This weekend I picked up two live hives that hadn't been tended in at least two years. I did a quick inspection before bringing them home, but they were such a mess I didn't want to really do a pull-apart until I had some extra hives ready (just in case). I figured, worst case, if I had troubles I would do a split into the new hives.
Having new hive bodies ready was a good call.
The first hive went fine. It consisted of two deeps. The top deep was full of bees, with just a bit of brood. I'd guess if I added together all the brood, it would have made up one frame. I did find the queen. I figure I'll keep feeding them, give them a few weeks and see if the brood situation improves. If not, maybe I have a tired queen there.
The second hive was the "learning experience". It consisted of a deep topped by two mediums. I knew this hive was pretty full, because it was so darned heavy when we moved it - heavier than any hive I had to date (although this is only my second year, so my experience is not exactly deep.)
I pulled off the cover and the bees welled out quickly. I smoked them a bit more and began removing frames. Looks like they were putting up nectar and had nearly filled it. Surprising considering my other hives haven't really gotten started. I managed to get the box separated from the medium below it and set it aside. Now they were getting pretty angry off. I puffed some more smoke, but once they're agitated, they're agitated I guess. This was the first time I'd put on a full suit and I was pretty happy with the decision.
Now I was looking at a medium covered in burr comb. I could see the tops of some frames in there, but I was only going to be able to get at them following a lot of scraping. So commenced ten minutes of scraping, prying, and bees coming at me like sawdust off a chainsaw. I manage to get stung on the butt, through the suit and a pair of jeans.
I'm still not sure if a bee got into the suit or had a really long stinger.
Eventually, I managed to get some of the frames out and found a mix of capped brood and honey. No matter what I did, I could not get the middle four frames out. They were stuck fast. I cut and pried repeatedly until the top of one of the frames came off. Tried the next one over - same deal. "OK," I figured, "I'll just remove this box and then see if I can cut them free from the bottom side."
So, I pried the box up, lifted it off and...
A huge clump of comb falls at my feet. A giant ball of angry bees explodes into the air. I see glistening white brood from broken cells all over the place. darn.
Turns out there were five frames missing from the middle of this deep. Given the free space, the bees built natural comb off the bottom of the medium above. When I lifted it, a bunch of it collapsed. Of course, some of it was still hanging from the medium, and after the deep collapsed back in on itself, I couldn't lower it back down without crushing it.
So, you can now picture me in the middle of a cloud of angry bees, holding a medium with deep-sized combs dangling from the bottom, kicking over one of the spare deeps I brought with me to get the frames out, so I can eventually lower this medium onto it without destroying the comb. That was fun.
I returned to the deep and surveyed the mess. Turns out the ears on this deep had rotted and the front right joint came apart after my prying to get the medium off. I have collapsed comb, open brood, dripping honey, and a surprisingly large number of drones. I have some slugs. I have what appears to be a mouse nest. I look around for the hidden camera.
What to do?
Well, I had five more or less correctly drawn deep frames with brood. I moved them into the center of a new box and placed fresh frames around them. I looked for the queen on them, hoping against hope. No dice. I put the honey filled medium on top of the new deep and closed up that hive.
What I had left was pile of comb and some more comb hanging from the bottom of the other medium. The queen was probably somewhere in the middle of all that mess. The only thing I could think to do was pretend I am doing a cut-out (something I have only read about on this site.) I went back to my pile of used gear (cloud of angry bees accompanying me), found some old, empty wired frames, cut the comb into pieces that fit (crushing a lot of bees in the process) and loaded up my other new deep. Eventually, I had six frames of rather mangled comb. I still didn't find the queen. I plopped the medium of brood and honey back on top (now freed of its dangling comb) and closed the hive up.
I guess I have effectively done a walk-away split. I have no idea what the results will be. I suspect that there were so many bees in this hive that they will both manage to survive and raise new queens if necessary.
If not, it was a free hive and, if nothing else, I just learned a number of valuable lessons. (But I really hope I didn't write a death sentence for all my little black bees.)