While we have been tending to our bees more or less faithfully we have quite badly neglected our blog and now have too much history to suddenly report in our usual fashion of logging each visit to the apiary. It would be like trying to binge-watch one of those entertainments with a large, ensemble cast that bounces attention among multiple story arcs like a game of Three-card Monte. Only confusion could result along with a complete loss of interest in any of the characters. Instead we shall try catching up by relating each colony’s months-long tale separately with dates inserted in the text.

Angharad The less fortunate half of our Baldrick split had been steadily declining. We found no brood even in the cross-combed mess of the lowest box. [2021-Jul-03] We decided to simply dismantle her, stealing the honeycomb and unceremoniously dumping the bees to let them find their way into whatever hive would have them.

Blodwyn The more fortunate half of our Baldrick split, had been steadily drawing out comb and raising brood. [2021-Jul-03] Rather than make the tower of nucs any taller, we moved all the frames into Clarissa, opening only a single entrance hole in front of which we fixed a dangling branch to encourage reorientation by any departing bee. At Blodwyn’s former location we left one box of empty frames for returning foragers.

Moving the frames involved separating those cross-combed in the bottom box. To our surprise this was much easier than expected and showed some lovely combs of brood. It seemed as if the bees themselves had corrected much of the problem themselves.

Before sunrise the next morning we put a wee table at entrance height in front of Clarissa. Then we carefully carried the diminished Blodwyn thither and put her on the table facing Clarissa’s entrance. We thought this would encourage the occupants of the nuc to move to the hive with its familiar welcoming scent. Unsure of how long to leave it, we simply lost patience and later in the afternoon dumped any reluctant bees onto Clarissa’s roof and took away the nuc.

Cerys Our captured swarm struggled. While she drew out comb steadily for a time, she only ever achieved a few cells of drone brood. Did we fail to catch the queen or somehow injure her? Was she too depleted to lay the egg that would supersede her? [2021-Jul-03] Our manipulations temporarily swelled her population with refugees from her dismantled neighbors, Angharad and Blodwyn, but she never grew. We dithered over trying to find her a queen or attempting a paper combine with a hive but [2021-Aug-07] finally we dismantled her as well, letting her dwindling population find new homes.

And then there were none…except for the three full-sized hives.

Dorcas We had been watching her population drop and observing the emptiness of her comb so [2021-May-16] we transferred a comb of open brood from Beatrix and [2021-Jun-27] that seemed to have done the trick. She prospers and [2021-Aug-01] a sugar roll showed only one mite per sample.

Inspired by a recent post from Sassafras Bee Farm, [2021-Aug-10] we popped a jar of syrup into her closet today for the dearth.

Clarissa The bees formerly in Blodwyn have taken to their new home. [2021-Aug-01] Alas, a sugar roll showed 8 mites per sample, so we have applied formic acid treatment and should soon check its efficacy. [2021-Aug-10] She also received a jar of dearth syrup.

Beatrix After the swarm she remained our most populous hive and simply carried on, raising bees and making honey. [2021-Jun-27] A sugar roll showed her having only one mite per hundred bees, below treatment levels. All seemed well until we noticed her population dropping. [2021-Aug-01] Inspection showed several empty queen cups and no brood at all. Time did not improve the situation and she sounded different than our other hives. Perhaps this was the queenless roar?

[2021-Aug-07] Fortuitously we learned that a local beekeeper, not overly far from us, had a pair of extra queens for sale and drove out to get one. She was from the beek’s favorite line so he was quite invested in our success and kindly gave us excellent instructions for the ride home and the coronation. Back at the hive, much of the former brood chamber was being backfilled with nectar so we dug through until we found empty comb. There we pressed the queen cage into the comb and watched. Rejection would have had agitated bees trying to ball, bite, sting, or otherwise do her a harm through the mesh. Instead bees gently collected, extending probosces through the mesh to feed her! In addition, the overall sound of the hive seemed to swiftly become calmer.

[2021-Aug-10] And three days later, after supplying a jar of syrup, we looked and found the cage empty. Now we hope for brood.

