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Author Topic: Giving beekeeping another try - naturally!  (Read 4466 times)
Ernest T. Bass
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« on: April 11, 2009, 05:32:23 PM »

Hi all!

I won't bore you with a long history lesson about myself, but in order that you know where I'm coming from... We (my dad and I), tried beekeeping several years ago armed with a whole bunch of old hives from a retiring beekeeper and a copy of "Beekeeping for Dummies". We tried six hives, and all went well for a month or two until certain events forced us to neglect the hives and the season ended with all kinds of swarms...

We're giving it another go this year, and I've spent countless ours reading through this forum, various blogs and especially Micheal Bush's website. I've bugged him a ton and he has given me lots of insight, but I think this is a better place to present my questions from now on so I don't have to be constantly bombarding him personally.  Wink

First of all, we live in the deep north.. (U.P. of Michigan.) Our local friends have had trouble overwintering bees in the past, but I'm not convinced they were necessarily doing things right for our location...

This time, we are only going to try two hives. If we can keep them healthy, we'll make splits and hopefully end up with enough colonies to provide for our honey needs. We need to get our equipment and hives in order very soon, and I'm learning all I can about SBB's, slatted racks, etc. If we lived in a mild climate I wouldn't be so concerned about getting everything right the first season, but without every extra bit of help I'm afraid the bees won't make it...

Okay, so lets start from the bottom.. Smiley We put our original hives on 18'' 2x4 legs and set the legs in cans of old motor oil to deter ants. I'm thinking now that we would be better off with simple cement block and 4x4 racks as I have seen here, to make it easier to add new hives and scoot them together for extra warmth in the winter. Having lower hives would also make inspections easier.. The only disadvantage might be snow blocking the entrance, which brings us to my next quandary.. After my email chat with Michael Bush and reading through his site, I'm very convinced that top entrances are the way to go. Some people here have mentioned trouble with "bee tornadoes", though? Mike says that the returning foragers just enter the hive as usual during an inspection, so I'm not too sure what to think. I'm also not too clear on how to feed with an inverted jar on a top entrance hive. Does the jar just sit on top of the hive out in the open? I would think the syrup might ferment being exposed to the sun and all..

All of our existing comb is large cell, but we want to switch to natural size. Should I use a couple frames of our current comb along with the empty frames (with starter strips) just to guide the bees at first, and then cull the large cell comb out as fast as possible?

Another quandary of mine right now is the SBB. Almost everyone swears by them, but are they so good for our very cold climate? Would it be better to have a SBB with a removable shelf so that it can be closed up during the winter? Does anyone know of plans for converting our solid bottom boards to sliding tray SBB?

Then, the slatted rack.. One member here talked about his rack made with 1'' dowels. We have a wood lathe, so I could build one like this very cheaply.. The ones you buy have a wide batten at one end to block robbers, so I imagine the slats could extend all the way across if you were using a top entrance?

Okay, that's all I can think of for now.. I'm sure there's still some loose thoughts floating around that I'm not recalling right now, but this post is long enough as it is. Smiley

Many thanks in advance, and also to Mike who has already been a tremendous help!

Andrew
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« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2009, 05:48:10 PM »

Welcome Andrew. I just got my first hives yesterday so I won't offer advice, just the welcome.
There are alot of members here with years of experience, this board can offer you hundreds, maybe thousands of years of combined experience.
I am sure all of your questions will be answered and you will be provided with lots of support.
Good luck to you and your dad. Smiley
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2009, 06:01:35 PM »

>Some people here have mentioned trouble with "bee tornadoes", though?

In relationship to top entrances?  Anytime you work a hive the returning bees are confused.  That tall white structure they used to return to gets short and has this other tall white thing (a beekeeper) next to it.  Confusion is just the nature of working a hive.

>Mike says that the returning foragers just enter the hive as usual during an inspection, so I'm not too sure what to think.

It's easy enough to change later if you decide something else will work better.

> I'm also not too clear on how to feed with an inverted jar on a top entrance hive.

How do you do it on a bottom entrance hive?  Nothing really changes.  Either way putting a in an empty super leaves a lot of empty space.  If you have drawn comb for them to store the syrup in, this works.  If you don't they they try to draw comb in the empty space.  If you make a hole in the lid you can feed there.

> Does the jar just sit on top of the hive out in the open?

It can.

> I would think the syrup might ferment being exposed to the sun and all..

It will ferment eventually no matter what you do.  But warm syrup will be taken far more quickly by the bees than cold syrup.

