The sun was shining this morning, the wind had calmed down and the chill was out of the air so hubby and I went up to find out once and for all what was going on. I want to thank Jen from The Domestik Goddess for her comment on my previous bee post and her subsequent advice and help when I emailed her. The kindness of strangers takes on a new meaning in the blogging world.
We took the opportunity to open both hives and the good news is that the queen is definitely in the strong hive - we found her - and there was evidence in the form of easily visible larvae that she is laying. There were very little honey stores - the bees store honey in the frames and consume it as they need - but the fondant icing which I put there earlier in the winter has hardly been touched. We know they are out flying and bringing in lots of pollen and the Oil Seed Rape crops are flowering in our area. It isn't time yet to put on a super - a super is a second box with smaller frames which goes on top of the main brood box and this is where the bees put the surplus honey; in other words OUR honey! - but it seems, at least, that all is well.
The bad news, albeit not unexpected, is that the second hive is definitely no more. It had plenty of bees from the first hive in there "robbing" whatever was left in the way of stores and honey and I can only say they've done a remarkably good job of emptying it out. So we left it open and will go up later to collect the hive and the frames - we tried to brush the bees off but there always more to take their place so we decided to leave them to it. Our consolation, and it's not much, is that the colony that died was the very aggressive colony so at least we no longer have that to contend with. The remaining bees are so docile you can stroke them!
Our concern now is why did that colony die? It has always been the weaker of the two and I am fairly sure that the problems started with my beginner's clumsiness. I suspect that it just never recovered. If that's the case then we can learn from our lesson and move on. If, however, it was because of disease then the worry is that the remaining hive will be diseased also. I don't think there is anything we can do other than wait and see.