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Author Topic: Tips for working very strong hive  (Read 3115 times)
Koala John
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« on: December 26, 2008, 08:19:54 PM »

Hi,
I have a very strong hive that has me perplexed. As a second year beek, I am pretty comfortable working most small to mid sized hives, sometimes with no gloves, and when I'm slow and careful, all goes well. But I find with a very strong hive (3 boxes of 8 frame deeps jammed full of bees), no matter how careful I am, the sheer quantity of bees makes it a certainty that I am going to roll or crush lots of bees when I lift the first frame, or when I move or replace a lid or a box. After one or two instances of me rolling and crushing their sisters, they start to get angry. This makes a full inspection virtually impossible, as I am soon surrounded by a cloud of unhappy bees. This particular hive is in danger of swarming and I want to open up the brood chamber, but at the moment that's something I am dreading taking on. Note that I don't feel this hive is particularly aggressive normally, only when I am in it up to my armpits!

Does anyone have some tips they can give me about how to handle very strong hives like this? Thanks.
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Brian D. Bray
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« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2008, 09:33:08 PM »

Maybe it's your technique.
8 frame Langstroths have a little extra room on each side of the hive that 10 frames doesn't.
The hive should be set up so that all 8 frames are pressed as closely together as possible and the mass centered in the hive.  That allows about an inch of free space on each side of the frames.
Using your hive tool, gently pry 3 frames away from the others and up against the side of the hive you're working on.  This moves the empty space.  If you like you can do the same thing to the opposite side making your frame free space even larger.
Now pry the 3rd frame away from the other 2 and nudge it to more or less centered in the empty space.  You can now lift/remove that frame without knocking , killing, or crushing any bees.
After inspection of that frame leave it outside the hive or use frame hangers to hold it outside the hive.
You now have almost 2 full frame widths with which to manipulate the frames and prying them apart and lifting them with enough space between them as not to injure any bees is relatively easy. 
Once all the frames have been inspected the frames can be returned to correct order, pressed together and centered and the beekeeper should still have a hive of relative calm bees provided he didn't drop any frames or stumble and fall on the hive.

I've been using that technique since in was shown to me by my mentor in 1959 with good results.  I seldom rile a hive, except when clumsy, and can even inspect a fairly proddy hive successfully.
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tlynn
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« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2008, 09:52:51 PM »

What time of the day are you working them?  I find that working my bees early afternoon, say 1 or 2 pm, especially when it's sunny, is better than morning or late afternoon, as far as numbers of bees at home.  Also it works really well for me to smoke them first, then give them a few minutes, maybe suit up at that time.  I think Mr. Bush recommends smoking them early, as it gives them a chance to eat a little honey and it seems to make for a calmer hive than smoking them and popping the top immediately.  Also if the hive is really full, when I put back frames I lower them very slowly and the bees on the edge of the hive body generally move out of the way as soon as they feel a little pressure from the top bar coming down.  The bigger challenge for me is not mashing bees when I push 2 frames together.  Slow seems to be key.  It probably takes me a lot longer to do a hive inspection than most, and I tend to kill few bees and maintain calm hives given my low level of experience (first year hobbyist).  I have watched other people who manhandle their bees and get them really angry, needlessly.  After getting stings through my shirt and pants on one occasion when watching one fellow slam around his hives and kill many bees I also realized I have to pick and choose my beekeeper mentors!
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rdy-b
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« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2008, 10:29:12 PM »

Try cracking the boxes before you start to move frames around - (Separate with hive tool )if they are all glued together with burr-comb-if the colony has not been worked for sometime it may be a easier to separate the boxes and inspect them one at a time-that way you are not banging and  clanging them -every vibration transmits through the boxes-go slow and use smoke in the air not just in on the bees -you will come to look forward to these boomer hives they are the best  cool RDY-B
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BjornBee
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« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2008, 10:37:20 PM »

Are you smoking the bees? And are you smoking periodically as you inspect?

