What could I have done better?

Basic beekeeping, this is beekeeping after the first winter until about the third or fourth year. You are a beekeeper, but you still have a lot to learn. Talk about normal everyday beekeeping here.
BigNotEasyGuy
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Location: Denver, CO

What could I have done better?

Postby BigNotEasyGuy » Sun Aug 27, 2017 10:27 pm

Sorry for the really long post, I posted earlier about my cross combed foundationless super that I harvested for the first time today, as well as what to do with my leftover crushed comb when I was done. Thank you for the help from the members that posted advice!

In interests of helping other new beekeepers and helping me do a better job next year I thought I'd post a step by step retrospective of my experience and see if anyone can tell me what they would have done differently (including advice like, next year take care of your frames better!) Feel free to post advice to one or more activities, I'm not sensitive and I really appreciate the advice. I'm learning to be a good TF beekeeper and there's not a perfect manual on how to do this (or there is and I don't own it).

So with that said, here's the basic situation, I live east of Denver on the prairie. We get mild to very cold winters, sometimes both in the same week. This is my second year, I didn't harvest anything last year. I have 2 hives, one with a deep brood box with foundations in it. I put a medium box with foundationless frames on it at the start of the spring. I didn't plan on touching that one today at all. My theory was they'll need the honey for the winter. I was going to add another medium but after reading and posting I decided not to so it wouldn't be empty this winter. It's pretty early in the fall still so I am on the fence on that, maybe they could get some more honey in it for the winter? The second hive has 2 deeps, one with foundation again (these were my original hive boxes when I started) and one with foundationless frames that I made with popcycle sticks last year. This spring I added a medium foundationless super, and then later when it looked like it was filling up I added a second medium foundationless on top of that. The first medium was full and the second was empty. After doing some math (trying to leave about 60lbs of honey for the winter) I decided I could harvest the medium super.

My initial thought was that I would go out, pull frames one at a time and fix any with rubber bands that weren't stable. I'd smoke the super and shake/brush the bees off the frame. Then I could put the frames into a plastic container and take them in the house and load an extractor we borrowed. I suited up Sat. at about 1:00pm when it was hot (because the honey flows better) and went out to try this. I smoked and moved the top cover and empty super and set them aside together. Then I smoked the full super and started looking at the comb. I tried to free up one of the frames on the edge and noticed lots of burr comb between the frames. Then when I tried to lift our a frame, the comb broke free and I was able to see inside a bit and saw that it was all cross combed. My initial impression (and what I said in my previous post) was that it was one big honey comb. After reading about cross comb and observing it more I believe it was a series of U shaped combs instead of straight combs in each frame. I got some advice to turn it upside down on a table and cut it away. That sounded great so I decided to try that the next day in the morning when it was cooler because I was dripping with sweat in my suit and the heavy comb made me think it should be a bit cooler.

I got up early and set up a table, I think this was a GREAT idea btw. My hives are close and I just carried a 6ft folding table by them, I would move it a little farther away and cover it in wax paper or newspaper maybe to keep the dripping honey from risking a robbing issue, but other than that the table was nice to have. I had all my tools laid out and had the container and food grade bucket on top with extra frames, etc. I brought a long cake knife as well thinking I'd need to cut the comb out. My smoker was an issue, I used shredded newspaper on the bottom with pellets on the top, it seemed to be lit well, I'm very suspicious of it, but I got good smoke so I went down and started to smoke the hive. The bees wouldn't drop too quickly and I still thought I was going to turn the box upside down. I removed the top empty again and set it aside, then I tried to convince the bees in the full medium to go down more with the smoker. They kind of did so I thought I was good, I removed the super and put it on the table.

