A Simple Plan
First off, big ups to my fabulous wife and her kick-ass team from Swarovski for winning first place in digiscoping at the World Series of Birding.
As for myself, having successfully made the backyard safe for brown birds, I trudged off to feed and inspect our two new hives. Both Kelli and Mimi were very active, and in Kelli's case, perhaps a little too active...
I found this after opening the lid of the hive to change the pail of nectar we give the bees to give them a head-start on the season. These cells had been constructed between the outer wall of the hive and the lip of the room. I'm assuming this is the work of the bees, but Sharon will know for sure. I wondered how far Kelli had gone in constructing comb inside the hive, but decided not to investigate further, as the weather was turning dark and cloudy, so I was keen to get moving.
As I say, both hives were very active, chomping down the pollen patties we gave them and sweet, sweet sugar water. There was a lot of activity outside the hives as well, in fact, here you can see a Mimi bee coming back into the hive with pollen baskets on her legs! This is great news and shows that even in this early, cold spring, the bees are hard at work, gathering pollen on their own, even when it's being provided for them. Again, I didn't open the hive to see if Mimi was doing any cell construction.
Mimi and Kelli taken care of, it was time for the main mission: Olga. Next week Sharon will be splitting the Olga hive, taking one of the boxes and putting in a new queen: Kitty III. To do this, we have to get a box of brood (eggs) and make sure that Queen Olga isn't in that box, otherwise she and Kitty III will fight to the death. In bees, like the great films that have crummy sequels, there can be only one.
Neil, though just back from a trip to Australia, joined me for the pre-split, and got this really cool picture while I ran back to get a frame holder. I'm not sure if this bee is dancing (which they do to communicate), but it sure looks neat.
So, the long and the short of the plan is this: inspect the top two boxes and make sure they each have at least 5-7 frames of brood. Then, place a queen excluder between the top two boxes. When Sharon comes out next week, whichever box has new larvae in it must be the box with the queen, thereby saving us the trouble of having to find her. Simple, right?
Small problem: the top box had no brood in it. Nothing. Not a sausage. Just honey and miffed bees. I was already in enough trouble for letting a colorful bird come to a feeder. How was I going to explain this?
We inspected the second box and found 5 frames of brood. Now, at this point I could have called Sharon, who was in the middle of about 14 hours of digiscoping. But we could see down into the bottom box and what seemed to be brood, so Neil and I decided to Deviate From The Plan.
In what I mentally dubbing Operation: Honey, It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time, We placed the bottom box on top, the empty box in the middle, and the middle box on the bottom, placing the Queen Excluder between the top two boxes.
This would, we hoped, accomplish what we were trying to do before: making sure that a) the queen would be in one of the two segments and unable to get into the other brood box, and b) since bees build up when making brood, if the queen was in the bottom box, the empty middle would give her room to grow.
And that was that. Part of what I find fascinating working with bees is that on one hand, they're like little machines, working industrially, each one doing her job, a cog. On the other hand, they're living creatures--both as individuals and as a hive--and act in unexplainable ways. Olga bees have a propensity for building feral comb that folds out from the hive frame, whereas Kitty didn't. It's especially odd to me that you can walk out in the middle of the day and literally take their home apart, when they live and work in darkness, and most of them will ignore you completely. Such odd little things.
Sharon will be out next week to survey the hives and figure out what needs to be done. Having explained what we did, she said she probably would have left the hive as it was, but that the best thing to do was not to reverse our work, but to leave the bees alone. And she's right; the work we do with reversals and such helps them in terms of what we want them to do (make honey), but really, the girls can work things out on their own. As long as the idiot drones don't get in the way.