Tuesday, May 03, 2005

So bad that I'm not sure how bad it is

Since last Thursday (the last entry), the fortunes of Colony 1 seem to be in a sudden downward spiral, or maybe I only just figured it out. This whole thing is proving very hard to figure out, or maybe this proud city resident just is not coming from the right place.

The basic story is that something is wrong, and that deciding what is wrong determines the course of action to address the situation. A laying queen was spotted in Colony 1 over a week ago, but since then no new comb has been spun, very little laying has taken place, and what did occur seems to have resulted in a disastrously messed up "drone comb.' Drone comb is often laid by something called a "laying worker," a worker bee who has been stimulated to lay, even though her offspring can only be drones and therefore not support the colony, because the queen is either gone or incapacitated.

Since the last entry (and before I saw the mystery comb), I considered whether I had to dispatch the queen and replace her, and I went looking for advice. Perhaps I have been too reticent to ask, or just too clueless to keep bees because I need too much guidance, because whatever I have done, I seem to have waited too long. Between "gee she is slow" and "what the hell is going on?" only 4 days passed. I think the vote goes to "clueless."

It seemed reasonable that I should wait awhile, and give the original queen more time since she might just be getting a slow start. I decided to take that advice, and check in later. What I found, instead of progress and recovery, was the same few frames of comb NOW covered with drone cells in no particular pattern. I didn't even know they were drone cells: I thought they were queen cells. Colony 1 is so week they probably CAN'T raise their own queen. Probably a colony in its death throes if big, correct action is not taken.

It turns out that MY planned course of action, requeening, in a "laying worker" situation will not work, will not only not fix the situation but probably result in the death of the new queen. I had placed the new queen in that hive for almost 5 hours before I learned this -- more accurately, before I listened carefully enough or figured out what the key elements in the decision were.

There are very few ways to bring a hive back from a laying worker situation, and I am not sure I understand them.

One piece of advice that came from someone who actually saw the pictures I took of the situation was to consider making a "nuclear" or nuc colony by assembling a few frames from Colony 2, adding my new queen, and placing all of them in one of my empty hive bodies. This nuc is placed over the troubled colony with a bee proof barrier in the way. I did this, killing hundreds of bees in the process, because of my deep impulse to save some semblance of a second colony and the new queen. Maybe the pheromones of the new queen will eventually permeate and bring 'round the ones below. There is some chance.

This may have been just plain stupid. The bees in Colony 1 probably cannot be made to come back around to a "queen right" (the opposite of :laying worker") situation with the tools and skills I have, and it might be wiser to leave those three frames of bees, brood, and honey where they were thriving instead.

I keep thinking I have to decide, to take action now, because with what I have done already hundreds more may be dying RIGHT NOW. The alternative is the dwindling death march of one colony and the probable health of the other.

I wish I had the judgement to know where the probabilities were: whether this is panic or well-founded hard nosed logic.

I hope I can afford to do what is coming next: a major Internet push to find out what I can about situations like this. Then maybe there will be enough information to make a decision for the best.

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