We began our beekeeping activities by shunning Langstroth in favor of our horizontal top bar hives. Over the years we would cast interested glances at Slovenian AŽ hives or log hives or other uncommon designs. But never Langstroth. No, never1. Why then were there ten, recently assembled five-frame Langstroth nucs in our basement? And why are they now in our garage, waiting to be painted? And why also boxes of black plastic frames on which we are daubing more wax?

We very much hope that this post will not prove to be hubris but after ten years of fumbling at this we finally feel able to reliably get most if not all of our colonies through the winter. That suggests there shall be more splits to be made and swarms to be reclaimed. We can finally see ourselves someday reaching that stage of beekeeper development where we have acquired more colonies than we want to manage. The usual solution is to sell or donate the excess. That is easier, and more considerate of the recipient, with equipment that is compatible and familiar to mainstream beekeepers. And so we are preparing Langstroth nucs.

Once swarming and splitting time arrives and we make up for any losses of our own2, it seems not entirely unreasonable to hazard the notion that we may, perhaps, just possibly3 yet have surplus colonies. In that happy event we shall contact our local beekeeping club and see if they would care to accept them. We may request reimbursement for the cost of frames and woodware. Or not. This is not our livelihood. There are always members in need of bees and we would be happy to be in a position to provide. And quite pleased with ourselves if we could make it a regular thing while avoiding the outcome of the titular fable and continuing to shun Langstroth for our own hives.

Of, course with all this preparation we shall likely have no more colonies than we have now. See, we really are pessimists.

1Hardly ever. There is, of course, nae-sa-wee Angharad.
3Are we indicating uncertainty sufficiently?

When we inspected the hives on Monday of two weeks ago and sugar rolled for mites1, we were surprised to see three capped queen cells in Dorcas. One was at the bottom of a frame and the other two were midface on another frame, one cell almost directly below the other. We could not find the queen, which we had seen when hiving the nuc. As per our usual procedure when confronted by unexpected bee news, we dithered. On the one hand all those queen cells were opportunity for making increase. On the other hand the end of July is usually far too late for us to be making splits. On the gripping hand everything this year has been late including swarms.

In the end, after expert guidance2 did not veto the idea as unreservedly stupid, we made a nuc, our wee Angharad, containing the frame that held two queen cells, two flanking bee-covered frames with a mix of brood and food, and two empty frames on the outside. We placed her atop the flat roof of a newly leveled, unoccupied Frankie. As before, we added a the second story above the inner cover to house a jar of syrup. Feeding this nuc is especially important since it is unlikely that we transfered many foragers and very likely that they would return to Dorcas anyway. We did attempt to forestall such return by lightly plugging the entrance with a bunch of grass, which the bees had moved by the next day.

Had we done nothing we may, in the worst case, have had a three queen free-for-all, possibly leaving no uninjured queen. A tidier result would be one queen hatching first and slaying her two rivals in their cells. But then there is no guarantee that a victorious virgin in Dorcas would return from her mating flight and we may yet have had a queenless hive. By making a nuc we can always recombine the bees if either one of parent hive or daughter nuc fails to produce a laying queen. Of course, both may fail but our odds are better and they may in the best case both succeed.

The violent scenarios still may occur in Angharad with her two queen cells. We had considered doing a little surgery to transplant one of the queen cells to another frame and make a second nuc, probably stealing some nurse bees from another hive. But we decided that the cells were so close together that we might clumsily damage them both. One out of three queens shall surely die but we hope no more than one.

On Thursday of last week we looked at the hives again. All the syrup jars were nearly or entirely empty so we refilled them. And all but Angharad received at least one empty bar to

Angharad The queen cells were both intact. Did we damage their fragile occupants in the move or did we simply check a little bit too early? We are poor judges of cap darkness, an indication of how long the cell has been capped, but the cell we left in Dorcas did look older with a very dark ring near the tip. Although the syrup jar had been drained there was no comb begun on the empty outer frames.

Dorcas Her queen cell was open at the bottom indicating that a queen had emerged although we did not see her. Nor did we search very hard. Now we need only fret that she survives her mating flight and settles to laying.

