The title this week is a bit of a misnomer because, honestly, I am struggling to find topics of interest now that cooler weather has led to less frequent hive inspections. I still want to research mites a bit more before I’m ready to post about the problems they cause. I’ve finally purchased the mesh I need to make my shaker jar to test the mite numbers, though I may have missed the best time to test for this and opening the hive when it is chillier is a tricky business.

The bees maintain the core temperature in the hive around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Opening the hive and exposing it in cold weather means they need to expend a lot of extra energy to heat it again, and they tend to get a little cranky about it. That’s understandable. I’d get grumpy too if someone kept opening my front door to the inclement weather just when I’d gotten it nice and toasty inside. Knowing this, I need to time my activities for warmer days and the warmest hours so as to minimize the chances of being stung or causing unnecessary stress to the bees.

In addition to the chilly weather, I have also found myself wanting to spend time planting our backyard. To save some money, we opted to do most of the planting labor ourselves. Plus, there’s an appealing mix of creativity and reverence in digging the holes, carefully placing the plants, then backfilling and watering them myself. Since I dig the holes and fill each twice with water to check the drainage before placing the plant, I have a good idea of the particularities of the soil in that area later if issues arise.

The soil along this line of manzanitas is more clayey the closer one moves toward the house (foreground). Anything more than a half hour to drain a gallon of water is considered a clay soil. The worst of the holes took more than four hours to drain, although those holes are larger than a gallon. I added a small amount of soil amendment to the holes with particularly poor drainage to lighten the clay a bit, but these plants will also tolerate heavy California clay.

A bunch of plants arrived Thursday and I am like a kid in a candy store excited, oohing and ahhing over each one. They are the fulfillment of a vision that started when we moved here over four years ago, and on which we put the first wheels into motion a little more than a year ago in having a landscaping plan designed by Ecology Artisans. Once Blue Diamond Concrete finished the second phase of hardscape in June, I have been eagerly awaiting autumn, which is the best time to establish new plants since the heat of summer is past and the rain is, hopefully, coming soon.

Many-flower mallows in a rock garden to replace a rotting fence and shore up the slope.

The plants will provide blossoms aplenty for the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators that stop by our little patch of Earth. I like to think the bees are quite interested in and pleased with the goings on in our yard. I’m completely anthropomorphizing here, and likely not even accurate in my observations, but there were random bees consistently buzzing around me while I planted. The most likely explanation, at least to me, is that they are checking for flowers on the new plants or are disturbed by the vibrations I’m causing as I dig soil from near their hive, but I like the idea of their interest in the process.

The plants selected are native to southern California and the variety of species will provide blooms nearly year-round. There are different varieties of sage, lilac, and manzanita. I tweaked the original plan to add a few flat-topped buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and I might add some more, since they are a pollinator magnet. They bloom nearly year-round with beautiful puffballs filled with multiple individual blossoms that start out white or pale pink and fade to a chocolate brown. When I’ve seen them in the wild, they are always covered in bees.

Since local species are accustomed to our arid climate, the plants will require, at most, water only once every couple weeks once established. Native plants usually spend the first year establishing a deep root system so it’s important to provide occasional deep waterings to encourage roots going deep into the soil, which is how they later survive with little surface moisture. I’ll water every week or so, and will check the moisture before doing so. More frequent watering results in a shallow root system that won’t survive the dry, hot summer. Since they’re building root systems, it can take some time before above-ground growth is really noticeable. It will take a bit before everything grows in, and I am excited to see how it all turns out.

So that’s what I’ll be up to for the next several weekends. I’ll post about the bees as something occurs or as I have time to research new questions. However, it may be a little quiet as we move into winter. Don’t worry! Spring will be here in no time, and perhaps this year, there will be honey to harvest, honey made from some of the wonderful blossoms in our own yard.

Wow! Time really flies. It’s already been four months since I started this adventure in beekeeping. I am happy to report that Queen Aliénor is safely wandering the combs and, hopefully, depositing eggs. I still can’t see the eggs and instead look for capped and uncapped brood as evidence that she’s been laying recently. She was on the third frame in on the side of the hive that is best protected from the wind.

