So I spent all winter babying my hives to get them through. My biggest hive (2X deeps, 1 med.) is booming right along.
When I wasn't fretting about winter survival I was reading, reading, reading, everything I could on swarm prevention and doing splits. I thought I had a handle on it, but now it is suddenly upon me, and I'm thoroughly flummoxed.
(FWIW, our growing season is about 10-14 days (so far) delayed this year, from normal, and we are still occasionally getting close to frost some nights, but not for the next 14-21 days. My bees have been bringing in early pollen for three weeks, now presumably nectar as well.)
I am not interested in honey production, so that's not a concern. I am entirely focused on swarm prevention and making a "safety copy" of each of my colonies.
Sixteen days ago I "opened the brood nest" by adding empty frames (with just a stub of foundation the top):
The bottom deep: (after the manipulation) was: E, E, P/H, E(stub), B, B(small amount), B, E(stub), P/H, E
The upper deep was: E, P/H, E (stub), B(capped and open), B (open and capped) , B (open and capped), B (small amount), E(stub) H, E
Medium on top: E (some pollen), P, P/H, E (stub), B, B (small amount) w pollen, B, E (stub), P/H, E
Five days ago I removed one of the empty frames in the middle box and added an additional E(stub) frame in the middle of the brood nest. The bees had done some drawing of the stubs in the second box, none in the lower. No queen cups seen, but it was a less-than-thorough inspection due to sudden squall. Weather between first insertion of the stubs and this check (11 days between) had been cool with several days of no foraging due to cold and rain. I hadn't added a stub in the middle of the brood nest on the first go-round because temps were still very cool and I didn't want to risk chilling brood with empty space between brood frames.
Today: Bottom deep: E, H (small amount of open nectar), E (stub, nothing drawn), B (drone, capped), B (capped with soft, uncapped queen cup/cell in middle of frame - no larva or egg seen) and open nectar, B (small amount but mostly open nectar and pollen) P/open nectar, E (stub nothing drawn), H/P (open nectar, mostly), P (small amount)
Upper deep: E (slightly drawn), E (stub 50% drawn), B (capped and open), B (capped, some backfill with nectar), E (stub inserted six days ago, not drawn), B (capped and open and open QUEEN Cup/Cell on bottom of frame, soft wax, empty no larva or egg), B open and capped, with nectar backfill, E (stub 90% drawn with huge cells - drone or honey? - still empty), H, E.
Medium on top: E, E, B and open nectar, E, B, B (some w/very tiny larva, open), B (open and some capped drone), E, H, E.
I have never seen this queen (actually I've only ever seen one of my queens, once, five days ago, but not this colony.) I also am completely clueless about seeing eggs. Larva, even extremely tiny ones, I can see, but eggs elude me because I am not sure what I'm looking for. Regarding seeing eggs: when I look at pictures it always seems that eggs are in a liquid-y, reflecting material in the cell. Is that so? Or is it an artefact of the pic? If so, then perhaps I am not seeing backfilling with open nectar in the brood areas, but more eggs being laid. That would be good news, I think.
I also elected to remove both QC, to examine closely, and I figured since they were so soft (but not white at all, orange-y tan, the color of older comb) and empty, that if they need to make another one(s) they readily will. I know it won't stop swarming, but thought it might buy me a day or so. I am assuming these are new QCs because they are soft. But they are not the color of new wax, even though often the wax in this colony is darker, not white-white. But the new comb being drawn on the stub frames is white. Am I correct to assume these are current QC, part of active, swarm preps?
My original goal today was to simply do an overall check, open the brood nest some more, and a sugar roll, but obviously I've got bigger stuff to worry about.
So, my specific questions:
Have I got to do a split ASAP to have a chance to interrupt swarming? What was different today from a week ago and earlier is: presence of QCs, less capped and open brood and more liquid-y looking cells on the brood frames, and no expansion of brood area, although some drawing out of the stub frames (one out of four is nearly done, though still empty).
What kind of split would you recommended? A cut down? I am assuming a nuc is out of the question since I haven't seen eggs nor a queen. (Though I could make one up out my current equipment.)
I would strongly prefer to make a split that doesn't require me to move part of it away from here to make it work.
And specifically regarding Michael Bush's description of a cut-down - if this colony faces south now, how would the boxes face at the end? It isn't clear to me whether they would face north, or one each east and west and facing each other. All of my hives are now cheek by jowl still on their winter stand, and of course this is the middle one, so one of the end ones will have to scootch over to make room. It would be easiest to have them still face south, but I can do it anyway that's necessary to make this work. And also, would I wind up with two colonies of a deep and a medium apiece, or do I have to make up the space in a second deep for each? I do have some additional comb (both honey-filled and empty-but-drawn) but not much.
Was it a mistake to tear down those QCs? I wouldn't have removed capped ones, however, or even ones with larva. I am sure there was no egg, as I brought them in and examined them under magnification.
I was hoping to not have to deal with the open mating of a new queen so early. I am about a scant three weeks from apple blossoms; a month or so from black locust, which is our big "flow" I think. Some oak and red (but not sugar) maple are blooming now. Temps here can still get down to freezing at night until Memorial Day. I normally plant tomatoes after that, even though our "official" frost-free average date is the third week in May. There are drones in the colony, and mature-looking capped drone cells on my frames.
So, all advice would be most gratefully received. I have one more day of warm weather (@68-70F), then two days of rain though not bad temp-wise. Sunday will be sunny, dry and 74F. I was thinking that I have to split tomorrow. Do I, or can I wait until Sunday which will be warmer and I'd have more time to prep?
I did get the sugar roll done successfully (my first, as I usually just do mite drops), though it was a bit of an anticlimax to the discovery of QCs. The notion that sugar rolling is "less-damaging" to the bees is simply the difference between obviously and immediately dead and being shaken hard in a jar of suffocating dry powder and then dumped back in the hive coughing and confused. I think one is better than the other, but I am not certain. The sugar roll confirmed, though, that I am just barely under the treatment threshold for my area at this time of year, so I have to think about that, too. I was hoping (before QCs were seen) that if neecessary I could do a quick swat with MAQS and then do a split . I have the temps for it for the next 10-14 days.
What say you all? And many thanks for slogging through this. I never know which detail is most critical to best understand my question.
ADDING THIS QUESTION: With no expansion of brood areas, I suppose it's possible that during the abortive inspection five days ago I squished the queen, though I have no reason to believe I did. I really have to get this egg-seeing skill mastered!
Enjambres (who also has two other hives which probably are also making plans of their own, yikes!)