Art Potter produces A LOT of honey. Generally, if someone here buys local honey, it's Art's, because he has a variety of local businesses promoting his product. He offered to help us with the re-queening, and to give us a hand with a more thorough inspection of the hives. In the picture, Mark is on the left and Art is on the right.
The best news is that there is no evidence thus far of disease or pests. HURRAY! We'll continue to be vigilant, but hope that our oil traps underneath screened bottom boards will continue to be effective.
Art's first advice was to get a plastic tote to carry the smoker, pine straw, hive tools, and lighter in. Mark grimaced and I laughed, because I've offered more than once to help him get organized. His second bit of advice was to buy entrance reducers and install them no later than October 1, to keep the field rats out of the hives.
We began with Hive 4, with the intention of finding the old queen and putting the new queen in. The sugar water feeder was empty, which was a good sign. The pollen patty wasn't completely eaten. What was ironic was that just over a week after our last inspection and our fear that this hive wasn't doing well it was full of active bees, and the brood pattern was consistent. Art explained that the reason they weren't laying wax evenly was the old wax Mark had put in an empty frame was not flat, and they were simply avoiding the comb that was invading their space by building around it on the frame next to it. I felt badly that we were going to kill a queen who wasn't doing as badly as we thought, but the factor of unknown age had us proceeding with the new queen. Can you see her in this picture? (Look in the center of the photo, about a third of the way from the top -- her body is longer.) One bit of good news too is that the worker bees were forming two "supersedure cells" which means they might have been displeased with the queen and intended to grow their own new one to replace her. Bloodthirsty wretches!
What you see in Mark's hand is what I call the Queen Condo. She's in this ventilated box with 3-5 worker bees and some fondant-style sugar to eat. There's a small hole on each end that is corked. When it's time to put the condo in the hive, they uncorked the candy end, poked a hole in the candy with a paper clip, and put the condo between two frames, screen side down, but one end angled up slightly. What should happen is that the new queen will release pheromones, bees from the current colony will come to see what's going on, they'll eat the candy plug, and by the time they eat their way through to let the queen out, they've accepted her and won't kill her. The condo is angled up so that if one of her attending worker bees dies, it won't block the exit. We're supposed to check on her in 3-5 days to make sure she got out.
This process was repeated for Hive 5, with the differences being they'd eaten the entire pollen patty, they didn't have a sugar water feeder so it won't need refilling, and **I found the queen before Mark or Art did!**
Then we decided to tackle Hive 1, the largest colony of all. Both medium supers have honey. What we didn't know was that the top deep super is nearly all honey too! Art said that super probably weighs 100 pounds! The big surprise in Hive 1 is the sheer number of queen cells they were growing. (In the photo, it's the large "blobs" on the edge of the frame.) They were seriously attempting to re-queen themselves, in spite of the fact that we'd given them a new queen before we even brought them to Bee Hill from their home in the tree. Art said it could be a variety of things: she could be injured, she could have fertility issues, etc. But they were scraping off supersedure cells like crazy, and then discovered one that looked as though it could have produced a queen that had hatched. By the time they got down into the bottom box of Hive 1, the air was full of agitated bees. I retreated to the four-wheeler, where they were dive-bombing my veil, which fortunately is stiff so they bounced off.
In total, we spent nearly two hours on Bee Hill. We have notes on next steps to take, but are left with a conundrum in Hive 1: attempt to re-queen if we can track down the new queen they made for themselves, or let nature take its course?