The apiary is approaching winter in a far different state than we anticipated in the optimistic warmth of summer. One after another queens were somehow lost and not replaced and laying workers reared their ugly…abdomens. From a high of five colonies we are down to a single, worrying one. Brief logs follow.

[2021-Aug-16] Despite the new queen, we observed no brood anywhere in Beatrix and she seemed less booming than usual.

[2021-Sep-06] Sugar rolling reported that Dorcas had an unhappy 5% mites while Clarissa had a mere 1%. We natheless treated both with full doses of MAQS.

Beatrix finally had brood and lots of it but all drone. We performed the too familiar ceremony of transferring the honey to other colonies and dumping the bees to find a home.

[2021-Sep-19] Another sugar roll showed Dorcas and Clarissa each at 1% mites. Clarissa had several queen cups. We gave each hive a half-dose MAQS treatment.

[2021-Oct-10] In spite of treatments Dorcas was back up to 4% mites and Clarissa nearly 2%. We responded with full doses of MAQS. Clarissa had one queen cup left but no brood.

[2021-Oct-20] Clarissa’s queen cups were all gone but still no brood. Hoping to prevent another case of laying workers we performed a paper-combine to move her bees into Dorcas.

In a conventional, vertical-stack hive a few sheets of newspaper would be placed between hive bodies. In ours we removed the follower board and replaced it with thin paper held in place with painter’s tape. It did not stick perfectly to the propolized surfaces but well enough. Next we delicately made several slits in the taut paper with a fresh-bladed box cutter. Then we transferred the fullest honey frames and shook all the bees from Clarissa into Dorcas. And finally we restored the follower board and closed up both hives.

We closed all of Clarissa’s entrances and hauled her off to encourage any returning foragers to enter Dorcas.

[2021-Oct-21] Wanting to know how the combination was proceeding, we looked around Dorcas. There was no sign of paper scraps but no dead bees either. A peek through the window showed light traffic along a gap. No fighting.

[2021-Oct-31] The starter slits have been expanded to large holes in the paper divider. We removed the rest ourselves. The bees seemed less than grateful but the weather was a bit threatening. Also removed a few undrawn or very incompletely drawn frames, catching a glimpse of what may have been a queen in the process. The drawn-out frames yet have room for honey and we worry about their winter stores. They seem not plentiful for a hive as large as Dorclarissas has become. Other beekeepers have commented that our usual goldenrod flow did not occur this year. We finished up by putting the usual black-wrapped foam around the hive.

[2021-Nov-08] Since temperatures are spending more time in the range where syrup feeding is useless, we made up four no-cook candy boards (essentially sugar slabs) and rubber banded them into frames. That let us fill out Dorcas.

Oxalic fog to come and then uncomfortable waiting through winter as we figure out an emergency feeding strategy.

And then on an overcast Friday, after the bees had had twenty four hours to combine, we went to examine the hive and decide how to proceed. We could leave things alone a while longer or cut slits in the paper if they had not yet begun to chew it or simply remove the holey-follower if they had gotten through or otherwise respond to whatever we found.

We first noticed that there were no paper fragments littering the outside of the hive, suggesting that chewing had not begun. But bees were using the entrances busily. Lifting off the roof we were reassured that the bees were neither using gaps in the frames as entrances nor building comb under the roof. Their climbing under was simply exploration. We proceeded to lift one of the bars of comb made by our package bees to get a look at the newspaper and were rewarded by a small cloud of bees, more than we had on the comb the days before. The newspaper was intact but it seems the new bees had made it across after all. The old bees had either died or been adopted. We decided to simply remove the hole-y follower and shift the rest of the bars to close the gap.

And so we did, wielding bee brush and spray bottle of water to help coax the bees to keep their heads down so we would not crush them between the top bars as we pushed them together. They were quite interested in what we were doing but allowed themselves to be persuaded away. The only time they came boiling out was when we were moving one particular section of brood comb. We suspect that the queen happened to be there at the time but it did not seem prudent to check. They calmed down again as we moved to the next section and replaced the roof. As a final act we removed the cork from one more entrance. Once again no one had yet been stung.

And so to last Thursday morning and hiving our nuc in the already occupied hive. We could have simply transferred the new bees. The two colonies would then fight because each owed allegiance to a differently-scented queen (or laying worker as queen substitute). Our package bees being in the great minority would eventually be killed but so might some number of the new bees. Violent solutions can be quite wasteful.

Since it was day thirty-five of hiving the original package, most of the original workers were dead and our small population may have been largely drones that were children of our laying worker. A feasible alternative would have been to just evict them and transfer the new bees. Any old bee trying to return would be killed. Another violent solution if a little less costly in new bees since the battle would be fought at the small entrances and not wholesale throughout the hive.

We decided to attempt a ‘paper combine’. In this procedure a sheet of newspaper is used to separate the two colonies. The hope is that by the time the bees chew through the paper they will become accustomed to each other’s scent. Since we have a horizontal hive we could not simply insert the sheet of newspaper between hive bodies but made a special follower board with a large hole in it and then papered over the hole. Because follower boards do not fit with perfect tightness, we let the edges of the newspaper extend past the board to behave as a kind of flange. Our package bees had built their comb on the bars near the old follower board. We moved them to the front of the hive. Then we installed our hole-y follower with the newspaper. The frames from the nuc would go on the other side of this follower.

The nuc bees looked as if they would very soon need room to expand, so we strategically added a few empty bars: one between the hole-y follower and the first brood frame, one between the brood frames and the frames of honey, and three before finishing with the follower. Graphically we went from:

Before : e e e e e c c c f e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e


After : c c c h e b b b b b e c c c c c e e e f e e e e e

with legend:

e empty cell c comb from package bees
b comb with brood from nuc bees c comb, either empty or with honey, from nuc bees
f the follower board h the hole-y, newspaper-covered follower board

We covered the gaps between frames by laying top-bars on them with the flat side down and beveled side up. This made the roof not sit quite right when we put it back but it will serve for now. All this allowed no way for the nuc bees to leave the hive unless they got through the paper. We had intended to give them an opening of their own but Shawn had warned that they may then regard the two partitions of the hive as two distinct hives and not be motivated to chew through the paper.

There was a momentary panic when our feeder follower did not fit in its new location further down the hive. It was a hair too wide. A quick run to house and back brought the original follower board to the rescue. We should not need to feed these bees for a while so we can trim our fancy feeder follower at leisure. Finally we left the disassembled parts of the nuc, which still had some diehards clinging to it, sitting near the hive but looking in no way like home. And so endeth the procedure.

Much later in the day we saw some bees performing orientation flights near the entrances but also some climbing up under the roof. The former happily suggested that they had found their way through already and were getting accustomed to their new home. The latter that they were coming and going via gaps in the frames. We would discover which on the next day.