The queen and a few attendants among some capped honey

There are only two frames with no construction, and multiple frames only partly built, as is the one on which the queen was roaming this morning. Two frames have had the wax coating the foundation stripped on one side and will likely never be built out, and I’ll need to replace those next spring once there is plenty of forage for them. I’ve placed those on the outer edges of the hive since there isn’t much on them on the other side either; they have some honey on them, but they aren’t brood frames that need to stay closer to the center. There is one very heavy frame that is full of uncapped honey, and another frame filled with primarily with capped brood. They had eaten through the pollen patty I gave them nearly three weeks ago, and there was only the tiniest smidgen of it left, so I know I need to add patties at least every 2 – 2 1/2 weeks. I refill the sugar syrup usually weekly, though it’s less invasive to check the status of that since I can do it without opening the entire hive. I wonder if I could put the pollen patty above with the syrup? I’ll have to look into that.

All in all, I’m feeling like I have navigated this fairly well so far. I hope that we make it through the winter without too many hiccups. The weather here has definitely shifted to cooler nights and brisk mornings, but it warms up nicely by mid-morning. With the cooling temperatures, I will likely reduce the frequency with which I conduct a detailed hive inspection. Although I still need to do that mite check!

I still intend to post weekly, and have run through most of what I had in mind, although I still have a couple on my list. So I’m curious…are there any topics about bees or pollinators about which you are interested in reading and learning here? Please share in a comment and I’ll add that to my list. Knowing what you’re interested in gives me ideas too. Thanks for following along!

…Don’t you know that you can count me out!

Destruction, you say? Yes, today’s post is dedicated avoiding the destruction caused from pesticide use. Pesticides are great for control of some species, the problem is that they tend to have deleterious effects on even more than the intended species. Our native bees, honey bees, and many other pollinators are affected by their widespread use. In my yard, my goal is to use them only occasionally and very specifically to treat individual problems, like Argentine ants or an individual plant that has proven difficult to remove. In doing so, the nuisance weeds are mostly under control and I can remove by hand what remains each rainy season. After three years of diligent effort, I’ve done a pretty thorough job of depleting the seed bank and their is much less germination each year. One of the keys is to pull the weed out prior to it flowering and setting seed, creating hundreds more just waiting for a little water.

Systemic herbicides are particularly harmful for pollinators as the poison residues can remain in the plant for months and can even wind up in the nectar and pollen. Try to source plants that are herbicide- and pesticide-free. Talk to your local nurseries and ask questions about how they start their plants.  As more people express interest in organic methods, it may encourage suppliers to change their practices and provide other options.  The same is true for native plant options. If nurseries know that people are interested in these choices, they may begin stocking a wider variety.

Pesticides and herbicides are usually indicative of other problems. Weeds popping up everywhere? Try changing the watering regime, or applying water only where needed to maintain desired plants. Even better, use plants native to the area you live so that you won’t need to apply supplemental water as often. Weeds germinate when there is ample water for them, so cutting off the water helps to cut off the weeds.

Pest infestations may be a symptom of a stressor such as drought, poor air circulation, or poor soil conditions. Remedy the larger problem and the pest will not be able to access the plant. This can be seen on a landscape scale in California where there have been beetle infestations that have severely damaged certain tree species. The issue is largely with the long-running drought, and the drought-stressed tree tissue created openings through which the beetle could enter. The beetle is a symptom of a larger problem with changing precipitation patterns. Killing the beetle simply results in certain individuals withstanding the poison and those creating more beetles that are resistant, requiring more and ever stronger poisons.

In other cases, pesticides are used to cure what is entirely an aesthetic issue. For example an aphid-infested milkweed is not pleasant to the eye, but those aphids, for the most part, will not actually harm the plant and a pesticide treatment is not usually necessary. Reserving pesticide use for cases where the plant may be killed is one way to reduce our use of these poisons.

