Disaster in the hive

I’ve been noticing for awhile now that one of my bee hives, the original one I got two springs ago, has been seeming rather weak.  There has been activity at the hive entrance, bees coming and going and bringing in pollen, but this activity has been minimal (especially compared to hustle and bustle of the other hive, which I got as a split off of my first hive last spring).  I thought perhaps it was due to the colder, shadier location of the first hive, but even that didn’t seem to explain it – after all, last year at this time, when the plums were in bloom and the days were warm, the hive was buzzing with activity.  I probably should’ve opened up the hive a couple of months ago during one of our warm spells in January just to check up on them, but it’s hard to find time to do so when you’ve got a baby to look after!

I finally found time to open up the hive today.  It was awful.  MOLD.  There was mold on most of the frames (though luckily, several frames of honey were left fairly clean – probably because the bees had been cleaning them).  There were old, dead capped brood cells covered with mold, empty cells with mold in them, capped and uncapped honey cells covered in mold.  I started to remove the frames that were contaminated, but there were just too many and I decided I’d be doing more bad than good by doing so, as the bees need their honey to survive (especially this time of year, when the weather is still so variable and they might get stuck in the hive for several rainy days, unable to get to outside nectar sources).  I ended up removing the worst frames from the top box (this box contained only honey), completely removing the bottom box (which was empty anyway, containing only dead brood cells), and leaving the middle box totally alone, since I didn’t want to do more damage and disturb the bees any more than I already had.  Any more moldy frames (and I could see that there were some) in that box would have to stay.  I probably should’ve at least checked to see if there was any brood (and therefore a viable queen, and the means to rebuild the hive) but I didn’t.  I’ve seen the bees bringing in some pollen in the last few days, which is a sign that there is brood, so I left it at that.

I am so saddened by this whole thing.  Yes, death is a part of life, but the death of a hive isn’t the death of just one or a few individuals.  It’s the death of an entire colony, a civilization.  And I was (am) rather attached to this hive, it being my first hive, and was also rather attached to the idea of not having lost any hives so far in my short beekeeping career.  But the worst part: it is my own fault.  Or at least, partly my fault.  You see, when I first opened the hive I noticed that the outer cover was pushed back, blocking the small exit in the inner cover.  I don’t know if I did this intentionally or inadvertently, but I vaguely remember having issues with wasps robbing the hive at that exit over the summer, so I may have shut it at that point (and obviously forgotten to reopen it).  This is a problem because the primary function for this exit is not actually for the bees to come and go, but to provide ventilation.  In the winter, the warm air created as the bees heat the hive holds more moisture than the surrounding cold air; this warm air rises and would normally carry the extra moisture out the ventilation hole.  Instead, since the hole was blocked, the moisture condensed when the warm air hit the cold wood of the hive, and the hive was thus kept much wetter than it should have been.  Not good.  And who knows how long my poor bees have been struggling with this problem.

I could say a dozen “if onlys”: if only I had remembered to reopen the ventilation hole, if only I hadn’t shut it in the first place, if only I’d installed a screened inner cover instead of shutting the outer cover, if only I’d checked on the bees a couple of months ago, if only it were in a warmer spot, if only….  But none of this matters.  It is what it is, and at least I’ll learn something from it.  But it sucks.

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8 Responses to Disaster in the hive

  1. lizzy says:

    I am so sad for you and the bees. Is it possible that they can hive/build from what is left?

    • Emilie says:

      Theoretically, yes. If they still have a queen, or if they have brood from which they can raise a new queen, they can repopulate. Given that their population is so small now, though, and they have a big mess to clean up, I don’t have high hopes. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though!

      If the colony does end up dying off, I can always split my other hive (which I should do anyway, to help reduce the risk of swarming) to get a new colony. But I’d still be sad to lose this one!

  2. hathit says:

    Will the remaining bees travel to the other hive, or stay in the hive they currently live in?

    • Emilie says:

      They may stay, or they may decide they’d be better off looking for a new home, and leave to find another, more suitable place. What they *won’t* do, though, is join the other hive. Bees can tell (by difference in odor, I think) whether other bees are from their own colony or another colony; bees from another colony trying to get in would rightfully be viewed as intruders. (This actually happens all the time – “robber” bees, or sometimes wasps or ants or other insects, will often attempt to steal honey from a hive, and are subsequently fought and removed from the hive.) It is possible for the beekeeper to combine two colonies, but this must be done carefully to prevent vast numbers of bees from killing each other off; usually one hive is placed on top of another hive with a thin layer of paper between them, and over the course of several days the bees chew through the paper. By this time, the odors of the two hives have blended enough that the bees from the two hives will accept each other as being from a single, integrated hive.

      More info than you asked for, but it’s fascinating stuff and I tend to get carried away talking about it!

  3. Erin Kelly says:

    Grrr, mold!!! I see you included lots of “shoulds” here…totally get that feeling, but you’re learning!!! Not that it makes loss easier. 😦

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