I decided to begin my day with a visit to The Station. It was two days since I’d found the swarm and I was keen to see how they were doing in their new home. At least as well as the nuc. at “C”, I was hoping as I made my way to the apiary and hive three. All seemed quiet at the nuc. entrance, unusually so I thought as I bent to remove the roof. Removing the roof and crown board immediately revealed the reason for the inactivity, not a bee in sight, the nuc. was completely empty. My first thoughts were that they had most likely had a change of heart and retreated back into the hive so, first task, open hive three. A thorough examination revealed strangely, no queen cells and although there was plenty of sealed brood, there appeared to be none unsealed suggesting that they had been without a laying queen for at least a week. The number of bees suggested that they had in fact swarmed so, why no swarm cells. I spent the next hour going back and forth through the brood box in search of a queen, I even went through the supers just in case she had managed to slip through the queen excluder, to no avail. I hadn’t really expected to find her up there but by now I was running out of ideas. I finished by sieving all the brood frames back into the hive through a queen excluder which only left me with an excluder crawling with drones. The strangest thing was that with all this interference from me, the bees remained extremely placid and good natured. Certainly nothing like a colony which had been queen-less for some time, which past experience has taught me, are usually quick to show their displeasure at being interfered with. I decided the best way to prove whether or not they still had a queen would be to leave them with a frame of eggs and young brood from one of the other hives. We know that a queenless colony will always endeavour to produce new queens if presented with a frame of viable brood, and this was my thinking behind that decision. I decided to leave them with their new frame of brood and return in a couple of days to see what they had decided to do with it.
From The Station I went next to “C”, and more specifically, hive four where I was keen to see the progress of the queen cell I’d left them with. All seemed well as I approached the hives, plenty of activity around the entrances, always a good sign I feel. And, so to four. Remove the roof and crown board, bees seemed happy enough so, no problems so far. Quick puff of smoke to keep them settled and straight to the frame with the queen cell which I’d previously marked. This was to be a brief visit as I didn’t want to risk losing my new queen, just long enough to satisfy myself that she’d emerged successfully. Now, I don’t know why I was surprised to see that the queen cell had been broken down, especially judging by the day I’d had so far, but I was. The bees obviously didn’t agree with my choice of queen cell, the one I’d left them with certainly seemed to be the best of the bunch, but, obviously not in their eyes. One thing this has taught me is that removing all but one swarm cell only gives the colony one option if they disagree with your choice whereas, by leaving them with two, if they take exception to one and break it down, they still are left with the cell of their choice with which to produce a queen. I certainly know what I shall be doing in the future. Later that day I returned with one of the Station nuc’s and united them.
Some ten days now since I last put pen to paper, as it were, and a busy few days they’ve been, at least, when the weather has allowed. The first thing to report is that I now have a laying queen in hive four at “C” which, along with two and three which were also successfully united with nuc’s containing new queens, earlier in the season, for once, fills me with optimism for next year. On then to The Station, and more specifically, hive three, where I fully expected to find sealed queen cells on the brood frame that I’d left them with at my last visit. I had a friend with me on this occasion, which as it happened, was just as well. Whilst I was once again ploughing through the brood box, in search of some signs of queenly activity, I heard a voice excitedly enquiring, ” have you seen this”? My friend was on her knees indicating that as a matter of some urgency, I should have a look underneath the hive. Not being one to disappoint a lady, I did as I was bid and the sight I witnessed, surprised even me.
THE SIGHT I WITNESSED SURPRISED EVEN ME. A FULLY FLEDGED COLONY ABOUT THE SIZE OF A FOOTBALL.
So, the swarm from three that I’d left entering the nuc. had, as soon as my back was turned, decided to set up home under the hive floor. Returning, as I did, the following day to find the nuc.empty, I’d immediately assumed they had set off for pastures new. Stupidly, it didn’t occur to me to take a look under the hive, had I done so, I would have seen, what was by now, a fully fledged colony of bees about the size of a football. With the bees apparently entering and exiting on the same flight path, it didn’t occur to me that half of them were in fact, not entering the hive but instead, going under it. The fact that the swarm hadn’t left any queen cells behind should have alerted me to the fact that something unusual was occurring and the fact that they hadn’t started any queen cells on the frame of brood that I’d given them, should have re-enforced that fact.
Looking closely at this colony of bees suspended beneath the hive, I was immediately struck by the beauty and symmetry of the structure. Pure white comb and living proof, if proof were needed that bees, if left to there own devices, will always observe a perfect “bee-space” between combs.
PROOF, IF PROOF WERE NEEDED, OF NATURAL ”BEE-SPACE”.
So, where do I go from here? This was the first question that came into my head. My first thoughts were that I had to somehow get this colony back into the hive, but how best to go about it. I knew there was no way I could achieve this unaided, so I did what I always do when confronted by a bee related problem for the first time, which as usual, begins with a ‘phone call to my friend Liz. Her response was, as always, exactly what I was hoping to hear, ” when would you like me to come over to give you a hand?”. The result of which found us, suited up and approaching hive three around eleven o’clock the following morning. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best course of action would be to somehow get the bees back into the hive from which they’d come, the question was, how. After some head scratching, we decided that the best way to do this, would be to remove this colony from the floor to which they had affixed themselves, get them into an empty brood chamber and then unite this to the hive.
Having decided on a plan of attack, this is how we set about it. It was obvious that the first job was to get the hive away from the floor, at least, this would allow us to see the wood from the trees. Placing a new floor next to the hive, the next step was to get the hive on to it. With two pairs of hands, this was quite a simple task and thankfully, throughout all of this upheaval, the bees remained remarkably placid. Now that we were able to look down through the mesh floor we could see that all but one of the combs were in fact attached to the mesh with only one attached to the stand.
ALL BUT ONE OF THE COMBS WERE ATTACHED TO THE MESH FLOOR
ONLY ONE COMB ATTACHED TO THE STAND
Thankfully we had a number of comb cages which I had made sometime earlier.
COMB CAGES MADE SOMETIME EARLIER
Having used on several previous occasions with a fair degree of success, we decided that to use these again would, was probably the best course of action, hopefully, enabling us to get all of the combs, complete with bees, into an empty brood chamber placed adjacent. It was quite a simple matter, using a sharp knife, to cut the one comb from the stand and get it into the comb cage. Having placed it into the empty
1ST COMB SAFELY INTO CAGE
brood chamber we proceeded to upend the floor and remove and cage the remaining combs. “There’s the queen”, I heard Liz excitedly remark as she indicated with her finger in the direction of the next comb to be removed. As usual, she had disappeared before I could focus my eyes on the spot where Liz had pointed but it was good news indeed. The large amount of brood at all stages confirmed (a) the length of time they had been under the hive, and (b) that this was a very fertile queen and one well worth saving. From this point we continued to carefully continue removing and caging the remaining combs. We didn’t see the queen again but the mood of the bees, combined with their fanning convinced us that we had safely got her into the brood box. All that remained then was to return the original brood box, on a new floor, to it’s original position and place the box containing the colony from beneath the floor, on top for the bees to reunite. No need for paper obviously, as these were all bees from the same parent colony. A week later I returned and re-arranged the hive to get all of the frames into the bottom box. As this box is configured 14″x12″ it now houses a mixture of frame sizes but I shall leave them to over-winter like this and sort them out in the Spring. I am really pleased with the result. Their mood during a subsequent visit, combined with the amount of fresh brood, confirmed that the whole exercise had been a success.