Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Location
    Geauga, Ohio
    Posts
    398

    Default Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!

    Last summer, I had 3 top bars I was managing for honey production. These were overwintered, 20 bars filled with bees in late May, and each bar is the size of a Lang frame mind you. I removed most of their existing honey, in fact put it in the front (like 2 bars), put 1 bar of space in 2 places in the hives... and they made drone comb, and backfilled the brood nest with nectar and swarmed. I saw little comb drawn out except the drone comb. Which they actually already had on the edges of the brood nest from last year. They apparently just wanted fresh?

    I found out from the school of hard knocks that frames with foundation but no comb are pretty unattractive to bees with drawn comb - they would rather draw on a bar. Nothin' personal, right?

    Then in mid-late June, once the daughter hives were definitely established and I had moved capped brood to boost them, I tried to make honey again. Once again, I put a couple of empty bars staggered past the brood area - hoping to get honey not drone comb - and got some. Like 2 bars from 3 hives. And they filled the brood nest and swarmed again!!! @[email protected]#@%@[email protected]$!!!!!

    I'm wondering if my part of OH has pretty "shallow" nectar flows. I wonder if that would explain the firm tendency to fill existing comb but never getting "full" enough to draw out fresh.

    Also the bees once again chose to draw a full comb and fill with half capped honey when they did bother to draw out comb. The other have would just be uncapped, sitting there, mocking me, for several inspections in a row, until I gave up and harvested anyways.

    That also makes me wonder if our nectar flows really will provide better honey with drawn comb... or if I have swarmy bees. I blame the father(s). I think that is actually part of the problem, so I will be requeening my fall swarming stock.

    So... thoughts? similar experiences with poor comb drawing with a strong hive and an apparent nectar flow? It's not that I'm a crappy beekeeper, right?!?! or that there is a deep flaw in using top bar hives - that is my fear, really, deep down. So I prefer to blame the father(s) at this point....for swarmy stock... and relatively poor but consistent nectar flows.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Location
    England, UK
    Posts
    1,196

    Default Re: Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!

    Hi Trish,
    I'm not a honey-farmer, but I can see two possible 'flaws' here. The first is to do with being a Top Bar Hive and the Crush and Strain method of honey harvesting.
    We normally think of "X pounds of honey being needed to make one pound of wax" as being a human consideration - but what if the bees are also 'conscious' of this, or something very similar ? From a survival point-of-view it would make a lot more sense to invest colony effort into storing nectar within any existing combs, rather than using it to make wax from which to build new combs - especially if the nectar flow isn't that brilliant. Then, with the brood combs being filled with nectar, there's reduced or zero further space for the queen to lay - which, together with the presence of stored honey - are pretty good conditions to stimulate swarming.

    The second 'flaw' is common to all Long Hives, Top Bar or not. With the combs mounted across the hive's narrowest dimension, a honey-comb barrier is effectively set up in the first couple of combs past the existing brood nest. This has two consequences: the first is that it effectively prevents expansion of the brood nest, and secondly it discourages the deposit of nectar further towards the back of the hive.
    I say "discourages" rather than "prevents", because it clearly isn't a problem for ALL top bar beekeepers, some of whom harvest honey very successfully - but others do seem to run into this problem. Thus the frequent need to manage combs within long hives, which doesn't feature quite so much in vertical top bar hives such as the Warre, where any honey-comb barriers tend to be created 'by the box', rather than 'by the comb', and which is dealt with by a regular program of box-shifting.

    These then are the advantages of the expandable vertical beehive with 'recoverable' honey-combs: that the brood nest can be enlarged as needed by the insertion of extra boxes; having honey-combs above the brood combs allows easy access to all of them; and the presence of pre-drawn honey-combs doesn't then present the bees with a choice of making 'wax or honey' (assuming my 'back-of-a-fag-packet' theory is valid).

    Even though I can see many advantages to the horizontal hive (of which I have several), I do accept that there are sound reasons why the expandable vertical beehive of which the Langstroth is by far the most common, continues to be favoured by honey-farmers world-wide.

    But - I'm mindful that nothing of the above really helps you right now. I'm wondering if running one or two classic Langstroth hives 'for comparison purposes' (assuming you don't already have any) might be enlightening ? But I noticed you wrote: "found out from the school of hard knocks that frames with foundation but no comb are pretty unattractive to bees with drawn comb" - so my suggestion might well be 100% redundant.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Location
    Campbell River, BC, CA
    Posts
    1,607

    Default Re: Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!

    Quote Originally Posted by trishbookworm View Post
    and they made drone comb, and backfilled the brood nest with nectar and swarmed.
    That's nothing unique to the top bar, they will do the same in a lang if you give them a lot of new frames with little drawn comb thru the spring flows. Our production of honey thru the spring was dismal until we had enough drawn supers that we could keep empty drawn comb on the colonies thru the spring flows, ie the swarmy part of the year. Without empty drawn supers to put on the colonies thru the spring flows we would end up chasing swarms rather than harvesting honey.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    Location
    Dane County, WI, USA
    Posts
    2,168

    Default Re: Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!

    Quote Originally Posted by trishbookworm View Post
    Last summer, I had 3 top bars I was managing for honey production. These were overwintered, 20 bars filled with bees in late May, and each bar is the size of a Lang frame mind you. I removed most of their existing honey, in fact put it in the front (like 2 bars),.....
    A long shallow hive with an entrance positioned the "warm-way" will do this to you.
    Effectively, they are always over-crowed and under-ventilated (which produces an effect of a small hive).
    20 bars amount to running about a double-deep Lang by volume, which is not much (also - configured in a less optimal way - long, shallow trow).

    Sounds like what you may have per your general commenting (in part, anyway).
    The incremental frame/bar manipulation will not change much in that respect.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Ukrainian frame experimentation.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Location
    Isle of Wight, VA
    Posts
    2,748

    Default Re: Adding bars to get comb drawn - what to do when the bees ignore it and swarm??!

    A 20 bar hive is pretty small to expect a colony of bees to make any excess honey for you to harvest. I have one "short" hive of 21 bars, all the rest are 28 bars (4' long hives). The short hive has a pollen trap on it and the entrance on the narrow end, where the rest of them mostly have multiple entrance holes on the long side. I get much better distribution of bees where the entrances are on the long side. They tend to divvy up the hive like one would think, brood nest on one end, honey stores on the other. I do have one 4' hive that also has a pollen trap on the short side, and that one dies out each year no matter what type of queen I put in there, but I digress.

    I've heard of many topbar hive beekeepers adding the empty bars to the edges of the brood nest, and the bees ignore the space and still go into swarm mode. I always add my empty bars in the middle of the brood nest to make it ever expanding, and consequently, don't have issues with swarming. The bees always build out the empty bar promptly and usually the queen gets it good and laid up with worker eggs before the forages have a chance to fill it with nectar. That leaves the drawn comb on the edges of the brood nest to be used for excess honey stores if the queen doesn't get back out there to lay them full of eggs. I do usually have patches of drone comb drawn into combs, so there are plenty of drones to make the bees feel happy.

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