Now things get crazy and I'm just making things up as I go. The bees return to the top of the hive en masse. So I thought I'd try brushing them into the top of the deeps. I pick up the buzzing hive and rest the short side diagonally on the corner of the deep and brush the bees on the top into the deep. That made them very annoyed with me. I returned to the table thinking how smart I was, then I put the super down and it happened again, tons of bees crawled to the top. I was already committed so I repeated this process 4 more times, more bees just kept crawling up. Man I have a lot of bees. So finally they were kind of bearding on one corner and I was smoking them and didn't have a swarm around my head so I thought I'd just try to harvest the comb. I had the bucket setup up with a cloth filter and my plan was to cut honey comb out of the frames and put it into the cloth to be crushed and strained. I did cut out the first frame with the knife which immediately got full of sticky honey making my work area messing and attractive to bees, but I soldiered on. I picked up the frame with my frame tool which I was happy to own, it helped a lot. Then I cut out a chunk of full comb and put it into the cloth which unhooked from the bucket and fell in. I was wearing latex gloves over my bee gloves to prevent honey from getting all over them, a tip I read online. I tried to free the cloth and it was hopeless and getting messy, so I set it aside and just put the comb in the bucket directly. As I was cutting bees got into the sticky honey on the comb since they were crawling around. After a couple were cut, brushing didn't work well because the brush would get into the honey from the severed comb. It was a sticky situation to say the least. Because of this, I realized I wasn't going to have bee free comb, I tried to minimize it, but I just put the comb into the bucket and thought I'd remove bees later. About the second or third frame in I cut into larvae, I was upset about this, I managed to seperate a bit of it and I started inspecting one side before cutting into the next space between the frames which allowed to me to salvage a few sections of larvae toward the middle. But most of the comb turned out to be all honey so it was pretty minor. It still upset me to have the destroyed brood sections, do TF foundationless people have this issue?

Now I was into a pattern: inspect, cut, pull, chunk into the bucket. It went pretty quick, I was working my way toward the bearding bees and little at a time and my smoker was out. I stopped and tried to relight it but it never really got going well again. I need different fuel or a different procedure to light the pellets, I've never seen them actually lit. I don't want to be knee deep in bees and have no smoker again. So I finished up hoping to not have an issue, then I saw a bee inside my bee hood near my face, I put down the comb I was working on and backed up and crushed it in the mesh of my hood with my palms, I know crushed bees can cause attacks, I used what little smoke I had to cover my face area hoping to avoid issues with the bearded bees I was working near. Nothing else bad happened but I will make sure the little hole near my neck is covered really well next time, possibly with duct tape or something next time?

I finished harvesting, put the messy frames back in the super, brushed bees on the edges of the deep, and slid the super slowly back on the deep. Then I put back the empty super and top cover back on as well. I took the covered bucket of comb up to the house and then my wife brought me another bucket, I started removing bees and brood sections and transferring into the new bucket which got hard as I hit the line of honey near the bottom of my bucket. It was mess and I had bees crawling around so I didn't want to take it inside. We ended up deciding to just put the good comb all together even with the bees and start crushing and straining. I flicked off as many bees that looked able bodied still and we went inside. I have been known to pick out a single wet bee from the waterer and carry it to safety, I don't know if that ends up helping it survive, but they work pretty hard for us, we have a huge organic garden and they are all over it so I feel obligated. I mention this because the volume of honey drowned bees made me sad. I want to avoid that next time by having better combs and being able to either brush off the bees, or use a fume board maybe?

So now we have a big bucket of comb and (some dead bees and larvae). We start using a potato masher and a metal strainer, we crush out the honey and drain it into the strainer over another bucket. We end up with a couple of gallons of honey and a bunch of crushed comb (and dead bees). So I read about how to handle the comb, we used a cheesecloth and hot water to extract wax. That worked well actually and the wax is cooling right now. The honey is sitting in the bucket cooling. We plan on straining it again as we drain the bucket into pint sized jars to sell to my friends that want some raw honey.

Now, since doing this I thought the fume board would be better, I've read about something called Fischer Bee Quick that I might try. The theory here is that if the bees were gone and I moved the table farther away I could do my cut and transfer process much easier. Then maybe setup a double bucket strainer and life is much easier. I'm not even sure I care about the cross comb if I do this? I might put a queen excluder under the super maybe a bit before I harvest to let the brood hatch? Ideally it would all be straight frames and I could just bring them in the house and do a normal crush and strain process, but if there were no brood, the cut and chunk and crush and strain wasn't all that bad in hindsight.

I went out after being worried about robbing and brought all my tools back to the house from the table and cleaned them off. I went and got the table and drug it over 50 ft. away. Then I went out and tried to clean it with warm water because there was honey everywhere. A bee started chasing me so I went inside and put my suit back on and went back out and cleaned most of the table off with a sponge. It was excessively messy. I picked up the biggest chunks of comb that had fallen on the ground but there was spilled honey on the ground, not much though.

