Yesterday I needed to fit spacers onto the end of top bars which had already been in use and had a good coating of propolis. I found the tin opener blade of my Swiss army knife most useful in dislodging it so I could slide the ends on and add the frames to a hive into which a swarm has moved. I also had a nibble of the propolis, a taste I like better than honey!
Today I went over the border to see my apprentice Sarah at her Bee Happy Plants nursery. She has bought some National brood frames, foundation and smoker fuel from Thornes. She was disappointed to see that the smoker fuel was simply rolled up corrugated cardboard as we could see an ample supply of such cardboard scattered around the office/dining/living room/kitchen of her caravan. She had ordered it because she has trouble in keeping her smoker alight and thought ‘proper’ fuel might overcome the problem.
I showed her, using the large blade of my Swiss army knife as she had no pizza cutter, how slice the sheets of foundation into starter strips to guide the bees to build their comb within the frames but mostly with their own wax and with cell sizes of their own choosing rather than ‘one size fits all.’
Working together as a team, I taught her how to assemble the frames and insert the foundation. She didn’t have any gimp pins but had some small copper nails that worked almost as well. The screw driver blade of the Swiss army knife was used to split off the strip of wood that was then nailed in to secure the foundation.
When we had a set of frames ready, we went outside to her polyNational hive by the path. She had been given it last year and put bees in it having placed top bars from a top bar hive in it! She wants to do a Bailey comb change and had placed another brood box on top with bars but the bees were ignoring it. She had removed the front bar to give access but, of course, the queen wouldn’t have gone up as the gap wasn’t close to the brood nest.
We had a brief examination of the brood combs and created a gap nearer the middle, then put the brood box with the new frames on top. We noticed that the top box didn’t sit well on the lower one, possibly because the top bars in the bottom box are a bit thick. Bees were able to get through the gap so we gathered some nearby stalks from cleaver plants and, with the aid of the Swiss army screwdriver blade, shoved them into the gap.
We went down to the apiary, near the entrance, where we have a cluster of top bar hives. First we looked at the tbh I built with a tray beneath so that Sarah could do a daily check on mite drop and also take samples of pollen. Clearly she hasn’t been doing so recently as we had to wade through jungle to get to the hives! She did mention having seen some green pollen loads so I suggested that she look up meadowsweet on the charts.
The hive had been empty until she recently placed a swarm in it, complete with the twigs and the comb they had built on them. They had started to build several combs on the top bars but at the wrong angle. One of them became dislodged so I fetched some string from my car and Sarah, whose fingers are nimbler than mine, tied the comb to the bar. Guess what we used to cut the string! Having spotted the queen, we then removed and tied into the correct alignment the other combs.
Eventually we had checked all the hives and, as it was starting to rain, we decided to call it a day. It was about 3pm then and I was feeling peckish so thought I’d open a packet of biscuits to nibble as I drove. I couldn’t open the plastic so I reached in my pocket for my Swiss army knife. It wasn’t there! I checked my other pockets to no avail, so decided I would have to re-trace my steps to where I last used it. After only a few yards I spotted it hiding in the grass.