In a properly functioning ecosystem, everything works in harmony. The small insects feed larger insects that feed lizards, birds, and other critters.

An unlucky bee wound up as this spider’s next meal.

Those fruit flies that swarm in the early spring are eaten by mama hummingbird who needs the extra protein to feed her rapidly growing nestlings. Adult hummingbirds also eat small insects as a small part of their diet. I actually leave fruit peels outside to “grow” more fruit flies for them to enjoy, or at this time of year, some of the guava fall to the ground and hatches new fruit flies. I can never eat all the guava we have, but I make some jam and leave the rest for the birds and coyote who we have observed enjoying them.

The bushtits also make their rounds through the trees, gleaning small aphids and other insects from the leaves. I can usually hear them coming, entire family in tow, with their bell-tinkling sound as they pass from the front of our neighbor’s succulents, ficus, and dwarf pomegranate to our guava, grapefruit, and apple trees.

An adult female bushtit, photo from

I noticed for the first time this year black phoebe in the backyard. Phoebes are in the flycatcher guild. They eat much more than flies, but they catch flying insects on the wing. I assume they were attracted to the bees and variety of other pollinators that were covering the elderberry and toyon this year. This was the first year that both of those plants flowered wildly, and the insects and birds were thankful for the abundance. I’m always ecstatic to see a new species in the yard, and phoebes are a particular favourite. They have a pretty, simple song and they’re quite handsome decked out in their tuxedos.

A very handsome black phoebe courtesy of

You’re an apartment dweller you say and don’t have a yard? Or you already eschew pesticide use? There are other ways for you to help! You can select foods produced with fewer pesticides and in ways that benefit our pollinators.

There is a certification program recently created by the Xerces Society: Bee Better. To be certified, a company pledges to create pollinator habitat and to use less pesticides. So far, Haagen-Dazs is certified for certain almond-containing products, as are a California berry brand (Giant). Look for the logo when you’re selecting your groceries or look online for more information.

Our pollinators need help. According to the Bee Better website, 28% of bumble bee species in North America are declining. Try a few of these ideas and see if you can reduce your use of pesticides and herbicides to help our bees. Let me know how it goes! Whether it’s a success or abject failure, there is much to learn either way.

I decided last Monday was a great day to open the hive and check the progress on the remaining four frames. I had invited a friend and her young son to join me since she had expressed interest. In the process I learned a few things:

  1. I get really excited sharing what I’m learning about beekeeping, especially with youngsters who are so curious about them. This is mostly a good thing, but it does take more time and the hive is open longer, which does not make for happy bees. In the future, I’ll plan a reduced inspection when guests are present to minimize everyone’s stress.
  2. When the buzz volume increases, this is the bees giving a gentle warning to wrap things up quickly. Choose to disregard this warning at your own risk. I did not heed their warning and was stung on the hand.
  3. By Tuesday afternoon the swelling was such that my knuckles were no longer visible and I had to leave work from the discomfort in my hand coupled with a splitting headache. I used two homeopathic remedies (Apis and Ledum) and a bit of honey, but my reactions seem to be getting more severe than the first two times I was stung and something stronger was required. I’ll be keeping Benadryl on-hand going forward. It’s a miracle worker for bringing the reaction under control; the swelling started subsiding within an hour of ingestion. Thank you, Western pharmaceuticals!
  1. My friend, who had been standing about 10 to 15 feet away, was also stung, right at the time when I located the queen. In my concern about my friend, who had a couple bees in her hair when I looked over at her, I put the frame back into the hive rather hastily without paying close attention to the queen’s whereabouts at that moment. Normally, that might not be a big concern, but when I had spotted her she was towards the top heading in the general direction of the outer edge where she was at greater risk when the frame was slid into place. When I later went to find her again to show her to my friend’s son, I couldn’t find her, sending me into a panic that she’d somehow been squished and leading to me rechecking several frames trying to find her. This is what ultimately led to learnings #1 through #3.
  2. No construction had occurred on the four remaining frames, three with foundation and one without, leading me to suspect that the boom and bust construction cycle is predominantly driven by my workforce, or lack thereof, and less by their sentiments towards foundation. They do appear to have more resources as evidenced by multiple frames containing honey, including some nice capped sections that can be seen in the photos below.