>All of our existing comb is large cell, but we want to switch to natural size. Should I use a couple frames of our current comb along with the empty frames (with starter strips) just to guide the bees at first, and then cull the large cell comb out as fast as possible?

If you want small cell then do not put any large cell into a hive that doesn't even have bees in it.  You're just creating more problems.  Leave the large cell out.  If you have an established colony on large cell, I would wait for the first blooms and pull everything that doesn't have brood in it that is large cell out.

>Another quandary of mine right now is the SBB. Almost everyone swears by them, but are they so good for our very cold climate?

If you put a tray in they work fine in any climate.  During the summer you can pull the tray out and get more ventilation.  But they are not going to change the world.  They won't fix your Varroa problems.  You can keep bees fine on a solid bottom board.

> Would it be better to have a SBB with a removable shelf so that it can be closed up during the winter?

All of the ones I've bought come that way.  If they don't, cut some old political signs to fit or buy them already cut from Brushy Mt.

> Does anyone know of plans for converting our solid bottom boards to sliding tray SBB?

Brushy Mt sells the trays.  Staple or nail some twine in a "Z" or "X" on the bottom to hold the tray.

>Then, the slatted rack.. One member here talked about his rack made with 1'' dowels. We have a wood lathe, so I could build one like this very cheaply.. The ones you buy have a wide batten at one end to block robbers, so I imagine the slats could extend all the way across if you were using a top entrance?

Sure, they could.  Then you could just staple some #8 Hardware cloth on the bottom and not buy a bottom board.
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Michael Bush
My website:  bushfarms.com/bees.htm
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Ernest T. Bass
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« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2009, 06:30:04 PM »

You're there to help me no matter where I go. Wink

> I'm also not too clear on how to feed with an inverted jar on a top entrance hive.

How do you do it on a bottom entrance hive? 

I thought that it goes over the inner cover hole? That would keep them out of the empty space, but I imagine it might also cut off the ventilation?

> Does the jar just sit on top of the hive out in the open?

It can.

That would be handy for keeping an eye on the feed level...

>All of our existing comb is large cell, but we want to switch to natural size. Should I use a couple frames of our current comb along with the empty frames (with starter strips) just to guide the bees at first, and then cull the large cell comb out as fast as possible?

If you want small cell then do not put any large cell into a hive that doesn't even have bees in it.  You're just creating more problems.  Leave the large cell out. 

I reread your page about that.. I was mistakenly under the impression that you needed a drawn frame or two to encourage proper orientation of the new comb, but you said that a drawn frame isn't necessary with a package. Why is that?

>Another quandary of mine right now is the SBB. Almost everyone swears by them, but are they so good for our very cold climate?

If you put a tray in they work fine in any climate.  During the summer you can pull the tray out and get more ventilation.  But they are not going to change the world.  They won't fix your Varroa problems.  You can keep bees fine on a solid bottom board.

> Would it be better to have a SBB with a removable shelf so that it can be closed up during the winter?

All of the ones I've bought come that way.  If they don't, cut some old political signs to fit or buy them already cut from Brushy Mt.

> Does anyone know of plans for converting our solid bottom boards to sliding tray SBB?

Brushy Mt sells the trays.  Staple or nail some twine in a "Z" or "X" on the bottom to hold the tray.

I already have a bunch of solid bottom boards, so keeping those would be the easiest.. How do you get proper ventilation through the bottom if you use a top entrance and no SBB, though? I was thinking that perhaps I could make a screen frame (like an impassable queen excluder), and put that on top of the solid bottom board. Then I could slide a tray under the screen. Sound possible?

>Then, the slatted rack.. One member here talked about his rack made with 1'' dowels. We have a wood lathe, so I could build one like this very cheaply.. The ones you buy have a wide batten at one end to block robbers, so I imagine the slats could extend all the way across if you were using a top entrance?

Sure, they could.  Then you could just staple some #8 Hardware cloth on the bottom and not buy a bottom board.

I assume this setup should also include a removable tray underneath for our winter?

Once again, thanks so much!
Andrew
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« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2009, 11:41:20 PM »

>I thought that it goes over the inner cover hole?

That is one method of many, and a good one.  But if you have no inner cover (and I don't) you'll have to do something different.  If you make your own inner cover or cover and put a hole the size of a mason jar lid you can feed through that and leave the lid on even when the feeder isn't on so the rain doesn't go through.  They will plug the holes in the lid so you might want to have regular lids as well as lids with holes just so you don't have to clean out the holes when you want to feed again.

> That would keep them out of the empty space, but I imagine it might also cut off the ventilation?

Some.  Ventilation is a bigger issue in the dead of winter and the heat of summer and neither of those times will they take syrup really.

