Tuesday, March 27, 2012


The most recent check in my hive revealed a sad, small cluster of bees milling about the top of the hive.  Numbers were way down, and there was evidence of dyssentry (bee-diahhrea).  I gave them a Beepro pollen patty and a feeding of Pro-Health as a final desperate attempt to keep them alive, but to no avail- the hive did not make it.

A few sad bee carcasses (One of Venessa's lovely shots from her blog, Kernels and Seeds. 

Opening up the hive revealed straight, beautiful rows of empty comb, and a lot of dead bees at the bottom of the hive.

Straight combs (another haunting shot by Venessa).  

My slightly broken camera took this shot- sorry for the lack of focus.

This was a very sad sight, but not unexpected- this hive never saw the population explosion that we saw in Venessa's hive, and I've been fretting about their honey stores and large die-off numbers all winter.  

When I think back, I suspect that this problem began way back in November, when we returned from Hawaii to find a huge number of dead bees outside this hive.  It was an extremely wet week, and while Warre hives generally shed water quite well, we made a well-intentioned design mistake that had dire consequences.  We had added an adorable cedar shake roof, thinking it would look cute and also help control heat in the summertime.  Instead, the shakes absorbed and retained moisture, and this extra moisture got absorbed by the quilt, which then got saturated and couldn't absorb any moisture from inside the hive.

As soon as we realized that the shakes were causing an issue, we removed them from the roof, sealed the nail holes, and repainted the roof. Because the bees continued to survive, I thought we had remedied the problem; however, it is possible that the queen got chilled and died in November, and that the colony was queenless for the last three months.

There was an unexpected surprise, however- the top box was still very heavy with honey! This probably  means the bees didn't starve to death, but rather lived out their normal winter lifespans and died of natural causes.  This provides me some comfort, as I get quite sad when I see photos of bees who died with their little bee butts stuck in the air, head down in a comb desperately seeking the last drop of honey. Instead, I like to think my bees died of old age, peacefully, in their sleep.

After cleaning out the bee carcasses, Venessa and I got to work harvesting the honey.

Venessa's lovely photography skills again.  Makes me want to lick the screen!
This  turned out to be a rather lengthy project due to us having to work around areas of the comb that had become moldy.  We painstakingly cut around the moldy sections and salvaged what we could.  After hours and hours of culling, crushing and straining, we wound up with just under a pint of honey.  It turned out dark and opaque, resembling caramel sauce, and it is an absolutely delicious blackberry flavor.

The other bright spot in our bee outlook is that Venessa's hive is doing well- they are surviving the winter with ample stores, and have even been bringing in pollen during warmer days.  They will likely swarm very early in the springtime, so we will be sure to have the other hive awaiting their arrival.

In the long run, it may be a good thing that the hive with the weaker queen didn't make it.  If, after swarm season,  we wind up instead with a naturally bred queen in Venessa's hive, both hives will be strong, and we will have contributed to a more diverse gene pool for our honeybee ladies.  

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