In early September I realized that my first hive was missing a queen. The queen cells that I found in the hive were "superceeding" cells, meaning that they were the workers' attempt to make a queen from one of the eggs in the side cells because their queen was dead or dying, versus the queen cells that were built in May, hanging off of the bottoms of the frames when the girls needed a new queen in order to swarm. I gave the girls a few weeks to sort things out, but when I saw in mid September that not only did they still have no queen, but that their honey stores were being robbed by the other hive, I knew that I had no choice but to merge the two hives. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It will turn the two hives (one weak) into one ultra-strong hive and I can go in and split the hive back into two in the spring. My only reluctance, was a) the process of doing the deed, and b) the knowledge that the new hive that I make next spring will be from the same lineage as this rather feisty (mean) hive.
As expected, it was a grueling, job. It involved
taking out all of the frames from one box and "shaking" all of the bees into the second box in an effort to consolidate the two into one. The girls, queenless and victims of robbing for the past weeks, were understandably really upset. I was working in a literal cloud of bees for way longer than anyone should ever work in a cloud of bees. Added to this was the fact that the girls did not seem to understand that I wanted them to stay in the box, not crawl out of it.I had to call Matt over to carry the box of bees and frames over to the host hive and place it on top of it. Believe it or not, this was his first time carrying a box of bees, and boy was he excited! It was shockingly heavy. I winced as I saw how he struggled to carry it the twenty or so feet to the other hive, imagining the chaos that would ensue if it were to be dropped.
The technique of merging is simple. You place a single sheet of newspaper between the two hives and in the amount of time that it take for the bees to chew through the paper, they become accustomed to each others' smell.
This seems to have happened.
I pulled the full super of honey that was on the host hive (now known around here as "Thor") and harvested just a bit. The honey was very thin but has thickened up with the help of a dehumidifier. I am saving the remaining six full frames until I am sure that the girls have enough for the winter. Perhaps the best piece of bee news is that my body (at least for the time being ) seems to have become immune to bee venom!! After a particularly serious reaction in August (at which point my entire torso turned beet red and got covered with hives), each subsequent sting has caused a progressively minor reaction. A solid sting on my index finger last week, which started to swell and send red lines up my arm, went on to deflate and cause nothing but a red dot after I put a baking soda paste on it.
The hive will be wrapped soon for another winter of clustering. I turn now to the stove and my boxes of beautiful blue glass bottles and white containers waiting to be filled with propolis tincture and bee body cream.