Old Comb? Rotate Deeps?
Jim sent us a question. Well, several questions. "Should I put in new frames, switch the deeps or both.... Or neither?"
Here's his email.
I made it through winter, single nuc I bought from you guys. Did first inspection this evening.
I wintered with just two deeps and a sugar board. The top deep looks great, lots of capped cells, larva and eggs. Heavy bee population, queen was busy doing her thing. The bottom deep is another story. Pretty much empty. Built out, but nothing in there. Dark brown to black color. Should I put in new frames, switch the deeps or both.... Or neither? I put a super full of frames back on and will start feeding sugar water. They ate all the sugar board and additional sugar with pollen patty, as well as, all the honey they made last summer. I had planned to do a split a little later…
Before I give my response there's an old joke about beekeeper's and opinions. Everyone has one, some two or three. Beekeeping is not like other animal husbandry. If you raise chickens, cows or pigs you have a well-established protocol to follow. All the animals will generally respond the same to how you care for them.
Not so bees. This is why two hives are recommended for the beginning beekeeper. Two hives can develop very differently.
Back to Jim. Here's what I said with some expansion.
How many frames of brood up top? She may not need to move down quite yet. A hive may over-winter with a lot of bees but this early in the year, especially with the weather, there may not be many frames of brood. Does she still have a place to lay in the top deep?
If she’s not laid anything in the bottom you could rotate. If she has, don't you never want to break up the brood nest. The brood nest is like an ever expanding ball in the hive and you don't want to split it into half moons by rotating the deeps.
However, it may just be too cold right now for her to want to lay in the bottom. The temps have been wildly fluctuating. The bees keep the brood nest at around 92 degrees. That takes a lot of energy which they seem to not be able to overcome in a bottom deep with an open screened bottom.
Swap out comb? We don't. The queen seems to like the dark, black comb in our experience. Remember it takes about 8 pounds of honey to make 1 pound of wax. Starting over sets them back. It is a big capital expense to build comb.
Did I confuse you? There are several answers which is why beekeeping is an art, not merely science. And if you ask any five beekeepers you'll likely get different answers. I'm describing what works for us. Every beekeeper needs to find out what works for him or her. That's part of the fun of beekeeping.