Sunday, March 10, 2013

Update on Our Beehive

We have been anxiously waiting through the winter months to find out if our hive made it.  Yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day (finally) and we decided to open it up and feed them.  We had a pollen brick and honey left from last year and were simply going to place them into the hive.

Upon opening the hive, it became clear that it was unneeded.

Not because they were thriving and full of honey.

But because they were all dead.  There was a fist sized clump of dead bees where we knew they had been clustered.  There was honey left in some of the honeycomb.  We investigated thoroughly.  The bees and comb showed no signs of mites or trauma.  There was some mold growing on some of the comb, which was simply a sign that they had been dead in this damp weather for a while.

After speaking to another beekeeper, we believe for some reason that there were simply not enough bees for them to maintain temperature.  They said that the cluster must be larger than a grapefruit, even as large as a basketball, to maintain the warmth and mobility in the hive for their survival.

An image showing a good sized cluster -  Our cluster was not even 1/4 this size.

What would cause this problem?

It would seem that the queen, for some reason, stopped laying eggs too early last fall.  Perhaps she was weak, sickly or old.  Perhaps there was simply not enough food sources in our area for them.  We are unsure.

There are a few things that we could have done differently that may have improved their chances.  It has been advised to us that many beekeepers do not collect ANY honey from their first year hives.  While we did not take much honey, two out of 18 combs, perhaps this did damage to an already weak hive.  It has also been recommended that in this climate we begin feeding our bees BEFORE February 1.  I did not know this, believing that they would remain inactive until the weather warmed up.  While they did have honey stores, their small cluster size may have hindered them actually getting to it.

I also notice now, that many hives have bee sized gaps between all of the top bars, whereas I had my bars tight against one another.  This would allow the bees more mobility within the hive, and access to the roof section.  It would allow more ventilation.  I see this is also where some beekeepers place their food, allowing them to feed the hive without actually opening it all up.  I believe this will be a very important, beneficial change in my beekeeping technique.

We will be cleaning the hive.  Since there is no evidence of disease, we will be leaving the good, filled honeycomb for our new package of bees we will be picking up next month.  We also have a second hive, a Langstroth Hive, that we will set up also.

Langstroth vs Top Bar Hives

We will be ordering one each of the two types of bees available from our local source -

Carniolan Bees -

And Italian Bees -

I will also KEEP reading and try to learn more.

This looks like some online reading to start with...

And I better get to planting wildflowers like crazy.  Some of the best prices I found for wildflower seed....

A neighbor recommended Pussy Willows because they bloom very early in the year and bees love them.  So I ordered some fresh cuts to propagate.

I pray that these efforts will provide a good home for our bees and enable the hive to grow.  Bees are a precious and necessary piece of a healthy and thriving ecosystem and a blessing on any homestead.

1 comment:

  1. Rereading my post I notice that I provided my reader with some well grounded, technical information about bees.
    However, I must add that beekeeping is an endeavor that takes your heart. We loved our bees. We loved to sit by the hive and watch them fly in and out and come back with their pollen pockets full. In the swing of the season, they would come back with pockets full of yellow, red, blue and orange. They are beautiful, industrious and amazing.
    We were astounded at how quickly they turned our empty wooden box, into a hive full of beautiful honeycomb and began filling it with delicious honey.
    We mourn their loss. We pray fervently for the health and strength of the bees we add to our homestead next month.