It is that vigorous phase of the eternal shoving match between summer and winter that we call springtime in Michigan. Daytime grows longer and the sun makes more frequent appearances to warm us but sudden gloom, cold winds, and even attempts to snow still occur. Natheless last Saturday we felt confident removing the black, insulating panels from our hives although we left the black on their rooves yet. We had hoped to also inspect all our hives and possibly deal with the fallen comb we know awaits in Dorcas but the day began to cool almost as soon as it got adequately warm for hive-opening. So we confined our intrusion to Beatrix, where we much wished to make room for a follower board again.
She had grown so full last season that we had removed her follower to let her build comb on each and every bar in the hive. Too late we realized that this made inspections more fraught. With a follower board one can always pop an empty bar or so from the unoccupied section and move the follower back to make some room. Then the next bar of comb may be checked for attachments, cut free if necessary, moved back, and lifted without fear of rolling any bees, particularly the queen. However full a hive gets we shall not let a hive be without a follower board again. We may even modify our design to have one at each end for safe and easy access.1
Back to Beatrix. With trepidation we lifted one of the initial frames that had populated her and set it aside. That gave us room to proceed. Over the next few bars we saw ample honey remaining, capped brood, and lots and lots of mellow bees crawling everywhere. Then we noticed how rapidly the temperature was dropping and simply closed up, having removed two expendable honey frames and restored her follower board with an empty bar on the other side. Not enough room to accommodate a feeder but enough for easier future inspections.
We then went off to observe hive traffic from a safe distance. All hives had been reduced to a single left-most entrance hole for winter and increased to two as the weather had begun to warm and returning foragers to crowd. Now it seemed they were still crowding a bit. We also saw the occasional forager landing on the cork in the third entrance and crawling about it in a way which we anthropomorphized as wondering, “Was there not an entrance here? I am certain there was.” We responded by opening each hive’s third entrance and relieved foragers very soon began using them for Dorcas and Clarissa. Beatrix showed rather more enthusiasm. As soon as the cork was popped bees gushed forth like champagne and her traffic remained crowded. We removed the central cork to get another bee gusher. Repeat for a fifth entrance. At that point we stopped as her traffic settled into a busy but not congested regularity.
Had Beatrix noticed winter at all? Again we note that we must surely split her as soon as we can but first we need reliably warmer nights and, of course, drones.
1 There is a two-follower strategy that starts with the bees sandwiched midway along the hive and allowed to grow in both directions as they wish. We shall not be doing that. Such a strategy requires major rearrangement of the bars before winter to put all the honey on one side of the cluster. We shall continue to keep them at one end or the other and allow only unidirectional growth.