two years in and a hint on handling frames

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Two years in and some advice on frames and how to handle them!

This is aimed at bee-keepers with one or two years experience who may feel that bee-keeping is not as easy as it appeared! None of what follows is intended as anything other than tips for an easier life. My methods will not suit everyone so please pick out the parts that are relevant to you and adapt them if necessary to suit your own situation.

The last two months I glossed over re-siting your hive and getting clothing that is best for you. This month I want to try and help you handle frames as a relative beginner. When you have mastered the technique it will become second nature. It is second nature for most experienced beekeepers and it is a simple skill that they often forget to pass on. You will see mentors quickly removing a frame, apparently turning it at all angles and replacing it with such speed and dexterity that make your attempts seem clumsy and slow.

Speed is your worst enemy. Bees do not like to be disorientated so slow gentle movements are best. It is ideal if your brood box is a suitable height for you to stand next to it in an upright position holding a frame over the brood box and being able to inspect both sides of the frame comfortably. When/If you get more hives you will realise that a bent back for an hour or so is not a good idea!

The skill with handling a frame near a hive is never to hold the frame so that anything can fall out of the comb onto the hive. If it is runny nectar that is dripping onto the hive the bees will start to get agitated and stalking wasps will be on it like a shot. If it is a clump of bees that fall onto the hive then the whole hive will go into defensive mode and if it is the queen then… Need I say more?
Having said that, it is important that anything that DOES fall off the frame will land on the brood box rather than the grass, especially if it is the queen! So all manipulations should be done over the brood box if possible.
Try practising the following with a spare frame.

a) Stand upright and hold a frame in front of you by holding the lugs on each side of the top bar. You should be able to see the whole of that side of the frame whilst it is in a vertical position.

b) Now slowly lower the right hand under the left hand (or vice versa) so that the frame is on its side.

c) Carefully swing the frame through 180 degrees

d) Now bring your hands back into a horizontal position

You are now looking at the opposite side of the frame, all be it upside down, and at no point was the frame anything but vertical to the hive. To get the frame back into its original position all you need to do is repeat the above instructions starting with (b) above.

There is an added bonus to this method in that if the frame is stacked full of bees they tend to roll gently down to the base of the frame in a ball but before they fall off the bottom you can gently turn the frame as above and the ball will roll back onto the frame again. Furthermore when the frame is in the correct position with the top bar at the top you know that it came out of the hive that way round and that is the way it has to go back in again. This is important because not all comb is built nice and straight as it probably was in your first year, Over the years it develops humps and bumps and if you keep the frames in the same orientation in the same order all these humps and bumps will fit together perfectly like a jigsaw.

A word of warning, if you use a top bar hive or foundationless frames with starter strips, be careful using this method because when you turn the frame upside down, if the wax is not attached to the side of the frames, or in the case of top bar hives you have no sides, then the weight of the bees and the comb can break the wax from the top bar. Turning such a frame upside down is therefore not advised!

Another important factor with frames is the type of frame you use. You can almost guarantee that the frames your bees came with in your first nuc will not be the same as the ones you prepared for your first hive. Now what do you do? You may have Hoffman spaced frames and some with plastic spacers or you may use castellation spacing. What is even more annoying is that the spaces seem to be different. If you put plastic spacers on the Hoffman frames so that at least they are all the same then the V shape on the side bar of the Hoffman doesn’t quite meet the flat surface of the next frame.

There is little comfort I can give other than to encourage you to stick with all of the same type. When you need to start swapping frames from one hive to another, to supply eggs to a queenless hive for example, then using the same type of frame in each hive makes life so much more simple for you. If you use plastic spacers on a Hoffman frame then the bees will soon propolise any gap which solves the problem but does make them more difficult to remove! Chose the frame that suits you best and stick with it. There is no good or bad choice, just your own preference. I use plastic spacers on all my frames. They come in different colours so if I get a frame I know needs replacing I will slip a red spacer on it or a green one for queen cells etc. I personally find that the spacers help me hold the frames more securely but I know others disagree. The most important thing to remember is that when you put the frames back into a hive to make sure they are pushed tight against whatever frame spacer you are using. If you fail to do this the bees will build the cells out more and when you try to push them together on the next inspection you will start crushing bees. Spacers on super frames is a whole different board game that I will cover in a later issue. As I have never used castellation spacing I am afraid I cant offer any help on those.

Finally for this months tip a little bit of help with jargon. Whatever the type of hive you use and whatever the size of the box the name is dependant on what is inside. For example, if you use Nationals. You get ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ boxes. Deep is normally for brood and called a brood box and shallow is normally for honey and called a super, but …. if you start using both types for brood then you have a deep brood box and a shallow brood box! Indeed you could have a deep super by using brood boxes for honey! Confused? The reason I mention it is that it helps you buy the correct frames and foundation for your boxes if you refer to them as deep and shallow boxes rather than brood and supers.

Next month, as the first inspections of the year start to get closer, I will try and supply some tips on keeping you and your bees calm when you open the hives!

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