At the point I closed the hive back up with a fresh pollen patty, I still did not know if the queen was alive or dead and I now have my own version of Schrödinger’s cat: Prestera’s bee. Curiosity is getting to this cat and I think I am going to check for her tomorrow morning because, if I did harm her, I need to make a plan to re-queen my hive and now is not the easiest season to acquire queens. Wish me luck!

Well, you know

We all want to change the world. 

And where better to start than in our own homes?  Many people are aware of the problems bees are having, primarily caused from habitat loss, extensive pesticide use, and pathogens like mites.  What people may not know is that there are many species of bees and there are simple steps everyone can take to create habitat and support their survival.

The non-native honey bee, brought here from Europe, is the only bee species in North America that nests in large colonies, and there is some concern that they compete with native bees for resources.  Our native bees nest in the ground or plant stems.  They are generally called solitary bees because they don’t live in large colonies like honey bees.  You may even find one over-nighting curled inside a flower.  I’ve found them in my mallows if I’m up early when the blooms are opening.

Bumble in mallow (Photo courtesy of

Nesting sites can easily be created for these native bees in our yards.  Ground nesting bees need small areas of open, bare soil preferably in direct sunlight.  Avoid using a heavy mulch or weed-fabric, which the bees can’t get through, or if you do use these in most of your yard, leave small openings available for the bees.  Tunnel-nesting bees use pithy-stemmed plants (examples: asters, goldenrod, and elderberry), logs, or brush piles.  Commercially made bee houses can also be purchased or you can look online for ways to make one yourself. 

I had wondered who, if anyone, was using the bee house I had placed on the side of our house a couple years ago. Turns out this mason wasp was.

Bumble bees will use messy, unmown areas particularly in native bunch grasses.  I was happy to learn this information since I’ve included a selection of bunch grasses in our backyard planting plan.

Bumble bee on my lilac hedge last winter.

What all bees need, besides a place to call home, is nectar and pollen.  Bees collect nectar and pollen for their own use and pollination of those plants is a happy by-product of their activities.  Honey bees pollinate a tremendous number of food plants, and some of our native bees are even better pollinators for certain plants.  In fact, some plants, like tomatoes and blueberries, aren’t pollinated by honey bees at all; instead, they require bumble bees or other native bee species for something called buzz pollination, which is a method of pollination that honey bees can’t perform. The bee grabs onto the flower and then moves its flight muscles quickly dislodging the pollen. How cool is that?!

Thousands of flowers are needed to support a single bee.  Use a variety of plants in your garden and strive to have something blooming every season.  Look to your local native plant societies for ideas, including plant lists with a calendar of what blooms when.  California Native Plant Society and Xerces Society provide free resources on their websites, including online trainings and downloadable plant guides.  Native plants support a wider variety of native pollinators, particularly specialist species.  They also tend to require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides, as they are adapted to your area.  One of the local native plant nurseries that I love, Moosa Creek, has an online tool to help you select native plants to replace common non-native ornamentals like lawn, ivy, and privet. 

Even if you don’t have a yard, you can help pollinators.  Some companies have initiated pollinator programs.  One of my moms showed me one the other day through Purina Beyond pet food.  They’ve created Project Blossom and partnered with The Nature Conservancy to contribute towards their efforts to protect and create pollinator habitat.  Purina provides more information and ways to help on their page. 

You can also participate in citizen science projects that help scientist collect data on what species can be found where and when.  One example is called Bumble Bee Watch where you submit pictures of bumble bees to their website.  They’ll help you to ID the bumble bee and an expert will verify the species.  These types of projects allow everyone to participate in data collection and allow scientists to learn more than they can on their own, particularly about rare and hard to find species.  In recent years a number of bumble bee species across the U.S. have been listed or proposed for listing as endangered or threatened.    

