So, iím Wondering what the strategy is for new beekeepers coming out of year one without the very precious drawn combs? When its time to super up in the spring, what is your strategy for adding boxes of foundation and getting them drawn out?
This is one topic i cannot find a lot of information of on YouTube.
They dont do as well if they have to draw out the comb. Thats one reason to feed like mad during year 0 when you first get them. Add the supers as soon as temperatures moderate and the nectar flow starts.
Feed them lots of sugar solution....they need lots of nectar/sugar solution to draw wax. WAx making is a high energy cost to the bees.
You can also kind of trick them by putting frame of foundation in middle of brood and they will draw it out quickly. Then pull it out and repeat the process...just don’t over do it. If you catch a swarm, you can use the swarm to draw out comb as they will draw it really fast.
Feeding is good to a point but be careful that they dont fill all available cells and flood out the queen and swarm. Pulling up laid up frames into upper boxes and opening up the brood nest can force their hand a bit but caution about chilled brood and small hive beetles.
Nucleus colonies in multiple tiers really draw nice comb too.
We went thru this same conundrum during our first few seasons with bees. Back story to our lessons on getting comb. We started with 1 colony on the lawn beside the house, and 2 more colonies in the middle of a holly orchard about 1/2 km from the house.
Year 1 - We hived our first bees on April 19 2011, packages into 3 sets of equipment. We had no idea what to expect, I read a lot online, everybody said 'feed your bees to get drawn comb'. We piled on the feed. At that time, we really didn't have a good idea of what we were looking at when lifting frames and looking inside a colony, but we were told we should inspect bees, so we did 'inspections', then filled feeders. In early June one Sunday morning wife and I headed down to the holly orchard with buckets of feed for the bees, we were going to do an 'inspection' then fill feeders. Walking into the orchard we stumbled on a fairly large swarm hanging in one of the holly trees. Back to the house, fetch an empty bee box and a step ladder. While I was up on the ladder shaking the swarm into the box, my wife (gf at the time) started hollering, looked over to where the hives were, and watched a swarm coming out of the second colony sitting there.
As the season progressed, we were getting frustrated. The bees were not building new comb. They had the second box but were essentially ignoring it. By mid July we threw up our hands and kind of gave up on them making more comb. We proceeded to ignore the bees for some time, had other things to tend, like a wedding and the obligatory trip after a wedding. We came back to check on our bees in early September after not looking for some number of weeks. What we found was a second box fully combed out in both colonies, and the two swarm boxes were fully fleshed out as well. No comb in any of the honey supers. The empty supers came off and we put on winter feed because that's what everybody said we should do. In hindsight, I really dont know if they needed it or not, we just did it because everybody said we should.
Year two - A similar story. The real difference, we ended up with more swarms and little / no comb in honey supers by late June. At one point we walked into the hives at the holly orchard and saw a swarm hanging in the trees. We started muttering along the line of 'go, just go, we are out of boxes and I'm not spending more money on bee boxes, just go'. Once again we were very discouraged, threw empty undrawn honey supers on the hives in the orchard then essentially left them for a month. Came back in a month, lo and behold, one colony (the same one that threw out the original swarm in year one, and swarmed twice in year two) had one honey super partially drawn out and it had honey. We took a few frames and extracted 15lb of honey for the first time, then put the wet frames back in the honey super. They got filled and we left that for the bees to eat over the winter. The first extraction was a major event for us, and it is quite inspirational when you taste honey coming out of the extractor spout the first time.
Year three - a whole different story. We now understood a lot more. Our bees were in a holly orchard, the holly trees produce a massive flow for 3 weeks in May. This time around we did NOT feed the bees at all over the spring. When the holly was coming into bloom, we organized honey supers such that two of them had all drawn frames and put those on the stronger colonies, put boxes of fresh new frames on the two weaker colonies. This presented us with the 'aha' moment. The two strong colonies filled those boxes and did indeed start drawing out second honey supers. If those two swarmed, we didn't notice it. The two that got only empty new frames, swarmed and I put those swarms into nucs. We extracted the two drawn supers after the holly flow was done, then put them back on the colonies. Over the latter part of the summer, they refilled those two boxes, and all 4 drew out a super.
