There is a saying in beekeeping circles to “be a bee keeper, not a bee haver.” It expresses the notion that we should intervene with our bees when necessary to keep them alive, as a farmer typically does with any other livestock. The measurement of success for “keeping” your bees is for them to live through the winter and into spring. It is easy to have bees and then watch them die over the winter due to lack of food or varroa infestation; it is much harder to keep them healthy until the spring nectar flow begins. Be a bee keeper, not a bee haver.
I seem to be skirting the line between having and keeping bees lately.
I mentioned in my last post that Callisto had perished, and that I did not expect Mars to survive. This turned out to be very true, as the prior picture illustrates. I was surprised by how many bees I found in the hive. No food anywhere, although there was sugar on top. The bees were in the middle of three boxes, and I think with our freezing temperatures they couldn’t reach the top and simply ran out of food.
Today I realized that I had a number of honey frames from Callisto, and perhaps I could put them in my remaining hives. I don’t why this didn’t occur to me before; the mark of an inexperience, I suppose.
So today I went out before the rain started to add some frames to my remaining Langstroth hive, Ganymede. From the remains of Callisto I found 8 frames with capped brood. It was just starting to rain when I found Ganymede a very quiet hive. Dead bees on the bottom board and no food in the hive. They were flying last month when it was warm, so this was rather disheartening and I only wish I had thought to add food earlier.
Fearing the worst, I opened up the back of my weakest top bar hive, Venus. As I moved through the frames back to front, there was nothing. No food, no buzz, no honey.
Finally near the front third I could hear the bees buzzing. I closed it up and placed two medium honey frames in the back of the hive (orthogonal to the bars). Had to break some comb away to set them on the floor, but food is more important than comb right now. We are due for rain tomorrow with 60+ F (15+ C) temperatures, so they can pull the honey if they need it.
I also opened the back of Titan and placed two medium honey combs inside. This hive has much bigger combs (about twice the size of Venus) and was stronger in December. I could hear the bees buzzing on the other side of the follower board.
So, that’s my update. My three Langstroth hives are now dead, and I tried to prop up my three top bar hives. I am fairly certain that my problems late last summer with varroa mites was a prime contributor to my current problems. Randy Oliver has been writing a great series in the American Bee Journal on varroa mites. His February article was especially good and will eventually appear on his site at scientificbeekeeping.com.
Last year at this time the crocus and maple were about to bloom; this year the cold weather lingers and the first flowers are likely weeks away. Hopefully the remaining bees will make it.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
These words were the subject of a recent Idiomation post, where blogger Elyse Bruce traced the origin to an 1888 work by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Bruce also points to a 2017 report of the same name discussing a study showing this effect: short term bodily stress does in fact lead to long-term benefits.
When I saw the post last week, I immediately thought of Mars and my dead bees. Little did I know that Ganymede was also under stress. This experience will certainly make my bee-keeping stronger; hopefully my remaining hives will come out of winter a bit stronger as well.
May you prosper and find honey.