Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Comb Surgery and Dissection

There were a few casualties, but overall the surgery went well.  That crazy double-layer comb that had been bothering us suffered an amputation.  We cut it right off.  It went pretty smoothly, too, considering.  
Covered in bees, the comb on frame 3 doesn't look too bad. . .
First we made sure the queen wasn't on the frame in question.  We spotted her easily again, and she was hanging out a few frames over.  Instead of shaking the bees off the frame, we used the bee brush to remove the bees, ensuring that we smoked them well all throughout the process. 
As the bees clear, the double-layer comb in the center pops out at us.  Other than that, a nice circular area of brood, surrounded by nectar and pollen, with capped honey in the corners looks good.
We then removed the frame a short distance, hoping to not draw the bees back to the frame of brood and stores.  Then I just hacked away, trying to keep a constant thickness to the first layer of comb on the frame.  I ended up cutting up some larva, and we lost the brood layed in the comb we cut off.  As Dick said, what's 70-80 bees among 10,000? 
Carefully wielding the scalpel, uh, I mean the saw blade.

Trimming off one last little section
There were 2 sections of comb cut off, and some smaller pieces along the top.  Hopefully the bees will repair the comb, level out the comb on the opposing frame, and provide open cells for the queen to lay in.  If this goes well, this frame will be corrected, but we've discovered a second frame with the double-layer comb beginning.

I'm tempted to remove the plasticell foundation, cut it into a smaller strip to use as a guide attached at the top, and let the bees build their own foundation (foundationless frames). 
Example of a foundationless frame
Some beekeepers think this works better, others say once they've made the decision to build on the plasticell just let them continue.  But it looks like the comb building on the foundation is sloooooowwww, and they just whip out those double-layer combs in no time.  There's no right answer here, which makes it really hard.  What if I make the wrong decision for THIS hive? 
Frame with double-layer comb before surgery . . .

Frame after surgery.  You can see 2 nice areas of brood, surrounded by bee bread, with capped honey (the white capped comb) in the corners.  Area in center was where "amputation" occurred.

After an afternoon of beekeeping, Sarah and Jason decided to play entomologists, which turned out pretty cool.  They "dissected" some of the larvae and brood in the removed comb, and got some great pictures.  You can easily see the progression from an egg, to larva, to pupae, to adult bee. 
From left to right, egg, larva, pupae in 3 levels of growth

There were 3 bees that we got to see hatch.  We put them back in the hive.
Piece of excised comb, showing pupae in cell.  You can also see the "bridges" used to create the double-layer of comb.
While the removed brood didn't make it, we are saving the beeswax, because a good beekeeper never knows when it might come in handy.

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