That I apparently, need to have 3 hives. It’s amazing what has happened in the past week: I added the nuc with the VSH queen (Queen Vivienne, do you like the name?) in a newspaper combine on Sunday July 8th with Melissa. On July 8th, I first looked for the old queen (Queen Maria) two times, I finally found her and removed her into my queen marking cage with plunger. I set the cage under the pine tree to help keep her cool, there were about 3-4 attendants in there. I went on to look at Demeter, saw Queen Penelope and the hive looked really good though the bottom deep was essentially empty.
We harvested some frames of honey from Demeter on two separate inspections (Demeter is the stronger hive) and can I just tell you that the foundationless frames worked like a DREAM!!! I had a hard plastic spatula and all we did was go around the edges with the spatula and the whole thing dropped into the bucket. We put the empty frame back in the hive. It was perfect. As for the plastic frames, that was a pain. Since you know I don’t really want to use an extractor, I just used the same spatula to scrape off the comb with honey, and that was really messy. We saved several bees that ended up stuck in the honey bucket. By the way, that 4 gallon bucket was free. I called my local grocery store and spoke to the bake shop. I asked them if they had any empty frosting/fondant buckets and I picked it up on the way home from work! It has a handle and a lid and it’s food grade plastic.
Still on July 8th, after harvesting the frames I returned them to Demeter for the bees to clean up. When we were done with Demeter, I went back to Melissa to merge it with the nuc (with the new queen). We opened her up and placed two layers of newspaper on top. Why two? Since they had JUST had their queen and were queenless for a short time (less than an hour) I thought adding extra protection may work better. I cut a tiny-tiny slit in 2 corners of the bottom paper, and then the same thing at opposite corners of the top paper.
I didn’t see much paper outside on the ground over the subsequent week and figured these bees just did what the bees did last year: made a small hole and just kept going in and out of the small hole. Boy, was I wrong:
I managed to spot the new queen, big, golden and beautiful: I marked her with the new, non-terrifying queen marking cage and it worked just fine. I managed to mark her again after I freed her because I find the cage doesn’t hold her still, just limits her escape. The one advantage could see to the British queen marking cage is that the spikes go all around and if you use wax as your foundation, you can plunge the spikes down as far as necessary to keep her immobile without squishing.
But gosh darn it…guess what I saw during the brief inspection on July 13th? Queen cells. Oh so many queen cells. At first I thought they were superceding Queen Vivienne but as we looked on other frames there were other queen cells, probably over a dozen and we didn’t even look at all of the frames. Oiy (I seem to write that a lot). There were also a ton of bees, I mean a TON. I saw only one frame that was undrawn. With many queen cells, essentially no empty frames for them to expand into and loads of bees, they had swarm prep written all over them. You know the adage, “A swarm in May…”
What to do, what to do? I just kept hearing in my head all of the other advice I’ve read: “If I see queen cells, I pull them into a nuc and make a split.” But if they’re swarming I don’t want to lose my new VSH queen, I just got her! Plus I don’t know how long the VSH trait remains expressed through the generations. How many daughters later do I need to replace the queen? I need to ask Adam. So to hopefully prevent a swarm, I pulled out Queen Vivienne, put her into a nuc with 3 frames mixed of pollen, honey and brood. I didn’t worry about getting brood because there is a laying queen in there. I added 2 undrawn foundation frames. I did shake in about 3-4 frames of bees but I couldn’t use the frames that had a good mass of bees because those frames had active queen cells and if you shake a queen cell you can really damage the developing larva. Don’t want to do that! So I got what I could. At least Melissa now has the ability to make a queen, I still have the Queen Vivienne and she’ll keep laying.
Back to Queen Maria: I went back to her under the tree and found a slew of bees on her cage. Poor things they just wanted their queen. I started to take her toward the house (I planned to keep her in the utility room until I figured out what to do with her) when I noticed the workers LEAVING the mesh. I started thinking “Uh oh” (this is how slow I can be sometimes) “If they’re coming out now, then that means they’ll come out later when they’re in the house…that’s not good.” I also happened to notice at this time that there were many, many more bees in the cage with her than I added originally. Holy crap they had crawled in there with her! There were about 20 workers in there! Could you even imagine what would have happened in the house as they came out? Ugh. So I got a piece of cheese cloth and a rubber band, covered the mesh with the cheese cloth and I think there was adequate air supplied. I gave them a big smear of honey on Sunday and Monday and when I went to check them Wednesday, [sob] I found the queen and one attendant dead. The others were very sluggish. Do you think there wasn’t enough air or food? I felt soooooooooooo horrible. I had planned to go into the hive on Wednesday to pull some frames to make a nuc for Queen Maria because I felt terrible for keeping her from being a queen. But I was too late. Seeing Queen Vivienne so big and beautiful with so many frames of brood and eggs already, I felt a little better. But still.
On to the gardening front, we’ve harvest >60 pounds of tomatoes since Sunday the 8th. And it’s only going to get worse.