Sarah, my daughter, and I went back to SPARK to move one of the beehives into all medium boxes. When we arrived both hives were flying but one looked really odd. The bees were only around the top edge of the box:
Why are the bees clustering around the top? Well, the beekeeper (that would be me) had, at the last second as I was leaving when I was there before, pushed the entrance reducer into the front of the hive. Unfortunately, it was a homemade entrance reducer made by the last beekeeper and while I thought I was turning it so the large entry would be open, it in fact only had a small entry. I had left the hive totally closed in the front.
I pulled the entrance reducer out and there were dead bee bodies behind it. Did this mean the hive was dead and the bees clustered around the top edges of the hive were marauders? We only had a limited period of time so we set to work on the other hive and left the unknown answers still a mystery until we had done our hive move on the other hive.
Hint: the hive was alive - three weeks after I had closed up the front entry - can you imagine why? (Will tell at the end of this post).
So we went to the other hive which was already in a combination of medium and shallow boxes to move it into all medium boxes.
This hive, too, had problems.
Three of the boxes had removed frames which the bees had filled with capped drone comb. In each instance, we just cut the drone comb off of its support and I brought it home, put it in my front yard, and fed it to the birds. In the photo above you can see one of the spaces.
We pulled off all of the old rotting boxes and replaced them with my old medium boxes, newly painted white. We moved the frames one by one and transferred them to the new boxes. The three missing frames made our job a little easier and we made a split into a cardboard nuc as we went through the frames.
The hive, crowded as it was, was preparing to swarm so we found at least two frames with queen cells, capped and fairly light in color. I put a frame with one queen cell into our split as well as some frames with eggs to give the bees the best chance.
This hive was boiling over with bees and we had bees all over the removed equipment and even on my hat.
This is how it looked at the end. I had thought the hive had three boxes on it and I only brought four boxes with me. Turned out, the hive had four boxes on it so we actually left it still rather crowded. I came back the next day, popped the top and added a fifth box, moving three frames of honey up to the new box and adding empty frames in their spaces to open up the honey dome.
The first photo above is when I arrived. The second photo is when I left with the new box added. There was a class on the roof at the garden when I arrived on day 2 and one of the teachers took this photo as I was lighting the smoker:
So why was the other hive still alive, despite beekeeper error? There are two reasons. You may remember that the queen excluder was removed the last time I was there, giving the queen full access to the whole hive. If it had remained on the hive, she would have been stuck in the bottom box. Secondly, you may remember that I often use beer bottle caps as ventilators under the corners of the telescoping cover:
This photo is from a post on July 20, 2012. The beer caps are usually propolized by the bees and raise the top cover about 1/4 inch - the height of the beer cap. The hive we are discussing had these propolized caps in the corners of the top cover. That little 1/4 inch was enough to allow the bees to enter the hive through the top.
We didn't inspect this hive but opened the top and took off the inner cover before we left. It was boiling over with bees. As I left with the hive wide open in the front, I noticed the bees were using what they now claimed as their entrance, going into the hive under the telescoping cover! They'll probably use the front door once we move that second hive into new boxes next week!
So despite two major beekeeper errors - leaving the queen excluder on all winter and plugging up the front entrance for three early spring weeks, this hive is quite a live one. And I feel lucky.