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Cross combing disaster

 
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 7:07 pm    Post subject: Cross combing disaster Reply with quote

This is my first year hive keeping, there is no mentor in the area and i'm afraid I've tipped over the edge of disaster now.

Right after I installed my two packages in April, my mother passed away and the poor bees were left to their own resources, other than slipping in some syrup.

I made certain the hives were level both side to side and front to back, but the brood area is seriously cross-combed and inspections are impossible. Our summer had a serious hot spell early on and I think they wanted extra support for the comb.

I've worked to straighten out the bars on either end and seem to have made good headway there, but when I try to separate the 4 - 5 bars over the center entrance, I pull apart comb and I see larvae in the broken cells. To add to the issue, the worst hive (#2) is given to crankiness if I'm messing about too long. Working time is maybe 15 minutes before that amazing sudden increase in hum level starts.

Is there anyway to recover from this? I've thought about screwing a pair of braces across the joined bars, pulling them up as a single unit and then gently trying to cut the top edges of comb, straighten and reattach them. But is it too late in the season - I'm in West Virginia where it's late summer. I don't want to risk losing winter brood.


Thanks for any suggestions.

Cheers,
B
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trekmate
Golden Bee


Joined: 30 Nov 2009
Posts: 1123
Location: UK, North Yorkshire, Bentham

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't know your climate, but would err on the side of caution.

I'd suggest leaving them until next season, then as the colony build up, move the crossed combs all together towards one side of the entrance and add one or two empty bars at a time in the space left. That way you'll gradually move the crossed combs away from the brood nest (near the entrance) and be able to remove them with honey late in the season (if the bees have plenty) or possibly empty the next spring.

Good luck!
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1564
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi B

Sorry to hear about your mother.

The hives are best left until next spring to correct. The comb will be more robust then because it is cooler. It will have less contents either honey or brood and therefore less weight, making it easier to handle and reattach and less risk of comb collapse afterwards. As you are aware, you cannot afford to damage that brood now as thy need those bees to take them through winter. There will also be less bees in the hive in early spring and that will also make the job easier.

Just out of curiosity, what type of comb guides did you use and how much space did you initially give them in the hive between the follower boards? Most people find that triangular profile top bars are pretty reliable but I am going to guess you may have followed out of date advice and perhaps just used a waxed kerf. It is also a good idea to keep the space quite compact initially. The space being wider than it is long, helps because they often like to start across the widest part.

Anyway, what is done is done and unfortunately you have not been in a position to realise there was a problem until things have become unmanageable. Leave them to it for now and I can assure you it will be a much easier task to resolve in early spring. In the meantime, research rescue bars using chicken wire so that you are equipped to make the job go smoothly next year and improve the comb guides on your unused top bars, so that hopefully they will get the message about where you would like them to build comb in the future.

Best wishes

Barbara
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mannanin
Scout Bee


Joined: 25 Feb 2009
Posts: 260
Location: Essex. UK.

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with both of the above posts and it's clear you have had a difficult year. Leave alone until spring and if you can separate and remedy the cross combing that would be ideal. If it is so badly out of control, consider a shook swarm around late spring. It is a pretty brutal operation but if done at the correct time, they recover very quickly and it makes any future manipulations so much easier, provided you keep an eye on their early comb building. Good luck.
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks to you both, Trekmate & Barbara.

I used 1-3/8" (35mm) top bars with the triangular guide, cut precisely on a table saw. My hives are built according to Chandler's book.

I started with maybe 10 bars when I installed the 3# package, evenly spaced around the center entrance and bracketed by follower boards. Part of the problem may have been the queen cages being left in too long. We had quite a cold snap when my bees were delivered and my plan to put the cage on the bottom of the hive didn't seem smart with the temperatures in the low 60's F. It was two weeks before I was home on a rare weekend from dealing with Mom's estate and could remove the cages. At that time I straightened the comb they were building on the cage's top bar and removed the burr comb. But being so new and pressed for time, I was afraid I'd dislodge the comb and didn't do enough maybe.

