Monday, January 13, 2014

Update on Bees

If you read about my big bear attack last November, you might recall that I saved some of the bees and put them in a nuc with whatever comb I could salvage and some candy. The nuc has been residing, completely unattended, in the garage since then.

After weeks of company, holidays, and single-digit weather, I finally got a free warm day (above 50 degrees F.) on Saturday. I figured I'd see what was going on with the nuc. Turns out that the bees were quite active and even wanted to fly, so we left the garage door open until sunset for them.

In the image here, you can see bees coming in and out the entrance. I was a little surprised at this. The rubber bands I'd used to hang combs from the top bars were a less than ideal tool. The weight of the comb caused the bands to stretch, and when I moved the nuc into the garage, they all swung flush up against the entrance, effectively closing it. However, it seems that my bees are resourceful, and they've worked things out inside the nuc.

Do I have a queen? I have no idea. Another beek advised me to check for one. If she's there, he said to feed and wrap them. If not, he told me to dump the bees out into the snow and salvage whatever comb and honey there is. However, I just can't bring myself to follow this suggestion. 

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, bees are very short-lived. Even if my girls survive the winter without a queen, they will no doubt perish soon after in the spring. However, after tending to them so lovingly all summer, I simply can't bear the thought of tossing them out like rubbish into the cold.

At this point in time, I don't know what to do, and I don't even have a plan, so I will do nothing. While opening the nuc would satisfy my curiosity, I can't help the girls at this point. I would probably hurt them.

If they're still alive in late Feb/March, I may take a look then. If I find a queen, I can worry about how to relocate the bees into a new hive at that time. (The combs in the nuc were a disaster when I put the bees in there, but that's a story for another day.) If not, I've ordered two new colonies. I'll shake the bees in front of those hives and see if they can beg their way in. Yes, I know, I know, they're going to die in the spring anyway, but I feel responsible for giving them a home if only for a little while. I'm a sap.


  1. One of my colonies became queenless last winter and died. Another colony became queenless just before winter this year and died. In both cases, the bees hung on as long as the could, the cluster gradually getting smaller until it was too small, I assume, to create enough heat to stay alive. Both had plenty of honey to eat. I probably should have tossed them in the snow, too, but I couldn't.

    Something I noticed just before they both finally died: Poop all over the place. I'm not sure what it means. I haven't looked that one up yet. But I thought I'd pass it along. Bees without a queen eventually lose their sense of purpose and do strange things. If your bees are still acting like normal bees, maybe they're okay.

    1. Thanks, Phillip, for weighing in on this! That's weird about the poo. Could it have been nosema? That's usually one of the first things people think of, but maybe not the only thing that could cause that.

      Out of curiosity, how long do you think it takes a queenless hive to start acting "goofy"? My bear attack was back in November. Just wondering if I should be able to tell by now (without opening it up). Thanks!

      PS -- I think it's neat that you have 2 L's in your name. I've only ever seen one other person spell it that way -- my dad! (Hope that didn't sound creepy. I just thought it was interesting. :-)

    2. Hi Julie -- Yeah, us 2 L Phillips are a rare breed. Everyone spells are name wrong. It's the burden we carry.

      I've seen my queenless bees act strange a few times. The first strange thing I noticed was the bees aimlessly walking around the ground outside the hive. I put in a new queen and that immediately stops. I've also heard of queenless colonies becoming defensive, but I've observed the opposite more a few times -- I lift the top off the hive and the bees are oddly quiet and non-reactive. Calm bees are great, but lifeless bees are strange.

      I don't have many local beekeepers to talk shop with, so much of what I see in my hives is guesswork. But judging from the handful of queenless colonies I've experienced (some died, some I was able to save), the colonies I couldn't requeen were dead within a month, even when the clusters were large to begin with. And then poop everywhere about five days before they finally died. The pooping could be nosema. I haven't seen it happen enough to come to any definite conclusions.

    3. Thanks for the description. There's still quite a bit of buzzing in my box o' bees, so maybe it's ok to keep my fingers crossed a little while longer.

      I think you're right about needing local beeks to compare notes with. However, I don't know if you follow the Beesource forums ( or not. I've found that it's a great place for info and timely advice. (Of course, everyone has a different opinion about what I should do, but it's nice to have options when I'm already confused. ;-)

      Thanks again for weighing in! I appreciate your insight!


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!