We got back to our neighbours to sort out the colonies in the abandoned hives this afternoon. There were two and both had built comb all over the place.
The first one we opened turned out to be without any queen and no brood whatsoever. We had already tied most of the wax into frames (lots of honey in them too) so we put them into a nuc and closed them up.
The second hive was a different kettle of fish. The main box was sitting without a floor on a tyre - see above. We knew that there was a stack of wax built onto the roof and that another pile of wax was lying in the tyre. We opened it up carefully.
With our hearts in our mouths we carefully turned the lid upside down. So many bees and we still didn't know if the queen was in the lid or in the tyre - or not there at all perhaps. Very gradually we removed plaques with honey and put them to one side and concentrated on the plaques with brood - this is when we knew there was a queen present so long as we hadn't already killed her. This is all fresh comb and there was a reasonable amount of brood - about four plaques - so we reckoned the queen was probably up here somewhere and not down in the tyre. Tying wax - which is heavy when it has brood and honey in it - into frames is not easy. We did our best and I just hope we improve with experience.
The reward was great. Having put four frames of brood into a nuc I suddenly saw the queen still on the lid. We managed to catch her and having put her to one side we had a moment of reflexion on what to do. There were so many bees!
We finally decided to put the colony back into a big hive. We didn't have one with us so we had to make do with the various elements around us. Brood box, crown board and roof were no problem. The floor we found was rotten and fell apart so we made do with another roof. We then put the frames of brood into this box and surrounded it with frames of honey which I had bought up with me.
The discussion and finding the bits and pieces took approximately five minutes. During this time the bees had found the queen in the cage and were gathering around her. It's amazing how nature works so efficiently! In the picture above you can just about see the cage - look at the breeze block in the middle; the cage is under the pile of bees on top, at the front on the right. (OK, you have to know exactly where it is to see it!)
We put this DIY'ed hive just behind the original placement and once the frames were organised we dropped the queen in over a frame of brood. The picture above was taken less than five minutes later. The bees have found her majesty and have started signalling to the other bees who are now marching out of the tyre and into the hive. This has to be the best part of hiving a swarm - or colony in this case.
My only regret with the whole exercise was not marking the queen. It doesn't matter. We know she's in there and next week we'll take another look to see how things are going.
In the meantime there is the orphaned colony to deal with. More thought is required but I suspect that we will go back tomorrow and unite the two. I would be happier if the colony with the queen had more bees to forage and bring in food.
This final picture is the rest of the comb that we couldn't save or fit into frames. Despite being able to support a huge weight of honey or brood - not to mention bees climbing all over it - comb is incredibly fragile once you start trying to manipulate it and breaks easily. The bees are all over it because there is so much honey in there. We will work out tomorrow how to save the honey. I rather suspect that we won't regret it!
Our work was further rewarded when we drove back down through the wood and past our neighbour's house. He was waiting for us and he and his wife called us in for an apero. This is not to be underestimated. Firstly the glasses are HUGE. Secondly it was fizzy. Thirdly having finished more than I normally consume in a week my glass was refilled.
Forgive me if I leave you now - hic...hic!