There you have it. A few small actions that you can take towards a bee-volution. Stay tuned and I’ll share some other ways to help in the future, mainly through reducing our use of pesticides.

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know that you can count me out.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird in Mr. Severson’s class as a young freshman who had spent most of my life until then devouring books purely for the purpose of diving fully into whatever world had been created for me and enjoying the story, and rarely for the purpose of analyzing the meaning of the story from a literary perspective. Now that I live in a location where I hear mockingbirds singing nearly daily, I think of that book, and that line from it, often. There is a male singing his heart out throughout this video and he’s really the star of the show. Also, please disregard my footwear once again. Beekeepers advise that one should wear boots or something that provides protection at the ankle, as this is an access point and an area that is often attacked by defending bees; exposed wrists are also an easy target. My bees have so far been so gentle and non-defensive that I am quite nonchalant about these things. I’m sure a day is quickly approaching when I will need to be more cautious. We’ll know we have arrived on the day when I’m shrieking about being stung again. I hope I will be able to manage a more zen response, but we’ll see when we get there.

The bees are progressing very well. They have filled out the foundation-less frames, leaving only four frames with no comb and two with partial construction. This time I replaced another frame, trying a piece of the old foundation as a guide to encourage the bees to build across the frame. I don’t know that it was necessary since they have been building straight combs with no cross comb, but I wanted to try the concept.

Me, pointing to the comb guide at the top of the frame and fashioned from foundation.

I don’t think I placed the frames in the best position for an accurate interpretation of the results as a preference for foundation-less versus an increase in the number of workers who have been able to build more comb. I have an idea for another (better?) experiment to try next time when I replace one or two of the last frames. Ultimately, I wanted to convert the brood nest to foundation-less anyway, so the answer isn’t critical.

This was also the first time that I found the queen on a frame other than the two that my friend had gifted me…well, except that one time I found her in the ball of bees in the cross-comb on the cover. There are multiple frames with some honey in them, although still only a small amount of capped honey. They are drinking a little more than a liter of syrup each week and I will continue feeding them until I have four frames mostly filled with honey as that is the general recommendation for over-wintering a colony in San Diego. All in all, everything seems to indicate that the colony is expanding and gaining strength.

The last couple weeks I have mentioned the use of foundation in the frames. It’s generally recommended that new beekeepers begin using foundation-filled frames. These provide a template for the bees because the plastic is embossed with a hexagon, honeycomb pattern to serve as a guide for the bees who then add their own wax to the template to expand the cells to their full width.

Still life #1: frame, foundation, and lime.

There are a few arguments made in support of foundation: 1) fewer drones are made, 2) it is easier to harvest honey without damaging the comb, and probably the most important reason, 3) the chances of cross-comb are reduced. Cross-comb is where the comb is built so that it runs through multiple frames rather than running the length of a single frame. It poses a nightmare for hive inspections since the frames are now held together and cannot be individually removed for inspection without damaging all of their work.

An example of cross-comb gone awry, courtesy of

Proponents of foundation-less beekeeping argue that it is a more natural method that allows the bees to build the size of cells they prefer or need, rather than some human-imposed system that limits them to worker-sized cells. The bees simply build their comb themselves without the template. As a biologist, this method appeals to me since I tend to think humans are rather arrogant in our assumption that we fully understand a natural system well-enough to improve on it. In case I needed more reasons (I don’t), the wax coating on the foundation has a tendency to contain accumulated pesticides and herbicides, which may not be good for the bees.

My friend gifted me the equipment with which I started, and the foundation was fresh in 2018 when I made my first attempt to entice a swarm. More than two years later, and after being stored in the heat of our garage, it may be somewhat stale and this could be why I haven’t seen much comb building on those frames. This gave me a great opportunity to run my experiment into the foundation-less world. I think that by trading out a frame at a time that I can minimize the risk of cross-comb. For future frames, I’ll attach a piece to the top as is advised by other beekeepers. It can be as simple as a tongue depressor attached to the top, or even a piece of foundation, which is what I plan to try next since I had frames already filled with foundation. This still provides at least some of a guide in the direction that the beekeeper wants the comb drawn, and helps to discourage the bees from making their own creations.

