And the flight of the bumble bee.
Inspecting the hive in a two queen system is a bit complicated. It is similar to opening two beehives at the same time and leaving them both open while you work. It takes up more space then a normal hive inspection and makes for crowded conditions on my rooftop where I have my apiary. The goal during the inspection is to make sure the two queens do not intermix, and they have no possibility of finding each other, or you will chance a bloody duel to the end. You must keep the hives separate at all times. Here’s how I do that.
First, I inspect the top hive, then remove it. I place it to the right hand side of my hive stand, resting on top of the outer cover. Then, I need to check the queen excluder for the queen. Assuring she is absent, I place that aside somewhere else. Second, I inspect and remove the honey super. That takes up its own space to the left of my hive. The second queen excluder gets inspected, dubbed queen free, then put on top of the honey super. Lastly, I have the bottom hive to inspect which consists of two deep supers. I inspect the top deep super then place that on top of the honey super with the queen excluder on it. Now, I can finally inspect my bottom super where the largest amount of bees exist. By the time I get there, I have pieces of beehive all over the place, the air is filled with bees, and I am surrounded by open hives on all three sides with the house blocking me from behind. If I had to get away in a hurry it would be difficult to say the least.
It was during this inspection of the bottom super, in the bottom hive, that my heart skipped a beat when I realized my predicament. I was deeply engrossed in the inspection, looking for the second queen, admiring my new baby bees, eggs, larvae and capped brood which covered the entire frame. I was holding up this very heavy frame, full of bees, and about to return it, when who should fly right into the space the frame should be but a big fat bumble bee! This intruder entered my hive and flew down inside unnoticed. He landed on the backs of my bees on an adjacent frame. I watched as he sat there drinking nectar from in between piles of bees. As a new beekeeper, I was stumped. What do I do now? I couldn’t put the frame back in, but I needed to it was windy and the larvae could get chilled. Were the bees going to notice him and get angry? What if they started getting mad and I was left holding this frame of bees? Would bees fly out at me too? How would I jump over these hive parts filled with bees to make a quick getaway? I held the frame for several minutes but that bumble bee was not moving, he just sat there happily drinking nectar. Worried about chilling the brood, I returned the frame with the bumble bee inside the hive and waited. A minute later the bumble bee exited the hive from the front.
“Whew! Crisis averted.” I thought, but this bumble was not done yet. He flew under the hive, over the hive, to the top hive on my right hand side, to the top box of the bottom hive on my left, to the front hive entrance and finally back to the bottom box of the bottom hive where he entered the first time. This time all the frames were in the box so he landed on top of the frames. The bees may have ignored him the first time but now the guard bees were alerted. Gentle buzzing turned to anger and all the bees covering the top bars chased the bumble bee down into the hive. What do I do now? I just stepped away and waited as the bees grew angrier and angrier and the buzzing grew louder and louder. The top hive became alerted, the top part of the bottom hive became alerted. I was trapped between hive parts and all the loud buzzing thinking what am I going to do if they come after me? Then just before panic set in the bees finally chased the intruder away.
This bumble bee left for good this time, avoiding the other open pieces of my hive and now I was left needing to find my queen in a hive filled with angry bees. What had been nice and calm before, was now pumped and primed for attack and not wanting to let me anywhere near them. I did what all good beekeepers do in time of crisis I smoked them and smoked them and smoked them like there was no tomorrow. And after several minutes it worked. The bees calmed down and I was able to continue my inspection, finding both my queens and numerous eggs and many beautiful baby bees.
I left my hive inspection hopped on adrenalin and so excited my bees were doing so well. Both queens were there, they fixed the comb I cut away and rebuilt it correctly. Plus my hive is filled to the brim with eggs, every open cell had eggs in it, even the top super of the bottom hive had eggs in cells the bees had not finished drawing out yet. Very soon I am going to have so many bees I won’t know what to do with them all and that bumble bee will not dare intrude again.
Ironically, later on I did find out what happened to that bumble bee. You can read about it here.