First Top Bar Hive inspection of the year

Most days when I have been working in my small workshop I have stood at my workbench and watched the bees flying from this top bar hive that was recently on the roof of a friends flat in Teddington Middlesex who has moved 280 miles away and asked me to babysit the hive until he can get space for it. I mentioned it in an earlier post “what goes up has to eventually come down”. Handy and a good move by me to have the entrance of the hive directly opposite the door of my workshop, although my work rate has suffered as I have stood and stared far too long at the entrance just fascinated in the bees coming and going.

It was clear from the activity that they have overwintered in good shape and with less than one mile flying distance to Kew Gardens with its abundance of forage and along with all the other early flowering plants that urban bees benefit from they were defiantly making the most of any early pollen on days that they could fly.

TBH 1

As I had not inspected the hive before and had no idea of the configuration, I decided I should inspect sooner rather than later. An early swarm would not go down well and a bit embarrassing also they are just wonderful bees, no problem at all, I have to squeeze past and get quite close and they take no notice of me so a queen to keep.

The hive consisted of 20 top bars and if all occupied then they must have been a good size last year. I know Alex removed a couple of combs of honey last year so perhaps even larger.

How I inspect TBH’s is I started to work through the hive left to right or right to left, first moving the follower board a few inches approx 3x top bars and then as each top bar and comb are removed inspected then placed nice and snug against the follower board with minimal gaps. I repeat this along all the bars so eventually replacing the end follower board up against the last bar. This system only works on hives with a central entrance.

TBH 2

The first bar was empty with no comb but the 2nd and 4th combs had broken off at some point and looking at the amount of brace comb the bees had attached to stabilize the comb perhaps towards the end of last year. The comb’s only had a few bees on them and very few stores, so I removed the combs.

TBH3

The 5th comb had gone way out of shape and bulged out into the next bars and once again few bees, so I took the decision best to get rid of this comb also as it will only cause problems. I am in favor of natural beekeeping and have noticed the benefits but still like my bees to build straight comb.

TBH4

With the 5th comb removed I could look down into the hive and the first bit of brood a good comb almost solid with what looks like solid worker brood. But as comb 5 had been so out of shape so was comb 6 and 7 in fact, both fused together so both had to be removed as one. Not ideal having combs attached in this way as the gaps are perfect for queen cells, but as I am now confident the bees were not that advanced and preparing to swarm I am happy for this brood to continue and let the bees emerge to bolster the hive and on later inspections will remove the two combs.

With the combs removed and a closer look at the brood, I was a bit concerned as in amongst the worker brood defiantly some raised drone brood and not fully capped . This drone brood is random and pointing to the queen, either miss firing and not fully up to speed regarding egg production or she is starting to fail and becoming a drone layer and time will tell either way.

TBH5

Comb 8 was ok, not as straight as I would like but ok for now and again can be removed at a later date. Comb 9 and 10 were also fused together and had to be removed as one comb and once more full of capped brood, in time I will also remove them from the hive or perhaps one comb may be saved.

At this point I was thinking this is not great, but thankfully the remaining 7 combs were almost perfect as far as TBH’s go and passed good by me. It just goes to show that with TBH’s you get one comb out of place and it can start a ripple through the hive that can get messy.

The hive showed a typical brood pattern (apart from the bit of random drone brood) I have seen on my hives during other earlier inspections lots of sealed brood and then only a small amount of eggs and open brood. I am putting this down to a warm first two weeks of March then a bit of a cold snap and then warming up again. The early warm weather  will stimulate the queens and bees to expand then slow or stop as they desperately try to keep the brood warm and then once again resume brood rearing.

TBH6

Overall it was a good first inspection the bees are a joy to work with, I have a plan to remove more combs and need to watch the queen and hope in an ideal world if the queen is failing the bees can supersede her at a time they will have a good chance to do so. I will have to decide what to do with the woodwork, in theory the hive will be moved to Cumbria once Alex has room for them, but for now, although perfectly workable its not to the standard of a 30+ year experienced joiner but the bees are happy and that’s what’s important.

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