>That would be handy for keeping an eye on the feed level...

It is.

>I reread your page about that.. I was mistakenly under the impression that you needed a drawn frame or two to encourage proper orientation of the new comb, but you said that a drawn frame isn't necessary with a package. Why is that?

A drawn frame isn't necessary with anything, but when you put a package in they are in one box hanging down from the top bars.  When you add a super they are in the box below and the top bars they need to hang from are above them a ways.  Adding a drawn comb to that box (which you can steal from the box below) gives them a ladder up to those frames.

>I already have a bunch of solid bottom boards, so keeping those would be the easiest..

If you already have them, I would use them.

> How do you get proper ventilation through the bottom if you use a top entrance and no SBB, though?

I convert mine to a bottom feeder with a screen:

http://www.bushfarms.com/beesfeeding.htm#bottom

They do tend to plug up the area with dead bees when the house bees are too dumb to find their way to the top and stick them up against the screen, but other than having to clean them out a couple of times a year, they work fine.

> I was thinking that perhaps I could make a screen frame (like an impassable queen excluder), and put that on top of the solid bottom board. Then I could slide a tray under the screen. Sound possible?

I'm not sure I follow what you're trying to accomplish.  You mean screen that bees can't get trhough over the solid board?  You need a beespace above it.  Many of the suppliers sell such things but they don't provide any ventilation really.  Or not much anyway.

>I assume this setup should also include a removable tray underneath for our winter?

Probably.  But the slatted rack will cut down a lot on draft and if the bottom is close to the ground you might get by without the tray.

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Michael Bush
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« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2009, 12:04:29 AM »

> How do you get proper ventilation through the bottom if you use a top entrance and no SBB, though?

I convert mine to a bottom feeder with a screen:


They do tend to plug up the area with dead bees when the house bees are too dumb to find their way to the top and stick them up against the screen, but other than having to clean them out a couple of times a year, they work fine.

Would you say that a slatted rack is more important with a bottom feeder, since the bees can't gather on the floor? Also, what happens to mites that fall in the syrup?

> I was thinking that perhaps I could make a screen frame (like an impassable queen excluder), and put that on top of the solid bottom board. Then I could slide a tray under the screen. Sound possible?

I'm not sure I follow what you're trying to accomplish.  You mean screen that bees can't get trhough over the solid board?  You need a beespace above it.  Many of the suppliers sell such things but they don't provide any ventilation really.  Or not much anyway.

Can't you still leave the bottom entrance open for ventilation? I imagine it would ventilate at least as well as a bottom feeder...

Also, another question came to mind.. Smiley When keeping a hive of all same-sized medium boxes, do you still install a new package into just one smaller box and just add more boxes a little sooner than normal?

Thank you so much!
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« Reply #6 on: April 12, 2009, 09:22:29 PM »

>Would you say that a slatted rack is more important with a bottom feeder, since the bees can't gather on the floor?

I don't think it will matter.

> Also, what happens to mites that fall in the syrup?

I assume the drown, but since I seldom have feed in it, I think it's irrelevant.  Also, since I have so few mites with small cell and natural cell I also think it's still irrelevant.

>Can't you still leave the bottom entrance open for ventilation? I imagine it would ventilate at least as well as a bottom feeder...

If you don't care about skunks and mice and the grass that blocks the entrance etc., sure.


>Also, another question came to mind.. When keeping a hive of all same-sized medium boxes, do you still install a new package into just one smaller box and just add more boxes a little sooner than normal?

Yes.  I often put a three pound package into a five frame medium nuc with foundationless frames.  It takes an eight frame box with drawn comb to do it easily with drawn comb.  They build up quickly in a small space.
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Michael Bush
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Ernest T. Bass
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« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2009, 11:16:58 PM »

>Can't you still leave the bottom entrance open for ventilation? I imagine it would ventilate at least as well as a bottom feeder...

If you don't care about skunks and mice and the grass that blocks the entrance etc., sure.

I'm just talking about leaving the entrance area open, but not as an entrance. Perhaps the plastic tray that slides in could have a piece of wood like a typical entrance reducer attached to the outside edge with holes and some screening over them. Not sure if I described that well...

EDIT: Here's an idea that's easier to visualize.. What if I made a slatted rack, stapled #8 screen to the bottom and just set it on a regular solid BB? The BB's entrance gap would allow for ventilation, and it could be reduced during the winter.. I'm thinking that an inverted jar feeder is a better solution than a BB feeder for now anyway...

