Here's some beekeeping updates:
With the unseasonably hot weather we've been having, the bees often congregate (or "beard") outside the hive on hot evenings. Apparently this in no way indicates swarming is imminent; it's just to cool down.
One of our hives is thriving enormously (the one on the right).
So much so that it was time to put on supers.
The active bees had built burr comb on the underside of the lid. Yep, definitely time for supers. I don't want crowded conditions to trigger swarming.
But the other hive wasn't thriving at all. In contrast to the right-hand hive, the left-hand hive many frames were still entirely empty, with no comb-building at all. A close inspection of the existing combs revealed no eggs, no larvae, nothing.
Crud. The queen is dead.
After consulting with our beekeeping mentor, we made arrangements to purchase another queen. Unfortunately I couldn't pick her up until my next "city day" in Spokane, which was yesterday.
This is the beekeeper, fetching the queen. You can see just a few of the dozens of hives he has scattered around. Behind him is the Spokane River -- he's right on the bank. It was a lovely peaceful spot in the midst of the city.
I wanted to get right close in to take photos, but not without protective gear -- as the beekeeper noted, the bees get testy when working with queens, and he doesn't smoke his bees when opening the hive.
He removed a frame...
...and put it to one side.
I was surprised to see it was a specialized frame with queen cages tucked inside.
Reverting back to the previous photo shown above, I learned later that while the frame with the queen cages was put to one side, what the beekeeper was doing was taking another (empty) queen cage, and tucking in some worker bees inside to become attendants to the queen for the next few days.
Then he closed up the hive. Back inside the shop, he removed the plugs from the queen cages (closing them up with his finger)...
...then put the cages end to end so there was a tunnel between them. We gave the insects a few minutes to sort things out -- either the queen would crawl into the cage with the workers, or the workers would crawl into the cage with the queen (which is finally what happened).
He re-plugged the queen cage (which, by the way, has some sort of food source inside the cage) and handed it to us. Younger Daughter carried it on her lap as we made the long drive home, making sure to keep it out of direct sun.
Once home, it was past 7 pm and too late to insert the queen into our hive. This morning we made ready to do so.
The queen is helpfully marked with a bright blue dot. Apparently the color is determined by the year -- 2015 is the "blue" year -- and this will help us locate her in a mass of moving bees, should the need arise.
Younger Daughter christened the new queen "Elizabeth II." Long live the queen!
This morning I smoked the weak hive and opened it up. I filled the frame feeder with fresh syrup -- the stronger hive has long since ceased using supplemental feed, but the weak hive still needs it -- and inserted it back into the hive.
Then I inserted the still-plugged queen cage between two frames and lodged it there, and closed up the hive.
As Don put it, there must be a Borg-like sense of relief at the introduction of a new queen, even if she's a stranger at the moment. After all, without a queen, a bee's existence is purposeless.
According to the instruction of our beekeeping mentor(s) (both said the same thing), we'll wait a few days before replacing the plug on the queen cage with a mini-marshmallow, which the bees will chew through in short order. A day or two after that, we'll lift an entire frame of capped brood (brushed free of bees) from the healthy hive and insert it into the weak hive, so the bees have a jump start on extra workers. A day or two after that, we'll repeat the process with yet another frame of capped brood from the healthy hive. And -- hopefully -- that will do it.
Incidentally, it's worth noting both the professional beekeepers I've spoken to in the last week have asserted the same thing: this is one of the toughest summers regional beekeepers have faced in a long time. Drought combined with high temperatures are making things challenging enough. For novice beekeepers such as ourselves, all we can do is rise to meet that challenge.