Beneath gray skies on a warm, windless day, we inspected both hives at the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP). This inspection was very important since previous looks inside of the hives had revealed a weak split and a main hive without a queen. A couple weeks ago, Anne Marie had located a queen in the main hive, but during inspection, the queen took flight and disappeared. The best possible scenario would be to come out of this inspection with a strong split and a returned queen.
After five of us stepped into the bee-suits, grabbed our hive tools, and lit the smoker, we proceeded through the maze of tall grass to the hives. Beginning with the main hive, we noted quite a bit of activity at the entrance. Field bees were carrying pollen back into the hive, which is a good indication of a queen.
We then removed the outer and inner covers to reveal five frames with honey in the top medium. The second medium consisted of honey, open cells, and some capped brood. There were also about six queen cells. All but one queen cell was open. If our hive had a queen, then we would expect all of the queen cells to be empty. However, the bees may have known something that we didn’t know.
Up until the deep box, the bees were relatively calm and quiet. There was an apparent sense of organization in the hive, leading us to believe that a queen would be found soon. When we revealed the deep box, however, the roar of the bees became notably louder. Anne Marie said that the bees were beginning to show behavior of a hive without a queen. Nevertheless, we remained hopeful.
As the inspection of the deep box continued, the presence of a queen became more apparent. This was great news! There were eggs and larvae at various stages in development. The eggs were difficult to spot in the gray light, but could be seen with the rotation of the frame. Then, slowly moving about a frame, was our green marked queen who had taken flight during the previous inspection.
The marked queen had returned!
Organization in the main hive is underway. We have a laying queen and the main hive is rebounding.
We also inspected the second hive. Anne Marie turned this inspection over to the students. In the top medium, no comb was drawn. In the second medium, we found capped honey, eggs, capped brood, and uncapped brood. This hive was looking good. In the deep box, we found the queen with the perfectly round green mark. The hive was calm throughout the inspection. In the deep box, there was also a medium frame to which the bees were building their own comb. This served as a natural varroa mite trap, although no varroa mites were seen in either hive.
All in all, this was a very successful day of hive inspections. We came out of the inspection with a strong split and a returned queen. We couldn’t have asked for much more. I was so engaged for the duration of the hive inspections that I hadn’t even realized how hot it was in the bee-suit. But this surely won’t stop me from suiting up and visiting our bees again. There are days in your life that you’ll never forget; this was one of those days for me.