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Moving bees

 
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shadiya
House Bee


Joined: 09 Apr 2008
Posts: 13
Location: Oxford

PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 5:27 pm    Post subject: Moving bees Reply with quote

I've got a colony of bees living in a tea chest, on slightly wonky top bars (because I had a swarm that died and when I replaced the lid, I didn't put the bars back straight and then another swarm arrived and settled in happily) and it's all cross combed. I was wanting to try moving them this year into a real hive, as the tea chest isn't insulated and I don't think we can rely on having mild winters, plus, I already have a cross combed "conservation hive"...

My thinking was that if I did it early and carefully, so that I made sure the queen was moved, and then trimmed the comb to fit (tbh) where necessary, the bees would have the whole summer to repair all damage done. I'm hoping to get a member of our local group to come and assist, mainly for moral support, as haven't ever done anything like this before and am a little anxious. Plus, these are the most feisty of the bees that live here, so I'm not sure they'll be all that keen on what I'm proposing to do. By feisty, I mean that of all three colonies, they tend to be more concerned about me having a look than the others, they get a bit noisier whereas the other two pretty much ignore me, but I haven't ever been stung, so I may be doing them a disservice in my description. It comes from being a newbie.

I'm wondering if I should simply leave well alone and accept two conservation hives, even if one is a tea chest, and simply make a note to self to ALWAYS make sure all bars are always straight whether there are bees in there or not. Anybody done anything similar before? Words of wisdom much appreciated Very Happy
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biobee
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Location: UK, England, S. Devon

PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This method can be adapted to your situation, except that you may need to transfer some eggs and young larvae across to the new hive instead of the queen, as you are unlikely to want to rummage around in there looking for her...

This is a way to make two colonies from one, using to advantage the bees’ accurate homing instinct and ability to make themselves a new queen at short notice.

The ‘hive substitution’ technique enables you to split a colony from a framed hive to a TBH (assumed in the instructions, but in fact you can split from any hive type to any other) with little effort and virtually no danger of damage to bees or brood. If swarm cells are already present, it works very well as a simple, artificial swarm technique, nicely adapted to the bees’ own rhythms.

Requirements
You need a strong, healthy, donor colony in any type of hive, during the build-up period, and an empty TBH. The donor colony should ideally be crowded, have 3-4 frames/combs less than its full capacity (a division board is used to contain the colony) and with no supers added. For at least a day or two prior to the operation, it should be located on the spot where you want your TBH to be - ideally with the entrance at a similar height to that of a TBH - and there should be a stand 4-6 paces off to one side (not in front of the entrance) where you will be able to place the donor hive safely (see Step three).

These instructions assume that the length of your top bars is the same as that of your frames. If you are transferring from a BS National hive to a TBH built to my measurements, you will be fine; likewise if you are transferring from a Langstroth or Dadant to a TBH with 19” bars, as is the American habit. If you are moving from a 19” hive to a 17” TBH, you will need to temporarily extend the bars, rather than stepping the ends as described below. I have done this by two methods: (a) drilling a couple of holes in each end of the bar to take a loose-fitting nail, and (b) making ‘hangers’ from bent strip metal (see illustrations).

I strongly suggest you read through the following steps several times to familiarize yourself with the process before attempting it. The technique is not difficult, but it helps to understand the reasons for each step.

Method
Step one - A couple of weeks in advance of your target operation day, make up three special top bars by cutting ‘steps’ into the ends of your standard bars, reducing the thickness (vertical dimension) to match that of the frame tabs (the parts resting on the side rails) so the bars fit comfortably into the frame hive, with their top surfaces flush with the frame tops. (If you intend to routinely exchange combs between a TBH and a conventional hive, you might want to build this step into your top bars as standard.)

Step two - 7-12 days before you plan to perform the operation, open your framed hive and insert your three prepared top bars between pairs of frames, something like this: frame, TB, frame, frame, TB, frame, frame, TB, frame. Note how the stepped ends allow for the easy replacement of the crown board. Note also that top bars should butt up against the frame spacers on either side to achieve the correct centre-to-centre spacing.

Step three - On the chosen day of the operation - which should ideally be fine and sunny with little or no wind, with bees flying freely to forage - open the donor hive and check that the bees have built combs on your inserted bars. Most likely, there will be a good-sized comb on each bar, with eggs, open brood and perhaps even some sealed brood. Some of it is likely to be drone-sized comb, but that’s not a problem. If you find one or more developing queen cells on the edge of any of the new combs, leave them in place and take extra care when handling them in the next step.

