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Saturday, April 25, 2015

From The Slumps To The Garden Penthouse

Finally Moving The Slump Block Bees

Bees in the slump blocks
We initially decided that we wanted to keep and move a hive of bees in April of 2014, when we first discovered that bees had moved into the slump blocks of the retaining wall in the back yard.

We didn't understand why the bees would select such an odd place and actually such a vulnerable place to settle down.  We also didn't want them to stay there, because of all the yardwork we do and the likelihood of constant disruption to their works.

Building The Hive
Bee hive number one

We completed the dog eared beehive at the end of June.  That was most likely much too late in the season to move the slump block bees from the retaining wall to the hive, so we set it up and patiently waited for the following year when the hive would most likely split and could be easier to move.

The Swarm

March 8 2015 Swarm
We thought initially that we would catch the swarm when the hive split and then summarily kill the remaining slump block bees to make a clean break and give them a much larger place to live...  And then our consciences started picking at us once we captured the swarm and got them settled in early March.

We weren't expecting it to happen so soon.  It went very well and the bees seem to be happy with the new digs once they got to work.

So, the new swarm bees got the house intended for the slump block bees, and we really don't know if it was a split from the slump block bees or not.  A mystery never to be solved.

Beehive number two
Then Mr. Man got to work on a new top frame beehive, edition 2.0.   This work was completed mid-April.  This hive has two observation windows and a restricted entrance, plus a few other improvements Mr. Man is writing up details for me to post.

Prepping For Moving Day

We had some work to do before the big moving day.  We needed to elevate the hive above the planting ground by setting them on top of four cement blocks that were set at the same height as the retaining wall.  This required digging up some soil, tamping down and compacting the soil, then adding soil around and into the centers of the blocks to keep them 'planted' firmly in place.  The new bee hive was set on top of those, and then we started the move.

We started up the smoker

Making Moves

Now, if you want to know the truth about what is easier, catching a swarm or moving a hive, the answer is a swarm is significantly easier and cleaner than moving an established hive.  Catching a swarm is also a lot less dangerous than moving an established hive.  We were prepared, we got the stuff together and the smoker started and it was still nuts.

We had a large bowl to catch the comb, we had the pry bar to
scrape the comb off the block, a queen clip just in case we found the queen bee and a drafting brush (much cheaper and just as effective as a bee brush).

We have our bee suits and gloves on and knocked on the neighbour's door to let them know we were going to be upsetting the bees.  Since there was no answer, we were feeling pretty safe to get started.

Slump block hive cap

Surprisingly Small

We were very surprised by how small the original hive was.  It wasn't all that wide, but it did run deeply down three sets of slump block caverns.

The hive was only three combs wide, as evidenced by the tops of the combs that were pulled off with the decorative block cap.  Obviously doing well and loaded with tons of honey.

We pulled off the second brick and saw that the combs were quite
Slump block hive, layer two
deep.  We searched as best we could to find the queen bee, but we have never had any luck spotting a queen bee any time we worked any of the hives and swarms.  The sheer number of bees keeping house for this small bit of comb was pretty amazing though.

Slump block comb
We set about totally demolishing the old hive by scraping the comb off of the block and laying it on a baking pan.

We checked
Variety of  bee larvae growth stages in some cells.
the cells and there were many different levels of growth.  We couldn't identify cells that had eggs in them. We did see some cells with tiny c-shaped starts and some empty looking cells and put them in the new hive with some worker bees and some honey laden comb in hopes of forcing them to grow a queen.  This is the best shot we can offer them at this point.  A much better option than just killing them off with bug spray.

We also discovered there were several geckos staking out the soil just around the slump blocks and are certain they were picking off little bees at any opportunity.
I guess the bees didn't mind it too terribly much since they continued building and living in the hive.

New hive on left, old hive on right.  Both shaded.
At worst, we could end up with an empty hive for another year until we can more easily snag a new swarm of bees.  At best the bees will make this new hive a successful hive.  We don't know what will happen for sure.  In the mean time, we have our twin garden hives.

Carnage Of The Newbees

Carnage Of The Newbees

We have been trying not to pry into the lives of the bees in our hive so much.  We are hoping that it helps to reduce aggressiveness, but it leads to other issues.  We skipped one week and allowed two weeks of interference free building.  That made the bees attach the comb to the observation windows and the walls.    We caused a lot of distress by scraping off the comb and moving them around, then expanding by three slots.  Then for some reason we thought we'd leave them be and left them for another two weeks.  Mistake...

Bee combs through observation window
The bees attached the nearest comb to the remnants of the scraped comb, which twisted them and then the twist was exaggerated with each new comb added.

Pro Tip:  Check the comb regularly, and add additional slats before you think the bees actually need them.  Maybe a bee pro can give us some additional advice?

An Inside Look

We took a few shots of the inside as we were trying to scrape the old comb and move the slats around
Bee comb attaching to separator board
to free the comb from the sidewalls.  The bees also started attaching comb to the separator board, which we really want to keep from being attached in order to continue expansion as needed.

Comb No 12

Comb 12 is pretty small, loaded with bees.  The number of bees in the hive is pretty amazing, as seen through the observation window picture.

Comb No 10
Comb 10, was built up and full of honey.  We tried to scrape it off of the side walls and ended up wrecking a few of the combs in the process.  We couldn't really salvage any of it to give back to the bees and kind of felt bad about wreaking so much havoc on their works.

Comb No 9

Comb 9 pulled away when we were scraping it from the sidewall where the observation window is.  It is also loaded with some very light honey.

The bees were very aggravated from our inspection and complete invasion of their hive.  At this point, the pictures slowed down and we focused on getting the work done rather than taking photos.

By the time we were done, we made a complete mess in the hive, got honey all over the place and the bees were understandably upset.

The bees were trying to recapture the honey from the comb that was removed and we could see several bees stinging the gloves in their last act of defiance (the BESTOPE® Beekeeping Gloves are awesome, we never got stung on the skin of our hands, the leather took all the hits).

After so much carnage, we closed up the hive, then left the bowl outside for the bees to recollect as much as they could.  Come night time, there was not much activity on the bowl of honey and
Cleaned up honey and comb
comb and we brought it inside.  It was cleaned up and tastes very sweet.  We'll be using it in a baking recipe soon.  I'm sure we have at least 1/2 cup of very light honey.