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In my defense...

3431 Views 18 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  ihor
I didn't discover Beesource or its Warre forum until after I had built a Warre top bar hive and installed my bees - just a couple weeks ago. I also hadn't carefully read Pennsylvania beekeeping law and discovered last night I am required to have frames. So it looks like I'm in for an uphill climb.

This is what I've got:
Grass Plant

The top box is Warre's autumn feeder. The cluster currently inhabits four of eight top bars in the upper hive box. The lower hive box is empty.

After installing on a beautiful warm day (69F) temperatures dropped to freezing evenings and chilly days. I put an aquarium heater in the sugar syrup and ran it overnight one evening and made a loose wrap of black plastic as a wind break and solar collector for the coldest days. When things warmed up, we did see bees - even some with full pollen sacks.

I have two main concerns and a minor one:

1) I'm uncertain of the queen's health. The queen cage was on the top bars of the lower box and not in the center of the cluster during the first days. Every time I checked through the observation window, bees were clustered around it, but not thickly. When it warmed enough to open the hive 5 days later, I retrieved the cage around which bees were clustered. It appeared that there was at least one dead bee in the cage, but foolishly I simply opened the box and dumped it into the cluster, hoping it was a nurse bee and not making certain I had a living queen! How can I determine whether she made it?

2) If I build another floor, quilt, and roof, I can get a second package with a queen (and a replacement queen?) and start a second colony in the other two boxes I built. How advisable is that?

Wood Table Wood stain Plywood Furniture

3) I have to modify any top bars that don't have comb to have at least 3/4 frames. Any advice on custom frame building? Or buy Lang frames and modify?

Thanks in advance!
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Hi Sylvan - firstly, welcome aboard ... :)

Secondly, it sounds as if you've done ok so far for someone who's been 'going it alone'.

Re: the queen - right now the combs on the Top Bars will be in their early stages of development and it's unlikely they'll be attached to the sides of the box - yet. So - if you carefully pull those Top Bars and inspect the embryonic combs, with luck you'll see eggs and larvae - and you might even see the Queen. Of course it's not necessary to find the Queen in order to check that she's alive - the presence of eggs/larvae will be confirmation that she made it ok.
It would pay to pull the undrawn outside Top Bars first, so that you can peek down along the comb sides to check for adhesions to the box walls, just to be on the safe side. If you do decide to inspect those combs, do bear in mind that they are incredibly soft and fragile at this stage, and can easily fall off the Top Bar if mishandled. They will harden-up later.

Re: frames - bit of a bummer about the legal requirement to have them, I'm sure, but frames are easy enough to make. This is a pic of some 'Gallup' frames I made recently, in which I recycled my Warre Top Bar starter-strips.

Gallup frames fit across a 300mm/12" internal box width, so are drop-in replacements for Warre Top Bars. If you can space them visually, then do that - if not, then tiny screws can be used for spacing. I can take more pics if you need them.
I make the frames from 10mm thick battens, 25mm wide. The bottom bar isn't strictly necessary, but I'd recommend the bamboo skewer for comb support.

What else ? Ah yes - a second colony. Always a good idea to have two colonies, as one can support the other, if anything should go wrong - which it sometimes does ...

BTW - your photo shows a nice build. :)
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There are only a few states that don't require movable frames. You can get there easily enough. If you are managing as Emile Warre did then you will be rotating out the boxes without frames soon enough.

Here are some pictures of my modified Warre. I am no longer using the Warre, it is set up as a bait hive but unless it catches a swarm I have no plans to use it again.

You can see the frames in the pictures. They are a basic Hoffman frame except my frames did not have bottom bars and the bees finish off the comb nicely so bottom bars were not necessary. In this thread at post #19 I described making the bars for the frames. To be honest I made the vee because I wanted to see if I could. It proved to be real pain in the rear. If I were to do it again I'd cut a groove and glue in a popsicle stick as the comb guide.

You'll find that frames give you some distinct advantages. For example, when you nadir a box under the stack the bees are often reluctant to move down and start drawing. Having frames lets you move a couple of frames down to encourage them. I was finding brood in the lower core of the #4 box, so to harvest the #4 box I'd remove the outboard honey frames from the #3 box and move the brood down. Without frames I could not have done either of those. If you have a second Warre then you'll be able to share resources between hives without risking transferring a queen.


