This picture is not, well, picturesque, but it's here to show you what I am up against. Twain spawned a new queen last month, and she is in there somewhere. Abigail, her mother, needs to return from her temporary placement at the Monastery apiary, and one or the other queen has to go.
I just asked Larry, the beekeeping guru who helped me reinforce this colony, if he could use a daughter queen to the one he gave me, and he said yes, so I no longer have to dispatch either queen. They are both young, and should have at least another Spring in them: it would be a pity to kill either one, and unfair, since the only reason this happened at all was that they breed strong, populous families.
I mentioned "having" to dispatch a queen, because today was really, really hard. In the picture, you can see that Twain is 6 boxes deep, with a feeder box on top. You probably can't tell that it is 96+ degrees F out, and that I have absolutely no choice about doing this work today.
Why? I am leaving for two weeks of vacation on Tuesday, and I need to remove the queen in here and let the colony go queenless for at least a day before I bring Abigail back. The gap day allows the young queen's pheromones to dissipate, and makes the bees hungry for another mother's hormonal comforts. Even so, I need to protect the returning queen from the workers on my roof for at least three additional days while Abigail's personal mojo works its wonders.
So I am pulling the new queen on Thursday, letting the hive go queenless on Friday, bringing Abigail back on Saturday, and removing the protective barrier on Tuesday...then I am the one who flies away.
Oh my goodness, it was so very hot up there! By now, my weather station tells me that it got to 107 this afternoon. And the work was so heavy: the top boxes are full of honey, an extracting job for another day (a day, perhaps, in September). In the picture, you can see a little plastic container that I rigged up as a queen cage. It has a piece of comb and some honey in the bottom, and I cut out most of the lid, replacing it with plastic window screen material. This is not a typical queen cage, but it got The New Queen and some attendants safely to Larry's house.
The piece of unfinished woodenware you can see in the picture is a bee escape. I have never used it for its appointed function (someone told me drones can get stuck and die in there), but it is serving here as a stand on which I can balance hive boxes without squashing (many) bees. All of my proper hive stands and telescoping covers are in use! Incredible.
This next part of the story is just hot and whiny. I took that hive apart, box by box, and did not find the queen. It took 45 minutes: sweat was in my eyes, heat stroke was on my mind, and an unattractive Darwinian temptation was getting my attention. Part of me — the part that thinks I am a stupid rank sentimentalist about all this, and that my emotional frothiness does the bees little good — was whispering, "Just put the colonies together, and let nature sort this out."
That would mean letting the bees fight it out, queen against queen, worker against worker... many bees dead in a colony that could actually survive that loss and even more. It would mean that something I thought might happen, a gulf of emotional distance between myself and these beings who add so much to my life, had finally developed (as feared). It would be a sliver of cold in an overheated heart.
So... I went back through the boxes. Spent another twenty minutes. And found her. I also found that she is a good layer, at least for the past week or so, and that Larry might get a pretty decent queen out of this. I tucked her and about 8 workers into the plastic container, reassembled the Twain colony (now pissed off as hell, let me tell you), and got the heck out of there.
After rehydrating, I drove out to Larry's, and he showed me how he gets a queen into a queen cage (clever dude: uses a folded square of nylon window sheers with a hole in the corner: the queen crawls right in!) He also placed the daughter queen in a colony that really needed her, while I was watching. This was extremely comforting, reassurance that I am happiest as a sentimental moron.
He also showed me how his honey harvest was going, and gave me about TWO POUNDS of pure capping wax to turn into soap (as well as two dead ripe tomatoes). This is just wonderful. He wanted to pay me for the queen, but I laughed at him. Instead, I bought a case of plastic honey bears, a few one pound jars, and another deep hive body (unassembled), then gave him a hug.