Ok, what could I have done better? Tips on how to keep my frames from cross combing? What mistakes did I make? Should I have kept brushing them off the top and then turned it upside down and tried to salvage more frames? How the heck do I keep a smoker going, I keep reading and watching youtube and I'm still horrible. I'm considering buying the burlap or wool fuel to see how that works and getting a bigger sized smoker for more fuel. Is there a trick to the pellets? How much time before working should I be lighting it? What else did I do wrong or waste time doing? Please don't feel free to offend me, I really want to know and maybe my mistakes can help someone learn. I wish I had a live mentor to help me when I do things the first time, but I don't. TF keepers are rare so I have been reading this forum and Michael Bush's website and watching his youtube videos but I never learn enough it seems before I try to do something on my own.

Thanks for anything!!! :D

moebees
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby moebees » Mon Aug 28, 2017 12:19 am

You may need a better smoker. The large Dadant smoker is superb. I have trouble getting it to stop smoking. Pine needles or burlap would be better fuels. I think you did pretty well with the cross comb mess you had. Have you watched videos on harvesting top bar hives? The key is to have a bucket with a lid and cut what you want to keep into the bucket and cover immediately and then go on to the next piece of comb. With each piece you cut free and pick up brush the bees off and cut out any brood and then into the bucket. Once its in the bucket its secure.

I don't know what the normal configuration in Denver is but I would think it would be more than a single deep but that is up to you. I think the two main problems with what you did was adding a super of empty frames and then not checking on them. You need to add drawn comb which you probably will not have next year and since you are running mediums over deeps you cannot insert between brood to get them drawn. So next year you probably should use foundation and once extracted you will have drawn comb that you can insert foundationless between. You may also want to think about standardizing your frame size. That would simplify things greatly. But whatever you do you need to inspect and correct things if they are not what you want. It sounds like you kind of put a box on and left it until you decided to harvest.

Whenever doing something for the first time it is good to have a well thought out game plan and try to anticipate what things might go wrong and what you will do if any of those things happen. When you opened the hive anticipating a harvest and found the cross comb problem you closed them back up and decided you needed a new plan. That was the correct thing to do. But putting an empty box on a hive and then figuring you could comb back a few months later and harvest nicely drawn straight comb was probably naive. If you stick with beekeeping you will more than likely have many days where you have to do something for the first time. They are all teaching opportunities. So think about how things went and what you would do differently if you were to do it again and you will grow as a beekeeper.
Sam Droege, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey—“bees are not optional."

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GregV
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby GregV » Mon Aug 28, 2017 2:56 pm

Well, you decided to go the "commercial route" per an advice and work with an entire super - pull it off and work on a table (not comb by comb).
Then this also means you should purge the entire super by some commercial means and do it quickly and efficiently - a blower or a "bee-gone" type substance is what the commercial beeks use. Using smoke you will only be chasing bees back and forth, yet still you will not purge them from the super very efficiently (or at all). Meanwhile, excessive smoke may eventually just piss them off also when they will reach their abuse limits. Smoking does have its limits.

So, you purge the super entirely and quickly somehow, then immediately take it to a bee-proof place, like a honey-house or your kitchen and work it as needed at your own pace (don't work it outside... :D obviously).

As of me, I would just do a traditional cut-out project because this is what it was, in fact.
You should have been able to observe the mixed-in brood up front (well, next time now).

I would just start small and work the super gradually side to a side, using a bread knife, a bucket with lid for honey and prepared frames to fix in cut-out brood combs. (Do have the super partially covered by some cloth and only expose the small area being worked on - like a surgery room and a patient). Be gradual, be prepared to just close it off at any time; that's what cloth is for.
Still a mess though, no matter the approach.

Remember - big projects mean big mistakes and big mess potentially.
If not sure about what you are doing - start small and minimize the mistakes and create small messes. :)
I am foundation-less myself and cut-and-fix work becomes pretty routine due to rapid expansion, anyway.
All it is to it.

PS: my favorite tool now days - a long, blunt-tipped, serrated bread knife. A must have.

BigNotEasyGuy
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby BigNotEasyGuy » Sat Sep 02, 2017 8:49 pm

moebees wrote:You may need a better smoker. The large Dadant smoker is superb. I have trouble getting it to stop smoking. Pine needles or burlap would be better fuels.


Awesome, I'll give that a shot next. How do you put the smoker out when you're done? It's dry around here so I'm always afraid of setting off a grass fire. I usually go into my garage and dump things out on the floor. I was thinking having a tin can around that I could dump stuff into and then poor water on would be good too.

moebees wrote:I think you did pretty well with the cross comb mess you had. Have you watched videos on harvesting top bar hives? The key is to have a bucket with a lid and cut what you want to keep into the bucket and cover immediately and then go on to the next piece of comb. With each piece you cut free and pick up brush the bees off and cut out any brood and then into the bucket. Once its in the bucket its secure.


