Really sorry but both Naomi and I missed your last meeting (17th July 2010) having both thought it was a different weekend. Feel really apologetic because we were going to talk about our stressful 'chop and crop' TBH transfer and our huge gratitude to Robin and Ali who took time to visit us soon after and offered wonderfully positive support and made us both feel very much better!
Since then I have also transferred a nucleus of bees on standard frames into one of 'Nick's feral hives' in Devon and this was a piece of cake in comparison, which confirms why we had the particular difficulties we had with the first transfer.
Basically the first nucleus arrived on standard sized frames made of 4 x solid bars of wood, nailed securely with long small headed nails at each corner. The wires holding the foundation into the frame zig zagged across the foundation from side to side and were secured to the side bars of the frame - there were no attachments of this wire to either the top or bottom bars. The wooden bars were tougher to 'crop' and the heavy duty nails and their length meant we just couldn't get the frame peices apart easily. It was also more complicated because we had to cut the wires up each side of the comb as well as trying to separate the comb along these edges. As soon as the supporting bottom bar was detached the comb simply fell off the top bar, this happenend every time no matter how careful we tried to be. We did eventually manage to salvage a couple of frames by just shortening the side bars and putting the frame with these still attached into the TBH. The combs were well built out and full with either honey and/or brood and we weren't convinced that we could have successfully sewed them onto a top bar so we simply lodged them as straight as possible into the hive in the correct order and left the bees to it.
We were really 'traumatised' by the whole event. There was running honey everywhere, we smashed more bees than should have been necessary and also lost brood cells. There was honey literally pouring and then dripping out of the bottom of the hive for 3 whole days. The bees had only one entrance open and didn't appear to suffer from robbing but how this didn't happen i don't know!! We had trapped and kept the queen secure throughout the whole transfer so we assumed she should be ok after her release into the hive and within 2 days bees were coming and going with pollen so we hoped all was ok. Amazingly, within 4 days the bees had begun to build new comb along the empty top bars down towards the old slumped combs and quickly began emptying the damaged comb cells and transferring contents out of the hive or up into new stores (presumably). Now about 3 weeks later all seems as well as could be expected. The bees have joined some of the old brood comb to the new comb from the top bars and have then been able to eat under the old comb so it's no longer sitting on the base of the hive and/or against the side walls of the hive. They have have now built on 9 of the top bars and apart from the area of brace comb onto the original, the new combs are straight and appear seperate. We have managed to remove some empty original comb and wires which had been emptied and was no longer being used but are going to leave the 'mess' of brace comb to sort out in the autumn or next spring.
The second nucleus from 'Easybees' in Glos. arrived on the traditional frames of shaped soft wood with a split bottom bar. The frame was stapled together with lightweight staples and the wires zig zagged from top to bottom through the foundation and were only securely attached to the top bar. The combs were less well built out and not so full of honey and/or brood so probably not such good value but it did make the transfer easier. The bottom and side bars were simple to 'chop and crop' and pull apart, there were no wires to cut through as the 'bottom corner crops' fell outside the wired area (the feral boxes are wider at the base than the TBH) and the original top bars fitted neatly into the rebates of the hive. The comb remained intact and securely wired to the top bar and therefore transferred easily without any breakages. An easy and relatively painless transfer with only a small loss of comb and a few bees. They are apparently flying well to and fro but I haven't seen them since the transfer 10 days ago.
Hope this is helpful, we don't intend to buy further nuclei and it wasn't the way we really intended to start but for future reference, if nuclei are being considered, I would stringly encourage purchasers for TBHs to check in advance that the frames are wired from top to bottom and only secured with panel pins/ staples. I personally wouldn't attempt a transfer on side wired frames again!
The second Bristol Sustainable Bee Group meeting is this coming Saturday 31st July 11-1pm in Bishopston where everyone else will have a chance to see what a mess the transfer was and how amazingly the bees have coped!! All welcome from Bristol and Yatton and apologies again for missing the last Yatton meeting.
Jo and Naomi