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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Unnatural Beekeeping

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.


Rae said...

Ugh! That's awful! I'm so sorry to hear about your bees. :(

As for the 4, wasn't one of them at LJ's hands? Again, I truly enjoyed biting back at Ethel. :)

Paula said...

Oh yeah....he offed the first of the three, and come to think of it, Steve did the last one. But that's merely a technicality- I still feel responsible.

Miriam said...

That's rotten news, and I can see why you're bummed. But don't be too hard on yourself - you DO research and plan things, more than most people I know. I don't know a thing about bees, so I can't offer any practical suggestions, but I hope you'll try again next year. And chickens, too!

Rae said...

:( Don't beat yourself up about the roos, Paula. They had a good life. They even got to share the girls with Dunderhead. :)

Desert Willow said...

Oh my gosh how sad☹ I am so sorry for you loss. When I looked at the pictures at first my thought was pesticides within the forage area, which could be up to a mile or so away. But then upon reading further in your post I was struck by your statement that there should have been plenty of ventilation because the bottom was screened not solid! Top bar hive bottoms are usually solid, sometimes if there is a varroa mite concern you can have a screen insert false bottom. With a totally open bottom it can be difficult for the bees to maintain the internal temperature of the hive. Bees use thermoregulation in order to do their jobs. If the internal temperature of the hive drops below 50 or so degrees the bees become immobile. It is possible that is what has happened here. My suggestion would be clean out your hive and put a solid bottom on it for next year. Order bees for next year. Harvest the wax and have some beautiful candles. Hold your head up high and learn everything you can from the experience and don’t ever give up.

Anonymous said...

..too bad. chalk it up to colony collapse disorder..then there is nothing you could have done about it. I have been reading about bee troubles on some of my other blogs too..not good.

jules said...

Oh man. That sucks. I'm sorry about the death of your bees. Hopefully you can figure out what happened, get better informed, and try again at another time.

Live and learn, I guess.

click clack gorilla said...

Oh no! Sorry to hear it. Well, next time, right?

Rachel said...

My condolences. I know that exact sinking, frustrated, powerless-but-guilty feeling that comes with losing a hive.
We're in western Oregon too, and if it's any consolation, almost every beekeeper we know has said it was a miserable year for bees.
At least you eked some food value out of the chickens, and your readers (myself included) got a great tutorial! All we got when we lost birds this year was a guilty dog.

Paula said...

Well, I got the hive plans from which is run by a fellow by the name of Phil Chandler in England. I kind of wondered about the screened bottom, but it seemed like a good idea against the varroa mites.

What I'm suspecting may have happened is that they simply starved to death, poor things. There was ZERO honey in the combs, and evidently I should have fed them through the summer. We had a very late spring here (as in until the second week of July) and it didn't get really hot until mid-August, so I wonder if they just had a very late start with nectar-gathering.

At any rate, I'll read up some more, and order another batch of bees for next year. I'm sure not giving up!

Lyssa said...

They may have had more honey than it looks like...if all the guards are gone, I've heard that wild bees will steal the honey.

I don't know much about it, though! Beekeeping is on my wish list, but it's gonna be a while.

Eric said...

Just stumbled on your blog from Cold Antler. I sure enjoyed reading it so far!

That is too bad about your bees. I lost my hive a few years back to a swarm of Asian giant hornets.

Harvest the wax and make some candles or balm. Get more bees next year and hope for the best.

Angela said...

So sorry about your hive! Top bar beehives are something we'll be doing this spring using the Barefoot Beekeeper's (biobees) method.
I've heard of this type of thing happening before, and if you saw a wasp leaving the beehive, its possible that they came in, killed the bees, stole the babies and honey and put the babies in their own nests as slaves. I've always feared that, especially with the amount of wasps we have here.
Were there any babies in the combs or were they gone too?

Paula said...

I've only seen dead babies in the combs. And I think the waspy hornet thingy showed up after the fact because when the hive was going, it was really going- the soldiers would have fended off an attack. I really think they starved to death.