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Comb and Honey! or No Comb! No Honey!

Topics Beekeepers Can't Agree On!

     By: Lynne Jones

On November 29th I posted a poll in two Facebook groups. I asked for beekeepers who have transferred bees from a removal into a hive box at least five times to indicate which of these methods they use: Frame up brood and honey comb; Frame up brood, but not honey comb; Frame up honey, but not brood comb; Do not frame up any of the removed comb. Between votes and comments, 106 beekeepers answered. By far, most beekeepers frame up combs of brood (90%). Of those framing brood, about half also frame up combs of honey. The remaining 10% do not save any comb; primarily because they didn’t want to bring Varroa and other pests and diseases into their apiary. For the roughly 45% who only save brood, their comments indicated they don’t save honey because they want to avoid robbing issues and/or a Small Hive Beetle (SHB) larvae slime-out.

With about 45% of the beekeepers saving both brood and honey (presumably with success), I wondered how they prevent the robbing and SHB larvae issues.     

So, I asked Jennifer Scott, The Bee Wrangler who has relocated bees professionally for 14 years, to share her process. Jennifer explained, “The reasons I save brood is based on years of relocations and agony over absconded newly hived bees.” She found absconding was more likely when she simply vacuumed all the bees and dumped them into a hive box at her apiary. “Now and for many years I use this method – hiving the

bees at the job.” Jennifer starts by only using a bee vacuum for the guard bees. She then carefully removes comb, frames it and places directly into the hive box. The bees on comb are not vacuumed; instead, they remain with the comb which gives SHB less opportunity to lay eggs. Though she frames up all the combs of bee bread and honey, usually only two are put into the hive – one on each side of the brood. Once she is finished removing all the comb, she uses the vacuum to collect the returning foragers and then moves the already re-homed colony to her apiary. By providing only two frames of honey and pollen, the bees can control the SHB, yet still have enough resources to provide for their needs. (The rest of the frames go into her freezer until needed.) And because she has put the new hive together at the job-site, when it is relocated to her apiary, there isn’t any open honey to attract robbers.

Though 106 beekeepers answered, there are only 105 responses tallied. That is because Earnie Welch’s comment didn’t fit into any of the options. Earnie has been involved with beekeeping most of his life and that’s more years than all but a few reading this. About twenty years ago, having noticed the feral bees around him seemed to be doing great, he started his queen rearing operation by using feral colonies for his original stock. Earnie said, “… took about 5 years to breed the mean out of em, ever year after we try to select the best of the best to breed from….” Earnie’s process is to give the removal colony frames of brood and resources from his other hives. Sometimes he saves the removal capped brood, but only puts it in his established hives to test their hygienic traits. The one thing he saves every time is the “priceless” pollen/bee bread comb which he puts in the freezer until needed. In queen rearing, a cell starter hive must be a strong colony with many nurse bees and plenty of resources to make healthy queens. Earnie feeds these hives constantly during this process, so he keeps a 1-1/2” feeder shim on them. To feed the saved bee bread, he usually lays the comb on top the frames, just as you would place a pollen patty. Though few beekeepers raise queens on the scale Earnie does, I believe we all recognize the benefit of providing real pollen/bee bread rather than pollen substitute.

From Jennifer, I learned the advantages of a gentle removal and to install just enough resources. From Earnie, I have a new appreciation for frames of bee bread and will manage this valuable resource with more thought from now on. I hope you found value from their methods as well.

* Links to Facebook poll threads: Texas Friendly Beekeepers - Click Here Central Texas Beekeepers - Click Here    

Follow Lynne Jones as she places herself in the line of fire in polling Beekeepers on the most arguable topics in beekeeping! Owner of Brazos River Honey Secretary-Treasurer of the Fort Bend Beekeepers Association and Advanced level in the Texas Master Beekeeper program
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