Still life #2: Frame, comb guide, rock, and passion fruit.

I think that replacing only a frame or two at a time also helps limit their creativity. That’s what I’ve done so far; I’ve replaced two frames and placed them next to frames that were already drawn. When I checked the syrup feeder this week, they had drank quite a bit and I saw foragers returning with dark orange pollen pants. I hope this is indicative of a lot of construction occurring within the hive. We’ll see next week!

I decided to do a quick hive inspection last weekend before I installed the new water features, which by the way are looking great with a couple bees buzzing around and using them. There’s even a pretty new bloom from the water lily. It wasn’t open this morning when I took the video, but it’s pretty all the same.

There seemed to be about the same number of bees, maybe more than before, but still around 2.5 – 3 frames full. It had only been one week since I’d repaired the comb disaster, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of comb construction. I was excited to see that they had used the bits of comb that I’d moved from under the top cover and held onto a frame with rubber bands. In place of the larger odd pieces there were now four beautiful sections of freshly drawn comb hanging from the frame and filled with honey. That was some rapid work on their part!

I removed the rubber bands as they had served their purpose and were no longer needed. The other frame showed no signs of work being done to it, but I had only placed some very tiny bits of salvaged comb on that one and it was farther from the brood nest. I left the rubber bands on that frame, still holding the tiny pieces in place.

I now wondered if the reason the bees had not built more comb was an issue with the bees not liking the old plastic and wax foundation rather than a shortage of bees of the correct age for wax production. They had built the new comb so quickly once I provided the empty frame. So I decided on a wee experiment. Of course! I’m a scientist! I pulled another frame out on which no construction had been done yet and removed the foundation from it. I placed it between two frames with comb to discourage any free-form constructions and to encourage the bees to build in a straight line along the width of the frame.

Frames filled with a plastic-based foundation and then coated in wax. The cell structure encourages the bees to build their comb straight and to make worker-sized cells rather than drone cells.

So here’s how I’m testing the hypothesis that it’s the old foundation delaying comb-building:

  1. If the bees simply don’t like the plastic foundation, I would expect that the two frames sans foundation (one with bits of salvaged comb and the other without) will be built out to some degree by the time I do my next inspection two weeks from today and that no other comb-building will have taken place.
  2. If it’s an issue with the workforce size or nectar dearth, then I may not see any new construction, or only a small amount, but not necessarily on the two foundation-less frames.

The bees have been going through syrup pretty quickly now, so I think they’re well-enough fed. Comment your predictions as to what I’ll discover, and then check back the weekend of October 2nd to find out the results. Or if you have other hypotheses to test, let me know.

I learned about bees and water first when we moved to our house four years ago. I had installed a small bird bath made of some sort of glass or acrylic material and the bees could not climb out after landing. Bees were drowning and I tried a few different tactics to help them before finally using a stone buddha statue from my altar in the bird bath. Since then, there have been no drowned bees. Once I started my bee project, I thought the new bees would use the bird bath as others had done. However, it turns out that bees can be rather finicky about their water source, and, as far as I can tell, mine do not seem to like that bird bath.

Many people are not aware that bees need water, not to drink, but to maintain the temperature and humidity of the hive. Bees maintain the internal temperature of the hive somewhere in the vicinity of 95° F. In the winter, they use the energy burned from eating their honey supply to maintain warmth and keep a stable temperature. In the heat of summer, they use water to create a sort of air conditioner in the hive. They place the droplets of water on the comb and fan it with their wings to evaporate it, cooling the area.

I live within a few miles of the ocean and it is rarely over 90° F here, but last weekend I checked my weather app, which showed it was 104° F. I was shocked! I decided then that it was time to provide some better water sources above and beyond the bird baths. Our neighbour has a pool, and a child allergic to bee stings (thus, the siting of the hive as far from their property line as possible), and I really did not want the bees using their pool as their primary water source. Girl Next Door Honey had provided a short video on her Instagram site showing how simple it was to create a small water garden so I used that as my guide for two new water features.