In addition to using proper smoke techniques, you might want to have a bottle of sugar syrup on hand to spray them down a bit.
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Koala John
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« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2008, 05:26:39 AM »

Thanks for the replies, there is some extremely good advice there I will take on board, I think that wll help. I suspect I have messed up the frame spacing a bit as you suggest Brian.
I do smoke them before going in, and regularly throughout the inspection. I do tend to go in too soon after the first smoking though so I need to be more patient and wait a few minutes. I only work them in the middle of the day on a sunny day - my technique works fine with a smaller hive. I think I will have to focus on slowing down and not rushing an inspection on a big hive.

I had read that larger hives are generally more aggressive than smaller hives, so I had put down my difficulties to this and the fact that there are such vast numbers of bees that the chances of squishing a fair few seem a lot higher. The consensus here seems to be that a booming hive should be no more aggressive or harder to work than a more mid sized hive - is that correct? Do other beginners have issues with inspecting big hives?

Thanks again for the tips, I'll put them into practice over the next few days.
John.
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Brian D. Bray
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« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2008, 05:32:18 PM »

Quote
The consensus here seems to be that a booming hive should be no more aggressive or harder to work than a more mid sized hive - is that correct? Do other beginners have issues with inspecting big hives?

Every hive should be relatively calm.
Slow and methodical movements, smoke before and during the inspection.  Smoke is a must if going into a second box.  Get in the habit of using a slight twist of the box to break the propolis and burr combs.  All beginners have these same issues unless they have a mentor at their side guiding every move.
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« Reply #7 on: December 27, 2008, 08:01:27 PM »

Koala John - You've received a lot of very good advice here.  A hot hive takes a little bit of the enjoyment out of beekeeping, but you can get around it.  Hive size can play into it, as can a lot of other things...however sometimes there are just colonies that flat out need requeening if you're expecting them to be 'nice'.  Don't be too quick to do this though, as they still may be good producers, and you may be able to adjust your practices to compensate for this.

Some of my colonies take a lot of smoe to calm down, others it's really easy to over-smoke.  I've got a friend whose bees (I've seen it first hand) will only take a little smoke, and then after that, get really cranky (and crawly).  I had one really hot colony that I ended up splitting apart and giving out in frame or two frame proportions to other colonies becuase they were just so darn hot.  They required almost constant smoke while I was working them, followed you for a very very long distance, and were just absolutely miserable to work...and they were only a single deep.  I'm pretty sure this was the hive that almost killed our dog too.  Good riddance (the bees I mean.)  grin

I've run some 3-deeps this year, and I've noticed that most were pretty tame, unless you went down into the bottom box.  The supers weren't a problem, and neither was the top deep.  The second deep did require that you be pretty careful, and not bang anything or drop anything.  The bottom deep...well there was a chore, and I soon went to really trying to not touch it if I could help it...packed with bees, and ultra-lively.


Cool spring day, no one out playing yet.

I've pretty much gone with a rule of thumb in removing the outermost frame to give a full slot to slide frames over.  This sounds beginner-ish, but really seems to be important in the more crowded boxes.  regardless of whether or not any of us are quick to admit it, boomers are more work to 'work', and sometimes these crowded boxes really do put you to the test.watch it this year and see if you want to adjust your techniques, or if you want a gentler bee in that hive.  That's probably the big decision you have to make.

Don't be afraid to throw some pictures up on the site - we'd love to see them.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2008, 11:31:30 AM »

If it's just a lot of bees in the air, you should get used to that.  If it's bees trying to sting you, I'd requeen them.

http://www.bushfarms.com/beesrequeeninghot.htm
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wharfrat
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« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2008, 03:05:19 AM »

As a 1st year keeper, I also appreciate the advice here. My biggest problem seems to be replacing supers that have been removed to inspect lower portions.....After I button everything back up, invariably I have the displeasure of seeing 1/2 bees that I have smushed between the 2 sections......  Sad
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2008, 06:09:33 AM »

Set the boxes down gently, so the faster ones can get out of the way, at an angle, so the mating surface area will be greatly decreased.  Slowly rotate it into being square with the other box allowing the bees to get pushed out of the way or get out of the way.
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Michael Bush
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tlynn
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« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2008, 01:10:32 PM »