Yah that's pretty close to what I did. I had the bucket, I started figuring out how to remove bees and brood, I kind of learned as I went.

moebees wrote:I don't know what the normal configuration in Denver is but I would think it would be more than a single deep but that is up to you. I think the two main problems with what you did was adding a super of empty frames and then not checking on them. You need to add drawn comb which you probably will not have next year and since you are running mediums over deeps you cannot insert between brood to get them drawn. So next year you probably should use foundation and once extracted you will have drawn comb that you can insert foundationless between.


Yah, I think I'll try buying some small cell foundation and inserting into some of my empty frames next spring.

moebees wrote:You may also want to think about standardizing your frame size. That would simplify things greatly. But whatever you do you need to inspect and correct things if they are not what you want. It sounds like you kind of put a box on and left it until you decided to harvest.


Yep, I dropped a super on with empty frames and hoped for the best, in hindsight not the best idea. I did read about many techniques, but in all the noise I went with the simplest thing. I started from advice from someone who sold me deep hives. I am now trying to standardize frame sizes to mediums. I was really trying not to introduce wax from commercial sources, that confused my situation. And I was trying to get to a smaller cell size. As far as I know there aren't plastic 4.9mm foundations for mediums. If there were I could have added those I suppose to help (and then checked on things more.)

moebees wrote:Whenever doing something for the first time it is good to have a well thought out game plan and try to anticipate what things might go wrong and what you will do if any of those things happen. When you opened the hive anticipating a harvest and found the cross comb problem you closed them back up and decided you needed a new plan. That was the correct thing to do. But putting an empty box on a hive and then figuring you could comb back a few months later and harvest nicely drawn straight comb was probably naive.


Naive is EXACTLY what it was. :)

Thanks for the help and advice!

BigNotEasyGuy
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby BigNotEasyGuy » Sat Sep 02, 2017 8:55 pm

GregV wrote:Well, you decided to go the "commercial route" per an advice and work with an entire super - pull it off and work on a table (not comb by comb).
Then this also means you should purge the entire super by some commercial means and do it quickly and efficiently - a blower or a "bee-gone" type substance is what the commercial beeks use. Using smoke you will only be chasing bees back and forth, yet still you will not purge them from the super very efficiently (or at all). Meanwhile, excessive smoke may eventually just piss them off also when they will reach their abuse limits. Smoking does have its limits.

So, you purge the super entirely and quickly somehow, then immediately take it to a bee-proof place, like a honey-house or your kitchen and work it as needed at your own pace (don't work it outside... :D obviously).

As of me, I would just do a traditional cut-out project because this is what it was, in fact.
You should have been able to observe the mixed-in brood up front (well, next time now).

I would just start small and work the super gradually side to a side, using a bread knife, a bucket with lid for honey and prepared frames to fix in cut-out brood combs. (Do have the super partially covered by some cloth and only expose the small area being worked on - like a surgery room and a patient). Be gradual, be prepared to just close it off at any time; that's what cloth is for.
Still a mess though, no matter the approach.


So if the box is still on the hive and it's cross combed, how would I cut out a frame at a time? Also how would I do that and observe the mixed-in brood before I had the frame out? The problem I had was I couldn't see in the frames and I couldn't remove them one at a time since the cross comb prevented it. I think I ended up doing basically what you're describing but on the table with bees everywhere.

Are you saying I should cut a single frame out while it's on the hive (letting honey drip down on the hive below) and then start inspecting them one at a time and trying to salvage brood, etc.? So the mess would really be on the hive and not on my table then, but basically the bees would be all over the place still because it would be sticky and a shake/brush wouldn't work great because of the dripping honey after the cutting? Or am I misunderstanding what you're describing?

moebees
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby moebees » Sat Sep 02, 2017 9:50 pm

How do you? put the smoker out when you're done?
My apiaries are spread out all over the place so I have a metal planter that is just the perfect size to hang the smoker in. I keep water and a rag in the bottom and stuff the wet rag into the opening of the smoker when I am traveling. But the Dadant is so hard to stop that after I drive 30 miles if I pull the rag out it will take off on its own again. But basically I just leave it in a place where it won't start a fire with the rag in it until it is out.