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Thanks, fellows, for your helpful responses!

It's supposed to be almost 60 degrees tomorrow, and not raining, so I'll try to get inside the hive and check for brood - and if I work hard today, maybe replace top bars with frames.

More questions on those goals:

1) inspecting: after checking for adhesions, I should carefully lift a top bar with comb... Do I gently brush bees away to see the cells? Do I smoke them more vigorously before lifting? (The one time I tried this a week and a half ago, I lifted one comb but could see nothing but a mass of crawling bees. My 6-year old son was using the veil and smoker, so I was unprotected beyond gloves and didn't want to stir them up too much.) I must remember to keep the comb over the hive in case the queen falls, correct? She won't fly, will she (assuming she's there)? If I see no eggs or lavae, do I assume no queen and order one? Installation was 2 weeks and 2 days ago, but it's been on the chilly side, if that affects egg-laying.

2) Frames: Thanks for the pictures and written instructions! I see these frame names and get lost: Gallup, Hoffman, Gatineau, Manley, Dadant, Langstroth... But I get the gist of what you're showing: top bar, two verticals, bottom bar optional, mid-support recommended. Do you glue, nail, screw? I'll have to pre-drill my top bars for nails or screws - they're rough-sawn oak pallet slats, planed smooth on the top, grooved, with a line of beeswax in the groove. One further sadness with frames is that they will obstruct my observation windows... One benefit is that making any new boxes without windows will be less tedious! And reading the forums here, I had started seeing that the frames let you harvest, even if brood is mixed into the upper boxes.

Thanks, again!
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I'll take a stab at the first qiestion

1) inspecting: after checking for adhesions, I should carefully lift a top bar with comb... Do I gently brush bees away to see the cells?
a light puff of smoke or blow softly should have the bees move over to allow you to see in the cells.

Do I smoke them more vigorously before lifting?
In General I smoke the whole Hive while it is still closed, wait 5-7 min then work the bees occasionally smoking lightly durring work.

(The one time I tried this a week and a half ago, I lifted one comb but could see nothing but a mass of crawling bees. My 6-year old son was using the veil and smoker, so I was unprotected beyond gloves and didn't want to stir them up too much.)
If/When you work them more thoroughly I would Have a Veil, dropping a frame can happen.

I must remember to keep the comb over the hive in case the queen falls, correct? She won't fly, will she (assuming she's there)?
Yes she will fly, and can fall off, work slowly, with out side or bottom attachments the comb will very easily break off, Maintain, orientation where the comb is perpendicular wit the ground. When you approach parallel to the ground it breaks... :(

If I see no eggs or larvae, do I assume no queen and order one? Installation was 2 weeks and 2 days ago, but it's been on the chilly side, if that affects egg-laying. 2 weeks should have you see eggs and Larvae, and maybe even capped brood. egg hatches in 3 days, the larvae is capped in 8 days.
Comb space will affect egg laying the most, so be careful with them. Keep the bar at the top do not let the comb have the effect of gravity, in a shear direction.

I would think small counter sunk holes drilled, while the frame is tight, in the hive after opening, then a jig that would hold the bar with comb and bees while the 2 screws at each end are placed. depending on bar thickness a fine thread drywall screw 2.5 inch come to mind. IF you find your self on other projects, having the bit jump on the screw, then I would drop the dime on Torx screws, vibration is not going make the bees happy. also One can get smaller Torx screw diameters, Perhaps practice on frames with out bees first to work out the kinks and increase your speed.

IMO nailing thought the cheapest would need to pounding, maybe a pre drill of a smaller bit for a pilet hole would work. glue yes for frames with out bees, not so much on the frames with bees.


