Today was a big check up day, a time to answer the questions:
1) Is Abigail, the new Queen of Twain, properly mated and able to provide a new generation or worker bees?
2) Are there enough bees in Twain to keep the hive alive, and are any problems caused by weakness beginning to emerge?
3) Should I consider taking brood from Wilde to support Twain through all this?
The picture above pretty much captures the state of affairs. The good news is that Abigail is laying fertilized eggs. The few capped cells you see here contain developing female bees, honeybees who will eventually be capable of performing the work that makes a hive go round (actually, that makes a hive go "buzzzz"). Some queens don't mate well, or have some other problem, and lay only male drones. The latter cannot sustain a hive.
The bad news is, after finding just one frame with a few dozen capped brood (and maybe a couple of hundred more larvae besides) there was no evidence of any other brood in the hive. It's just not enough bees. Because there was so little empty comb for Abby to work with, I put some permacomb (the picture here) in, too, but the bees are ignoring it. I was warned about that: apparently, if there is any alternative at all to plastic, they will ignore the artificial stuff.
I continued on through the hive, looking for more brood and cleaning up the extra comb on the tops and bottoms of the frames — it seems to be everywhere this year, and it kills bees by pinching them when you move frames around. Therefore you scrape tops and bottoms (and save the beeswax) even if the girls are gonna build it up again. You can see that it's necessary to go slowly and carefully, because the bees basically don't get out of the way. I usually spend a few minutes freeing bees with stuck legs from the beeswax pile at the end of each session.
The next box below contained only honey, so I reversed it. That means that the box with the little bit of brood was switched with the lower honey box, and the latter was moved up and out of the way (it's just an obstacle to the bees at this point — there is no work to do in a capped honey super).
Also weird: I found a capped queen cell in the bottom box, in a supercedure position, but it was really small, and could have been left over from when the newspaper was still blocking the hive. Or the colony let Abigail lay a little, and they plan to supercede here...again. This is very bad. This hive will probably dwindle away to nothing if the bees somehow get the impression that the ongoing weakness is always the current queen's fault.
I wanted to be a smart, super-tough beekeeper and be able to make decisions like "Let Twain go, everyone loses a colony now and then," but I decided instead to gauge the strength of the neighbors, and see if I could let them lend a hand the next time I come by.
So into Wilde, Queen Liz' kingdom, I go, and this, my friends, is what I am talking about! We still don't look like we will have a good honey year (Editor's note: So what?), but this, oh patient ones, is a deep frame full of capped worker honeybees! Do you see all those filled-in cells, with just a few empties interspersed? That, dear hearts, is a beautiful brood pattern from a happening queen. There were two frames in a row just like that, thousands and thousands of bees on the way. Another round of life, coming up!
Since I am in the mood to show you pictures, here is a final one: after several frames of nicely stored honey and capped brood, you encounter this one. It's like touring the Old Masters wing of a stodgy art museum and suddenly encountering Christo. You are supposed to cull this kind of frame, scrape it down, and put it back for proper rebuilding (not at all unlike a Christo installation). I didn't. Not this time. Soon enough, though.
Right now, even though it's the dumb decision, I'm leaning toward moving a couple of frames of brood from Wilde to Twain, a kind of repayment for all the support that went the other way last year. The tough-minded reason for it is that all the drawn comb in Twain may get ruined if a lively colony of bees is not in there. The soft-hearted reason is that Twain suffered from my poor management — probably some swarming, some inept queen management, and the legacy of last winter's mite mayhem. In short, why start making sense now?