Monday, March 9, 2015

Beekeeping Fail

Two weeks ago, Feb 22, a quick visual/audial inspection revealed that all of my colonies were still alive. Then we got 10 days or so of horrible weather (highs in the teens/subzero lows). Last Wednesday, there was a slight break with a high of 40. More horrible weather Thursday - Saturday, but another 40'ish day on Sunday. Today is a beautiful 47 degrees F, so why aren't I smiling???

Sunday, I expected to see cleansing flights, but I didn't. So today, I thought I'd check on the girls. Austeja was flying, but none of the others.  A quick listen with the stethoscope and... nothing. Dead silence.

My colonies went into winter pretty light, and I've been worried ever since November that they'd run out of stores before spring. Fearing the worst, I opened them up. There were loads and loads of stores. There were also loads and loads of dead bees. Part of me wonders if they simply couldn't move; however, they weren't all buried in the comb the way one expects with bees that have starved. Also, the bees had a slick, wet sort of look. Could they have been killed by condensation?

Dang it. That's 3 out of 4 dead. A whopping 75%. Oh, and I opened Austeja first thinking she might need some sugar (she didn't) and broke a comb. Double dang. Definitely a beekeeping fail.

It's weird, though, that Austeja pulled through when the others didn't. I was sure Peach would pull through to spite me just because she was the meanest, but I'd mentally voted Austeja least likely to survive. The only thing that's really different about her is that she has an observation window. Could it be that moisture simply condensed on the glass and ran down? (I've heard that is an advantage with glass.) Or could it be that because of the glass, she had an extra thick wall on one side? (The other hives have 1" thick walls that I put styrofoam over. Austeja's observation window is inset, so I covered it with styrofoam to insulate it. Then there was a 1" board over it, and a styrofoam board on the outside.)

Although I've been in CT only 2 years, I went to school in Boston, and I can't for the life of me remember a winter this brutal. Usually, it gets cold, maybe snows, then we get a little warm up. Starting in January, this winter has just been nonstop frigid. I'm concerned that it may continue that way. Che GueBee, a TBH beek in Denmark, says he uses fairly thick walls and that seems to help, so I'm thinking about modifying my hives with 2" thick walls for more insulation. I'd lose my "artwork," but whatever.

Some more experienced beeks say that it's impossible to tell whether the hives are truly dead until we get a few days of 50 degree weather. Quite a few of them have stories about a hive that died during the winter, so they brought the hive indoors where, after a few days in the warmth of the house, the bees suddenly resuscitated. So it's possible that not all hope is not lost, but I'm still not holding my breath.

In any case, I have two packages on order, and plenty of comb & stores to get the new girls going. I've been considering ordering some queens from Kirk Webster and Mike Palmer, and now I have some incentive to do so (to requeen the packages). Also, if Austeja continues on her present trajectory, I will have some proven overwintered stock for making up new nucs.

Chris Harp, The Bee Doctor, said that he killed 10 hives his first 10 years. I've already got four under my belt, so hopefully there won't be too many more.


  1. Oh no! I'm really sorry to hear this, Julie. It's weird how the hive you don't expect to make it ends up being the one that does. I'm glad you have your bees already ordered. I just had to order another package and now have to deal with 2 separate pickups because the first order was sold out. I will probably follow your lead and requeen with some local stock since they are coming from California.

    1. Thanks for the sympathy. Glad to hear that you were able to get another package since they can be hard to find this late in the season. Good luck with your new bees!

  2. Sorry to hear your news. It's heartbreaking I know. i haven't blogged it yet but I have lost at least one colony. The strongest colony, the one I would have put money on didn't make it. The weakest colony, the one in the leaky box was bringing in pollen on saturday! Like Mike Palmer says nothing selects for good genetics in bees like a bad winter.

    1. Thank you for the condolences. It is absolutely heartbreaking because I think of all the things I could've/should've done and didn't.

      I'm so sorry to hear about your lost colony as well. You're absolutely right, though, about nature selecting for the best genetics. Knowing that doesn't lessen the disappointment, but it does help with going forward.


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