I did a lot of reading, and tried to understand all of this, and eventually it all suddenly 'made sense'. During the spring flow, nectar comes in fast and furious, faster than the bees can build new comb. This results in them starting to store nectar (or syrup if you are feeding to much) in the brood nest. A plugged brood nest is one of the things that will trigger the swarm impulse in the early season. When the swarm leaves, with it goes the majority of the bees at the right age for being optimum wax makers. The parent colony goes 2 weeks without a laying queen. Once she is laying, 3 more weeks till brood starts emerging, then another week to 10 days before those young bees are at the age to become optimal wax makers, so the colony really wont make much comb for the next 6 weeks. They dont need it, they have plenty where brood is emerging or has emerged, and they dont have a population primed for making wax. 6 weeks after the swarm the population is 'corrected' and now the colony has totally switched modes, they have moved from 'we want to propagate' mode into 'store for the winter' mode. The later flows are slower than the spring flows, the bees can make comb as fast as the nectar is coming in, and they do just that. After 3 years of struggling with this concept, it finally all made sense. Colonies that got a drawn super in the spring had space to store that heavy flow, so were not plugging the brood nest early on, instead they were making honey in the comb they had above the brood nest. Colonies that did not have that overhead comb were building some, but they were storing nectar into the brood nest because they had no other place to put it.
One of the biggest mistakes we made in years 1 and 2, we were feeding heavily during a strong flow, which just made the overall problem worse in terms of getting comb drawn out, we were forcing the bees into a swarming mode by plugging up the brood nest with syrup, then all the wax makers left in the swarm. By year 3 I finally knew what I was looking for during an 'inspection' and it became obvious. The two colonies with drawn supers were storing nectar in those supers while the holly trees were in bloom. The two colonies with undrawn frames above were storing nectar in the brood frames during that same flow. I was checking weekly, and it became apparent, those that had no drawn comb above were starting swarm preparations when those with drawn comb were busy filling that comb.
I dont have a magic bullet answer as to how a new beekeeper can co-erce the bees to build comb on the strong spring flows rather than head into swarm prep modes, but I will emphasize strongly, DO NOT OVERFEED, and dont add syrup if there is a natural flow running. Everybody I talk to in our area says the same thing, they have an experience similar to ours in the first couple of years, and then life became much easier once they had a comb inventory of _at least_ one fully drawn super per colony. The important second part of that lesson was, do not feed when a natural flow is running. Everybody says they learned this lesson the hard way. Our own goals are to have three drawn supers per colony once we finish growing the apiary. 3 supers is more than enough to give them plenty of space over the spring flows. We are not there yet, but will be in another year or two. At present, we are not focussed on getting more colonies, but rather our annual goals are to get more drawn supers. We have come to the conclusion that our annual honey crop depends more on the count of drawn supers than it does on the colony count. It's easy to make more colonies in the spring at the time of year when bees want to swarm, it's not easy to keep them in the boxes when we dont have enough comb for those colonies. If I plot honey production against how many colonies we had in any given year, it's a rather random looking scatter. OTOH, if I plot annual honey production against how many drawn supers we had at the start of that year, it's close to a linear relationship. Since one of our main objectives is honey production, we are paying more attention to drawn comb than we are to colony numbers.
Grozzie2--Thanks for the detailed post and your hard won knowledge.
Brad5155--I'm starting my third year and getting drawn comb is certainly one of the main challenges. There seems to be a delicate balance between feeding and not feeding to much, supering early enough to give the bees time to build comb, but too early and too late seem to create their own issues. Here's a few things I've been thinking about.
Feeding a lot, as others have said. Of course the danger with this is swarming, as Grozzie2 points out, but also getting sugar water in your honey super. It can be extracted or maybe shaken out, but to me that seems like a time consuming step. If your goal isn't to produce honey but to produce comb, then I guess it doesn't matter. The comb will be there next season for honey.
One thing I've been reading recently is that bees generally won't produce comb unless they actually need it. They will use what's available otherwise. It's inaccurate but I think some of us (at least us newer folks) think of bees as real estate developers wanting to build and expand. But apparently not always the case. Just add foundation in mid or late summer and see how long it take them to fill it out if there is no substantial flow or need.
