It was a dark and stormy night…ok…a gloomy early morning threatening to rain, the kind of morning when one should not be messing about in a hive. But the day would only get wetter or hotter and we have learned not to work a top-bar hive in extreme heat. So before breakfast, before even a morning cuppa, we suited up and went visiting the bees to provide them with syrup to stimulate comb building and a few new top-bars on which to build it. Annabelle by this time had significant comb on each top-bar and Beatrix was festooning on her last one.
A peek through the window showed that Beatrix had, as expected, emptied the quart syrup baggie we had given her earlier in the week so we quickly exchanged it for a new one. A bit of clumsiness caused some syrup to spill out of the slits we cut but that will be readily cleaned up by the girls. Then it was time for slightly more invasive work. The follower board had been propolized (glued by the bees) to the last top-bar so we had to work the sharp edge of a the hive tool along it to pry it loose. That revealed a host of curious little faces at the gap and filled the air with a loud hum. With a few puffs of smoke to discourage our audience from enthusiastically crawling and flying out to investigate more closely, we carefully but rapidly moved the follower board to allow us to add two new top-bars, bringing the total to twelve, and closed the hive up. We could not simply slide the follower board back since the cleats that hold observation window panes in place were in the way. We had to lift the follower up over one such obstruction and lower it into the space between two such cleats . We shall again have this complication when we next add a pair of top-bars but after that things ought to be easier until we reach the end of the hive.
Annabelle still had her initial gallon baggie – not entirely empty but what remained was rather grotty and needed removal. She also has some wayward combs that do not confine themselves to the central axis of their own top-bars but meander across onto their neighbors and back. This may be simple contrariness or a result of getting off on the wrong foot because of the way we had attached the queen cage or revenge for our comb-destroying accident. In any case it promises future headaches when we shall need to lift one of these bars wishing to cleanly remove one comb for that will not be possible. Since the bees try to keep combs more or less parallel one crookedly built comb will influence its neighbor to follow its shape until one has an unworkable hive. Beekeepers are encouraged to take corrective action as soon as possible, simply pushing wayward comb into place, if possible, or cutting away the inconvenient part and hoping the bees will build the replacement straighter. Fearing that our attempting either of those tactics would result in more comb falling off and more stings, we are leaving the old comb as it is but for the top-bars we intended to add, we brought a pair of the kind used in Beatrix with a pronounced peak running their length rather than the gentler slopes of Annabelle’s original bars. We hope these will provide a stronger encouragement for straight new comb.
We had a surprise at once when we removed some bars at the far end of the hive to allow the exchange of syrup baggies. A spider had moved into this section and the last bar had several fuzzy spider nests along it. The spider eluded our attempt to smash it but we did scrape off the nests and set that bar aside for taking with us. Afterwards came a repeat of the procedure with Beatrix. We shifted the follower board, again having to lift it past window cleats, but this made room for three bars not two. So we added the two peaked bars and followed them one of Annabelle’s originals. With luck the peaks will provide a strong enough hint that the subsequent comb will be straight by example.
Later in the day a peek through the window showed that ambitious Annabelle had bees busily at work on all but the very last new top-bar. Anticipating higher traffic requirements we opened her third entrance hole, which the bees immediately began to use. Beatrix, alas, does not have a corresponding hole. Her next one is in the middle of her length and currently blocked by the follower board. In another two bars we might open it.
In even later news we did eventually get a little rain. Not as much as we need but perhaps enough for the patch of buckwheat we planted hours ago to get a start.