Wednesday. In the morning, I called Adam again to check about the drone cells vs. queen cells confusion. "Yes, I thought those might be drone cells" he laughed, and said he was a little puzzled when I had said I had hundreds of queen cells after I explained the whole thing to him. Wish he had said something at the time! That would have saved me a lot of stress and effort for nothing! Oh well. "Yes, queen cells are usually, maybe one or two on a one or more frames. And they are really easy to spot. It's like the size of the end of your finger! You can't miss them!" He had to run off to deal with a customer (he has a business that sells bee hives and bee nucs etc.), and after we hung up I realized I hadn't managed to ask him if there was a good way to find a queen.
On Monday, after I got the brainwave that maybe I was confusing drone cells for queen cells, I had a hope that maybe there were no queen cells at all. How nice that would be. Then I wouldn't have to do anything - just put everything back and walk away. How nice. But I would still have to check. So at 12:30, I gathered together all my gear again and trudged off to the bees on a nice and sunny day. This time I started with the hive I had worked on on Sunday first - let's call it Hive #2 (not the one that got so pissed off with me on Monday - Hive #1). This time I did manage to lift the top box off in one go, without having to take out all the frames. Then I went to work on pulling out all the lower frames, looking for actual queen cells, now I knew what they look like (reminder, this was not the hive that I had gouged out all the drone cells thinking they were queen cells on Monday - I had not touched this one yet). [Note, Queen cells are usually found in the top box. I was looking in the bottom box because, if you remember, this box used to be the top box before I reversed the boxes last weekend.]
Well, so much for the hope that there were no actual queen cells. One frame had 3, another had 2, the next one had 3, and the next had 5!!! Thirteen queen cells! Well, that's not 100, but still a lot! Darn!
I did scrape off a few queen cells, but put the frames with the other queen cells into the new hive. Adam said put one or two queen cells in the new hive. Would 10 queen cells in the new hive work too?? I didn't really want to scrape any more off. Actually, it wasn't as bad as scraping off drone cells which was very messy. These just popped off in one piece.
Meanwhile, I looked at each frame very carefully, front and back to see if I could find the original queen. Once again, no luck. But with such close scrutiny, I did see some interesting things. I saw a group of bees exchanging information (I assume) with all their red proboscis (tongues) out "licking" each other's proboscis. Wonder what was going on there. I saw my first varroa mite. Adam and other beekeepers go on and on about varroa mites. Since about 15 years ago, all bee colonies are plagued by varroa mites. It is not possible to get rid of these. They are here to stay. I've heard Adam Fuller say time and again, "I hear some people say, 'Oh, mine don't have any mites. I haven't seen any', believe me, you have them!" These are part of the reason bees are so threatened these days, on top of chemical insecticides, and destruction of wildflower habitat. If you do nothing about them, your colony will eventually die. I put some miticide strips in the hives last October, and I am waiting until the weather gets warmer before I put in some QuickStrips formic acid packs. This reduces the number of mites, and if the hive is a strong one, they can cope with just having a few. However, I will wait until after they settled down a bit before I start hitting them with a miticide. It is an "organic" control method, but it is still pretty hard on them.
I also saw that Hive #2 has ants. Not sure what to do about that! And another interesting thing was, I noticed when I temporarily put two or more frames next to each other in the empty hive box, that when I tried to pick a frame up again to put it back in the hive, the bees had formed a network of webs between the two frames, by clinging on to each others feet. You end up having to pull it apart. I did this as gently as I could, but the disturbance would make them make a sort of shuddering noise, which I assume is hundreds of bees shuddering their wings at the same time.
After looking closely at each frame in the bottom box, and then looking at each one in the top box, I still could not find the queen. I looked at the picture of how the queen differs from the workers in the book, and still could not see anything that looked like that in the hive. I selected 3 frames to remove that had queen cells on them and put them in the new hive box, then replaced the missing frames in the old box with 3 new, empty frames. I just hope I did not move the queen over to the new box too by mistake.
Then, after I had put the hive back together again, I saw a queen!!! I had dumped a lot of the wax I had scraped off into a foil pie pan, and it was crawling around over the chunks of wax. A queen! It looked just like in the book! Very clearly a queen! So I did know what one looks like! Then I was puzzled. Why was there a queen in the pan? Is that why I couldn't find the queen in the hive? Had it fallen out? What if I tried to put it back in? I couldn't resist. I lifted the lid again of Hive #2 and popped it in. A few worker bees came and investigated it and immediately started attacking it! The last I saw of it, it was being dragged down into the hive.
Hmmm. After I thought a bit about this I realized what had happened. As well as bits of scraped of beeswax in the pan, I had also tossed in some of the queen cells. When I looked closely at the queen cells, one had the tip pushed back like a lid. That could only mean that one had emerged after I had scraped it off! Did I catch just in time (i.e., did I remove it from the hive just in time?), or did it emerge because I had scraped it off? It certainly looked ready to come out. I assume that explains why it had been attacked when I popped it in. They didn't recognize it as belonging to them. This suggests that they would only recognize a new queen if she emerged while inside the hive. Of course, for all I know, they decided she was OK after she dropped out of sight, and all my efforts to remove the queen cells so they would not get a new queen and swarm was defeated by my popping the new queen back in again! What an idiot!
It was now 3:30. Three hours!! I was exhausted and starving. I still had hive #1 to tackle! Earlier in the day I was worried about how I was going to find the time to do this project as it always takes 3 hours or more, and I have to pick up the twins at 3:10 from school. Starting early with the bees is not an option because they don't like being disturbed until late morning. Norman told me he could pick up the girls today, which was the only way I could manage it.
I went indoors to get some food and came back again to deal with Hive 2. Now it was really too late in the day. It was 4:45 and getting a bit chilly. Plus I was supposed to be in West Hartford at 6:00! So I just looked at the bottom box.
All the damage I had done to the frames on Monday when I had scraped out the drone cells had been repaired. I looked for queen cells and I only found one! Phew! I took this frame out and another frame with brood and honey and a ton of bees and put them together with the frames from the other hive in the new hive (now hive 3). Would the bees from the two separate hives get along? They seemed to. Then I put two new frames in Hive #1 and 2 in Hive #3 and closed them up. This whole process was faster, but it was made more difficult than Hive #2 by the fact that the bees in Hive 1 were much more mean. They kept swarming up my hand whenever I tried to take frames out or put them in. This made it hard not to kill some of them as they get squashed really easily. Were they more testy because of my scraping out drone cells on Monday? Because it was late in the day? Because they are just like that?? In any case, I was late to my appointment. Five hours!
Tomorrow I need to go back and check the top box for Hive #1, and look to see how everyone is doing after all that manipulation. Worse case scenario is, I inadvertently moved the original queens from their old hives to the new one. What happens then? Are they doomed? Have I wrecked my two hives I spent so much effort to care for over the past year?
The best case scenario is that I didn't inadvertently move the queens, they are still in residence, I didn't miss any queen cells, the two hives feel less congestion, and the new one gets a new queen (gets rid of the rest?) and settles in. We'll see what happens!