I am not a very quiet person. I like to talk. I like to write. I enjoy dialoguing about any number of different subjects. Taking all this into account – the conclusion if I am quiet is that something is up. Or off. Or I am busy thinking and quite possibly stewing on something.
If you are here on this blog for the bees or you really enjoy reading about honeybees or you found me and fell in love with the image at the top – you might have noticed the lack of honeybee information these past few months. Your observations do not fail you. It’s been a major drought if you will.
Here’s the long and short of it – neither of my two hives made it into spring. (Spring for us in Washington just started this week – no joke. It’s been low 50s during the day, occasional snows, hail and freezing temps at night and non-stop rain and gloom for the first two and half months of “spring”).
When it comes to prepping hives for winter – there are three main steps I follow:
1. Making sure the hives are set up and stocked up with food – a.k.a. frames of capped honey
My hives were each left with one full deep-super of honey (about 70 to 80 pounds) and a brood box with at least 4 to 5 frames of honey (about 35 pounds)
2. Battening down the hatches. Includes sealing up the hives, framing the colony that turns into a single mass for warmth with full honey frames for insulation and wrapping the hives in tarpaper or other insulating material.
My “nice” hive was properly battened down and r eady to go for winter with adequate protection and food. My “mean” hive was still too hostile even as of late October and early November and they were left to their own accord. My careful reference of these statements and preparations as you read on…
3. Cross your heart, say a prayer and wait.
So, that’s how I went into winter with the hives. They were prepped and stocked as well as could be. My train of thought with the mean hive was kind of a “good riddance” if I lost them. Or, at least a hope that maybe they’d swarm really early and head off to someone else’s home.
February rolled around and spring was actually looking like it might be around the corner. The tulips were peaking their heads up, the fields were greening up and the dandelions were shooting. On a sunny, warmish day, I checked on the hives – just a cursory look from the outside and batch of sugar syrup in hand if need-be to fill up outside feeders*.
Much to my disappointment, the “nice” hive was clearly not alive. There were dead bees around the outside and not a single one flying in or out. It didn’t look good. But, in a twisted fate of irony – the “mean” hive was raring to go. The bees were buzzing in and out and making quick appearances to grab a bit here or there. Go figure.
And, then the nor-easter of late February and March hit. It was a doozy of a storm that wallops us with freakishly crazy weather that included dime-size hail, whipping winds that carried ice with them and a never-ending rain that hovered on the verge of snow. The tulips puckered up and shuddered in the cold. The dandelions looked to the sky and asked “why?” and the bees hunkered down.
After the storms had subsided and it appeared that things were maybe, just maybe, starting to warm up – I did another check on the hives. Our late winter blast had taken the very life out of the remaining hive. No activity. No buzzing. And, certainly no feeling of “good riddance” like I’d planned for.
Here’s where I am at…
Two hives are gone. That’s a 100% failure rate for this year. The “nice” hive still had full frames of capped honey, but no bees home. The lack of bees suggests that they just left. Why? I don’t know. This is the tricky part of colony collapse disorder. With no bees home, there’s no way to know what’s wrong. The “mean” hive appears to have just perished in our harsh weather. They couldn’t hack it and the hive is filled with dead bees inside and out.
Where do I go from here…
Losing two hives is a hit to my beekeeper core and my wallet. The out of pocket cost I lost was almost $180, but the weight it adds to have hives that are gone and nothing to do come spring is much harder. I am a beekeeper at heart and I am left a bit empty. I miss the bees. I miss the honey. I miss the routine that is spring and summer checks and fall prayers for a safe winter. But, I am also pregnant. I have a burgeoning baby belly and a due date near the traditional honey harvest. Baby bellies are not conducive to hive checks that involve lifting 80-pound supers around. But, beekeeping is part of who I am.
“What will be will be” is the motto I am taking. No boxes of bees are going to be purchased and no nucleus colonies acquired. Instead, I have put my swarm catcher* (100 feet away from the 80-acre raspberry field that is our neighbor) and placed a lure* inside. I’ll wait. If a colony decides to come into my life this season, I will welcome it with open arms. If not, I’ll revisit this beekeeping thing next year and figure out the plan for 2012. I’ve also got a few ideas I’m cooking up for staying involved in beekeeping even if the hive and bees aren’t mine…
*Outside feeders are mason jars/canning jars overturned on a feeder that sits at the entrance to the hive. They are great for winter/early spring feed because they don’t disturb the bees or the hive.
**Swarm catchers (mine at least) are a compressed paperboard buckets with lids. They are the ideal size for swarming colonies looking for a home.
***Lures are man-made, queen-imitating pheromones that attract swarming colonies who have stopped and are looking for the perfect home.