And I was trying to get to a smaller cell size. As far as I know there aren't plastic 4.9mm foundations for mediums.
Cell size doesn't matter in honey supers. The bees prefer larger cells in the honey supers and am starting to use drone comb frames in the supers. Only problem with them is they are expensive. Small cell foundation isn't any good anyway because the bees can rework it. If you want small cell mediums and don't want outside wax, and want it to remain small cell then get some PF120 plastic frames from MannLake. PF120 are 4.9.
Sam Droege, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey—“bees are not optional."

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GregV
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby GregV » Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:18 pm

BigNotEasyGuy wrote:....So if the box is still on the hive and it's cross combed, how would I cut out a frame at a time? Also how would I do that and observe the mixed-in brood before I had the frame out? The problem I had was I couldn't see in the frames and I couldn't remove them one at a time since the cross comb prevented it. I think I ended up doing basically what you're describing but on the table with bees everywhere.

Are you saying I should cut a single frame out while it's on the hive (letting honey drip down on the hive below) and then start inspecting them one at a time and trying to salvage brood, etc.? So the mess would really be on the hive and not on my table then, but basically the bees would be all over the place still because it would be sticky and a shake/brush wouldn't work great because of the dripping honey after the cutting? Or am I misunderstanding what you're describing?


OK, in this case the "commercial" approach was a good way IF done properly and IF feasible (clear the bees out of the super 100% and take the clear super into the bee-proof place to work it). Since this was not possible - then just forget it and don't even go there.

So then - you take a "cut-out" approach. You start he project small and work gradually as if you are doing some barn cut-out.
Before you even start any cut-out project you come prepared for it (you will be ready to salvage the brood combs as much as possible; and you will ready to just harvest the honey combs because these are harder to save). Just assume you will have both brood and honey combs and be ready.

Those are the basics...

Back to your questions:

yes - you start from one side and use the bread knife to cut the along the frame; then just force the frame out however it is;
you will have some mess but ignore it;
bees will cleanup all the spilled honey;
good thing - it is already inside the hive (this is a really good thing for the cleanup - it will not create robbing later);
let the honey drip and don't worry too much; it is bees' job to clean up, not yours.

remember - meanwhile the rest of the frames are covered with cloth and you are only working within a limited opening and few bees are working with you. clear this one removed frame with shaking and smoke (this you can do one frame at a time);
close the opening with the cloth and work the frame as needed - rewire some combs; toss some combs into a covered backet..

next..

open the work site again;
look
evaluate your next move (the more frames you cut/remove, the better you see)
you should see better now and can do better cuts with your bread knife to preserve the combs better
as you move along, using a second cloth, start closing the opening from behind; this is to close the nest below and control bees;
also you can drip onto this second cloth to minimize bees drowning in honey; bees will cleanup the spill - leave it to them.

all in all - you have a mess no matter what;
you already created it and now must clean up.
but, you can close the gradual cut-out any time and go away for any reason (a great option to have, especially if the bees are really hot on you);
come back any time later (even next day or two) and finish the job.

with a "commercial" way done incorrectly you are committed all way and must finish it - this may end up badly

see attached diagram
SuperCutout.jpg
SuperCutout.jpg (37.42 KiB) Viewed 788 times

moebees
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby moebees » Sun Sep 03, 2017 7:03 pm

How do you? put the smoker out when you're done?


Some of the bee supply places sell a metal box to put the smoker in but I think they are pretty expensive.
Sam Droege, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey—“bees are not optional."

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Dustymunky
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby Dustymunky » Mon Sep 04, 2017 6:33 pm

Grab a small handful of green weeds. Twist them in your hand and "screw" them into the top smoker hole pretty much creating a seal. Been working great for me. PS: I didnt invent this technique ;)


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GregV
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Re: What could I have done better?

Postby GregV » Wed Sep 06, 2017 2:48 am

I don't even bother plugging my smoker.
Just lay it side-ways (horizontally, that is) while doing the after-project cleanup.

That effectively cuts off the normal air flow in it an chokes the burning quickly.
Works 90% of the time.
10% of the time - it is not horizontal enough and keeps smoking (you will know it soon enough).

Just to be sure anyway, I carry the smoker in an empty portable gas grill that locks and has a handle (internals removed; legs removed; makes kind of a metal brief-case with holes to prevent direct contact with combustibles). Cost - $0.0.


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