A week on finds me back at the meadow, recent surgery on my shoulder still preventing me from manipulating the hives as I would like, so on this occasion, in the company of Mark and Liz, two of my bee-keeping friends. Both fellow members of our local beekeepers society and proof if proof were needed of the value of joining your local society. As I tell new members, help or advise is never more than a ‘phone call away. So, after meeting up at the top of the meadow and suiting up over the exchange of a few pleasantries, we made our way down to my little apiary. A quick look into eight revealed a very well proportioned young queen walking purposefully about on a frame three parts filled with eggs and new brood. Well satisfied with what I had seen we moved quickly on to four, the main reason for today’s visit. Then, after removing the supers to one side, it was down to business. Plenty of bees because, of course, by now, the bees had emerged from the brood frame they had received, but no signs of queen cells on the brood frame. We decided that the easiest way to find the old queen, if in fact she did exist would be to separate the flying bees from the colony by moving hive four to one side and replacing it with an empty hive, and this we did. The empty hive received a frame of stores and a few empty frames for the bees to play with. The reasoning behind this move is that the flying bees having left their hive would return to the empty hive in the original location leaving just the queen and a handful of bees in the old hive. It was decided to leave them to it and return in a couple of days.
The following day, I decided to return on my own, not to carry out any manipulations but just to satisfy my curiosity as to whether yesterday’s efforts were baring fruit. As expected, there appeared to be far more activity around the entrance of the hive now in four’s location, so that appeared all in order, but in addition, and very noticeable, half the flying bees looked to be missing the entrance and disappearing below the hive. The following pic’s. will show you the sight that met me when I knelt to take a closer look.
THE SIGHT THAT CONFRONTED ME WHEN I KNELT TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK
So, why were so many bees clustering under the hive? My first thoughts were, unlikely as it might seem, that maybe we had attracted a passing cast, there didn’t appear enough bees for the cluster to have been a full swarm, or if there was in fact a queen in the hive, and she had somehow ended up on the mesh floor. The returning bees had then detected her and were trying to cluster around her. Unable to do anything by myself, I decided my only course of action would be to return to the car and try to enlist some more help.
The ‘phone was answered by a familiar “Hello”. I replied, ”Hi Mark, sorry to be a nuisance, but if you could spare an hour tomorrow, I could use some more help at the meadow. “No problem, and certainly not a nuisance, what time do you want me” came the reply. And so, the following morning found the two of us, once again suiting up in the meadow car-park whilst discussing the best course of action, always assuming of course, that the bees were still where I had left them the day previous.
We needn’t have worried, for once the bees were obliging and if anything, there were now more bees clustered below the hive floor than before. I had two objectives in mind for today’s operation, firstly to get the bees into the hive, and equally importantly, to ascertain whether there was a queen in amongst the cluster. This was the course of action that we decided upon. Placing a new floor on the stand beside the hive, we carefully detached the brood chamber and placed it on the new floor. We had left a full super on the empty brood chamber so that the returning flying bees would find some food to go on with, and this was now removed to one side. To prevent a repeat performance, we had fitted a slide to the new floor. Meanwhile, thankfully, and seemingly oblivious to what was going on around them, the cluster was merrily hanging on to the old floor. The next step, place a queen excluder onto the brood box followed by an empty super to act as an eke, then, gently positioning the floor complete with cluster above the eke, shake the bees down onto the queen excluder. Surprisingly, despite several sharp taps, very few bees took to the air and having disengaged themselves from the heap sitting on the excluder, most proceeded to wriggle through into the brood chamber. A quick puff of smoke persuaded the stragglers to join their sisters below. Removing the eke, and in support of the theory that this cluster was in fact a swarm, I was half expecting to find a queen wandering about on the excluder, no doubt wondering why her subjects had deserted her, but no, just a couple of drones. So, with the swarm theory put to bed, we boxed hive four back up and made our way back to the cars. Today’s episode had been in addition to the meeting the three of us had already planned for later in the week and it was to that event my thoughts were already turning as I made my way home.
With the three of us back at the meadow, each with our own theory as to what was going on inside hive four, it has to be said. But then, as we all know, if you put ten beekeepers in a room together you’ll end up with at least a dozen ideas of how to best keep bees. So, first to the new hive in four’s position where it was decided to once again sieve the bees through a queen excluder. Within a couple of minutes of Liz brushing the bees on the excluder with the back of her hand, ”there she is, I knew it was a swarm”, and in answer to, “well where is she, we can’t see her”. Holding her hand aloft Liz replied, ”I’ve got her in my hand”. With her clenched hand over the excluder, she slowly opened her fingers to reveal her empty palm. I don’t know who was the most surprised. “Well she was definitely there, and I definitely caught her”, Liz exclaimed as the three of us stood there looking at each other. “She must have dropped down onto the queen excluder”, and of course Liz was quite right, another five minutes of searching revealed the escapee. Sadly, in her haste to re-join her subjects, she had managed to become trapped half way through the wires of the queen excluder and by the time we had freed her, she had departed to the great bee-hive in the sky. The fact that she managed to get half way through the excluder gives you an idea how small she was and suggested to me that I was probably right in thinking that it was a passing cast that we had attracted as opposed to a full swarm, not that it mattered of course, but we all like to think that we got something right occasionally don’t we.
“I still think we’ve got a queen in the original box”, said Liz ”I just don’t think they’d be behaving so placidly if they were queenless, I would be inclined to re-instate hive four with the original box and have another look in a week or so”. With the weather threatening we all agreed that this was probably the best course of action and so, following Liz’s advice, we made our way back up the meadow. It’s been a funny old day, I remember thinking as I drove home.
Following Liz’s advice, I was back at the meadow about a week later to find, having once again sieved all of the bees in four, through a queen excluder, there was definitely no queen. With no spare queens at my disposal, and not wishing to take a chance with another “bought in” queen, and having once again discussed the matter with my friend Liz, it was decided the best course of action would be to unite what was left of four to either eight or nine which were the weakest of the meadow colonies. No a difficult task but with some twelve feet and a couple of empty hives in between four and eight, and also a gap of about four feet in between stands two and three, not entirely straight forward. Anyway, with no time to waste, I moved four and eight a couple of feet closer to each other and made for home.