I haven’t posted in a super long time.
There’s always so many things that take priority over sharing our lives and progress with the world. Whaa.
Hopefully I can find more time to ignore my other obligations and log our journey in the coming days/weeks/months. For now, I’ll share the current status of our apiariness.
In the fall, we were going into winter with one super strong Russian colony, and one super weak Italian colony (seriously, these ladies only had maybe 4 bars drawn. and those weren’t even full of the good stuff.). I suspected the Italians wouldn’t last long given their size and stores (of course I could always supplement, but their size was likely going to kill them first). I considered combining them with the Russians but it called for running a bit more interference than I like to with the bees. No doubt there are plenty of bee keepers out there that would argue with this, but I like to let nature/the bees do it’s thing. If the Russian colony were also struggling, I may have come to a different conclusion.
Winter comes, and winter goes. Then it comes again. and goes again. and comes again. and so on.
I’m pretty sure we had a frost after derby (locals know that derby is generally regarded as the “safe from frost” land mark on the calendar).
These ups and downs are not good for the bees. I know this. Russians are supposed to be hardier than the Italians, and capable of flying at slightly lower temps, but I still worried a little. but when it comes to cold/funky weather and bees, there’s not a whole lot I, or any bee keeper can do.
Ok. There are a few things, that I’m slowly learning (such as insulating the roof of the hive) but the actual temp is seldom the primary issue.
So.. B went out to check on the bees one day. It was probably about 57*F. He reported back that they were all dead. I was disappointed but not incredibly surprised at the news, and impressed at how much honey they left us. Then I went out to see if I could figure out what happened (the life of a beek). The bees looked frozen. They were clearly dead, but they weren’t all laying on the floor of the hive. They were hanging out in tiny cluster like figures on the comb as if time had just stopped.
Then, I started to think “B must have frozen them when he opened the hive.”
I mean. There was SO much honey on the other end. No way they could have starved, right? In my mind, it would have been warm enough in the hive at that temp outside, for them to get to the honey.
He insisted they were already dead. That there was no sign of life/activity/movement and that’s why he did what he did. To get the honey before something else did.
But I carried on thinking it could have been him. A little bit resentful. But life goes on, right?
Then, after answering multiple “what happened to them” questions. and still feeling like I just wasn’t completely sure either way (I mean. I hate to blame my husband if it really wasn’t his fault) I figured surely this has happened to someone else.
The internet is a wonderful resource. The community. The ability to share. seek. find. Whatever your question, someone else has already asked it.
So I searched. and here’s what I found, a forum , where someone had in fact, had almost the same exact issue. They opened their hive at a MUCH lower temp though.
Upon reading the responses, and considering my assessment of the hive when I went out there, I determined that it was that they “staved in place” as one member says. As you can see from the above photo, the bars where the cluster was lacked food. There were numerous bees with their heads inside of cells.
So the best conclusion I can come to, is that when it got cold, the bees clustered, as they do, in an attempt to keep warm. They were probably successful in this attempt as it never really got ridiculously cold this winter. The only problem was, the area of the hive that they clustered in for this particular cold spell (or whichever one it was that took them out) was the area where they had already feasted on all the honey, meaning there was none left there.
Even though there was enough honey for five armies of bees on the other end of the hive, it was too cold for them to separate from their cluster and feast on it. Causing them to starve.
It’s quite unfortunate. Bees are like canaries in a coal mine. Climate change has a huge impact on them. I’m willing to bet any beekeeper would say the same, and I’ve only been doing this for three years.
I hope to spend some time this week cleaning up my hives and making them attractive to potentially swarming bees (I saw a honey bee in the front yard today on some clover. This is the first one I’ve seen this year, so it has me hopeful.) .. Maybe we’ll even invest in a nuc (will we hack it and put it in the top bar or invest in some 8 frame medium supers? I have yet to decide) as back up (unless we can get a swarm in the very near future)
I’ve never heard of a beekeeper that fully understands the bees, or how to avoid all perils. The bees sort of keep us. We just give them a home and make lots of wishes for their safety. Kind of like parenting a teenager.
Please. If you see or hear of a swarm (they’re exactly what they sound like.. image below) call me up! (5o2)432.sixtyfour twentyfour. I will happily come and remove it, promptly, and give it a good home (assuming it’s honey bees and within my capabilities. If not, I’ll hook you up with someone with the proper equipment)