One of the downsides to top bar hives is that new comb is very fragile since it’s only attached to the top bar. In a Langstroth frame, the comb is attached to the foundation that provides stability, or if you are not using foundation, it gets supported on the 4 sides of the frame when it’s built out. You can generally flip Langstroth frames in any direction, but full top bar frames need to be turned in the plane of the comb. During very hot weather, inspections become problematic in a top bar hive, especially when there are heavy new combs full of nectar and honey. My bees usually attach the honey combs to the sides of the hive and this needs to be disconnected when moving frames during an inspection. Once this support is broken, it’s only held by the top bar and on a really hot day, the combs can collapse.
Late June and early July is generally the hot time of the year in Colorado. It’s also the time of year when we have generally dry conditions. Starting in late July, the large heat low over the southwest US sets up the monsoon circulation and we start getting afternoon thunderstorms that help cool us down.
The past few weeks have been typical for us with temperatures in the upper 90’s to low 100’s (around 40 Celsius), so I’ve had to plan my inspections carefully on the few “cool” days when the temperatures are only in the mid 80’s (30 Celsisus). Generally, I try to get in early while the air is still cool (before 11am) and hope they can re-attach the honey combs to the sides. Even with that, I’ve had some mishaps. Unfortunately, the “cool” days don’t usually fall on the weekends, so working full time and keeping 7 hives means I’ve had to take some vacation time to get my inspections in (only 8 more year until retirement!)
On the last inspection report, I didn’t get a chance to look in BnB3, but did look in a couple of days later. Stupidly, I didn’t have spacers on the ends of the hive next to the walls. In previous inspections, the end bars were empty so this wasn’t a problem, but this time, when I went to take out the first bar, the bar came off and the comb stayed behind. The upside is that once I removed the comb, it had a small patch of capped honey on it. I cut it out and we shared it with our dear friends who have been bugging me for more honey. It was so sweet and had a slight lemony taste – delicious. When I put the hive back together, I added some shims to either end so the next time should be less messy.
These girls are finally starting to cap the honey that they’ve been filling the old drone comb with. The other hives have more capped honey, but I think that’s because it’s all in brand new comb.
When I opened up this hive, the first thing I found was a collapsed comb. I’m not sure if it’s a new comb that got too heavy, or the result of my last inspection.
I cleaned up the mess and rearranged some of the back bars (some of which were cross combed), but I should be able to harvest some honey from this hive later in the summer.
After the mess in BnB1, I went next door to check on Duncan’s hive. It has a screened bottom and when I opened it up, I could see honey below the screen and above the bottom board which means that this hive also had something collapse. This is the best hive (in terms of bees and honey) so far and they only have 3 empty bars left. But, they also have a lot of cross comb. The one thing I’ve learned is to leave cross combed honey comb together and not try to break the bars apart, then harvest these en masse. I found the collapsed comb – the bottom half of one comb fell down in place, but the bees were already fixing things up. Duncan gets back this week, so I think we’ll have a family honey harvest in the near future. Four young kids harvesting honey – guaranteed to be a sticky mess!
Last time I looked, they had not capped much of the honey, but this time they had more capped and some new combs as well. They also had filled up the drone comb I moved to the back with nectar, so I think they’ll have plenty of honey. Right after I took the picture below, I got nailed on my middle finger by a gal who obviously didn’t want me there. She really stung me hard, so for the other inspections, it was back to the gloves!
The one thing that concerned me was there were a bunch of dead varroa mites on the floor at the back of the hive. I did see a couple of bees with deformed wings, but the one drone cell that I popped open was free of mites. I’ll have to monitor this hive closely – maybe a late season split is in order for a brood break.
Last time I looked, they had taken advantage of my lack of intrusion and cross combed a bunch of the honey bars. In just a little over a week, they had managed to make an even bigger mess, so I spent some time trying to clean things up. There are 2 sets of cross combs – one with 3 bars and one with 2 bars. We’ll probably harvest the 3 bar set this year and leave the other for the winter.
Left Hand Hive
I put a honey super on the Langstroth hive last time and when I went back this past week, they hadn’t built any comb in it. I’ll give them another week and if I don’t see signs of comb building, I’ll pull the super off. We are going into our summer dearth, so I expect they won’t do any more than they have. They are making honey in the top deep box along with brood. Given the pattern I’ve seen so far, they’ll probably start moving down into the bottom box again, especially if I pull off the super. I pulled out the foundationless frame that they were putting drones in (and now some honey), replaced it with another foundationless frame, took it home and put it in the freezer to kill any mites. I haven’t checked for mites on the frozen drone larva yet, but next inspection, I’ll put the comb back in the hive and the bees will clean up the dead drone larva and reuse the honey. There were no mites on the bottom board below the screen, which still puzzles me. Perhaps the ants that were there are taking them away.
One nice thing about the hot weather is that it’s great for melting wax. I have a small homemade wax melter made from an old Omaha Steaks styrofoam shipping box. I had two 5 gallon buckets of old comb and was able to melt it all down over the past few weeks. After the last batch, I ended up with this beautiful chunk of clean beeswax.
So, for now, except for the cross comb, I’m pretty pleased with the way this beekeeping year is going. Once it cools down a bit, I hope to do full inspections on the top bar hives. It looks like the monsoon rains will kick in next week, but for now, the heat is on!