Step four -If all is well, replace the crown board temporarily and move the donor hive to the stand, placed off to one side. Immediately place the TBH in the vacated spot, with its entrance facing the same direction. Flying bees will return to that spot and will quickly find the new entrance.

Step five - Open the donor hive and carefully remove the inserted bars, one at a time, by first moving the frames away from them, cutting away any attachments and being careful to avoid breakages. Take special care to look for the queen on each comb as you remove it: there is a very good chance that she is laying eggs on one of them. You will want to move the queen to the TBH, so if she is already on one of these fresh combs it will save you some work. Be careful not to drop her!

Gently transfer the bars with fresh combs to the TBH, with all adhering bees. Place an empty bar in between each one, in the same order and with the same orientation with respect to the entrance as they were in the framed hive. Shake bees from another two frames into the TBH, then add two empty bars either side of them and close up with followers.

Step six - If you have already moved the queen to the TBH, you can go to step seven; otherwise, you need to locate her in the donor hive. This can best be done by someone who is a confident queen-spotter, but if no such person is to hand, you simply have to take out the frames one by one and look carefully on both sides.

A good trick is to arrange the frames in pairs with a three-finger gap between each pair. Within 30 seconds of doing this, you can be confident that the queen will be in between one of the pairs of frames: an experienced beekeeper will be able to tell you which pair simply by observing the behaviour of the bees (the least agitated will usually have the queen); otherwise, you will have to look carefully until you spot her.

Whichever queen-finding method you employ, you need to transfer her to the TBH. So very gently, take the frame she is on over to the TBH, move a follower aside and persuade her to walk onto the tip of a feather or a fine brush or a leaf - but NOT onto your hand (never handle a queen if you can avoid it!) and by this means place her onto the nearest comb. Now shake (or brush with a goose feather) all the bees from that frame directly into the TBH.

Step seven - Carefully close everything up, using your mist spray to persuade bees to join their friends and to leave the exposed edges of the woodwork where they may be crushed. Both colonies should now be left undisturbed for a week to give them time to settle.

NB - Almost all the Varroa mites present in the donor hive will be in sealed brood cells, reproducing, so feeding sealed brood to chickens, or freezing it, and giving the colony a ‘brood break’ is considered a valid method of giving bees a fresh start, largely free from mites.

Summary
You have split a colony and the queen is in the TBH with her flying bees - much as if she had flown with a swarm - leaving the old colony to raise a new queen. If there are developing queens already in the donor hive, one will emerge in 7-10 days to become the mother of the colony.
Because the original colony has lost most of its foraging bees to the new TBH colony, they will experience a short hiatus while they re-adjust their natural balance. Unless forage is plentiful, the TBH colony will also benefit from feeding, as they have new combs to build.

Advantages
There are several advantages in using this method over the more brutal ‘chop-and-crop’ for starting a TBH :

1. You are starting your TBH with fresh, straight comb, as it has been built in a confined space between mature combs.
2. There is no risk of cutting through or damaging brood.
3. You have an opportunity to test the temperament of the colony before committing yourself to the current queen (you could introduce a new queen instead after a few hours wait).
4. You have an opportunity to check for brood disease during the transfer and you minimize any danger of infecting the TBH by only moving new combs.
5. At the end of the process, you still have a colony in the framed hive! You can sell this or give it away, or keep it as a swarm resource, or repeat the process to boost the TBH - it’s up to you.

What can possibly go wrong?
As with all beekeeping operations, this one may not go exactly to plan. Bees have their own ideas about what they will allow you to do to them and may make decisions that are not necessarily aligned with your expectations. Only experience and observational skills will enable you to steer around some of the obstacles they may put in your way, but the following tips may help you meanwhile.

You cannot find the queen - beginners often have trouble seeing a queen among a mass of workers and drones; this is nothing to be ashamed of. I gave you my best queen-locating tip above, but if you still cannot find her, close up both hives and walk away. Return the next day and the behaviour of the bees should give you some clues as to her location: whichever hive is behaving calmly and going about its business without fuss is most likely the one with the queen. If she is in the TBH, you have nothing more to do. If she is still in the original hive, I suggest you have another look for her using the above instructions and transfer her gently to the TBH. Avoid touching her and don’t shake her in, as an injured queen - or one that smells odd - may be summarily executed by her workers.

