So many days to catch up. After the hiving, both colonies immediately and industriously got to work. They built comb at a much faster rate than last year’s bees and crowded the entrances with forager traffic. Annabelle in particular seemed to be quickly filling the bars, perhaps because she had gotten more bees from the third package in spite of our efforts to be even-handed. So a week after hiving we gave each hive two more bars and opened a second entrance.
Thirteen days after hiving we finally got a day both warm and sunny so we suited up to remove the queen cages and look for signs of the queen laying away. Our eyes are inexperienced enough that we are unlikely to spot a queen and old enough that we can’t see eggs, so we hoped to find capped and uncapped brood.
We began with Beatrix, since she houses fewer bees. Things seemed encouraging. The cage was empty and being rubberbanded to the top bar did not seem to have caused any crooked comb. While she was not progressing as rapidly as Annabelle, there were stores of both honey and pollen, larvae, and capped brood. We put the top bar with the cage into a frame holder we had made based upon a Phil Chandler design and used a small serrated knife to cut the cage free, leaving a neat hole for the bees to repair. Restoring the top bar we closed up and moved on to Annabelle.
Looking through her top bars starting from the follower we noted that the bees had been making vast stores of honey. No initial signs of brood though. Progressing to the top bar with the cage, disaster struck. This cage had distorted the nearby comb, causing it to wander between the adjacent top bars and, as we tried to separate them, a huge mass simply broke off and fell. We hastily freed the cage and closed up, leaving the bees to clean up the mess, while we retreated wondering if there was any brood in the comb we had not examined and fretting that we may have crushed the queen in the falling wax.
After all this, however much we may have deserved it this time, we still did not get stung. And back at the house we were unfairly rewarded by our first taste of honey from our own bees as we sampled the comb clinging to the removed cages. Even factoring out the enthusiasm that comes from it being our honey and our first honey, the taste was amazing. A light sweetness, followed by just a hint of bitter pollen, and an ambrosial finish.
Back down to earth we had the mess in Annabelle to consider. Should we let the bees take care of it or go in ourselves? Googling suggested that while the bees would empty the cells of the fallen comb, they would not do much quickly with the wax itself except let it further distort the comb they built. Since the next day was also warm and sunny we went back in with barbecue tongs to lift out the fallen comb. During the process another bar dropped its great mass of comb, this one full of brood. In a panic we removed that as well and quickly closed up the hive. At the very last, just before we were ready to put the roof back, one stinger found one beekeeper’s hypothenar pad.
Amid all the guilt and shame over the injury we had just done Annabelle, we did not react much to the feeling of a red-hot needle in a fleshy pad. In that at least we acted as proper beekeepers. No outcry. No sudden jerk. Just noticing the stab. A quick scrape with knife blade to remove the stinger without pumping more venom into the hand and we went back to work, restoring the roof with one of our four hands mildly throbbing.
The depressing doom and gloom scenario is that we have killed Annabelle. If that fallen comb we removed had most of her brood then in the next week or so as the old guard dies off there will be no or insufficient new guard to take its place. Then too we do not know where the queen was. She may have been crushed under the falling comb of either day. For now we are hoping that she is still there laying away and that there was more brood on a comb we did not disturb.The workers are certainly rebuilding comb on the damaged bars. Soon the population of each hive will visibly shrink but then, if all is well, ought to rebound.
If all is not well then having two hives gives us options, which we may explore in a later post, along with, perhaps, some speculation of why the cage-removal was so uneventful in Beatrix and so tragic in Annabelle. Our basic mistake was simply working the hives on days that were not merely warm and sunny as we had described them, but too hot. The temperatures were in the nineties Fahrenheit and the new wax was simply too fragile to support its weight while being jostled by beeks. Another lesson for us with tuition paid by Annabelle.