The queen is alive, long live the queen!

Today, my bees had been in their cage for almost four days, so I decided it was time to check and see if they’d released their queen (mostly because I was worried the queen cage being in there would cause them to screw up their comb-building, since I’m using foundationless frames).

Like a responsible adult, I donned my veil, long pants, and sweatshirt, lit my smoker, and grabbed all the tools I might need, along with some rubber bands for re-hanging comb I might clumsily break.

I lifted off their feeder can, blew a couple of puffs of smoke into the hole on top of the hive, and lifted off the lid.

Upon pulling out the frame with the queen zip-tied in place, I saw about what I had hoped/expected; they had attached comb to the queen cage, but otherwise, the comb was perfect and straight. So, naturally, I had to cut it up and ruin everything.

Okay, not quite. I did have to cut the queen cage out of the comb surrounding it. The bees had also stuck it to the top bar of the frame quite nicely with a decent amount of propolis.

In cutting out the queen cage, I dislodged the left side of the fragile fresh comb, leaving it hanging out of the frame.

As a quick repair, I cut out the loose part, then strung two rubber bands over the frame, before placing the comb between the rubber bands. Theoretically, the bees will end up reattaching the comb to the frame, and all will be well.

I didn’t spend too much time looking for eggs or the queen, as it was a windy day, and the bees were already pretty cranky, so hopefully I didn’t squish her somewhere along the way (or if I did, she had already laid a bunch of eggs, so the hive could make an emergency queen).

One thing I found difficult was knowing how to handle the frame. Even a medium frame with some comb completely covered with bees is a little too heavy to gracefully manipulate with one hand, which is exactly what I had to do while cutting out the queen cage. I ended up having to set one corner down on the hive, which is when I crushed one of the bees.

I was also a bit timid about holding the frame, so that didn’t help. It’s going to take some time before 32 years of avoiding bees works its way out of my head.

Anyhow, I got the frames back in place and the hive closed up without too much incident; no stings or terribly pissed-off bees. One problem with the long-langstroth hive design I’m using is that, with the hive cover off, there’s nothing to stop bees from finding their way down into the usually-blocked-off portion of the hive (the area past the follower board). It took me a while to get most of them out, and even then, I left a few to die.

On a top-bar hive, this isn’t a problem, because the bars butt right up next to one another, preventing access to the area below. With Langstroth frames, though, there’s space between each frame at the top, so the bees can move freely between them.

As a result, my follower board’s top bar has to extend above the rest, all the way to the cover, to keep them from going back into the future-expansion area.

The next time I open the hive, I think I’ll just bring a board to lay on top of the expansion area to keep curious bees out. Losing one or two bees isn’t the end of the world in a hive of tens of thousands, but it still doesn’t feel good.

Also, conventional wisdom is not to keep opening your hive all the time. I want to see what’s going on in there, so conventional wisdom is going to drive me crazy. I really need to build an observation hive.

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