Today was a beautiful day, and Robb and I were out in our back garden, looking around. We realized that one of our beehives was swarming with ants. That, sadly, was a sure sign that this hive was dead. If bees are present in a hive, they'll fight off ants. But once the bees are gone, ants swarm in to devour all the bounty of the hive.
This has not been a good season for me as a beekeeper. I've been dragging around for months with a low-level sinus infection, neglecting my duties. This past week, the infection came to a head, culminating in a really unpleasant illness. I was really miserable, feeling downright poisoned. Thankfully, I was in touch with my doctor just as the sickness spiked, and I'm currently in the middle of a course of antibiotics. Why I let things go for so long is a long story, and I need to be more aggressive about pursuing treatment of this seemingly chronic condition.
Taking advantage of the sunshine and feeling a wee bit better, I decided to open up the hive to see what was going on.
There wasn't a live bee in sight. There were several dozen dead female bees on the floor of the landing-board, mostly with their tongues extended. There was only the smallest evidence of dead brood. There were huge amounts of pollen stored up. And none of the the cells containing honey had been broken open, either by ants of robbing bees from other colonies. Unlike just about every other of our hives, there was no evidence of the bees building the specialized structures in which they might raise spare queens.
I'm probably missing the obvious signs, but I can't really say what happened to our bees. Robb and I are both certain that the hive was flying vigorously as recently as last week. Lots of winter flowers are blooming. We haven't been seeing evidence of varroa mite infestations. It's all a bit of a mystery.
I feel like a terrible beekeeper.
Trying to make the best of the situation, we harvested a bit of the honey, and gave the remainder (and all of the pollen) to our Magnolia hive.
The Magnolia hive is currently the smallest of our three backyard colonies. The Mira and Victoria hives are doing amazingly well. The Citron hive swarmed so many times this spring that it eventually had no bees left. And our one un-named hive quietly died off this winter. We missed the signs because we don't open our hives during the cold of winter, and what we thought was an actively flying hive, was actually other bees removing the honey from the unpopulated hive.
Some time back in the autumn, we had the Magnolia hive open when the bees got really agitated. We slammed the hive closed, but apparently forgot to replace all of the frames. Without the structure provided by the rectangular frames, the Magnolia bees built chaotic comb, which the queen then laid her eggs in. We dared not disturb the developing brood, so we didn't touch this messy wax comb. Today, we took a moment to examine the hive, and were pleased to see that the bees were not currently using this part of their comb. Bees shift around inside the hive, using different areas at different times.
Robb and I leapt at the opportunity to do some much needed house-keeping. We scraped out the empty comb, and inserted the frames that had been missing all winter. Hopefully, the bees will make good use of what we've given them, and will make it through the rest of the winter.
Let's hope that the bees (and I) stay good and healthy.
(And if you're interested to read what other folks are doing in their gardens, moseyon over to Daphne's weekly garden round-up. It's always a good time.)