Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bad News Bees

Last week after following my mentor's instructions and feeding our white hive, we went back to check on them. We saw a lot activity at the entrance (too much for how cold it was that day) and when I peaked in the top box where the feeder was I saw 3 non honey bee pollinators. Aka: robbers. Robbing is relatively common in weak hives and is not good because the bees that belong in the hive will fight to the death defending it making it even weaker in numbers. I called my mentor back and shared the red flags that I saw and he said he'd come help me take a look when the weather warmed back up a bit this week. When we finally made it in, it was not good. 

It was apparent that the white hive had lost it's queen 2 or 3 weeks ago (by my mentor's estimation) and it was too late in the season for the colony to raise a new one. Without a queen the colony disperses and so wax moths moved on in and laid their eggs (pictured above). 

We thought the yellow hive was doing okay but we decided to check it anyway. As soon as we removed he inner cover we saw the queen walking along the top of one of the frames, all by herself. As soon as my mentor saw her he said, "You've got a dead hive here too."  I was shocked and completely bummed out. This was supposed to be the one to make it through the winter, how could this happen??  He said that this was a perfect example of colony collapse disorder. With a surviving queen and no bees it was obvious that the workers had gotten poisoned while out (we have heavily sprayed corn fields all around us), got disoriented and didn't return. Queens cannot care for themselves so since she was alive it must have happened very recently and quickly. Just like that, an entire colony of bees gone. 

There were some honey bees in the hives but hey appeared to be wild bees from a nearby feral colony robbing what was left of the honey. Non of them were showing any interest in attending that queen which is a worker bee's primary concern. 

I stayed and broke down/cleaned out the white hive and loaded it into my car. The longer we left it sitting the more the wax moths would have taken over. We will salvage what comb that we can, freezing the frames for a couple of days to kill anything then bagging them up for winter. We plan to go back for the yellow hive this weekend. We may harvest the small amount of honey that is left if the robbers don't get it all in the meantime. 

So, at the turn of the season our first year as beekeepers ended up being a bust. It's not going to stop us though!  I will go back to bee school in early Spring to learn even more. We will purchase the supplies to build a third hive along with 2 packages of bees. We will save the third, new hive for catching a swarm (we got called about 3 this season and passed the info along). 

This journey towards homesteading is not going to be an easy one.  We will have many losses and will learn many lessons the hard way.  We will have moments where we wonder if it is all worth it.  At the same time, we can see the big picture.  We have experienced, first hand, how satisfying it is to eat a meal that we grew ourselves.  We have tasted the sweetness of our own honey which tasted like none other we have ever tasted.  We have seen how Ayden lights up on a whole new level when he is around animals and exploring the farm.  We know this will not be the easiest way to live and we are not saying we will do it forever.  But for now, we feel like the benefits will outweigh the risks enough to make it all worth it.  And so we move forward!

Coincidentally, I read a blog post that discussed this very topic.  If you are interested, I think you will find it interesting too.  "Novice Homesteading:  Not Everything Is Photo-Worthy"

How do you keep your eye on the bigger picture when failure is staring you in the face?


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  1. I am so bummed for you! We have a bee's nest here in Michigan in an old black walnut tree that needs to come down, my husband wants to leave it till spring so we can get the bee's out and kinda do what you guys are doing.. We have no idea how to do this and need to find a mentor! We just purchased a farm house so we have the place to put them like you guys! Anyways I found your blog looking up the name Ayden because that's my son's name, I have a small blog seems like we have a lot in common :)

    1. Oh my gosh, we do! So cool that you just got a farm house (and that your son's name is Ayden)!! I will definitely be following along on your journey! A mentor is a must have for a new beekeeper. Check and see if there is a beekeeping association in your area. That is where we found ours.

  2. Sarah, all greatest successes come when there is a failure involved. Don't make it let you down. I'm so hard crossing my fingers for you and I'm sure that you will succeed. Whenever you are fighting, you are a winner! Sending you warm and comforting thoughts from far away Poland:)

    1. Thank you so much for your support! We are bummed but are ready to hope back in the saddle in the Spring! Poland, that sounds amazing :)

  3. Ah! I have the worst time posting comments on your blog from my phone... ok, trying again, because I think your bee posts are soooo interesting...
    I don't know much about bees, but have heard of colony collapse. It is just so crazy and scary too, especially since you can pretty much link it to the corn being sprayed around the hives. Yikes. And what a bummer for you guys! And you will have to go into more detail next bee season about capturing a swarm?! That sounds absolutely terrifying. Love your blog! Wish I could comment more on my phone without the comment being swallowed up by the submit button!

    1. Thank you so much! I wish I could respond to comments more (I am usually only on my phone too) so I totally understand. Capturing a swarm will be an exciting thing so if we do it I will most definitely post all about it! I hate that pesticides are so close to us but there is unfortunately nothing we can do about it. Monsanto is an evil place...