I finally got my ducks in a row and spent some time over the past few days inspecting hives. On Thursday, I went to the hive at a friend's house in order to see if they were ready for a super. This is a hive which, two or three years ago, was in a top-bar hive. Then I cut out the comb and rubber-banded it into frames for a Langstroth hive.
But. . . then nothing. Last year (?) I found only drones in the hive, so shook everyone out and either requeened or put a swarm in or something. I know, I should really go back to see what I did. But anyhow, we've never gotten more than the odd bit of honey from the hive.
For Thursday's visit, I even brought a full super's worth of drawn frames, reasoning that if they were ready, they could get right on to filling those frames rather than working to make wax. This friend has been so gracious about hosting the hive that I figured she really deserved a good year.
When I cracked the lid, I saw something to cheer the heart of a beekeeper: it was almost fully covered with busy bees. Unfortunately, I had also closed up the hive last fall with only nine frames in it, so right against the wall of the hive there was a perfect frame-sized comb of capped honey. It took my hive tool and a cookie sheet to get that out.
A quick inspection revealed open and capped brood, so I put on a queen excluder and the super. I'll go back and check in a couple of weeks.
And today, at home, Ellie and I suited up to check that swarm I'd hived about three weeks ago. It was still just the two deep boxes, so I cracked the top one off and we started going through the bottom.
Odd, I thought, it's mostly honey. Well, honey and pollen and unevaporated nectar. A tiny bit of brood, but every single one of those were drones. For a bit, I entertained the thought that I had somehow managed to get a queenless bunch, but they seemed awfully calm and pleasant for that to be the case.
It was nice to have Ellie with me, because I told her what we were seeing and sort of talked her through it. We set up the lid of the hive as a stand of sorts for the top box, and began to go through that. First frame, honey. Next frame, some drone and some honey. Frames 3-8? Solid, solid, perfect, textbook worker brood. Boy, oh boy was it pretty.
I practically jumped up and down, and Ellie was pleased and oh so helpful. She ran to get another deep box because I figured I'd give them another place to put brood going up rather than rotating the boxes. I still don't know if that was the right decision. At any rate, I figured I'd concentrate on big hive rather than big honey for now.
But wait. . . who was that I spied between the frames of that brood-heavy box, wandering around on the upturned lid? It was the queen! (Sorry, no pictures. We were busy and the only lens I have functioning is a super telephoto -- good for sports, bad for gardening.)
Back Ellie had to scurry to get the queen marking pen and the tube. She was so resourceful and quick that I didn't even worry about the queen, just carefully lifted the box up and set it on the bottom box, then coaxed the queen into the tube.
It was, alas, a new paint pen, so while Ellie kept the bee down in the tube, I shook and jabbed the pen against the fence until the paint flowed, but not so badly it would overwhelm her. Just a few quick dabs and she had a nice white dot on her back. Without planning, it turns out to be the "right" color for the year.
When the paint was dry and the new box rested on the getting-very-tall-now hive, I tipped her out onto it. She looked confused -- I wonder if she was thinking something along the lines of "where'd everybody go?" and then as if on cue, up popped a worker and like a tiny Border Collie, chivvied the queen back down into the hive.
Although I was thoroughly wet through from sweat afterwards (talk about beekeeper's glow), it was a great feeling to have a happy hive. I just wish I'd had more of them.