The bees also seem to now be building several small "paddles" on each bar as opposed to a single large comb, some of the bars I've been able to address actually look like scales. I've done small cuts so the edges could be brought together as one in my straightening efforts, or taken off empty pieces entirely and fixed them to an empty bar to put them back on a straight track.

I'll do my homework on chickenwire guides and wait for spring - keeping things tidy in the rest of the hive this fall of course. The bees seem quite happy and are laying in good honey and pollen right now. Goldenrod is starting to bloom and the girls are all over the various mints in my herb garden, especially the Hoary Mountain Mint.

Thanks again,

B
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee


Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 582
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 12:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

B Dawson wrote:

I started with maybe 10 bars when I installed the 3# package, evenly spaced around the center entrance and bracketed by follower boards.


This may have been too many bars. When left to themselves, bees tend to build in the longest available direction. So they might well build diagonally in a square space, for example.

So as Barbara said, it's better to start with a space that is longer in the direction you want them to build comb in than the other way. So in a full size TBH I tend to use 6 bars, even for quite a large prime swarm or a shook swarm. Once the colony gets going, even when the very first comb has been built, you can add more bars to give them more room. Or if I use a nuc box with more bars, I am also using re-used bars with a lot of wax outlines of the old comb still on it, which means they are pretty certain to build in the right direction.

I agree with everyone else's advice to leave it for now and sort it out as best you can in the spring. You might well end up with an uninspectable square brood nest with some nice straight honey bars. Depending on your circumstances ( and the friendliness or proximity of your neighbours ) you could consider deliberately keep them in a constricted space, which will encourage them to provide you with regular early swarms. The constricted space could be 10 bar nuc boxes that you move them into in the first warm day of spring, and then you could set up your existing hives as bait hives. If your neighbours are nearer and/or not friendly to bees, you could re-arrange the combs in the way that people have suggested.

Adam.
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 1:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for yours Adam. Some good thoughts on how to handle things. I had to look up "shook swarm", but it seems a possible solution if comb surgery fails.

I'm fortunate that I've no neighbors for miles, part of the reason we chose this property! So much to take into account over all this but good lessons learned. Just proves that book learnin' is not a substitute for actually practicing. I was surprised at how quickly the girls drew out comb and filled it - the Honey Locust and Maple trees (our primary Spring source) were abundant this year. I only wanted a couple of hives because I love bees, not because I wanted to sell honey, but it looks like the winter project is going to be building at least one more hive if not two for the added flexibility.

Regardless of what comes in Spring, I still have to move the brood bars to one end of the hive this Fall so the bees don't starve out with honey on the other end.

B
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1564
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi again

I really like Adam's idea of moving them en mass (cross combed as they are) to a bait hive and using it as a conservation/swam producer. I have two "leave alone" hives like this and l never have cause for concern with them and they produce wonderful strong early swarms. It solves your problem with rearranging comb because, if you move them now, they will back fill the brood nest with honey furthest away from the entrance first and so set themselves up for winter without you having to do anything.... assuming you make the bait hive with an end entrance..... I would encourage you to block your centre entrances on the main hives and provide end entrances and just slide the whole colony along to one end..... even without moving them to a bait hive it should help them to lay down their stores for winter in a better layout than centre entrances provide.

I'm extremely surprised that they cross combed with triangular profile comb guides.... you need to have serious words with them about that!! I appreciate that hanging the queen cage may have interfered with the process and a direct release might have been a better option, but all you can do is deal with the situation you now have. When/if you deal with the cross comb next spring, use blank bars with no comb guide for the rescue bars. I will see if I can find a link which shows some chicken wire rescue bars as they make the job of reattachment so much quicker and easier.

You are right about screwing a lath or two across all the cross combed bars and lifting them en mass, is the easiest way to do it.

