Just before the end of the season we were looking at the health of each colony and checking that they had enough stores for the winter. There were two weak colonies and the Apiary Manager asked me to amalgamate them. Luckily I had just read an article about doing this in BBKA News but even so theory and practice are not the same. I needed to find both queens and then kill the one I judged to be weakest and then put the brood box from this hive over the top of the brood box with the other queen with newspaper in between so that the bees were introduced to each other slowly as they ate through the paper and adjusted to the new hive pheromones. Hm, the challenge was to find both queens, not lose one whilst 'dispatching' the other and then join the colonies without upsetting the bees too much. One queen was easy to find but the other was more difficult and after going through the frames a couple of times we resorted to shaking each frame over a queen excluder so the workers could move down but we would see the queen. Success and a good technique to have in my armoury for the future. It all went well although I did not enjoy killing the queen but my team were very supportive. The next week they were all happy together.
We closed up the hives with supers under the brood boxes and mouseguards on the front. Another season ended.
I went through the same 'closing up' process with the home hives although I was anxious that neither of the colonies had taken the stores into the brood box and on advice from more experienced beekeepers I moved the stores frames putting empty ones next to the brood frames to encourage comb building and ensure enough space for the queen to lay. This may have been a bad idea ..........
I went for one final look to see if the frame moving had resulted in more drawn comb with stores and to my horror in Hive 1 I found 2 supercedure queen cells. They were embedded into a hole that had been excavated in the comb and I had damaged one by the time I realised it had a queen larva and royal jelly and then in a mild panic I squashed the other queen cell. As I had not yet found the queen this was not good. Of course I then failed to find the queen and after three runs through the frames decided to close up and have a think. There were drones in the hive and the weather was good but really much too late for a new queen to hatch and be mated. Reading suggested that the bees would not kill the old queen until they had a new one laying so I really did have to find her and a couple of days later my husband and I made a forensic search of the hive. No new supercedure cells but no queen either so I put all the frames from the brood box into two supers on top of a sheet of polythene. She was not in the super under the brood box and we then shook each frame over a queen excluder gently smoking the workers down as we went. We got to the last three frames and I knew that one had stores and the other was un-drawn so I was feeling anxious that there was no queen and I had killed the queen larvae ......... then Tony saw her. I re-marked her very carefully with green to make finding her easier in future. I looked carefully and she had all her legs and was walking properly but everything I read said that she must be failing and that the workers knew this - given the amount of healthy new brood I was surprised but decided to trust the bees.
A week later I decided to do another check. No queen but queen cells in the same place as last time so I decided to leave them and hope that the bees knew best and would not kill the old queen until a functioning new one emerged.
Last week I made another 'final check' and found a hole in the side of one queen cell that I could see the white larva through. It was obviously not going to hatch and I pulled out a dead queen. Turning the frame over I found that the other queen cell was open and a worker was in there ....... when she came out it was evident that the queen had hatched or they had decided to tear down the cell anyway. Is the old queen failing, is she alive, is there a new queen, did the MAQs strips upset the colony - the literature states it may stimulate supercedure, did moving the frames around upset the colony? I decided not to amalgamate this colony with the other one and risk upsetting both colonies and losing the other queen so I am 'letting nature take its course' ............ yes, there was freshly capped comb and some white larvae so although I did not see her I am hopeful that the green queen is still OK.
Hive 2 with the blue queen in comparison had very little brood but I saw the queen and hopefully all is well.
I now only lift the roof off the hive to top up sugar syrup. Bees are still flying and bringing in pollen on both hives.
Other bee related activities
As I said at the start, I have been very busy. The NLBA Annual Competition and supper was a delight. I got first prize again for my cake, 1st for my candles and 2nd for my honey in the novice class. I also gained first prize in a local competition for my chunk honey. Then there has been: bottling honey and developing exciting new relationships with local businesses. Making and packaging candles and cleaning up kit ready for next year.