>Also, another question came to mind.. When keeping a hive of all same-sized medium boxes, do you still install a new package into just one smaller box and just add more boxes a little sooner than normal?

Yes.  I often put a three pound package into a five frame medium nuc with foundationless frames.  It takes an eight frame box with drawn comb to do it easily with drawn comb.  They build up quickly in a small space.

I think I should make some nucs, perhaps from some misc. extra medium boxes we have.. You would just transfer the combed frames to a larger box once they were established? Would it be horrible if we had to install our packages (3 pounders) into 10 frame mediums with empty frames?

I'm happy to have these questions being whittled away one by one.. Takes a load off the mind. Wink
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« Reply #8 on: April 13, 2009, 09:05:07 PM »

>I'm just talking about leaving the entrance area open, but not as an entrance. Perhaps the plastic tray that slides in could have a piece of wood like a typical entrance reducer attached to the outside edge with holes and some screening over them. Not sure if I described that well...

Half of mine are on Screened Bottom Boards with a tray that tends to leave gaps which I pull out in the heat of the summer.  Lots of things work fine, but yes, you need some kind of air coming in the bottom for the hot weather.

> Here's an idea that's easier to visualize.. What if I made a slatted rack, stapled #8 screen to the bottom and just set it on a regular solid BB?

Or just set it on the stand and put a tray in when you don't want so much draft and leave it out when summer sets in.

> The BB's entrance gap would allow for ventilation, and it could be reduced during the winter.. I'm thinking that an inverted jar feeder is a better solution than a BB feeder for now anyway...

No need for the bottom board at all if you have a screened slatted rack.  Just make a tray out of plastic cardboard.

>I think I should make some nucs, perhaps from some misc. extra medium boxes we have.. You would just transfer the combed frames to a larger box once they were established?

Yes.

> Would it be horrible if we had to install our packages (3 pounders) into 10 frame mediums with empty frames?

No, it would work fine.
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Michael Bush
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Ernest T. Bass
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« Reply #9 on: April 13, 2009, 10:40:24 PM »

We do have some frame feeders that we won't be using; might it be a good idea to use them as dividers in the hives and start the packages on fewer frames?

I went ahead and built some slatted racks following the plans on beesource. If I tacked screen directly to the bottom of those I would have no way to slide a tray in, but maybe I could add some wood rails or something under them to accept a tray..

With no solid bottom boards in use, I'll have a bunch just sitting around... I think perhaps I should put them on top of my hives rather than modify my telescoping covers. I'm just a little apprehensive about drilling feeder jar holes in them.. If I were to do this, should I put the boards on upside down (so there is a 3/4'' opening, as there typically is in a bottom entrance), or right side up, resulting in about a 3/8'' gap. (Not all of my boards are reversible, hence the smaller gap on one side..) I'm not sure if leaving almost an inch gap over the frames is a good thing. 
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« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2009, 08:00:14 PM »

>We do have some frame feeders that we won't be using; might it be a good idea to use them as dividers in the hives and start the packages on fewer frames?

If they lived up to their name it would be perfect. Smiley  But they aren't really "division board feeders" as they are often called.  Still, you could add a little screen wire or something to make it more bee tight.

>I went ahead and built some slatted racks following the plans on beesource. If I tacked screen directly to the bottom of those I would have no way to slide a tray in, but maybe I could add some wood rails or something under them to accept a tray..

Any small scrap that lifts it 1/4" off the base would do.


>With no solid bottom boards in use, I'll have a bunch just sitting around... I think perhaps I should put them on top of my hives rather than modify my telescoping covers. I'm just a little apprehensive about drilling feeder jar holes in them..

You could just make a hole big enough for a plastic pop bottle and drill a few holes in the pop bottle lid...

> If I were to do this, should I put the boards on upside down (so there is a 3/4'' opening, as there typically is in a bottom entrance), or right side up, resulting in about a 3/8'' gap.

3/8" and that will still be too big. But I do it all the time.

> (Not all of my boards are reversible, hence the smaller gap on one side..) I'm not sure if leaving almost an inch gap over the frames is a good thing.

It's not.
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Michael Bush
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Ernest T. Bass
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« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2009, 09:27:26 PM »

>We do have some frame feeders that we won't be using; might it be a good idea to use them as dividers in the hives and start the packages on fewer frames?

If they lived up to their name it would be perfect. Smiley  But they aren't really "division board feeders" as they are often called.  Still, you could add a little screen wire or something to make it more bee tight.

It would probably be easier just to cut a divider out of ply. Though, I doubt we'll go through the trouble if we don't have to. Maybe in the future, to essentially make nucs for splits or something.

