Saturday, September 17, 2016

They Broke Me

I hadn't planned on inspecting the bees until the end of September, but a local friend (roughly a 40 min drive west of me) reported on FaceBook that despite the fall flow, his bees had zero honey. Then responses started coming in from multiple parts of the state that nobody had honey. Even though the goldenrod is flowering, the lack of rain means no nectar.

Seeing pollen coming into the hives, I'd assumed nectar was also, but was it??? Concerned by my friend's comment, I popped the hives open just to see what was going on. None of the nucs, except for Celestia, had any honey to speak of. Of the full-sized hives:

  • Elsa is in good shape with about 12 bars of nectar and maybe 10-12 bars of bees. Not sure for certain since she has quite a few bars of pollen near the entrance. 
  • Austeja has about 4 bars of honey. 
  • Hippolyte has very little honey, maybe a bar or two. 
  • Persephone -- I have no clue what this hive is up to. Despite the fact that she had very little honey -- maybe 3 bars -- she was festooning on all the bars at the back of the hive (6 bars). It was a huge surprise to open the hive and pull out an enormous ball of bees building comb. At first, I thought maybe another colony had taken up residence near the back, but no queen. Then I remembered something I heard at a bee meeting last summer. One of the hypotheses for what causes fall swarms is that the environmental cues during autumn are very similar to spring -- similar temperatures and day lengths, and there is a heavy flow. Their building behavior did strike me as very "spring-like," so I wonder if that's what's going on in that one.
On the other hand, all of the hives seem to have lots of brood. My guess is that they're using incoming nectar to raise brood instead of storing it away.

Although I'd planned to wait until the fall flow was over to feed, they've broken me. Most likely, I won't feed Elsa, Celestia, Austeja, or Persephone. The first three in that bunch are storing honey, so I'll see how far they get. 

Persephone has very little honey, but since she seems to have her calendar backward, I don't want to inadvertently trigger a swarm by feeding this time of year. Also, she's a truly unpleasant ankle-biter. During inspections, I put a smoker by my feet because she goes after my legs and ankles non-stop otherwise. Today, was even worse. All the other hives were perfectly sweet and delightful. Even through a cloud of smoke, she attacked me on every surface imaginable.  What is it with that hive? It's some kind of monster-maker, a full moon for bees. Every colony I put in it becomes unbearable.

Although I tried to move quickly through the hives today (an average of maybe 10-15 mins/hive), it wasn't fast enough. Opening the hives set off a ridiculous amount of robbing within minutes. I wish I'd taken a camera today. It was quite impressive to see Elsa with all her bars closed, but covered in bees trying to get through the cracks. I couldn't help think of the quote:

“Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber." John 10:1

Except in this case, it's "whoever does not enter the hive by the entrance, but flies or crawls in some other way, is a thief and a robber, and the beekeeper is going to shut them down."

Will probably try to feed during the evening when the bees on their way home. This should let the bees suck down their syrup in peace without having to fight off a bunch of moochers. We'll see how this pans out. 


  1. Wow, sorry to hear that the fall flow isn't what it was cracked up to bee. I'm thinking I have the opposite problem - lots of honey and not as much brood as I would like.

    Guess the bees never heard of "Thou shalt not steal!". I killed a bunch of yellow jackets during my inspection today - but I always knew that they were going to hell anyway. They got their just rewards!

    I hope your feeding strategy works and they can build up before the winter! Fingers crossed!

    1. LOL! Oh my goodness! You crack me up! Ha! I won't even tell you what I do to yellow jackets. It's too awful, and I drink my tea afterward, perfectly untroubled.

  2. I am in the same "hive" as you. Lots of brood but no honey. I started feeding this week because I am afraid the cold weather may be here sooner than later and will run out of time

    1. We had some chilly mornings last week, too, but this week is supposed to be in the 80s.

      If you do run out of time to feed, you can feed them sugar. I had good results doing that with a late season swarm last year. Good luck!

    2. I am thinking of doing the Mountain Camp method this winter instead of fondant and see how it goes

  3. This post has given me a few things to think about.

    I had a dry summer and didn't get much honey from the one colony I put aside for stealing honey. The colony seemed to be in great shape with active foragers all summer long, but the amount of honey I got from it was a fraction of what I'm used to getting.

    The bees also filled an entire medium deep with pollen instead of nectar, which makes sense, I suppose, if they were bringing in more pollen than nectar.

    I also noticed that most of my new colonies and even my older colonies with older queens were packed with brood, more than I'm used to seeing.

    If all of this is because of dry weather and less nectary sources... wow. What a huge effect it had on my bees.

    Now I'm concerned with late-season swarming. I've never seen my hives so packed with bees.

    1. Fingers crossed that you won't get any late-season swarming. That would be terrible.

      It's interesting that you're seeing the same sorts of things I am -- more than usual amounts of brood, lack of honey... I wonder if they couldn't build up during the dearth, so they're building up on the fall flow -- even if it means not having anything leftover for winter.

      Good luck with your girls!


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