It felt great to finally be doing some serious hive inspections after a very wet spring break. Most of my colonies so far are looking pretty good, but I came across one yesterday and another today that had queen troubles. Whether the queen had perished or was just poorly mated was difficult to tell. Regardless of the cause, the effect was the same–few or no eggs, some scattered drone brood, dwindling population–serious trouble for the colony. It’s a little early in my area to raise queens, so I opted instead for a time-buying strategy.
If you have more than one hive, it’s likely that you have some resources on hand to help out a weak hive. I happened to have booming colonies just next door to both my problem hives today, so I did a little neighborly borrowing. In both cases, I took a couple of frames of brood and eggs from the strong hive, shook most of the bees from them and inserted them into the brood area of the weakened colony. In the first colony, I shook the bees in front of the hive. Nurse bees tend to walk into the new hive and are accepted with little fuss, while field bees usually fly back to their hive of origin, reducing potential conflict at the entrance. Problem colony number one was also very short on pollen, so I made sure the frame I borrowed had some good fresh pollen stores as well as eggs. Because the population of this colony was fairly small, I did not give them more brood than they could cover on our cold nights. While this move will not necessarily correct the queen situation in the problem colony, it will keep it going until it’s appropriate to do a more substantial manipulation.
Colony two had a slightly different situation. The queen was performing as poorly as the first (if she was in there at all), but this colony was situated next to a huge hive that needed relocating. These two colonies had experienced one of those charming in-the-dark, middle-of-the-flood desperation moves back in December. In addition to the fact that they were crammed too close together on one of the only small knoll that would keep them above the flood, the block base of the booming one was pitifully crooked. I took two frames of capped and uncapped brood for the struggling colony and moved the strong one about twenty feet away. That left only my weak hive in the position formerly occupied by both. My hope is that the returning field force will bolster the weak hive, while relieving congestion in the boomer. It was fortunate that the large hive was mostly full of capped brood, which takes fewer bees to warm on cold nights. A similar manipulation with large areas of open brood would have likely resulted in brood chilling and loss. The addition of eggs and open brood in the weak hive will help stave off the development of laying workers.
This second manipulation was very invasive but necessary to avert the complete failure of the weakened colony and potential swarming in the overpopulated one. I am hoping that a few days of sun and good foraging will mitigate the chaos I caused. In another few weeks, I will hopefully be able to supply both troubled colonies with queen cells from strong, productive survivor stock.