That said, it seems to me that the beekeeper must work with the bes in this situation. So, I'm thinking of three strategies.
1) The well know and sometimes successful method of simply baiting the super with some drawn comb, or drawn comb with honey and hope the bees come up and start drawing more comb. However, if the above is indeed true, then they may still not draw comb unless they need it.
2) Add a super without the queen excluder and get the bees to draw comb and start brood in the super frame. After they get going, make sure the queen is in the bottom area, add a queen excluder under the super, wait for the bees to emerge from brood, and it's ready. I found last year that it took the bees a while to fill the comb with nectar that had had brood in it, but they eventually did. The downside is the waiting time for the brood to emerge, but if this were done early enough it might not be too much of an issue come the flow.
3) this requires some possible manipulation. But create a single deep that has plenty of bees and the comb with brood and honey, without much extra space. I guess you could do this with two deeps, too. Place a QE and the super on top, and I think the bees will draw out the frames to make necessary storage space. I have found that if the hive is two deeps and there is a lot of empty space in the deeps, it takes them awhile to get around to the super. So, work with the bees in a sense to deprive them of space and force them to build. I think the dangers here are creating a hive that could swarm if they need more brood space. So maybe some frames would have to be removed once in awhile to give them room. Or maybe once they're using the super a deep box with drawn comb could be added in between. I dont know to what extent it would divert storage, but if they're already using the supers... It seems like this one deep box method would work really well with a split, though. It could even be combined with Lauri's split to create more comb (see this thread, post #17).
Last year I had an interesting situation. I combined a weaker hive with a hive that already had two deeps. It seemed huge. I had a super on top, and had visions of lot of honey. They did make lots of honey, but not in the super; they filled almost every available space in the deeps with honey first, then got around to the super. Lesson learned, about combining and about where they out honey and about how they draw comb.
I'll be doing more 4-over-4s this year, and they seem to draw comb fairly quickly (as Crofer says above).
You don't show your location. Timing is generally dependent on where you are.
Two general guidelines that I am following.
1) Don't give the bees any more space than they can cover. Crowded bees make more wax. If they have too much foundation to build they seem to do less, rather than more wax building. Consider reducing large areas of foundation by using follower boards.
2) Bees build more wax if they are warmer. Keep your insulation on (or add insulation) well into June.
The bees need to think that a flow is on before they will make wax. 1 quart of 1:1 per day should keep them building wax. Find an easy way to change out the feeder.
Have a look at Opening the Sides of the Brood Nest (OSBN). More discussion at this thread.
One of the reasons I developed this method is for new Beekeepers without any drawn comb.
Essentially it involves cutting foundation, typically into a wedge shape, and then placing the frames beside the Broodnest. Starting at least 3-4 weeks before Swarm Season.
It is about getting the bees to drawn out comb and continue drawing it out throughout Swarm Season.
My history is very similar to Grozzie's. I have never found a way to get bees to draw comb in the spring. OSBN helps the swarming issue some but when we have a good maple flow going, the bees can backfill a deep in a few day. That is way faster than they can draw the comb. Once the maple flow ends, and the prime swarm season passes, there is about a two week lull until blackberry season happens. By the time July 1 comes, the drought starts, nectar is non-existent and comb building from natural sources is over. Feeding is the only option but who wants supers filled with sugar water honey? In this area where I am, getting bees to draw out comb in 1 super is almost impossible in a single year because the blackberry flow only lasts about 3 weeks and it is rarely a great flow. So I cheated the system. Bees will readily build comb for their brood area over the summer but because of our drought, I could never find a way to get them to draw out supers. I decided to create hives through splits with only medium boxes. Once I had enough frames of medium comb, I transitioned the hives back to deeps pulling out the medium frames and boxes. If the hive perished over the winter, the frames also went into the drawn comb stash.
@Grozzie and DudeIt
With the strong flow in early Spring, try this:
Move all Non-Brood frames up into the middle of a New Box above the Brood Box.
Cut off the bottom corners of 2 Drawn Empty Frames, 1 on each outer edge of the Broodnest to encourage Wax Making.
Then have 2 Frames with Partial Foundation on the outermost edges of the New Box.
Fill in the rest of the spaces of those Boxes with Drawn Empty Frames.