Time for a check-up.
It had been nearly 2 weeks since we discovered our hive had swarmed, and while we were still left with over 30,000 bees in the hive, we needed to give a little bit of time for the new queen to get established, take a few mating flights, and get busy laying her eggs.
With the waiting period over, Cam and I undertook the deepest dive we’ve ever made into the hive. We had 4 supers in the hive AND a top-feeder (where we had placed the excess comb and honey from the last visit). So this meant that we were going 5 levels deep. The purpose of this visit was to get to the bottom super and inspect the egg laying pattern of the new queen to understand whether she will be a strong queen (as defined by being able to lay enough eggs).
Step 1: Remove the Top Feeder
We removed the top feeder which had a lot of bees in it. We set it aside after scraping the excess comb out of the box. The reason we don’t want excess comb in the box is that the bees will then try and fill it with honey, but because it is not built on a frame, we will be unable to harvest. With my new learnings from Bryon at Her Majesty’s Bees I confidently scraped the excess comb into a comb-box (an old shoe box) where we’ve taken to storing all the scraped comb – a better solution than just scraping onto the roof! After cleaning out the comb, there were still about 100-200 bees in the top feeder just hanging out. We set it aside at an angle and let the rest of the bees find their way back to the hive. We removed the top feeder all together on this visit and not put it back on.
Step 2: Get in There!
Super #4: We had 4 Supers in our hive. The top box was completely filled and capped with honey! To lift it off was a challenge since it was stacked so high at nearly shoulder height. The Super weighed at least 40 lbs. – likely more with all the bees in it and capped honey. This Super is ready to be harvested but we decided to wait a few weeks before renting the equipment to harvest for the benefits of economies of scale.
Super #3: As you may remember from the last visit, we placed a brand new Super with 8 new frames as the 3rd Super in the hive. Just two weeks ago, this Super was completely new and empty, now, just two weeks later, the frames were all built with comb, and nearly four of the frames were filled with honey and starting to be capped! This was exciting progress, although, with being at the peak of honey production, not altogether surprising. Likely two more weeks and this Super will be ready to harvest along with #4!
Super #2: Supers #3 & #4 were all honey and comb, but as we get to Super #2, we’re entering into the queen’s territory. Along with the bottom Super, this is where the Queen lays her eggs. The frames are a much different color, dark chocolate brown. This was also a milestone because to-date in our year of being beekeepers, we had never dived into the brood Supers where the Queen lays the eggs. We had always inspected only so far as the honey supers, trusting the Queen had everything under control in “her” Supers since there were plenty of bees, etc… Needless to say, these supers were packed to the brim with bees and we immediately noticed that they had built comb on the exterior wooden frames which are not intended for comb – a clear sign they were short on space – and a clear sign that, had we been more diligent in our visits, we could have identified earlier, so as to avoid the swarming of the bees.
The visit started to get intense at this point, as we got closer to the Queen, the bees started getting more and more inquisitive and active in checking us out. This was probably starting to feel like an invasion vs. a visit for them.
We stayed focused, inspected the frames, and diligently cleaned off excess comb where possible. Overall, the egg laying pattern looked intermittent, and quite honestly, without having closely inspected the egg laying pattern on past visits, it was challenging to understand whether the pattern looked “good” or not? In general, we understood that the more closely packed the capped brood cells looked, the more healthy the Queen’s strength.
Super #1: As if going 3 deep wasn’t enough, we were now entering the bottom super, likely the Queen’s layer! This was our first time here. The bees reached a new level of frenzy which gave us a good indication that the Queen was near.
At this point Cam was stung on his black socks. A quick yell, a quick hop, a quick walk away. Settled down, he returned as the good soldier he is.
Here in Super #1, we started to inspect the frames and immediately recognized what Bryon had taught us were swarm cells hanging on the bottom of the frames. These were remnants from the previous swarm of a few weeks ago. We scraped them clean, took some pictures of the brood pattern, and very quickly started to lose our confidence. I don’t want to use the word panic, but with Cam having just been stung, the bees in a frenzy, and an overall overwhelming feeling of having 3 Supers open around us, and bees everywhere, we decided rather than try and go frame by frame and try and identify the Queen (what we should have done), we would take a few pictures and bring them to Bryon to ask his opinion on the egg laying pattern and thus the strength and viability of our Queen.