Migrating honey bees from commercial frames to 14x12s – part one


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Making a beehive | Posted on 04-05-2012

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The last few weeks have been wet. Very wet. Nearly five weeks of steady rainfall we’ve had now, which must have gone some way towards alleviating East Anglia’s drought, you’d have thought. Leaving aside the issue as to whether it was the right kind of rain, both the bees and I have pretty much just had to get on with life – which, in the bees’ case, they’ve interpreted literally. Five weeks ago I snuck a quick peek between cold snaps and found capped brood. Three weeks ago I nipped in between rain showers and saw eggs, larvae and more sealed brood. I also initiated step one of a convoluted plan to migrate the colony from commercial frames onto 14x12s. Last weekend I progressed to step two.

Eke fitted to commercial brood chamber

The bees are so impressed by my carpentry skills that they crowd around to admire the gaps between eke and brood chamber.

So here’s my plan: my one and only colony spent the winter housed on eleven commercial (10”) frames, inside a commercial brood chamber. The commercial brood chamber doesn’t belong to me, so needs to be returned to its owner. When I decided to build my own hives I elected to go for national 14×12 brood chambers because they’re the most commonly used in these parts (we live next to fields of oil seed rape). National 14×12 frames will only fit into a commercial brood box with an eke fitted. Commercial frames will not fit into a national brood box of any description (standard or 14×12 deep). National frames will of course fit both a commercial and a 14×12 brood box, but they’re too short and will encourage brace comb.

With me so far? Good. Because this is where it gets really complicated…

Apart from commercials, the only frames I have with drawn foundation are five (actually four and a bit) national frames (DN5s). All my 14×12 frames are brand new and therefore only have undrawn foundation. I live in an area where, as mentioned, the local oil seed rape normally produces an early crop of honey – which hardens within the frames if it’s not harvested promptly. And I’ve never had so much as a single jar of honey from my bees since I took up beekeeping, er… two years ago. No pressure there then.

So my challenge is to migrate the bees from commercial frames to 14x12s, via a short stopover on nationals, without weakening the colony so much that they won’t produce an early harvest. A bit like getting a fox, a chicken and a sack of corn across a river in a small boat without any of them getting eaten.

In this regard I’ve had some help from Deryck Johnson, who’s forgotten more about beekeeping than I’ll ever know. Together, we discussed the merits or otherwise of a shook swarm (essentially, tipping the bees from the commercial brood chamber into the 14×12) before rejecting the idea on grounds that, with so much undrawn foundation, the new colony could be weakened too much to produce any honey. Had that not been the case it would also have been an effective method of disease control. Instead, we elected to go for the world’s most complicated 12-step plan, involving spending a month or two carefully moving the commercial frames outwards from the centre and my few national frames, followed by 14x12s, inwards from the edge. And adding a homemade eke, and a super. And perhaps starting another, separate colony around the corner.

I can’t see what could possibly go wrong.



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