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..... top bar, two verticals, bottom bar optional, mid-support recommended......
I have many open frames in rotation (top bar and two verticals).
They work OK.
However, I only have them due to time constraints - say, I must have something in place and have only few minutes to get it done.
Then an open frame goes in and stays in.
Here is a well used open frame; it is strong enough the comb itself stands upright.
Bee Honeybee Beehive Honeycomb Insect

If at all possible, however, do have the bottom bars in place too - you will be forever grateful to yourself you did it.
Don't avoid bottom bars as a choice.
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Hi Sylvan

In general, suggest you use minimal smoke during an inspection. How the bees behave can depend a lot on the weather, and also how their last inspection went ('cause they have memory) - but I consider a veil a must-have - even if the bees normally stick to the comb like Velcro - 'cause one day they may not, which will come as quite a surprise ...
You could either blow gently on the bees to get them to move, or simply move them gently with a finger. A magnifying glass may help to see eggs - depends how good your eyesight is. If you see some little white curled-up grubs - those are the larvae, and you're on a winner, queen-wise.
Queens do fly, but it's rare once they've been mated, as they tend to put on a bit of weight. I had one once which used to 'fly' - more like a downwards glide really - into the long grass, whenever I lifted the frame she was on. Which freaked me out at first, but she was always back in the hive for the next inspection. Strange lady.

Frames: Wow - oak top bars - that's high quality. :) I build frames from thin battens, 25mm x 10mm, or one inch by a tad over 3/8". The rectangle is made first, using a baseboard 'jig' with precise 90 degree corners to ensure the frame is square, and the top bar is attached afterwards.

I usually use glue only - a British equivalent to your TiteBond 3. Here's a diagram showing the glue lines in red and green:

With new wood, the green glue-line provides a massive gluing area. The red glue-line is much smaller but still provides an area of 25mm by 10mm x2 on each side - half of which is in tension, half in shear. I've tested this glue bond with a 56 lb weight (so, 28 lbs pull on each side), and the glue held up ok. That's good enough for me. But - in the photograph I posted, as a 'sub-top bar' I've re-cycled some well-used Warre Top Bars complete with starter-strips which had a good coating of wax and propolis on both their bottom and top surfaces. Although I cleaned-up the top surfaces as best I could, I remained a tad leery of how well they would take glue - so in this case (only), I also added a small woodscrew as indicated, to provide 'belt and braces', as a green glue-line failure would also halve the red glue-line strength. Anyway, screws are cheap enough - and what price piece of mind ... ?

Just checking - are you absolutely sure that the use of Top Bars is 'illegal' in your State ? I know rules are different across the water, but over here the important bit is that the combs themselves must be removable for official inspection - and so as our Inspectors are beekeepers themselves, many are sympathetic to the Top Bar fraternity, and carry a suitable cutting tool with them on their visits.
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In my state "removable frame" is required WITHOUT specification of its particulars.
With that anything goes - a full frame of any geometry all way down to just a top bar (still removable).
I would not loose much sleep over this pretty much, as long as the "comb fixture" is removable, however the "comb fixture" is implemented.

Outside of running a classic log hive or a classic skep, the OP should be fine.

Speaking of "buy Lang frames and modify?"
If you buy - buy dis-assembled.
Then the mods are easy.

I would not spend the time modifying existing assembled frames for Warre with no Lang compatibility built-in - too much hassle.
At that rate easier to just make you own custom frames.
Langstroth is the size of the frame for a Langstroth hive. The Hoffman frame is a style of frame that is self spacing and most Langstrogh hives use the Hoffman style. The size of the Hoffman frame is 35mm (1-3/8") wide at the top and then part way down the frame narrows. By having 35mm wide sidebars at the top you can push all the frames together until the side bars touch and then your frames are self spacing for the desired bee space.

Soon you won't want to bother with the windows. They are mostly a PITA, you can't really see much through them. You'll see more by lifting a box and tilting it up and viewing from the bottom, so just make future boxes without them.
Thanks all! I had a reply started earlier yesterday - or was it Friday? - and lost it because my browser logged me out... So now there are more things to report.

I built my frames but had no skewers:
frames with no wax yet

frames from top bars that already had wax

And we installed them, removing all but three waxed top bars. For those, which had comb, I managed, as GG suggested, to drill and countersink screws into side bars, but only on one end of each...

My assistant, fearless and thankfully unharmed throughout:
E on the smoker

I looked in vain for queen or eggs with no real experience looking for either.

