Topbar update

The transfer of bees (in the previous post) was very successful! The queen is successfully laying and the hive seems quite strong. The bees have been making the repairs needed (due to us having to cut top bars and comb to fit into our newly refurbished top bar hive.

capped brood

In this picture the remains of an elastic band can be seen on the frame. We used these to help support cut comb to our top bars, but it doesn’t take long for the bees to secure it properly and try to remove the elastic bands!

New top bar hive

We had been hoping for a swarm to repopulate our now repaired top bar hive but it was getting too late in the season to find one that would be strong enough for the coming winter. So, we managed to buy a top bar hive that a fellow beekeeper had started as a nuc (short for nucleus) but it had grown far too big and strong.

Although her bars were slightly longer, the main issue was that the shape was different and it would involve cutting the comb to fit into our top bar hive. We planned and prepared in advance, knowing it would be messy and there would be some losses.

Suited up, table cleared of all but the tools, and ready to go

As expected, it was a messy job with lots of bee losses from the flowing honey, but overall we were happy with the result. We used the follower board from our top bar hive as the template to cut the comb on the bought top bars to the same size. This proved to be more complicated than we thought because long thin dowels had been inserted into the bars, and these needed to be cut off as well as the comb cut.

Dowels each side of the bar

Where we had originally thought we would hang the bar and cut vertically, the dowel proved too difficult and we lost a fair bit of comb this way, so they we used the follower board as a horizontal support as well as the template and had much more success. After brushing or smoking off as many bees as we could, the bar of comb was laid onto the follower board and trimmed to size.

Cutting the comb to the size of our follower board

The cut offs dropped into the basket and honey oozed down into the tub, which gave more bees the chance to get away rather than being trapped in the wax/honey mess.

After trimming the comb to size, we used a Ryobi multi tool to cut off the dowel, which proved to be the smoothes and quickest way. The bar of comb was then placed into our top bar hive.

Most of the bars in situ

An extra piece of wood was placed on the floor of the hive just in front of the entrance as there was so much honey (leaking from the cut comb) on the floor of the hive that bees couldn’t get in the entrance without getting stuck in honey.

There were bees everywhere- in our top bar, all over the cut off comb, and all inside the bought top bar.

Almost done

We were fortunate enough to see the queen, and made sure she was safely transferred to our top bar. When the job was complete, we packed away all the tools but decided to leave the tubs of comb cut offs which were completely covered in bees in the hope that most would make their way into the hive at dark.

The next morning, the tubs were removed, and there was some coming and going from the hive entrance, and lots of orienting bees. Fingers crossed it is a successful transfer!

It is great to have the top bar back again, to add to the Langstroth and Warre in the same area. Soon our horizontal hive will be completed and our other Langstroth will be transferred to it. this should be a much smoother transfer as the frames are interchangeable!


Bee success!

Our transfer of bees from the top bar hive that was damaged, to a Langstroth, was very successful! We had obviously managed to save the queen even though we couldn’t see her, and she has been laying well. The worker bees have made repairs and strengthened the comb that was attached to the frames, as well as built comb to fill in empty frames.

Top bar comb secured to Langstroth frame

We are certainly happy about the success! Even better, the top bar turned out to be salvageable, so that is now back together awaiting some bees which we hope to pick up in the next couple of weeks. Our plans for a ‘long Lang’ or horizontal hive are also in progress- our plan here is to move the frames from our original Langstroth into it to make it easier to manage (no lifting heavy boxes).

Bee disaster!

After hearing a branch fall in the night last week, we were devastated to find it had crashed right through our topbar hive, smashing it and the bees.

From this…………..

To this…………….

assessing the damage

We tried to save as much as we could, using elastic bands to attach the brood comb and honey comb to some spare Langstroth frames we had.

attaching the comb and inserting in a spare super

We managed to salvage enough comb to fit most of the brood and some honey in the full depth Langstroth super, plus some honey in the WSP super.

bees everywhere

The transfer was relatively successful with the bees all around eventually moving into the hive. We have observed over the week since this happened, and the bees are foraging, but unfortunately there is no pollen coming in that we can see. This means probably the brood died (it would have been out of the hive most of the night), and the queen died (we couldn’t see her during the salvage but hoped she was there).

As soon as the weather permits (it is unseasonably stormy and wet in Perth!), we will take a frame of brood from our other Langstroth and place it in this one, hoping the bees will develop a queen.

Our next plan is to develop a ‘Long Lang’ or horizontal hive, and we will transfer the frames into that. We are also hoping to be able to rebuild the topbar!


Topbar hive harvest

We had the best harvest from our Topbar hive yet! After some trial and error that always seemed to result in too many bees dying, yesterday we perfected (we think and hope) our technique.

In our previous harvest, when we tried to remove the bars of comb, the comb broke leaving a sticky mass at the bottom of the hive along with lots of bees, which then had to be removed by hand. It was quite upsetting to cause so much destruction and we knew there had to be a better way. We had tried using a knife to separate the comb from the side of the hive  as it is always stuck, but there just wasn’t room to manoeuvre. We realised we hadn’t left enough working room by having all the bars within the follower boards.

As it was April and getting cooler and our aim in that previous harvest was to reduce the hive size ready for winter, we removed all comb from four bars and placed them outside the follower board at one end of the Topbar hive. Between the follower boards we made sure there was still some comb being drawn, and a couple of empty bars so the bees had space to add more comb and honey. We also hoped this would give us the working room we needed next time to slide the knife in to separate the comb from the sides of the hive.

And so it did. Yesterday’s harvest was the most successful yet in terms of the least damage to the bees (which was our main aim) and the least mess. Instead of a knife we used angled stainless steel cake icing blades, and they were just perfect for loosening the comb from the sides of the hive.

