My bees are dead.
We've had some rain and the weather turned distinctly cooler, and I thought they were just hanging out keeping warm in their hive. But today when I came home, almost the first thing out of Steve's mouth was "you need to put some Tanglefoot on the hive stand- I saw ants out there."
That didn't sound good so I asked him if he'd seen bees flying around, to which he said yes. But while I was spreading Tanglefoot on the hive stand leg, I noticed that what was flying in the door way was some sort of hornet, not a honey bee. Uh oh, I thought.
I asked Steve to wash one of our food grade buckets while I donned my grubbies and bee gear, thinking that if there had been a swarm I missed, and if they'd left any honey, I'd grab it. I admit that I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I got it open.
Starting from the back I saw nice, clean but empty comb.
Then the comb got progressively darker, but still empty. Then I finally got to one that had capped cells, but it was even darker comb and everything appeared to be dead.
And then I saw them.
All the bees were dead in a large pile at the bottom of the hive. They appeared to be moldy, but it was kind of hard to see through my hood. At any rate, it was a massive die-off, and not a swarm. I have no idea what did it- there should have been plenty of ventilation in the hive because the bottom was screened, not solid. It might have been Colony Collapse Disorder, but I don't know what that looks like. I don't know if the mold (if that's what it is) attacked and killed them or if it happened after they died. I also don't know how much of my hive I can reuse, or if the comb will be worth anything to me. And there was absolutely no honey, whatsoever. Were there not enough flowers in the neighborhood? I'm really baffled.
I thought that if I left them alone, they would do better without me, because it seemed that every time I got into the hive, I'd smash some of them moving things around. I might have been too hands off, although honestly? I don't know if I'd have been able to save them anyway.
I'm having curiously mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm supremely bummed, especially since now I have two livestock failures (my chickens, remember?) on my hands, but on the other hand, I'm relieved that I don't have to worry about them this winter, which I was wondering how I was going to manage. Bees need to have their food moved where they can reach in the winter; they've been known to starve to death even though food is just a little beyond where they want to go when it's cold. And in addition to keeping them fed, I wasn't sure about how to keep them warm enough, and still ventilate them.
I also feel bad about being so gung ho and going ahead with getting them when I probably should have done a lot more research before jumping in.
As it is, I'll be doing a lot of research anyway, but now I have at least thirty-thousand deaths on my hands.
No, wait a minute- make that thirty-thousand and four.