I liked the wine/whisky barrel idea, but wanted something slightly more decorative for the other container. I chose the pot at a local nursery and used an epoxy from Home Depot to seal the drain. It set in 5 minutes and was ready to be filled in an hour. I placed the barrel next to the oregano patch where they might find the water quickly; the bees might not care that it’s level, but I do.

Once the barrels were filled with water, I placed a few plants in each one. The barrel is larger so it has a beautiful lily pad in a submerged pot, some free-floating water hyacinth, and another free-floating plant. The flower pot just has a few of the two types of free-floating plants. I had also purchased some mosquito fish and a product to dechlorinate the tap water so it would be safe for them. I left the bag of fish floating in the water for a few minutes for the temperatures to equalize and then put a few into each barrel. Now that I know how easy that was, I might create a few more of these after we finish planting the rest of the backyard this Fall. Hopefully, the bees will like my creations and will be using them in the near future.

I mentioned last week a wee problem in the hive that needed to be rectified, and that problem was burr comb, which is one of a few names for comb built in places you wish it weren’t. As I discovered when I looked in the hive today, I had placed the inner cover on upside down and that gave the bees an extra gap between the cover and the frames. Combined with the spacer I’d been using, they had about a 1 inch gap.

The beginning of the inspection. The full, unclipped version can be found at: full:

Much like nature abhors a vacuum, bees do not like unfilled space. The basis of the Langstroth hive (the type of hive I’m using) is beespace. Langstroth found that bees would fill with comb any space larger than 3/8 inch; smaller than that, and they’d fill the gap with propolis. The hanging frames in a Langstroth hive are sized specifically to be sandwhiched together and allow enough width for comb on each side and bees to move freely, while not exceeding that 3/8 inch limit. With a 1 inch gap or larger, I had a huge violation of beespace. Last week they had only managed to make a few nice pieces of comb that were filled with honey. I should have fixed the problem immediately, but didn’t know exactly how to accomplish it quickly, so I put it all back together and decided to wait a week. That was not the best decision.

Couple my beespace violation with the bees’ preference for building willy-nilly free-form versus within the forced structure of foundation, and I had a mess after leaving it for another week. Who could really blame them? Free-flowing coloring outside of any lines is far more fun than coloring within them!

This shows only the bottom pieces of comb, not the larger pieces that adhered to the top cover. By the time I realized how much was attached to the top, the hive had been open for far longer than I’d wanted and I’d spotted the queen in the mess, so I didn’t snap any photos until the end and just got the job finished.

In the intervening week, the bees had constructed multiple small combs across the top where the syrup feeder rests. There was also a ball of bees on the underside of the inner cover and, as I feared when I saw the tight grouping of a lot of bees there, I found the queen amongst them. Ack! Not good! But I had made a plan, and I thought it would still work: take two empty frames without the foundation that the bees use as a template for building comb, add rubber bands to hold the odd bits of comb, and insert them into the hive on opposite sides of the brood nest. I pulled out two frames to make room for these, one of which had old comb on it and I thought might be the source of the wax moths.

I gently scraped each piece of comb from the base, carefully working around any bees gorging on honey, and then affixed the comb on the frame between the rubber bands. I had done this for all the small bits before I realized how large the other bits on the underside of the cover were and before I discovered the queen in the ball of bees. My time would have been better spent focused only on the larger pieces. For the queen, I carefully scraped off the piece she was on when she was near the top of it so that I wouldn’t inadvertently injure her. I placed it as the top of the brood nest frames and encouraged everyone with her back inside. Once she’d safely moved below, I added that piece of comb to my construction.

I’m not quite sure if this will work. When I’ve seen this done in videos or photos by experienced beekeepers it is usually a single, larger piece of comb placed on each frame. I hope I’m successful in rescuing at least some of their hard work and resources. Either way, I removed the spacer and flipped the inner cover the right way around so I shouldn’t have this specific issue again. Fingers crossed.

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