The weather was clear enough for me to check the hives at my lunch hour, so I went home and did that, entirely forgetting about, well, lunch.
What absorbed my attention instead was opening my hives for the first time, and seeing what’s been going on inside.
I should note first and foremost that my bees were so incredibly easy to work– I’m not going to mention that in the rest of this post, but let it be known: nary a sting, nary an attack. I didn’t oversmoke them, either. They were just very passive and polite as I tried to be the same.
I started with the Silver hive, since I was most concerned about their queen. Like I thought, she was still trapped behind cork and queen jelly, but I’d come prepared with a toothpick and managed to push the cork through, so they shouldn’t have a problem freeing her in the next day or so. I replaced her cage and let the bees get to work.
As expected, based on the activity outside the hive and the lack of a mobile queen, the colony was small, but still active. They’d taken over three of the five frames of the bottom super, and had a few wandering about mildly on two or three of the top frames. There was some comb build up, but nothing very significant. I cleared out the transit boxes, put in the new frames, and closed them back up.
The Blue hive is where the real busy-ness was happening. Four of the top (modified) frames were bustling. I set the top super aside for the moment to take a look at, and as it turned out, for the queen.
I didn’t spend as much time examining the frames as I ought to have, or wanted to, both because of the lunch hour time-crunch and because I’d already had the hive open long enough– checking a hive should be just an in-and-out-and-take-your-notes business, but of course I’m not comfortable or skilled enough yet to be that quick about it. Anyway, I checked the frames on the bottom (deep) super– all five were active, with four seeing significant action on both sides, denser the closer to the queen cage I got. Comb was steadily building and bees wandering about with pollen sacs, clumps of them buried headfirst in the cells.
I’d started from the outside frames and moved in towards the queen cage, so I wasn’t yet sure that they’d been able to free her. As such, I didn’t pay as much attention to checking the interior of the cells as I should have, to look for eggs and the like. As I approached the frames between which the queen cage was resting, though, I saw something of a problem. A queen cell was being built up in the middle of one of the nearer frames. This indicated that they’d managed to free her and she was laying eggs– both good things– but the fact that they were building up for a new queen already worried me. The cell was in the middle of the frame, but in a new colony that might just have been where she’d laid the eggs, rather than protective supersedure measures on the nurse bees’ end.
Now, when I got to the queen cage, I got confirmation that she was free, but I wasn’t able to find her on either adjacent frame. I went back through to check the others, and no sign there. When I replaced the modified super, I checked those frames as well–and while they were quite active with pollen storage and comb-building, still no sign of the queen.
I’m not going to worry overmuch just yet– there are good odds that I just missed her, or wasn’t able to recognize her. I can’t remember if I mentioned the fact that I was too nervous when installing the queens to actually look at them and note what color their marking was– d’oh, I forgot to check the Silver queen earlier today, as well. However, I did see a couple of bees that might have been the queen given their size and shape, or might have been drones. The Blue hive was busy enough that it was difficult to see all of the bees, often they were on the frames in tight clusters of activity. She may also have been knocked to the bottom of the box while I was removing the frame.
Oh wait, just re-consulting The Backyard Beekeeper on the body shapes of queens vs. drones. I’m almost certain I saw her. Still don’t know what the deal with the queen cell was, but maybe they’re just being cautious. I’ll check again in another week or so. I’ll likely go visit them regularly to check if the activity around the hive indicates a queenless colony, and then open them up next weekend, when I have time to spend making notes and really observing.
So, um, there’s a novel in which I don’t solve anything, but do in fact spend an hour talking to bees. They’re not great conversationalists, but they do stay busy. We have lots in common.