>With no solid bottom boards in use, I'll have a bunch just sitting around... I think perhaps I should put them on top of my hives rather than modify my telescoping covers. I'm just a little apprehensive about drilling feeder jar holes in them..

You could just make a hole big enough for a plastic pop bottle and drill a few holes in the pop bottle lid...

From the sounds of it, I'd rather not use a plastic feeder bottle... I was working on the hives today, and I don't think I'll sweat the hole cutting.. I've got some bottom boards that don't fit real great and are rather old, so no big loss. I've also got a lot of empty deeps, so I think I'll just put one down over the feeder and cap the hive with a regular lid.. You won't be able to see the syrup level at a glance, but this way there would be no rain leaks around the feeder, and in the winter I could fill the deep with insulation.

Thanks so much for everything! We got a few hives cleaned up today.. Since it was easy to do both, I did one hive with 1/8''x1'' starter strips, and one with nailed-on 45 degree bevels so we can observe how they take to 'em.
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« Reply #12 on: April 15, 2009, 09:39:15 AM »

 I use mostly just a bottom entrance, tho will open the small top entrance for the summer. I have found, here in New England, that leaving it open in the winter tends to get a "chimney" effect going and can suck the warmth from the hive. I just keep making sure the snow does not get the entrance covered. I do keep my hives some 2 feet off the ground and concrete blocks. I winter in 2 full hive bodies and rotate 1-2 med supers thru the summer. I found wrapping a hive does tend to keep more hives alive, BUT the wrapped hives are very slow to build up come spring, even when they have a larger cluster then the un-wrapped ones. So now I let Darwin do his thing, and split the wintered hardy hives. Many I let raise their own queens and some 95% of the time they are good. I have 2 Russian, 2 Italian, 2 German Black and 37 Buckfast hives, tho about 1/2 the buckfast are 2nd or 3rd generation hybrids mongol mixes.
 Richard of Black Cat Honey in NH
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« Reply #13 on: April 15, 2009, 10:02:34 AM »

Thanks for sharing you experience... Can't you unwrap the hives towards the end of winter, after the nastiest weather has past?
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« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2009, 01:21:42 AM »

Since I'm the nut who first suggested the doweled slatted racks let me throw a thought or two around.

I use my slatted racks sans robber deterent or SBB, I use them as my bottoms period.  I do what is called bottomless bee hives.  No Screens.  I build my stands to accommidate mite boards that can be slid in under the slatted rack to control the entrance size, check or mites, protect against robbers or extreme cold weather--the temps have gotten down to single digits and I haven't use the boards to protect against extreme weather yet. 

Slatted racks provide a thermal layer of air below the frames that protects the bees quite well from cold.

I have not found the bottomless hives to be anymore of an invite to robber bees than I have with any other type of bottom I've used over the last 50 years.

It is, however, important to use the mite boards when installing packages.


True Black German Bees do not exist in the continental USA today.  Do to losses attributed to Tracheal and Varroa mites on all bees and a century or more of interbreeding with Italians the prospect of Black Germans is highly unlikely.  I personally think that what many people are calling German bees are a mongrol mix of Caucasian stocks, especially if the bees are described as tame or calm.  Black Germans were testy bees, my greatgrandfather brought some out to Washington when he moved here from Pennsylvania.  My father discribed his grandfather's black bees as most people discribe AHB today.
Most Likely, Bees with some genetic markers of Black Germans may still be found in Pennsylvania or West Virginia as those where the areas of greatest concentration of German bees.  Black Germans were totally black in color and did not have any bands or stripes.  If bees preported to be Black German have any abdominal banding or striping they are cross bred at best.
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« Reply #15 on: April 16, 2009, 11:45:45 PM »

Thanks for the info.. I'm still intrigued by your dowel rack, but I went ahead and built a couple traditional ones just because I was able to whip 'em out of some scrap on the table saw in an hour or two.. I still need to find some corrugated plastic for my bottom.. I plan on leaving it off for most of the summer, but -40 degree F temps are not uncommon during the dead of winter, so as important as ventilation is I'd like to keep it as minimal as possible..

The bees ought to bee here by Saturday evening! It's a long drive from CA.. I hope they fare well.
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Location: Michigan


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« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2009, 09:54:19 PM »

Soo... Don't know if you've read about my dilemma in this thread, but I'm trying to decide between installing our bees in snow or in three days... In this cooler temperature, the bees will certainly need to cluster up by the feeder. Are they going to be able to manage this okay without any comb in the hive? The queen has been with them long enough that I'll probably do a direct release.
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