I learned enough from that inspection that I knew I needed to go in again, sooner rather than later...
I found a very happy, full, busy hive, with lots of larvae in the bottom two brood boxes, three or four full frames of honey down there, too, and nearly half the deep super already filled wtih new white comb and honey.
I put another super on, then, just in case the girls wanted to be ambitious, and I left the hive bodies staggered, because the weather had been wicked hot for the the last several weeks. They'd been bearding on every available surface, so I thought I'd let them do that as much as they could from every front and back of the boxes.
But in the last week, it's gotten both wet and colder, especially at night. It's been in the 50's at night, though still in the high 70's and low 80's during the day. There's still lots of flowers out all around the neighborhood, and in the wild field just across the street. So it's not like it's totally fall, yet, but it's certainly not the dog days of August I'm used to having.
For that inspection, though, the hive was full of bees, they'd probably doubled their numbers again, since I'd last seen them, and the sheer number of bees amazed me. I even saw a bunch of them doing an orienting flight, just as I was approaching the boxes to open them all up. The girls had also created huge amounts of propolis, glueing the front board to the entrance and cementing all the boxes together. That amazed me.
When we'd come home from Seattle, one of the boards blocking the skunks from entering our backyard was shifted, and there was a trench dug in front of the hive! They'd evidently come in and tried to dig their way under the hive to get at things. They hadn't gotten far in the hard-packed clay, so it wasn't really a viable plan. Still, it surprised me that they'd tried.
Anyway... I did take one chunk of honeycomb they'd probably built on one of the top bars, off the foundation. It had dropped in the 104 degree weather they'd had while we were away, and they'd glued it to the bottom of one of the foundations. It was so thick it was mashing bees when I tried to pull out that frame, so I shoo'ed all the girls off it, and then just used my hive tool to scrape it off the plastic foundation, onto a cookie sheet. I mashed it later, ran it through a steel mesh filter, and it's been really tasty in my tea.
But a few days later I noticed tiny, tiny black specks that were running around and jumping between the girls on the their front porch! The girls were scraping them off each other, but the tiny things were running around. One of the bee girls looked like she was chasing them around, shooing them off the porch. Not the red of Varroa or tracheal mites, but someone was still trying to hitch a ride and food from my girls.
Between that and the weather, I decided to get a screened bottom board with a drawer for sticky board, and then straighten up the boxes but still leave ventilation from the top super. So, today, I wanted to get all that in. Of course, it clouded up and started raining. John was amazing, and because I was going to have to take off all the boxes in order to get to the bottom board, he volunteered to build a new stand for it all so that I could move the whole thing two yards forward, off the basement window well, and make it a lot easier for me to lift and carry the full deeps.
Here you can see the old setup, and it's getting tall enough and heavy enough that I couldn't lift much while standing on the edge of the cover for the well. It's actually held up by two 2x4's stretched across the very strong metal well walls, so there was no danger of it falling it. The only danger was for me to fall in if I got close enough to spare my back.
John's back had been acting up, lately, too, so I did all the lifting this time, and basically put all the boxes on the lid a little ways out of the way. It got a little crazy, this time, since I was taking away the entire hive, and the girls got pretty agitated while I moved and stacked boxes, trying not to crush anyone. And then, of course, it started to rain, and all the field workers started to come back to the hive. Poor girls, they were hovering like crazy in exactly the same spot they used to hover in, in order to make a landing at the hive, but there was no where to land!
I had to clear out the old equipment and clean off the old bottom board. An enormous spider had taken up residence under the bottom board, and had a huge accumulation of wings, all stuck together, down there. The spider had run away onto one of the supporting 2x4's, and I figure she was probably who had eaten all the dead bees that the girls had thrown out of the hive, because I never found bodies in front of the hive or under it in the window well. Given how thoroughly she was cleaning up, I didn't really mind her there.
I had to put the new stand in place. John suggested testing it, so I did, and jumped up and down in a cloud of bees to make sure it was set solidly. Then I put the cleaned bottom board on it, and on top of that, the screened bottom board with a drawer in the back for sticky board. The sticky board we had was just covered in Vaseline, but it's sticky enough that if the mites fall on it, they aren't going to be able to get out or jump back on the bees.
And then I was finally able to put the bottom brood box back into place.
In this picture, you can even see where I'd stacked all the boxes in reverse order, on the lid.
With the entrance board out front, but two inches down, all the incoming workers landed on the board, but then had a two-inch climb that confused the heck out of them. John went off to get an extra piece of 2x4, while I made sure that the box was in place, and the workers smoked down so that I could place the next box, which was another heavy one. But it made all the difference in the world that I could keep the box next to my body while I carried it. I had to work quickly to get the front board back into place, too, as every girl in the air kept trying to land on it, as it was familiar, so I kept one hand waving in front, while I got the board in. I've never been so glad of my protective gear.
I was swearing at the girls when they boiled up over the top bars, and it was only after I got both brood boxes and the nearly full deep when I remembered that I was going to treat them with powdered sugar. When you dump powdered sugar on bees, they start to clean each other off, and they do such a thorough job of it that they often clean the mites off each other, too. It's a great way to get mites to drop off, and onto the sticky board. It doesn't really harm them, it basically feeds them, and it's cheap and can be very easy to do. They recommend treating once a week, but just the brood boxes. *laughs*
I don't think that the powdered sugar affects the honey, but really the brood workers are the ones most at risk of the mites, which I think is why you just do the brood boxes. Half a cup of sifted powdered sugar went between the frames.
And ghost bees came zooming out. Poor girls. They were completely covered with the stuff. I saw one girl practically blinded by the stuff, trying to throw herself out of a small area between two frames. I gently helped her out of that into the body of the hive itself.
This one flew out, climbed onto Jet, and then tried to go into his pants. John got her out of there, but she left a trail of powdered sugar all over Jet. *laughs*
But all the girls that came out were frantically being cleaned by all the other bees. It was fun to see how cooperative they were about doing that for each other, and I'll see, tomorrow, how many mites were caught by the sticky board. Or if the sugar even made it to the bottom. The drawer means that I can look and check without bothering the girls.
It all went together beautifully. The top super had a lot of bees in it, but no comb, yet, or honey. It seem to just be living space for them, and there were a lot of them up there when I first opened things up.
Stacking everything up felt good, and I got most of the bees out of the way with practice. I just need to do this more often to be more comfortable with the doing. Still, not bad for having a whole cloud of bees flying all around me while I got the stand and the bottom back into place, just two feet in front of where it used to be. The girls were doing orienting flights, afterward, circling around as if they were figuring out where everything was again. It still amazes me that moving them such a short distance still confuses them so much. Nearly none of the field workers, coming back, seemed even able to see the boxes that were piled on the lid just a right-corner away. But once the box was back in the orientation it used to have, in nearly the same place, they homed in and landed as if nothing were wrong.
Now they'll have fewer entrances to guard, and I'll get a better handle on the mites, I think, and help them manage what they're already doing. If they clean the mites off each other in the hive, the mites can drop through the mesh, and can't get back out, unlike when they were cleaning each other on the front porch, and the mites were just jumping right back onto them.
I'll have to put it back on the solid bottom board again before winter, but now I'll have a portal into how they're actually doing.