Using the cake icing blade to loosen the comb from the side of the hive

These angled blades and having the extra space made all the difference. We had bought three different sizes, and they each were useful at different times.

Angled cake icing blades

Opening the hive and removing the empty bars and follower board, we could easily use the icing blades to separate the comb from the sides with minimal disruption to the bees. The hive tool was used to separate each bar from the one next to it, and then it was easy to lift out the beautifully built comb.

Beautiful, whole comb removed cleanly from the Topbar

The bees were gently brushed off and the comb cut from the bar with a knife into a tub. The bars to be replaced inside the follower boards were left with 3-4 cm of comb, those to go outside the follower boards were left completely clean. All with no apparent distress to the bees- thank goodness!

Cutting the comb into the tub

When completed, we made sure that there were two to four empty bars at each end, then the follower boards, then a partially filled or empty bar (each end). Then we closed up the hive and walked away feeling much better than after the previous harvest!

Native bees

The warmer summer weather brings a lot of native insect activity, particularly the many native bees we get here in Western Australia. We have seen quite a few different kinds over the years, blue banded bees, resin bees, leaf cutter bees and these masked bees. Today, I set the camera on a tripod n front of the latest bee hotel, pressed record and returned 15 minutes later to find the top hole completely sealed. The video is amazing, really showing the perseverance of this small insect (it is alas too big to post, so a snippet of the end is all that we can post).

masked bees

Video of masked bee sealing nest

More bugs and beauties!

It is so important not to just work, work, work- even though there is never ‘nothing to do’! Sometimes, it is great to just wander around the garden, camera in hand or not, and see what there is to see. This Painted Jezebel kept hanging around the mistletoe on one of our wattles. After watching it for a while, it settled in laid eggs! It was fascinating to watch, and a really good reminder to just enjoy the moment.

Painted Jezebel

Painted Jezebel

There are a few different native bees around too, especially now the weather is warming up. They like the old nail holes in wooden beams!

Native bee peeping out of the hole

Native bee peeping out of the hole

We have seen a few different types of case moth- this is the latest:

case moth

case moth

And of course there are always those we see with no camera at hand- like the Blue Banded Bee. One day we will get a nice photo of it!


Bee swarm!

Here in Perth, we have had an incredibly slow, cold, wet start to spring…….. but yesterday was a beautiful spring day, and the day one of our hives swarmed. The weather had been so awful, we hadn’t managed to check the hives for a couple of weeks, and we still don’t know which of our three hives may have swarmed (all look full and active).

Swarm in a tree

Swarm in a tree

After some discussion, we decided we would keep it, but locate it down near the orchard and ‘dam’ rather than near the house like the others. We had a spare super, lid and plenty of frames so we just bought a bottom board and we were ready to go!

We placed a white sheet under the swarm, climbed the ladder and trimmed the branches around it. It was good to have the white sheet down as quite a few bees dropped in the process. There were two main ‘clumps’ of bees which we carefully placed in the hive box, with four centre frames removed. When we felt we had as many as we could, we did a quick shake and placed the lid on, then wrapped up the bees on the white sheet, and took the hive (in a wheelbarrow) to the area we had chosen.

It all worked well, fingers crossed the bees like their new home and stay there!

so far so good....

so far so good….

Bee update-moving a hive

Having recently changed the kitchen hive to a Warre we have been keeping a close eye on it especially getting into our winter. A check last week revealed condensation inside the hive, and a little bit of mould and mildew. A quick google search revealed that a little bit of mould or mildew is not a huge problem as the bees will clean it up, if they are all fit and healthy. The problem though, is the condensation which causes it in the first place.

condensation inside the hive

condensation inside the hive

We realised that where the hive is it doesn’t get a lot of sun or air circulation. The Langstroth seemed to cope ok, but perhaps the different set up of the Warre makes it more susceptible. Anyway, this discovery led us to look for a different location and a way of moving the hive. There is a lot of information now on moving a hive, without the need to stick to the old ‘less than a metre or more than 3 kilometres’ rule, so we chose a spot about 100metres away, not far from the Topbar hive where the Warre can face ENE and get a good amount of winter sun to help dry it out, we hope!

After dark, the hive entrance was covered with mesh to allow for ventilation but no bees, and the hive was strapped to keep all the boxes in place. Next morning we loaded the hive onto a trolley and moved to its new, prepared location.

Moving the strapped up Warre to its new location

Moving the strapped up Warre to its new location

Once in position, we put some leaves near the entrance, as this obstacle apparently makes the bees more likely to reorient and slow down their exit (they are less likely to be on ‘auto pilot’ and return to the old location by mistake).


Also to help their reorientation we kept them in for 3 days- apparently they can ‘forget’ their previous orientation.

Thousands of bees wanting to get out!

Thousands of bees wanting to get out!

Settled in its new location, near water and the topbar, but still closed up.

Settled in its new location, near water and the topbar, but still closed up.

After three days, we opened up the entrance, made sure the leaves were in front as an obstacle, and watched the bees pour out! Sure enough, they crawled out and circled above the entrance (a sign they are reorienting).

Bees first exit in their new location

Bees first exit in their new location

Unfortunately there were a lot of dead bees too, but we hoped that ultimately the hive was better off for the move. Soon we saw lots of bees circling the old location near the kitchen window, looking for the hive, but within an hour or so they had gone, we hoped back to their new home.

Subsequent days there were more bees flying in the old location, but again only for a short time, hopefully they returned safely. The Warre is getting some lovely winter sun and hopefully drying out. In another day or so we will check it out and see how it is going. If necessary due to a loss of bees we can take the top box off and reduce the size. Fingers crossed!!