Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Urban Hive Moving: Hatch Edition

As mentioned in the last article on urban hive moving, some of us in the city are forced to keep bees in locations that would cause our forebears to do a spit-take.

You have your bees WHERE!?

Our urban community is uniquely creative when it comes to hive placement, and places the importance of keeping bees far above the relative convenience of doing so. I've seen urban apiaries that can only be accessed by climbing a 20 foot ladder leading up to unwalled, open air attic with roof access through a double paned window barely large enough to fit a hive through, let alone a person.

Getting bees in to these locations is hard enough, often requiring the hive to be brought through the access point piece by piece, but what about getting them back out? Once the bees have made themselves at home, you can't really remove the hive piecemeal... or can you?

In fact, this is exactly what is done to move hives out of a limited-access location. Split the hive(s) up into manageable pieces, and they are much easier to move. Obviously, this has its downsides and limitations. In order to divide a colony into manageable bits, it has to be warm enough outside to open and manipulate the bees without chilling the brood or breaking up a winter cluster. On top of that, splitting a hive means you'll have to have enough small (4-5 frame) nuc boxes to split the hives into. Cardboard and plastic nuc boxes are both commonly available and cheap.

Itty-bitty hive, itty-bitty hatch, still a pain.

For the most part, moving a hive through a hatch follows most of the procedures outlined previously, but with a few modifications.

The first change is to compress the colony as much as possible the day before the move. The smaller the number of frames occupied by the bees, the smaller the number of nuc boxes needed to move them. The easiest way to do this is to evacuate and remove any and all honey supers, reducing the hive down to the broodnest. Attempting to compress the hive any further or for any length of time risks triggering swarm preparations, particularly in spring or summer.

Once the hive has been compressed down to the broodnest, it can be split into nucs. This should be done in the evening, after most of the foragers have returned home, and with heavy smoke to limit the number of flying bees. Ideally, the arrangement and orientation of the brood frames should be maintained as much as possible. The entrances of the nucs should be sealed and ventilation provided so that the bees can get plenty of air. Most of the cheap cardboard/plastic nucs are perfect for this purpose, as they have pluggable entrances and plenty of ventilation.  Make sure to carefully secure the lid and entrances of the nucs to prevent any escapes.

After the hive has been divided into small, discrete pieces, it can be easily carried down a hatch, while making sure to keep them level. When moved to the new location, the nucs can be recombined and treated as any other newly moved hive.

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