After our unsettling discovery that something was amiss with queen 1, Frank and I geared up and went down to our hives like costumed super-heroes armed with smoker and hive tool (rather than really useful equipment like x-ray goggles and stretchy fingers). We were going to find our Hive 1 queen bee and her larvae or, at a minimum, disturb the hive so much that all the worker bees would be furious with us. By the end of our 2 hour adventure we’d achieved all 3 (with some major hiccups) and robbed our 2 hives of a bit of honey.
Here’s an abridged version of yesterday’s hive activity (trust me, you don’t want the long version, it’s full of even more embarrassing bungles by this newbie beekeeping team).
We swiftly removed both supers from Hive 1, lifted the queen excluder and went to work on our frame-by-frame inspection. We convinced ourselves that a) no queen had been laying in this brood box for quite some time and b) spotting a queen in a box with 500 million bees is something that we, mere mortals, would be lucky to achieve. (Note to self: on next queen spotting, race out and buy a lottery ticket.)
Here’s a photo of Hive 1’s brood box part way through this exercise. Note Frank’s gloved fingers covered in bees at the top of the picture. Yes, we did smoke them – more than once – but by the time we got to the last of the 10 frames, they really wanted to cover the box and we didn’t want to over-smoke them. I’m guessing they were working to keep the brood warm – it was in the mid-20s C outside (mid-70s F) and so, though warm, definitely colder than their desired mid-30s.
We’d already made up our mind that in this scenario we’d rob Hive 2 of a brood frame complete with larvae (and eggs if we could) and place it in Hive 1. We did just that: 2 supers and a queen excluder removed from Hive 2, another gazillion bees disturbed, 2 open hives, frame swapping done as quickly and carefully as humanly possible, patted ourselves on the back and put the queen excluders back on both hives. It was up to the bees to turn one of those eggs or larvae into their next queen (if their old one was dead or had stopped laying for good).
All that was left was to rob the supers of their honey. The first super of Hive 1 was our first target. Its first frame was full and capped so we removed it from the hive. We expected lots of this because our brief inspection 2 days earlier showed several full frames. We moved systematically to the 2nd frame to find a ring of honey, and heaps of larvae and capped brood (worker cells, not drones). What the??? Somehow (super-hero teleportation is my guess) the queen had moved into the super past the excluder. There is no way we moved her there back on the 5th of December when we last went into the brood – if we had, there wouldn’t be any capped brood in the brood box. But the excluder looked normal – no obvious bent bars (more super-hero talents?).
At this point none of that mattered, we had to come up with an emergency plan B. That plan was to move the queen excluder above the lower super creating essentially 2 brood boxes. We hope the queen will move back down where she belongs. In 2 weeks we’ll open the super and brood and check to see where she’s laying and replace the excluder accordingly. Eventually we hope to have the brood back in the lower box allowing us to harvest honey from the top 2 boxes without risking harming the queen or killing brood.
We ended up harvesting 6 more frames from the 2nd super and 3 frames from Hive 2 (10 deep frames total) before calling it a day. There’s more honey in there – lots in Hive 1 and probably some in Hive 2 – but we’ve disturbed the bees enough for this week. We’ve made space in both hives for more honey storage so the bees should be happy. And we collected 25 kilos of honey so we’re at no risk of running out of honey for a good long while (especially since we still have 20 kilos left from the last harvest!).
Last night we spent a lot of time thinking and talking about: how our queen moved out of her brood box (wide spot in the excluder?), why she wanted to in the first place (too hot during the heat wave?), how we missed spotting a frame with larvae in the super at the last inspection (should we have pulled every frame?), … After due consideration we’ve concluded that we have no idea so we’re assuming it’s a fluke and will go on as if it won’t happen again. In 2 weeks we’ll go back into the hive, assess, act based on what we see and rob more honey.
Whew, that episode’s behind us! In the end, it wasn’t as bad as we’d feared. Our queen is alive and well which is the main thing. And, after all, I do have over 40 kilos of honey to take the sting out of any beekeeping pain 🙂