The box rotating technique works really well for me.  I found it DOES NOT help to try brushing them off the edges of the boxes.  They just get irritated and more start spilling out from below.  They absolutely hate being brushed!
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2008, 07:22:52 PM »

If you HAVE to brush them do it with a hard flick, never try to be gentle when brushing or it will make them very angry.
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Michael Bush
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Koala John
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« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2008, 12:29:34 PM »

Thanks for the great comments everyone, there are some good tips there.
I went through a moderately strong hive and put some of your comments into practise and things did go more smoothly. I have to go through one of the booming hives in a couple of days, so hopefully things will go more smoothly. To complicate things, this one is sitting on a small platform 15 feet high that I climb up to via a ladder. It certainly concentrates the mind up there wink
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Irwin
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2008, 04:10:11 PM »

Why do you have a hive 15 feet off the ground. Seams like allot of work.
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kathyp
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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2008, 04:41:47 PM »

giving them one last smoke before you put them back together can help with the squishing thing.   

i have one hive that is more aggressive, but i wouldn't say hot.  they are also the first to fly in cooler weather and grow quickly.  they have been requeened since i started that hive, but their behavior is about the same.  they like to bounce off my veil when i check them and will buzz me farther back to the barn.  even so, they do not sting more than any other hive, and as long as they are strong, i won't mess with requeening them just to make them a little calmer.

guess it depends on your "ping" tolerance.  + i always dress to play with the bees because i swell up so much, so i don't care if they are bouncing off my jacket and veil.
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JP
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« Reply #16 on: December 31, 2008, 06:58:22 PM »

Good post. I work mine slowly, slow works for me. I smoke them on one end to the other and let them sit for a little before opening, allowing the smoke to settle in. I love frame hangers and use them. I keep my smoker handy and use it often to keep the bees that get pissy in check. I don't requeen a hive that is strong and a little aggressive unless it is consistently aggressive. Big, strong colonies I expect to be defensive to a degree, just make sure you have the upper hand, smoke gives me the upper hand.

Slow is the way to go.


...JP
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Koala John
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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2009, 12:52:03 AM »

Hi Irwin,
I live near the centre of a large city, and this is the only place I was able to put them - it's inconvenient to say the least, but quite a talking point when people visit our house! See this link for more info and photos:
http://forum.beemaster.com/index.php/topic,15470.msg111778.html#msg111778
Regards,
John.
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Irwin
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« Reply #18 on: January 01, 2009, 09:44:03 AM »

John cool pic's Thank's
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« Reply #19 on: January 01, 2009, 08:58:52 PM »

Irwin, don't you know that koalas are most comfortable high up?  Koala John probably sleeps 15 foot up too and chews gum leaves.

Lone
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Koala John
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« Reply #20 on: January 02, 2009, 07:32:44 PM »

Haha - how did you guess? LOVE those gum leaves! 
grin  grin
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Koala John
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« Reply #21 on: January 05, 2009, 05:38:20 AM »

An update - I went through some strong hives over the weekend and put into practise some of your suggestions. I had significantly better results this time, and found it almost stress free thanks to some of thse tips. The tip about rotating hive bodies saved a lot of bees lives and hence kept the hive calm. I found that in all my hives I had evenly spaced the frames which made lifting frames very hard. So every chance i get I am fixing that and pressing them together to leave space at either end to allow easier frame removal. I think that will make a really big difference.

Lastly, something simple I had missed - when I was scraping burr comb or trying to put a cover back on that had huge amounts of bees clustered in the way, I used to just blunder through, usually upsetting/killing a lot of bees. On the weekend I consciously used a lot of smoke until they all got out of the way. Once again, no squashed bees. In some instances this took a heap of smoke (note that I wasn't blowing it into the hive, just across the top to move the bees out of the way). I found that I need to have the smoker well alight blowing cool smoke, one only blowing a fraction of the usual amount would not do the trick.

