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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Luck, Bad Judgment, Bad Beginning for Top Bar Hive

It's Thursday and four days since I installed the package in the top bar hive. Before work this morning I went to my daughter's house to retrieve the queen cage and make sure that she had been released.

This whole top bar hive thing makes me nervous. I don't know if it's because the swarm that I installed about a month ago absconded the very next day. I don't know if it's because it's not at my own house. I don't know if it's because I don't know what in the world I am doing. Whatever it is, I make bad decisions and don't do a good job with this hive in general.

Since the first install, we took the legs off of the hive and lowered it onto cinder blocks to make the screened bottom less a source of open light coming into the hive. I provided these bees with two quart jars of sugar syrup in Boardman feeders inside the hive. I put old comb on the floor of the hive.

We had really strong winds here on Monday night. When I arrived, the top of the hive, despite being weighed down with three bricks, had been blown off of the hive.

I looked down into the hive and immediately saw a problem. It looked as though the bees had incorporated the queen cage into the comb. Being nervous, I proceeded not to think clearly. So I pulled the queen cage out, and

in the process pulled the new comb the bees had built out with it.

I should have (if I had been using good judgment) lifted the top bar, turned it over and used my pocket knife to cut the queen cage out. Instead the comb fell into the bottom of the hive where I could see another piece of new comb that probably had dislodged when the wind blew off the top.

I checked and the queen had been released. I had some rubber bands and tried to rubber band the comb onto the top bars but it didn't work. I put all the comb in the bottom of the hive and went back to work.

At work I kept thinking about the mess. I had a 30 minute break so I went to Cooks Warehouse down the street from my office and bought kitchen twine. I figured it was 100% cotton and would be organic in the hive. I could cut lengths and tie the comb onto the top bars. I resolved to go to Valerie's at 4:30 when I was done for the day and repair the mess.

When I got to Valerie's house, once again, deja vu, there were NO BEES in the hive. I was so disheartened. I looked around and saw a puddle of bees on the ground about 15 feet from the hive. With bees swirling around over the puddle, it looked like a swarm on the ground.

I guess after I broke the only comb they had made, the queen said, "What kind of a place is this?" and abandoned the hive, but couldn't go far so she landed on the ground.

Since this is swarm season, I carry all my "catch a swarm supplies" in the car. I had a cardboard box with a telescoping top, I had duct taped #8 hardware cloth over the hand hold on one end and stuffed a pink bandana into the other hand hold. I had a white sheet and a plastic milk jug with the top cut off to use as a scoop. The box had two large pieces of old comb that had leaked honey into the bottom of the box. And in my hive tool bag, I had my bee brush and some swarm lure.

I decided to proceed slowly and think about whether or not to try to return these bees to the top bar hive. I began tying the old comb onto the top bars with the kitchen twine. I called my bee buddy, Julia. She introduced the thought that maybe this was a whole different swarm and not my bees at all! But I think these are Don's bees and just left the unsatisfactory living situation.

So I tied the old comb onto about six different top bars. I sorted through the top bars - all of them have glued in popsicle sticks for starters but about a dozen have bees wax dripped on the popsicle sticks. I found each of these and moved them to the bee end of the top bar hive.

Valerie had a board leaning against her fence that was the length of the top bar hive, so I slid it under the hive, blocking the light through the SBB.  I had to readjust a little to account for the space this caused between the hive and the cinder blocks but I had a falling apart Langstroth frame so I pulled it apart and used the bottom and end bars as shims to level the hive.

I put two milk jug scoops of bees into the box (on the sheet so I could see the bees not in the box).  I must have gotten the queen because the bees filed into the box in a stream after that.  I kept taking pictures because it is always so amazing to see the procession.

They all gathered in a clump around the queen, I assume.  When all but about 10 swirling bees were in the box, I put on the top and carried it to the top bar hive a few feet away.

Note, there are no taxes in the box!  You can see the pink bandana at the handhold and you can see the strings on the top bars where I tied in the comb.

I opened the box and dumped in the bees.  I so want them to stay this time.

Julia reminded me that Internet comments on my last blog post about the failed swarm installation suggested that the beekeeper should put a queen excluder over the entrance to discourage the queen from leaving, but in all the stuff I did have with me, I had no queen excluder.  I closed the cork entry on the side to reduce the entrance possibilities (or for these bees, the exit possibilities). Then I closed up the hive and drove home in the horrible Atlanta 40 minutes-to-my-house traffic.

Once I got home I couldn't stand it.  I put the queen excluder in my car, a couple of bricks, and my favorite dog to keep me company and drove back to Valerie's for the third time today to do the last thing I thought I should do.

I laid the queen excluder over the entry.  Actually these are small cell bees, raised on natural cell size and the queen may not be defeated by this queen excluder, but I'll leave it on for a week.  It does serve to reduce the entrance.  However there is still this hole on either side of the end of the box (see the picture below):

In the picture below, you can see the fence board that now runs the length of the hive, blocking the light and mostly closing up the screened bottom.

