Then I flipped the comb over and used the bread-knife to cut a groove in the comb for the wire to rest in. I pulled the string out of the way and set the comb on the wires then pulled the string tight. I didn’t tie the string off tho – I just wrapped it around one of the ends of the top-bar. It was secure enough and by the time I pull that frame for inspection the bees will have attached the comb to the frame and wires securely.

It went very smoothly and as I envisioned. I pulled an empty frame out of the swarm box and moved the frames that the bees were on over. Then I put the new comb frame down where the bees had been clustered. The queen will migrate to the comb pretty rapidly, as well as the nurse bees – there are a few capped cells on this comb so there is good brood scent that the bees will find irresistable. There’s also room to put nectar now. I’ll do similar for my other swarm hive too. Eventually, every swarm I collect will get a frame of mostly empty comb to give them a head start. This will save them from having to make comb right away and let them get do the business of making more bees – which will make for a happy queen.

I’ll give them a week and cover their reaction to the comb here and how they’ve progressed.

Michael Vanecek

I've been keeping bees with no treatments whatsoever for several years. I've followed a basic philosophy of if the bees don't bring it into the hive then it doesn't get put into the hive with good success. After a life-time of naturalism, this was simply the logical course to take with honeybee husbrandry and proof is out there buzzing and making honey right now.

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