When your bees mess with you
On Friday I had one easy job to do. One of my triple-deep hives overwintered thanks to the cartloads of sugar I had trucked out of Costco since December. Every time I checked, the cluster was on the top bars and the sugar was gone, so I just kept feeding.
Since it was finally warm enough to open things up, I decided to consolidate the brood into one deep and remove the other two. Once I got the bees squished into a single deep, I planned to put a comb honey super on top, just long enough to catch the maple flow. At least, that was the theory.
So being the organized type, I drew a quick diagram of the hive I would end up with plus a list of equipment I would need. The whole job would take thirty minutes at most.
Trouble from the start
The trouble began at the beginning. I suspected the hive wasn’t overly populous, but kind of average. But when I popped the lid and removed the quilt, the bees didn’t exactly flow over the top. Instead, they exploded like a cherry bomb; a shrapnel of bees shot in all directions. I was shocked.
The last feeding of sugar was gone, of course, so I thought the top box would be light. But I couldn’t begin to move it, even after I wedged it loose with a hive tool. Thanks to being organized, I had brought along an empty deep. I began to remove frames, one by one, starting at the end.
The first was heavy with honey. And the second. And the third. The next four were filled with brood in a pattern solid as granite. I couldn’t find a single empty cell. The last three frames were also filled with honey.
Honey bee trickery
So what gives? Thanks to these twerps, I was supporting the sugar industry all by myself while they hoarded their honey for some higher purpose that I wasn’t privy to.
Irritated, I moved on to the second box. It also contained brood—about two-and-a-half frames—and six frames of honey. And the bottom? You guessed it: six more frames of honey. Eighteen frames of honey while I’m driving back and forth to Costco—twelve miles and four stomach-lurching roundabouts in each direction. I was furious.
At this point I decided to regroup. There was clearly enough brood and honey for two hives, so I decided to make a split. I went back to the house and got more equipment because my plan and well-organized list were now meaningless. I decided to move the queen into the new split, hoping the old colony might think it swarmed.
A queen gone AWOL
After so many years, I’m completely confident in my ability to find the queen. No problem. Scan the brood combs and she will reveal herself. Only she didn’t. Not the first time through. Not the second time through. Stupidity overwhelmed me and I tried a third pass. Nothing.
So after two hours I ended up with two colonies in two single deeps, both with scads of honey, both with comb honey supers, one with a queen and one without, and me having no idea which is which.
In the end, I stood before my hives feeling like an idiot. Bees had mucked with me. They made me drive to town and spend money, they hid their queen, they negated my list and destroyed my plans. They swallowed up my whole afternoon and probably laughed at my funny clothes.
As I stood there, the thick smell of brood, redolent of uncooked beef, held me in awe. While I inhaled the feral scent, a woodpecker rattled his brains in search of the next meal. Behind the hives a baby opossum poked through new greens and eyed me curiously. In that moment I once again decided that, indeed, beekeeping is worth the trouble. Yes, even when they mess with you.