Clarissa There is nothing remarkable to report about this hive. She is full of bees and brood and honeycomb and working away as a good colony ought.

Beatrix This hive is booming yet again, more interested in making bees than storing honey, but in any case full of lovely straight combs. She had begun building comb on the other side of the follower board. Scraping that off we inserted several bars to give her the space she clearly needs.

Should the Angharad experiment3 fail we shall try to recombine with Dorcas if her queen proves viable. Otherwise we shall soon be down to two hives before winter.

1 All were below threshold for treatment but because the Mr. forgot to divide by three Beatrix got a dose of Apivar Life, thymol based.
2 Yes, it was Dr. Milbrath. We hate to name drop but believe in full disclosure and credit where due.
3 Sounds like an episode of Doctor Who.

A backyard that once housed honeybees seems and sounds so bleak without them. Every glance at an empty hive sinks the heart and, should a honeybee be sighted in the yard, delight is smothered with sorrow from the absolute knowledge that this is a stranger. From a few houses down or a few miles away, in either case she is not one of ours.

But for now we are again joyful, even welcoming the return of that eternal worry that dwells in the thoughts of the amateur beekeeper. Thanks to a dear friend we were able to obtain three, five-frame nucleus hives late this past Saturday and hived them on Sunday, giving each a jar of syrup and an empty bar in front of the follower.

We checked on them Tuesday afternoon, hoping to find the marked queens we did not spot on Sunday.

Beatrix: We did not find the queen. She has been draining the syrup hard enough that we may need to refill tomorrow but there is no new comb on the empty top bar. Is she storing the syrup? We moved the existing empty bar to go between the last brood comb and first food comb and added no new ones.

Clarissa: Nor did we find this queen. She was bursting with shirty bees when we hived her but now seemed much less populous. Foragers out and about? Surely she would not have swarmed already? The syrup was hardly touched. A wee bit of fresh comb was under construction on the empty bar. We added another empty bar at the food/brood boundary.

Dorcas: We did find the queen moving at a dignified pace across the comb. And many more bees than we recalled. Could they have drifted from Clarissa? The syrup jar was still mostly full but the empty bar had comb under construction in several places along it. Again we added another empty bar at the food/brood boundary.

And thus we are content. Our backyard is whole once more.

Actually she was surprisingly calm, considering our destruction, but the alliterative title was irresistable.

A while ago we noticed that wee Angharad had rather swiftly built out the frames in her first story and we saw burr comb reaching up through the hole of the inner cover. We were in a bit of a panic as the only additional assembled frames we had were in the empty nuc we were reserving in case of another swarm. So we impulsively decided to raid the Frankenhive (now called “Frankie“) for five top-bars, intending to replace them with actual frames as soon as we made some more.

Of course, more time passed than we wished and when we finally had frames, time, and good weather we found her second story completely full of labyrinthine crazy comb. Our suspicion is that while some of the bees were building good comb down from the top-bars some others were misled into expanding the burr comb remnants (we had scraped it off) up from the frames. Where they met chaos came to dance.

We felt like vandals cutting away all the beautiful, white comb but it was needful and we consoled ourselves that it contained neither brood nor honey but just some ripening nectar. Brushing off the bees and cutting off the combs we collected the top bars to be returned to Frankie. Then we replaced wee Angharad’s second story with a new box and fresh frames. The old one we took aside to properly scrape clean before re-use.

All that work undone. And we are probably in a dearth, best blooms being done and not much rain for weeks. We added a third story housing a feeder of syrup to help. Let us hope wee Angharad does not bear grudges.

Meanwhile Frankie has been building nicely straight comb on her top-bars but likewise devoid of food or brood. Nor did we spot the queen but we did not look very hard. Frankie seems quite small and will need help building up. We drilled a hole in her follower board and put a jar feeder in her unoccupied half.

And we finally sugar-rolled Dorcas to find 2 mites per 300 bees, not high enough to require treatment. Actually, since our sample was a bit generous the mite level should be even lower.