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November: New-Old technology

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The mixed weather continued this weekend for our visit to Aongatete. A blustery wind tempered what sun there was, and we just got a look in the hives before the heavens opened. Two hives had been set up to be 'flow' hives, and another had been fitted out with a super full of Ross Rounds.


There has been quite a bit of discussion of Flow hives and frames on the Forum already, and there isn't much to add to that. They still generate a bit of interest, often sceptical, and equally, incredulity at the cost. Some group members come across these from time to time but as yet none in ...(ahem)... full 'flow'. These were no different, all as yet unused. The crowd was three deep, so I didn't have a close look at the hives, but my guess would be that it was a bit early to have these on; I wouldn't add them unless you had a strong hive starting to store.


The hive used to try out the Ross Rounds had been a swarm from one of the other hives. It had been recaptured and in place for about a month, a single deep box with an excluder and the super. A handful of bees were up in the super but didn't seem to be achieving anything; none of the foundation discs had been started. A swarm would certainly be a good candidate for the job.


I have never used this product, although I know a little bit about the 'father', the 'sections' popular in the late 1800s to about 1930, largely before extractors became commonplace. The main difference is that the new ones are round, the old ones were square. In effect, rather than cutting up and packaging a large frame, the idea was to get the bees to produce comb honey actually in the retail pack. The beekeeper was trying to get 24 or 36 or 48 servings of comb honey that all looked and weighed the same without the laborious and wasteful process of cutting and packing it.


As you will know looking at your own frames bees often don't draw and fill right into the corners and edges of the frame, and that's a problem when a series of small boxes multiplies the number of edges by a lot. By having no corners the idea was that the individual unit would be filled more evenly, and that seems to be true. The other fundamental problems with this kind of set-up remain. To draw wax bees have to from a dense curtain to keep the temperature up and this is more difficult to do in lots of separate little boxes. Old section crates were built to go in double-walled hives and they were packed with insulation to keep the chamber warm. They also have a tendency, having started off a comb section, to continue to draw it and fill it, rather than move to another. To stop one compartment being too full, and the opposite one being half empty, a set of metal (or nowadays plastic) plates had to be used to constrain the length of the drawn cells. Nor can you have the 'section rack' as it was known, on for too long. After a while the bees' dirty feet would cause an unsightly 'travel stain' to discolour the pure white cap, lowering the price.


Honey sections are a real art, a real test of a beekeeper's skill, and deserve their place in the more traditional Honey Shows. There are many more nuances to using sections than I can write about here. One dodge for getting the best 'show' quality' sections was to extract the honey from ordinary frames and then feed it back to the hive once the section rack had gone on and all other supers had been removed. Another was to get the combs drawn on a previous flow, so it just had to filled and capped.


Because bees don't like working in that kind of space to get this to work you have to give them no other choice. You want bees boiling out of the box and hanging out of the front; stringy bees with a real drive to construct comb and gather nectar so they will quickly occupy and fill every and any available space with comb. This hive hadn't reached that stage, and few bees ventured up above the excluder. Going through the frames revealed a laying queen but little nectar, and sparse pollen deposits. That hasn't been too unusual around here, many hives needing feed, and I hear plenty of pollination units are failing to make the grade.


If this hive was going to do anything with the super it would need stimulating with syrup, and as it was available, a slice of pollen patty with Agrisea. The bees certainly moved on to that very quickly! I suggested the super stayed off in the meantime, it could go back on once the hive was moving again. I would add the super without the excluder in the first instance, but slip the excluder in once the bees were working on the foundation.


At that point the rain arrived. A good time to retire for some refreshment. As these bees were in an orchard full of pollination hives feeding syrup should be postponed until the evening to avoid sharing it with all the visitors, so the rain was actually a good thing. With the right care we can hope to see some good 'rounds later in the year.

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