It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, ……
First, the worst….
A sad day for a beekeeper is one where they find that one of their colonies has perished. Last year, I was relieved when my hive (BnB1) made it through the winter alive. This year, I have been expecting that the new hive (BnB2) would not make it through the winter because they had not saved up enough honey. BnB1 had plenty of honey which would give it a greater chance of success. Both hives have been active during the warm spells we had earlier in February, but the latter half of the month brought cold and snow. However, on warm days, both hives were still active.
Last weekend, we traveled back East to attend my sister’s wedding. It was a wonderful event – the joining of two people whose previous spouses were taken by cancer, the start of a new life together. While we were gone, Colorado was hit by snow and temperatures in the single digits. Earlier this past week, we warmed enough for the bees to get out and take their poop flights. Since I usually get home after the sun has started to set, the bees were no longer flying, so I had to look for signs in the snow on the ground. Sure enough, there were lots of poop stains (and a few dead bees) in front of BnB2 indicating that they had taken advantage of the warm day. However, I was concerned that there was nothing in front of BnB1, except for a few stains in the snow but they could have been from the other hive. By mid week, we were back to cold and snow again, but warmed up to near 60F on Friday. Unfortunately, there were still no signs of life from BnB1.
After an aborted attempt to go skiing yesterday, we got back in the early afternoon and with temperatures in the mid 50’s, I decided to do a postmortem on BnB1. I started from the back where I found a few frames full of honey. However, as I moved forward, I found emptier frames until I found a cluster of dead bees. They had eaten all the honey close by and had frozen to death.
Each successive frame had a similar cluster. On one, I found the queen looking very thin and surrounded by her faithful attendents.
There was still some honey at the front of the hive also, but not where they needed it – on the combs with the brood. They hadn’t touched really even touched the fondant I put in there in January either. There were very few bees in the hive at all so I’m not sure if that’s due to mites or just that they slowly died off over the winter. There were no signs of disease (nosema) or wax moth/beetle problems. It could be that the mite load was high and killed them off slowly. At the beginning of February, I noticed that BnB1 was less active than BnB2, but they were still bringing in pollen and flying about – just not that many of them.
BnB2 was still active, so I checked on it to make sure it had enough food to make it through the rest of the spring. They were buzzing around BnB1 while I was doing that inspection and were generally pretty active.
(I got a new video camera and tried to film the inspection, but I need to work on my style before I can post something worthwhile other than the one above).
They appeared to be doing pretty well. There were some broken combs at the back from the last inspection, so I took them out of there. There was also a lot of moisture in the hive, so I took off the insulation I had under the top cover. There was new brood near the front, but just to make sure they didn’t suffer the same fate as BnB1, I took a full bar of honey from BnB1 and put it close to the brood area of BnB2. I scored the comb to make it easier for them to get into the honey hopefully redistribute it where needed. I’ll probably need to move it back a bit later in the spring so they won’t feel too cramped and want to swarm. But, so far, they seem happy and healthy.
After my sister’s husband died 10 years ago, her son came up with the idea of having an annual charity event to raise money for the hospice organization that served his father in his last days. The Party for PoppaK has grown into a golf tournament in the past 5 years and last year (2014) raised over $10,000 dollars for that organization. The theme of the event is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
The best of times…..
So now that I have a dead hive, I’m determined to make some lemonade. While inspecting BnB1, I accidentally broke off a comb that was full of honey up near the front of the hive. So, into the honey bucket it went. There was also a comb that I had fixed with hair clips my first year that has been problematic because it always had brood on it (so I didn’t want to take it), but it didn’t fit nicely with the other combs sometimes. It had a bunch of honey on it, so into the bucket it went. Some of the broken combs in BnB2 had honey on them, so they also went into the bucket.
The result is a bucket full of honey comb that I’ll crush and strain (except for a couple of pieces of comb honey that Diana has requested). Initial tasting has a hint of lemony flavor – perhaps from the lemon balm near the hive. So I’ll name this my “lemonade” honey.
I’ll also take this opportunity to fix some problems with BnB1. First, I’ll try to improve (if not remove) the screened bottom board setup I have on this hive. It was not well thought out, but I’m afraid I can’t remove the bottom board, so I might just have to patch it up. Also, the blocks that the hive is on are tilted and it’s been propped up Rube Goldberg style, so I’ll fix that up. And I’ll try to get a new package of bees if there are some still available. They won’t have to work as hard since there is already pre-built comb for them to start working on.
While I’m sad for the bees that died, I’m happy that I can take this opportunity to make some lemonade.