You found no eggs or young larvae on the old combs - only on the new combs, which you have placed in the TBH. If there are queen cells developing in the old hive, this does not matter as they will raise a new queen in one (or more) of them. No eggs, no young larvae and no queen cells means no material to make a queen, so you will have to replace one of the combs from the TBH into the old hive. If you have some experience of such things, or know someone who can help, you could obtain another queen and introduce her instead, or insert a sealed queen cell from another hive.
You could not find the queen, but there are sealed queen cells and there seem to be fewer bees than a week ago - this suggests they have already swarmed! They were probably planning to do so before you added the extra bars, but all is not lost: divide the queen cells and bees between the two hives, leave them alone for three weeks and you will have two colonies with virgin queens. If you find multiple sealed queen cells, you could even make up an additional nucleus colony at one end of the TBH - or in a separate nuc box - as an insurance against one of them failing to mate.
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shadiya
House Bee


Joined: 09 Apr 2008
Posts: 13
Location: Oxford

PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh dear. I got confused at step one.... This is not boding well....
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biobee
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Joined: 14 Jun 2007
Posts: 1051
Location: UK, England, S. Devon

PostPosted: Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Simplified version. Perform the move on a fine day when bees are flying.

1. Build new hive

2. Prepare said hive with a couple of empty-ish combs from the hive near the gate, plus at least one with honey and one with some pollen, ideally.

3. Get someone to help you move the tea chest 6-10 feet to one side of where it is now.

4. Immediately place new hive in the place where the tea chest was. with the entrance facing down the slope.

5. The flying bees will find their way into the new hive, as it is where they expect their home to be.

6. Don't bother opening the tea chest, but as soon as you have completed the last step, find a comb with eggs and young larvae in the other hive and add to the new hive, in between the other combs, next to one with honey, having shaken or brushed the bees off it first.

7. Having deprived the tea chest of most of its foraging bees, this is a good time to go in and sort it out if you feel up to it. Take comb with bees on it and shake/brush them into the new hive. Feed the brood to the chickens - that will get rid of most of the Varroa.

8. If you have shaken the old queen in without damaging her, she will start laying again. If not, they will raise themselves a new queen from the eggs you took from the other hive, and with any luck this one will be better tempered.

Good luck!
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shadiya
House Bee


Joined: 09 Apr 2008
Posts: 13
Location: Oxford

PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 12:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Plain English - me like! Very Happy


When you say hive by the gate, do you mean the conservation hive in the little orchard? And when you say get comb with eggs and larvae from the other hive, do you mean, the one by the trees? Or are we still on the conservation hive? Which way are you calling "down the slope"? Cos the field slopes both north and east from the tea chest.... And wouldn't it make more sense to simply put the eggs and brood in all at the same time, rather than waiting till the foragers have gone in to the new hive? Assuming they are that co operative? And do you think they are bolshy bees? Feed the brood to the chickens??? I'm a vegetarian!
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biobee
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Location: UK, England, S. Devon

PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 11:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

shadiya wrote:
Plain English - me like! Very Happy

When you say hive by the gate, do you mean the conservation hive in the little orchard? And when you say get comb with eggs and larvae from the other hive, do you mean, the one by the trees?


Sorry for the confusion, I forgot there was another one. Either is fine - you just want a comb with eggs and freshly-hatched larvae from whichever hive it is easiest to take it from. Don't transfer the queen or any bees with it, though, and protect it in a plastic bag or similar while carrying it, as you will be exposing the most vulnerable open brood to airborne pathogens.

shadiya wrote:
Which way are you calling "down the slope"? Cos the field slopes both north and east from the tea chest....


It doesn't really matter.

shadiya wrote:
And wouldn't it make more sense to simply put the eggs and brood in all at the same time, rather than waiting till the foragers have gone in to the new hive? Assuming they are that co operative?


You risk chilling the brood if there are no bees to keep it warm, even for a few minutes. Better to wait until some of the fliers have found their way in, and they will immediately cover the brood.

shadiya wrote:

And do you think they are bolshy bees?


They were OK when I looked at them, but their temperament will vary somewhat according to weather, etc.

shadiya wrote:
Feed the brood to the chickens??? I'm a vegetarian!


But your chickens aren't!
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shadiya
House Bee


Joined: 09 Apr 2008
Posts: 13
Location: Oxford

PostPosted: Sat Apr 04, 2015 7:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's great. I do like specific instructions, thank you Very Happy
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