My work colleagues are probably asleep, oblivious, or in the midst of sweet dreams at 5.20am. That’s normal. At 5.20am I jump out bed, there’s no tiredness on me this morning as I put on a tracksuit and have a cup of coffee while I mentally go through the checklist. Bee suit, wellies, hive tool, smoker, fuel, lighter, hive stand, oh and newspaper – must have newspaper. Yes, I have them all. I yet again mentally go through the plan step by step. This morning I am merging a queenless hive with a queen-right hive.
Put one hive of bees on another. Simple.
Yesterday during at a quick nip out at lunchtime to do a hive inspection my worry about a small hive had been confirmed. They are still queenless despite the frame of eggs I had given them. I returned that evening to close them in, shutting the entrance and sealing it with duct-tape. The mesh hive-floor would provide them with plenty of ventilation. Putting straps around the hive was the final touch, it was ready for its journey to the orchard the next morning to be merged with a queen-right hive.
- Get up early.
- Drive to Stone field.
- Put queenless hive in car.
- Drive to Orchard (more than 3 miles away).
- Assess queen-right hive, i.e., Her Majesty’s hive (an existing hive in the orchard).
- Light smoker (for once this lights up first time, flames rise beautifully before I add a mix of cardboard and hessian to produce billows of wonderful cool smoke).
- Put on Bee Suit and wellies and arm myself with newspaper, hive tool and smoker which I place near Her Majesty’s hive.
- Carry queenless (strapped up, bees-sealed-in) hive and set gently on pallet near Her Majesty’s hive.
- Blow smoke gently in front of the hive before moving Her Majesty’s hive off the stand.
- Throw old stand (milk crate) unceremoniously to one side.
- Put new stand in place. Give a glance over to see how Her Majesty’s hive is behaving. Some confused early foragers or guard bees are flying around in circles near me but all is well.
- Put queenless hive on new stand.
Now the tricky bit…
- Take lid off queenless hive and smoke the top bars, deftly remove the crown board and place sheets of newspaper on top of the by now very-awake-and-confused, queenless hive. Bees have spotted a gap in the newspaper and well-up one after one flying out (this is not part of the plan!), pull paper over the gap. Thank God it’s a really calm day and the newspaper doesn’t flap or fly away! Put crown board partly on top of paper to stop paper lifting in the very gentle breeze.
- Make some small holes in the paper with hive tool (allows queen pheromone to seep slowly into queenless hive).
- Turn attention to Her Majesty’s hive. Check if floor is stuck to hive body. Yes, it’s stuck. Use hive tool to gently prise off the hive body from the floor (hive body is full of bees and of course Her Majesty).
- Carry Her Majesty’s hive body (which still has its lid on but is now floorless) and put it on top of the newspaper and with a spare hand (what spare hand!) pull crown board off without disturbing paper. (I did say deftly 😊).
- Line up both hives: wooden box over poly box.
- Tah dah! ♫ Mission Accomplished!
- One last check that all is lined up.
- Tear up a bunch of long grass.
- Pull off all duct tape and cautiously open entrance of queenless hive (which is on the bottom), quickly stuff entrance with grass so the bees know they are in a new place.
As I said, put one hive of bees on another. Simple!
I am not sure why I need to stuff the entrance with grass. It’s supposed to delay the bees’ emergence from the beehive and help them know that they are in a new place. All that driving and lugging about, the new smells of the orchard and the totally different surroundings might have already given them a hint that they are in a new place. Anyway, I try not to argue too much with tradition. Grass dutifully inserted in entrance.
I’m banking on the bees not reading beekeeping books. In the books the queenless hive should be put on top when introduced to a queen-right hive. I flipped it because I wanted Her Majesty to be in a poly hive with a mesh floor. The bees hadn’t objected to their original set up, but I hope Her Majesty likes the better insulation and the air-conditioning of the mesh floor in the new configuration.
Also…. I hope all-out-war does not break out between the two hives!
“You can have at it now.” I say as I walk away.
I’m sure they will be ok.
I turn to watch as some of the bees flood out around the grassy entrance and fly in circles orientating, thankfully they are not bothering to pay me any attention as they have too much on their plate for now.
I tidy up and as a precaution drive a short way up the lane before the next part of my plan.
I check that there is no one around for miles. I stop. Jump out. and quickly change into my office work clothes and shoes.
I’ll pass for normal again.
As I sit in my car, my phone alarm goes off at the usual time I would get up reminding me that I am most certainly not normal.
I wonder if anyone at work will notice that I smell like a bonfire?
Post script – checked bees following day, following week, all seemed ok. Left them alone to sort themselves out and checked again today (mid July) 4 weeks later. The hive is boiling with bees and the top brood box is very heavy with honey. I put a super between the two brood boxes. Hopefully her majesty will keep to the lower boxes.