Good luck whatever you decide to do.... with two colonies, you could use different approaches for each.

Regards

Barbara
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1564
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 2:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The link below is to a You Tube video from one of our memebers who does a large number of "cut outs" (removal of feral colonies from buildings etc) and there is a good photo of a rescue bar made with chicken wire at the start. Watching his videos may also give you some tips on how to deal with your cross combed hive as the principle is the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33d4e3LkOaI

Regards

Barbara
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Barbara -

Here's a link I found for Rescue Bars which seemed rather well thought out:
http://www.thegardenacademy.com/micro-homesteading/rescue-frames-fast-comb-repair/. I do like the sturdy nature of it given our sometimes hot weather.

Yes, I had a bit of a sit down with the girls over their lack of tidiness. They assured me they are quite happy and I need to stop being so bossy! But seriously, I specifically used the triangular bars because they were supposed to promote straight combs.

I am going to check the level on the hives again today. Perhaps they settled a bit and threw everything off - I want to put tiles under the legs anyway. I've also read that magnetic anomalies can cause the problem We have a great deal of iron in the rocks here. The bee yard is an old stone barn foundation - a three sided affair facing south that shields them from the winds and hopefully will provide a little radiant warmth in the winter.

On the other methods, I want to get this very clear in my head. I do apologize for peppering y'all with so many questions.

I should move the cross combed "condominium" to one end NOW, opening the end entrance and shutting the center entrance. This will cause the girls to fill in honey comb (which I will keep straight!!) to the other end. Then in Spring I do a shook method into a fresh hive with restricted space leaving the old hive as a bait hive for the swarm?

I do like the idea of using different methods between the two hives as well; Realigning the combs in the more amicable hive perhaps and moving the crankier ones to a new home.

B[/url]
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1564
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At this time of year the brood nest starts to shrink and they start to back fill it with honey, slowly scaling it down for winter but they prefer to keep their brood nearest the entrance, so theoretically if you move the whole nest towards an end, they will choose to continue to raise the reducing number of brood nearest the entrance and start to backfill the brood comb furthest from the entrance, thereby causing the majority of the stores to be in one direction away from the entrance. This is the time of year when they put down the most stores for winter, so doing now should enable them to store enough in and beyond the broodnest for them to survive winter without any rearranging.
That said, your bees are clearly not reading the right books or following the rules and I am giving advice blind, so be guided by your own instinct.
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Thu Aug 03, 2017 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I understand. I was following the idea that I'd let them build and then switch the bars around later in the season. Makes much more sense to let them store in a permanent position and not rearrange the furniture later.

Cheers,
B
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee


Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 582
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

B Dawson wrote:
Thanks for yours Adam. Some good thoughts on how to handle things. I had to look up "shook swarm", but it seems a possible solution if comb surgery fails.


Just to clarify, I was not advocating that you do a shook swarm. That will be very difficult if not impossible with crossed combs. And anyway, it's not something I would particularly advocate. It's just how I started out with one of my first two colonies. Structurally, it was a package, but all the bees were from a single locally bred colony, with the queen that would have been mother to all the bees in the shook swarm. My other "founding colony" was a crop and chop. But now with more experience ( beekeeping and wood work ) I would use Phil Chandler's "top bars in a national" method.
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the clarification, Adam. I admit when I read up on shook swarms, the method seemed a bit rough and I could just see my novice attempts traumatizing the colony! I'll take a look at the referenced Chandler method. I certainly enjoyed using his plans to build the hives.

Did a long session at the hives yesterday and thankful my late intervention at straightening the comb has put the girls back on track. All the new comb being drawn is tidy, needing only a few gentle tweaks.

B
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B Dawson
House Bee


Joined: 08 Mar 2017
Posts: 15
Location: Berkeley Springs, WV USA

PostPosted: Fri Aug 04, 2017 2:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant videos, Barbara. Thank you. I've only watched a couple, but I hope at some point he does show actually removing the comb.

B
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