I put the top back on weighed down this time with lots of bricks and crossed my fingers.  Hannah (my dog) and I went back to my own house, and I will hope for the best.
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  1. Anonymous1:43 AM


    Have you thought about completely closing up the bottom of this TBH until they are established. I just helped a friend install a package into a TBH and we are keeping the bottom closed up for now. Also he left the queen cage on the bottom of the hive instead of hanging it from the top bar. There have not been any problems so far and it has been 2 weeks since the install. I know it is confusing and we are learning along the way as well.

    You will figure it out, I am sure. I have had many problems this Spring with my bees and felt like giving up. I also have had many days such as yours where I end up going back several times to fix the mistakes I think I made. Keep your spirits up as it will work out.

    Annette from Placerville Californoa

  2. Thank so much for sharing Linda, I know it must be discouraging so far with your attempt to try a TBH.

    In the second to last picture you show the gap between the bars and the from of the hive. Could you cut a filler piece for this opening? This way the top bars will fit tight with out any opening for drafts to enter or for bees to leave through.

    Barry, Another Beginner Beekeeper in SC

  3. At the moment, that gap is their only entry. Michael Bush uses that AS the entry for the hive and doesn't cut an entry hole. It is discouraging, but I am learning with every set back. Linda

  4. Linda, You should get an award for effort. No one tries harder to be successful at beekeeping than you! Hopefully this last attempt with the top bar will work. I'll look for your updates on this continuing saga. Good luck.

  5. I think you are doing everything right. The only thing I can add is to suggest giving them honey in the comb. You can tie honey comb to a top bar, just as you have done with the other combs. Oh, one more thing. Bungie cords. They work better than rocks.

  6. Sandy8:30 AM

    Hello, everyone!

    This is my first year ever doing bees.I have also had some terrible experiences setting up my TBH. I know that sick feeling when you do all you know how to do and it still doesn't work and, worse, does damage.

    After reading Michael Bush, I ordered a TBH from BeeThinking. It had a solid bottom, so I got my saw and sawed a long rectangle out of the bottom and stapled 8/1 screen over the hole.

    (Later as I watched a bee struggle trying to fly a dead bee up to the entrance hole to dump the corpse out, I realized I should modify that,too. So I took my big battery operated drill and drilled holes right at floor level and angled down to the outside, making it possible for the housekeeper bees to push the heavy stuff out.)

    When I got my bees,I had to do a "chop and crop". I bought a nuc from a guy who had stable climate hives and I didn't know that the frames had METAL in them, not wood. I was ready with my loppers and knife on a table by the hive and couldn't do a darned thing because I didn't have bolt cutters.

    I had to put the nuc full of angry bees back together, rush off and borrow a pair of bolt cutters. I made such a mess and I was scared because the smoker wouldn't stay lit. There was honey everywhere and dead bees that I had murdered trying to cut down the frames because, by then, I was so upset that I forgot to "bonk" the bees off the frames before I cut them. It's pure dumb luck that I didn't kill the queen.

    I live in western Washington state and the weather was horrid. I bought a "western" full of honey, cut IT down and tied the combs to my top bars to feed my bees to try to make up for some of the damage I had done

    Now the entire end up to 1/4 of the way across the hive is solid bees and I have been loath to disturb them because I feel like such a klutz. Obviously the queen is alive and laying.

    Now winter is coming and I am researching how to feed them. I'm thinking maybe sugar cakes. I am currently using a Boardman feeder INSIDE the hive. I cut a long, narrow notch out of the bottom of one of my divider boards so that I can push the lowest slot of the feeder through from the other side of the board from where the bees are. It works great. It sits on the screened bottom so that if it leaked (it doesn't) it would drip right out of the hive, but I heard at our bee club that I shouldn't be feeding wet food in winter. Thoughts?


  7. Anonymous2:02 PM

    I have a TBH. Its beautiful. puts me in touch with the bees. Itis tough at times. melted combs, some cross & burr comb. But I let them bee themselves and just watch for swarming. A screened bottom board is great for moisture, for mite control and beetles. Just board under it and enclose it with 1in board for humidity control. I wont go Lang Im into the bees not the amount of production of Honey.. just an opinion form a new Beek

  8. I am so grateful to read your stories. I am a new beekeeper (only 1 year in) and lost 2 hives I was keeping 40 min's away at a farm in Dec & Jan. I decided to give it another go at home but due to my late timing I've been limited to installing swarm bees. I have lost 2 hives in the past 4-5 weeks and am like you, disheartened, depressed, feel like I have no clue what I'm doing etc! I'm not using top bar hives but still, these little ladies just don't want to stay put! I've actually had to retrieve 2 installed swarms that re-swarmed on my property...the second of which I had to install a queen for and 2 days after she was released they absconded. Ughh! My beekeeping mentor has agreed to give me one more hive to try (an then he might give up on me!?:). I'll be trying to install another hive Saturday but just got news that my city will be spraying for mosquito's the next night! I feel like every force is against me but then hear the abysmal statistics about bees on NPR yesterday and decided I have to keep trying!


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