So thanks again to all those that gave advise, I feel like I'm on the road to some big improvements now and am not dreading my next foray into a booming hive.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #22 on: January 05, 2009, 05:52:21 AM »

>So every chance i get I am fixing that and pressing them together to leave space at either end to allow easier frame removal. I think that will make a really big difference.

If you start out that way it's best.  Trying to convert is more difficult as they are often too fat to fit well.  Be careful you don't have comb against comb this way.

>Lastly, something simple I had missed - when I was scraping burr comb

There's one of your problems.  Smiley  Try leaving it.

>or trying to put a cover back on that had huge amounts of bees clustered in the way, I used to just blunder through, usually upsetting/killing a lot of bees. On the weekend I consciously used a lot of smoke until they all got out of the way. Once again, no squashed bees. In some instances this took a heap of smoke (note that I wasn't blowing it into the hive, just across the top to move the bees out of the way).

Sometimes a brush is more useful.  But be sure to flick them out of the way and do NOT gently brush them ever.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #23 on: January 05, 2009, 01:22:39 PM »

I appreciate this thread. I also have taken to the combined smoke and sugar syrup spray for controlling the bees while inspecting them. The sugar syrup (1to1) seems to divert their attention (they immediately start grooming one another) and it impedes their flight somewhat. The only drawback to using the sugar spray is that it attracts ants like mad, so after inspection I go out and scrub down the outside of the hives  and the pallets that  the hives are on with a mild soapy water or the ants will come in a hurry to "assist" in the clean up. shocked
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« Reply #24 on: January 11, 2009, 09:13:30 PM »

I didn't see this mentioned above but be sure to work the bottom box first.  That way you are working unalarmed bees as you go.
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« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2009, 12:38:24 PM »

To complicate things, this one is sitting on a small platform 15 feet high that I climb up to via a ladder. It certainly concentrates the mind up there wink

 shocked
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« Reply #26 on: January 13, 2009, 10:25:48 PM »

This is a great post.  But please comment on my technique:

1. All my supers that I don't use for honey that I rob have frame spacers (9).  That is how I started as a beginner & I haven't changed them.  So, I have to lift the frames out vertically and cannot slide them over until I get at least 2 frames out.  I don't seem to kill or upset the bees.

2. I use another deep on an upturned outer cover to put the first 2 or 3 frames in.  It seems to keep them happier for them to be somewhat enclosed instead of out in the open leaning on the super or on a frame hanger.

3. My theory is that blowing smoke into the hive before I enter disrupts their routine for the day and I lose honey.

4. Why work the bottom super first?

5. The way I put the top super on is hold it in place above the bottom one, slide one end into place & then lower & raise the super several times until the bees are out of the way before I let it rest.

6.  I always start at one end.  Fewer bees to possibly kill and the queen will seldom be on the end frames.

7. I use a frame gripper to lift out each frame.  That way I have another hand free for smoke or scraping or whatever & it's easy to turn it around to see each side.   I seldom use smoke for any reason except to move them so I can get the frame gripper on the frame.

Thanks
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« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2009, 11:44:36 PM »

Why work the bottom supers first?

Believe me I have done it the other way, mostly due to exuberance, and it doesn't work.  If you smoke, wait and then lift the top cover, smoke and start pulling frames, as the bees become agitated you smoke them down again.  (I had a very grumpy hive, black feral, and I had to smoke them every 20 seconds or they would start buzzing, head butting me like crazy and stinging my hands etc., you know the mean warning buzz sound).  Anyway, if you keep smoking the mad bees down they start sending alarm pheromone or?  Now you are done with this top box.  The first box usually doesn't go too bad.  So, you set the first box to the side and now there is a million bees in the second box which were drove down from the top box due to all the smokeing on top of the frames(from the top box).   Who knows, maybe you pull the frame the queen is on you can tell because they get even more agitated.  The whole cycle really starts snow balling and not only are you driving pee'd bees down but they really start to well up, poring out, from even deeper and things are not fun at all then.

You then Get the Hell out of there! 

If you start at the bottom you are not working your way down and meeting the bees you are forcing down. 
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