This was my plan, but the bees have other ideas.
As I only wanted the one TBH and currently have two or do I count the small split from my large TBH and currently very happy living in one end of the hive although fast becoming overcrowded and needs sorting out. Either way I sort of have two and a half TBH’s and this can become four, six and so on so I decided the one next to my small workshop in Brentford has to somehow be transferred into a national hive without any major upheaval or damage to the bees. This TBH is the one I was looking after for a friend who moved away with the intention of moving it when he found room for it, but later decided to let me have it as it was proving difficult to find room and work commitments made it difficult.
So how do you cram 20+ bars and combs of bees into a national hive that at best will hold ten without damage to the bees and sacrificing combs?
First a stroke of luck I spotted someone on Facebook, Steve, who mention his rather expensive package of bees had failed within four weeks of introduction into his TBH and the supplier was putting this down to local poisoning and although was sympathetic only offered a discount on the next package. As Steve was only a few miles away from me, well a few miles as the crow flies he was actually in Kent and the other side of London and would have been easier to travel a couple of hundred miles anywhere in the country than battle your way across London. I contacted Steve through Facebook and offered him approx 9 combs and bees without the queen to get him going once more providing he was prepared to collect and was more than happy to do this and soon knocked up a good sized nuc for the job.
So Steve arrived one evening and we went through the hive looking for the queen, thankfully found her on the last comb, she is a lovely queen and the bees she produces are equally wonderful and makes all the problems that sometimes happen in beekeeping worth the effort as you always want queens like this to iron out other problems. This queen in this hive is actually the mother of my current queen in my TBH as I introduced a comb of eggs when my TBH wanted to swarm and I removed all the queen cells so the bees would draw cells from the donated comb. This queen’s sister was given to a novice beekeeper the previous year to get them started in beekeeping and TBH’s and I actually gave this queen to the original owner of this TBH after his colony died out over winter. It reminds me I should do a queen family tree as I have a bit of history with this family of queens.
I split the hive so we both had good stores, pollen, open and sealed brood. I obviously retained the queen, but Steve got nine combs enough bees and material for them to raise a queen and from the updates so far they have done just that and it sounds as though the good traits of the old queen are continuing. I was left with thirteen combs and two were almost all honey/nectar and destined for some crush and strain, so I could either make some jam or mead and the rest a nice mix of brood, pollen, open comb for the queen and stores.
So with the colony reduced in size and a good deed on the way I could continue to the next phase of slowly transferring the bees from TBH to framed national hive. I started this by first converting a 14×12 brood box. First, I fixed a solid floor to the brood box, could have used a mesh floor, but had no spares at the time and solid is just fine. I then cut two pieces of ply so that when fitted inside the brood box they formed the sloping sides of a TBH and this would stop the bees building out the comb to the size of a 14×12. I used a 14×12 as the extra depth of the brood box will accommodate the deep combs of the TBH. I then removed the frame runners and fitted four pieces of timber around the edge of the brood box so the top of the top bars will be flush with the top of the box.
I then moved nine combs from the TBH into the brood box, but kept a gap of approx 8mm between the top bars I did this as I wanted the bees and more importantly the queen to move up into the standard brood box I placed over the top of the 14×12 brood box. I removed the two combs for crush and strain and two combs were removed to be donated to my other TBH.
The standard brood box was filled with three drawn empty frames and the rest of the space filled with foundationless frames and starter strips. The idea was the queen will be drawn to the nice empty frames and when I spot her in the top brood box I could place a queen excluder between the two and in just over three weeks the brood in the lower brood box would have emerged and I could remove it and then decide what to do with the combs. But the bees had other ideas. The queen had ventured up into the top brood box and laid up approx two half frames before returning down stairs, meanwhile the bees had drawn out the majority of the frames in the upper brood box and filled them with honey. This was a time of big nectar flows and it showed in this case just amazing what bees can do when the conditions are right. I decided to give the bees a recently extracted super to see what they would do with and it and perhaps free up some space in the top brood box and to date they have almost filled it, but I am also glad to say there is now three frames of brood in the top brood box. I have decided apart from removing the super and extracting the lovely Brentford honey to leave them alone now until next year as they are more than happy with the set up and come the spring the queen should be in the top brood box.
This exercise has got me thinking that in my three years with my TBH the bees somehow regulate the amount of honey in the hive and it seems that there is no way they would store or collect the amount they do if its a vertical hive. This hive for instance a nice not to small TBH on 22 bars the equivalent of a reasonable double brood national hive, with a perfect mix of brood, pollen, and stores. Reduce the colony by half and turn it into a vertical hive and in a few weeks approx 30 kg of honey. The time of the year and strong nectar flows play a part, but my other TBH and the one I have had now for three years is a stronger hive than this and in a good location has a fraction of the honey in it right now. A vertical cavity is more natural space for bees, but do they think differently in a horizontal cavity??