But upon the advice of Hal from Dawg Gone Bees (my package supplier) I looked again later in the day and am fairly certain I saw eggs:

I also inserted an empty frame between these two bars of comb, hoping to inspire further comb-building; also scrubbed out and refilled the top feeder.
good luck queen-spotting, beginner!
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White eggs on newly drawn white comb are real hard to see but it does appear you have eggs in that photo.
I built my frames but had no skewers [/URL]
Actually for this size frames I would insert skewers.
At least some support mid-way (either vertically or horizontally), granted you can easily do it and you seem to have time to do it.

You will probably get away without the supports (I usually do), but in your case (vertical hive), you will have completely full honey frames and those could collapse under the weight.
I got the skewers in all but the 3 frames that already had comb. No smoke necessary. Also no apparent change to the eggs I thought I saw. Nor does it seem they've drawn any more comb than they did the first week. What's there is already looking yellower and crusty. Perhaps I was unwise to add the empty frame between the comb they'd already drawn.

Bees were active with the warmer weather. I saw more pollen coming in than previously. They also seem fairly disinterested in the sugar syrup.

Rainy all day today. Hoping water isn't wicking in on my burlap.
So, apparently my hive has been queenless since the first week. My brief inspection yesterday showed multiple eggs in multiple cells, and two queen cups.

https://egg in pollen?
https://eggs all over!

My guess is that, because this is a Warre hive, the queen box laying on the lower top bars wasn't sufficiently warm - not in the center of the cluster - and she was dead before I released her. The day I installed and the day after were nice, then it dropped to the 30's for another 3 nights before I attempted to remove the queen cage. I was foolish not to BE SURE that the queen was actually alive when I opened the queen cage and shook it out over the hive.

So now I have the opportunity to re-queen (apparently very difficult with laying workers) or... ? Bummer.
I don't know that your queen was dead on release, the first photo clearly showed five individual eggs properly placed in the comb. But, you are almost certainly laying worker now. A new queen, or one running out of space, may lay two or three eggs in a cell, just not five of them in my experience. Laying worker hives are often not woth the effort and uncertainty of attempting to turn around. And you do not have the resources necessary to do so. Time to scrounge up another package of bees. Maybe place in a different hive and allow this one to die out.
Second observation. The queen cage should have been rubber banded under the top bar, not placed on top.
I was afraid of that. Mann Lake still has nucs - that won't fit a Warre without trouble. I haven't looked further yet.

But here's the weird thing: The "good egg" photo was from Saturday a week ago; and the "bad egg" photo was yesterday, same comb, roughly same location - no larvae. I read laying workers take 3 weeks of queenlessness to develop ovaries capable of laying. Installation was April 6th, so Saturday 25th was just about that.

Further I got a replacement queen for the price of gas money, so I'm praying they accept her. I tied her cage under the top bar of a frame inserted into the cluster - screen side up with just a crack for ventilation. It didn't seem the bees were trying to sting the screen during the process, though they were excited - 9pm 68 degrees with a floodlight... Worst case outcome, my kids got to hike around a bit of Gettysburg, and I'll have to buy more bees - or chalk it up to experience and try again next year.

Thursday it warmed up enough to open the hive again. The queen was alive in her box with four attendants. Drone brood was forming - ugly comb all lumpy since the workers laid in worker cells... Figuring I had little to lose, I left one brushed frame of comb in a box on the hive floor and took the rest of the colony to the woods just up the road and shook/brushed off every frame. On returning home, I released the queen and attendants into a push-in cage nearly as big as a section of comb (including drone brood, syrup stores, and some pollen along with all the random worker eggs. By evening, the foragers had found their way home - maybe a couple hundred?

I removed the push-in cage after attempting to mark the queen - she was still alive. It appeared that she and her helpers may have eaten the old eggs and begun laying in the empty cells. It was hard to see, and my pictures didn't focus properly. So, I don't know if they'll have the numbers to survive till her brood hatches, but it was worth the try... What a learning experience!
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What a learning experience!
It has been my experience in life that wisdom is only acquired on those moments after I could have most desperately employed it. But keep on with this hobby and you'll get it.
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