Yesterday, the Boulder County Beekeepers Association (BCBA), sponsored a hive tour of local apiaries. Miles McGaughey, president of BCBA, organized and led the tours which encompassed a mix of hive styles and experience levels. The idea of the tour was to let other beekeepers watch one of us inspect our hives and ask questions about our management style and compare growth rates. Most of the participants were fairly new beekeepers but it was a very educational experience for all levels.
We started out at the YMCA gardens where Miles keeps some hives for educational purposes. There was a Langstroth hive that contained a colony made from a split of another hive at the YMCA. The donor hive didn’t make a new queen and attempts to requeen it were unsuccessful, so Miles combined the two. We found a couple of queen cells both with larva in them, so he’ll have to keep an eye on this one. Otherwise, it looked pretty good with brood and pollen.
After the YMCA, we came to my house and I did an inspection of BnB1. I was thinking of looking at BnB2 to get some advice on doing a split, but given the short amount of time we had for each stop, I thought looking in the smaller hive would be more prudent. We went through the whole hive, but didn’t find the queen (I was the only one who didn’t find their queen). There was a nice new comb on the empty bar I put in earlier in the week with new eggs so she had to be in there. Halfway through the inspection, I realized that I hadn’t cinched up the drawstring on my veil. I saw a bee crawling in front of me and realized it was on the inside of the veil. As I took off the veil to remove her, a bunch of other bees started buzzing around my head, so it was a race to get the veil back on without bees in it, which I finally managed to do. Overall, BnB1 is doing pretty well and I’m happy with the way they are building up. Once they finish the syrup they have, I’ll move the follower board back to give them some space to build some honeycomb. I don’t have any pictures because I was busy doing the inspection. But I did meet another top-bar beekeeper who wants to get together and talk about hive designs.
The next hives we looked at were Langs in another backyard. These were kept by two different beekeepers. Both hives we looked at (out of 3 in that yard) were doing well. One was pretty well established and the other was a new package. On the older hive, the beekeeper talked about how he puts in some frames of drone comb and when they are pretty well developed, he’ll remove them and put them in the freezer. The idea is that Varroa mites tend to favor drones which take longer to incubate (thus more mites can be born), so killing the drone larva also kills the mites. After a couple of days, he puts the frame back in the hive for the bees to clean out. He had done that recently and you could see the discarded larva on the ground in front of the hive. Miles pointed out that the value of a hive is not the bees or the queen, but the drawn comb since it’s not something you can readily get and it takes a lot of effort for the bees to make new comb. I got stung at this stop by a bee who went up my shirt sleeve, got stuck and panicked. And I wasn’t even really close to the hive!
The next stop had 3 top bars and one Langstroth – all populated from swarms. One of the top bars was nearing capacity while the other two weren’t so strong, so there was a discussion about how one might balance the difference. It seemed that the best time to do a balancing would be in the spring when the hives were just getting going. This beekeeper doesn’t use smoke on her bees and they were really calm. Her husband had made all the top bar hives using the BackYardHive (Corwin Bell) design.
Next stop was at the house of a first year beekeeper whose hive seemed to be doing well. The bottom box was almost full and another brood box was added and they were building out well in that one. While Miles had a couple of suggestions, he added that whatever this guy was doing seemed to be working! It started raining as we were heading to this stop and we had 2 more to go. Miles’ wife and girls made a great lunch of sandwiches, chips and lemonade which we sat down and ate before heading to the next stop. The rain stopped and the skies started to clear.
The next and last stop was a large apiary with about a dozen hives out in the countryside. Some of these were from swarms and some were from packages – all in Langstroths. We focused on a weak hive that the beekeeper wanted to covert from 10 frame deeps to 8 frame medium boxes. He had a medium super on top of the deep and had it set up with only 7 frames and had a follower board to close off the empty space since it was a 10 frame box to match the deep. The bees didn’t seem be moving up into the shallow, so we discussed other ways to do the switch. The big problem is that the hive isn’t very strong, so it was agreed that the first step was to build up their numbers. They also had some wonky comb in the deep which needed to be dealt with, but that would be something to do after building up their numbers. Two suggestions were made – feed them and move the hive into the location of a stronger hive. The idea with the latter is that returning foragers would go into the new hive which was in the location of the hive they left from. We did that and sure enough, there were a lot of returning foragers heading into the hive when we ended the session.
All in all, it was a very fun and educational day for all involved.
Julie · June 8, 2015 at 7:04 pm
My club has several hands-on workshops throughout the year, and we generally get to do hive inspections at our annual picnic. (Someone will bring some hives, and we open them.) However, I *love* this idea of making the rounds to inspect the hives of various members. It would probably help a lot of new beeks get more comfortable with their hives, answer their questions, and help them learn what to look for. Of course, it’s probably too hard to set up a hive hop for a whole state (even one as small as CT), but still… what a fabulous idea! Looks like a lot of fun, too!
Don · June 9, 2015 at 3:21 pm
It was nice to see the hives in their “native” locations and see how people had set up their apiaries. Some people had never even seen a top bar hive before! This worked because there is a good concentration of backyard beeks in our city so the drives were relatively short (2-3 miles for the most part). However, it didn’t work for people from Boulder (17 miles away) to show off their hives, so in the future, we’ll probably break it up into several tours on the same day – each centered on a specific city. The feedback from the new beeks was great – they felt more confident about what they were doing.