And what's what ... black paper plastic covering the inner cover hole? Didn't bother the girls, who chewed right through it. Okay, now I'm convinced that upper entrances can be useful! The old beekeeper who fashioned one into his inner cover? Must've been a pretty smart fella (or fellette).
I decided to lift off the top shallow and see what was underneath it all. In beekeeping, work from the bottom up and re-assemble the hive as you go. Makes sense. Took me a painful year to figure that one out. I knew I'd be using lots of smoke to drive the bees out of those nasty bottom chambers and up into the top super. So before I started, I put a piece of window screen in my smoker to keep any ash and embers from puffing out while I smoked 'em to kingdom come. Worked like a charm, by the way.
What amazed me was that despite the destruction all the vermin and pests had left behind, the honey bees were mining every possible bit of anything useful that might be left down below, and transporting it above. Nothing's wasted in a hive, especially one with all the odds stacked against it, a swarm. Both levels were equally revolting and littered with waste and destruction. I couldn't wait to get spiffy new equipment in place for this swarm! In addition to running an all-shallows hive with an upper entrance, the beekeeper who set up this configuration also used 9 frames in a 10-frame box, including frame spacers in each super.
I removed the boxes and put the old equipment in front so any remaining bees could find their way back to the parent hive. Down went a spiffy, clean screened bottom board, and then the single shallow the bees were in. Time to remove the inner cover and see what was underneath it. Oh my, it was LOADED with bees! Yippee!! I gently removed the extra burr comb they put on the homemade inner cover. Yes, these were gentle bees. Score!
Oh, my, oh my! Thank you, Jesus. After cleaning up the top bars, I gave the girls an additional super with 5 clean and empty drawn shallow combs I had in reserve. That'd give them 50% more space instantly for the queen to lay and convince them that they'll love their new digs in T's Bees Apiary. I decided to save a frame-by-frame inspection for another day or two out. Best to take things one step, and day at a time. Felt right. In 2 seconds the first bee was onto the fresh comb, and in no time at all her sisters followed in earnest.
I was overcome and humbled and amazed as I left them to enjoy a beautiful Saturday. They'd come so far in such a short time. As had my apiary. Thank you, God.
But if the interiors were good, meaning no one sprayed my hive boxes nor inside the hives, then the foragers must be the ones that were affected by the wicked event.
Strategy means everything at this point. My first reaction is to bring in new queens for each hive. Being treatment-free, going into winter with more strong hives is better than with fewer weaker ones. Decisions, decisions.
Would a better response be to split the hives into 4 nucs and raise 2 additional queens (and eventually replace the current queens after the new queens come online)? These hives are doing o-kay, but are not great. Longtime commercial and natural beekeeper Michael Palmer suggests taking weak hives and making splits from them, and apportioning their resources to other hives instead of the reverse -- taking a strong hive and putting some of its resources into the weaker ones thereby, weakening your strong hive in the process -- is a smarter was to go. Stop chasing after weak hives, in other words. Use what you have to start anew. I have indeed decided to make splits from these two hives, especially since they've bounced back and some drones are still flying. The clock is ticking.
Speaking of strategies, late last year (when it was too late to count for that season's bees) I covered the surface underneath my hives with plastic tarp and old roofing shingles to make an impenetrable surface. This prevents small hive beetles from pupating underneath the hives and breaks their vicious and fast reproductive cycle. It also keeps my hives dry, no matter how wet the conditions outside are. We had an extremely wet spring this year, and the hard surface kept my package bees dry and beetle-free. I've wanted to dress up my apiary with cedar or cypress chips atop the shingles because the shingles are quite the touch of redneck and just aren't pretty. But damnit, they work: if it weren't for the unnatural, hard surface I wouldn't have realized this June day that I had a problem on my hands that needed to be monitored. For now, the old, ugly roofing shingles work just fine and show me instantly if I see natural attrition of bees dying outside the hives, or a problem that needs immediate attention.
I never would've known I had a problem were it not for the hard surface underneath my hives. I highly recommend cheap, efficient (and if you're like me, free) shingles as a material to put down underneath your hives. The hard surface is a GREAT beetle defense, and an immediate visual aid in letting you know if all is well or if "something wicked this way comes" (yes, I'm a Ray Bradbury fan and you should read that amazing, scary-assed masterpiece).
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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