Sunday, September 05, 2010

Upside-down Beehive!

It was harvest day and we went about our business of harvesting the two honey-supers we were hoping had been filled by our new colony. We were using our usual procedure that makes use of a leaf-blower to clear the bees from the frames as we move them to a closed container near the hive. As we were moving the frames from the edges toward the center, I noticed there was brood in the honey super! (This is bad, since we were using a queen excluder, designed to keep the queen out of the honey boxes.)

We had already blown a lot of bees off these frames and they were quite mad at this point. We stopped in our tracks and pondered what to do. If there was brood upstairs, it could only mean the queen was up there. There was a good chance we had already blown her off the frames.

We put the brood frames back into this box and proceeded to carefully blow off the rest of the edge frames that were capped honey for harvest. We went to the next super and only took the edge frames, leaving the brood frames in the center alone. We combined these two partial brood frames to place them back on the hive. But we wondered what was going on downstairs?

Had the original queen simply migrated to the upper boxes through the top entrance? Or had they requeened in the upper boxes? There was no immediate signs of queen cells, so we began to inspect the lower boxes to see what was going on below. We found more honey down there than was above, but we also found empty brood chambers with no sign of brood. We pulled a few more of the honey frames from below and replaced them with some of the partial honey/nectar cells from above.

After all this mess, the bees were quite mad since we were doing this inspection without any smoke and they were already agitated by our honey raid. I even got stung through my clothing! We put it all back together without the queen excluder and headed for safety.

The harvest turned out to be a total of 36 lbs, which is not really a bad year for a first-year colony (we've done worse.)

But the excitement wasn't over. We took the empty frames from our harvest and put them back into the hive to be "cleaned" by the bees. Need I say they were not at all glad to see us return? After that they formed a huge beard/ball on the front of the hive near the top entrance. We couldn't really tell what was going on and why they wouldn't go inside.

Normally as the sun goes down they will eventually all go back inside, but not that day. We went out to observer the entrance after the sun went down and they was still a very sizable ball on the outside. Was it a raiding party? Was the queen inside that ball? Maybe there was actually a second queen now and she was being attacked? We watched and saw a few bees circle and fly off to the south, but most stayed put.

By the next morning this group sitting on the porch was still there! I took the photo below at about 8AM the next day. This is most puzzling and we're not sure what happened here or what we might have done wrong.

Any speculation on the situation is welcome as comments.

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