Beekeeping here over the past few weeks has been complicated and labour-intensive. Taking hives apart, dividing colonies, lifting heavy boxes, climbing on chairs, opening and closing different sequences of doors like on a magician's box, poring over notebooks with a furrowed brow, re-assembling hives and then wondering whether things are the right way round. Beekeeper and bees alike are a little frayed.
But swarm numbers are significantly down on last year, despite having more beehives this spring than last, so we can say all this effort has been at least moderately successful on that front.
At present the apiary is full of "high rise" beehives that have an upstairs and a downstairs colony under one roof - the result of performing the vertical splits.
But as I don't want to double my number of colonies, and want each hive to have one queen and one queen only, I now have to unite the upstairs and downstairs bees back together again.
I use the newspaper method. A single sheet of newspaper is laid between the uppermost box of the downstairs colony and the lowermost box of the upstairs colony. The newspaper separates the two groups of bees so that they do not immediately meet, preventing a mass fight breaking out. Over time the bees chew through the newspaper and gradually meet each other. Previously the upstairs and downstairs colonies were separated by the Snelgrove board and its central mesh (now removed for the uniting), so these bees were not complete strangers to each other anyway, but the newspaper method apparently works even when they are.
On Thursday I laid a sheet of newspaper over the queen excluder on the Copper Hive brood box (which I hope still contains Queen Dawn, although I haven't seen her recently) and on top of that I put the upper brood box containing the bees and brood that I had previously split from Queen Dawn's colony. This upper colony had not managed to produce a new laying queen. I don't know why that is (no wicked witches were involved!), and it's rather a shame that they didn't because I'd hoped to raise a new queen from this hive, but having no second queen made it straightforward to re-unite them with the lower colony. Today, 3 days after adding the newspaper, I picked up the upper brood box and found the bees had already eaten the whole sheet. Only the periphery, protruding from the hive, remained uneaten:
So the bees of the Copper Hive are now one colony again. I rebuilt the hive, combining the frames of brood from the two brood boxes into one. What's to stop them swarming now? Nothing, if Queen Dawn is alive and well in the brood box. I will need to re-divide them, re-setting them to the position of a month ago with queen and flying bees in the bottom box and brood and house bees in the top box. And so this cycle will continue, rather exhaustingly, until the end of the swarm season.