So, we were guilty of hubris after all. Expecting to be up to our probosces in bees, with all hives having survived the winter, things seem less brimming with bees a few Sundays ago. We have already reported Clarissa’s demise and while we have no additional deadouts yet, we have reason to fret.

With reports of swarms already captured in the general area, we hastened to take advantage of the warm weather to inspect our survivors, beginning with Beatrix. She was doing beautifully with bees, brood, and honey aplenty. We saw drones, reminding us that swarming approached, but no queen cells, reassuring us that it was not imminent. We performed a sugar roll and happily found no mites.

Then we moved on to Dorcas, expecting somewhat the same with a smaller population. To our surprise the comb in what ought to be the brood chamber was quite empty. Has she gone queenless or has her queen (which we did not find) taken an extended holiday from egg-laying? There was a decent if not brimming population of bees. We probably should have transferred some brood from Beatrix and will do so next warm spell unless Dorcas surprises us.

Nonplused we moved on to Angharad, the tower of nucs. We had used foundationless frames in her, inserting a thin strip down the center of the top bar as a guide for building comb. The rebellious bees had refused to be guided and crosscombed with energetic abandon before we knew it. Once having discovered the problem we were unwilling to engage in the extensive and disruptive surgery required and defered doing anything about it.

But now, after a winter of pondering, we had a cunning plan. We would nadir with new frames having foundation to encourage orderly drawing out comb and laying brood therein. After repeating a few times, if the brood area kept moving lower, we should eventually be able to remove and dispose of the old cross-combed messes from the top of the stack. And why not try a split while we do it?

Setting aside the top box full of honey comb we put a new bottom board next to the old but facing the other way. Onto this we put a nuc body with new plastic frames. The foundation of the frames has been daubed with extra wax by us but still needs to be drawn into comb by bees. Atop this went one of old nuc bodies with, we hope, brood. We repeated this arrangement on the old bottom board with a nuc body of plastic frames topped with the second old brood box. Finally returning our attention to the box of honeycomb we did some rough surgery to release two frames which went into yet another new nuc box, leaving three in the old. Filling the little supers with additional frames we put one atop each of our stacks and finished with inner and telescoping covers.

Our hope is that whichever wee hive, Auld Angharad or Backwards Blodwyn, did not get the queen will have brood of age suitable to be made into a queen. We could not check without potentially destroying what we hoped to find.

And so, four overwintered colonies became three, possibly en route to two. We may save Dorcas and our split may succeed, returning us to four. And there may still be swarms to catch. But then we are beekeepers. Optimism does not suit us.