Three Hives Gone

I’m taking an interdisciplinary course this quarter in college, and it requires a research project that involves doing something positive on campus. My group decided to add beehives to the campus, because I’m a good resource, and both my teachers (its two classes in one and requires both teachers to be there everyday) are beekeepers as well. So naturally they’re really excited about getting this done. They recommend that my group watch a documentary called Queen of the Sun. I went straight home and watched it, and as I did I was reminded why I keep bees. And so today I went out to peek at my girls, assuming all would be well because of the noticeable going-ons I had been seeing on nice days for weeks. I didn’t want to open anything up, so I just knocked on the side of White Hive, to check for the aggravated hum of the colony that would tell me all was well. Nothing. So I gave the hive a good smack, something that should’ve caused more than a few bees to come out and investigate, but still nothing. Bracing myself I pulled off the lid. The hive was beeless. It was completely full of honey; probably weighing as much as it did at the start of winter, but it was completely devoid of life. It made no sense! It was too cold to pry the frames apart, so I couldn’t take a look at the cells of the frames, but the hive smelled sweet and there weren’t any bees on the screen board. I’ll take it all apart and collect the honey from those frames, so as to avoid spreading disease to the hives future inhabitance.

Moving to Trunchen Hive next, I was certain that I would have bees in this hive. They had remained more active than White Hive for longer, and just a few days ago I saw workers dragging live drones out of the front door. Unfortunately I went and picked up one of these drones and found his wings were deformed, looking similar to burnt/melted plastic. This makes me wonder if the queen hadn’t mated enough and was laying only drones (because there shouldn’t be drones still alive at this point in the year), and if the bees didn’t have some kind of wing virus as well. Either way, Trunchen Hive was without bees when I checked it as well.

I had planned to go to my aunts today to remove the bottom box off of her hive (as her bees didn’t fill it in, and I haven’t had time available that worked with the weather until now) and to turn the hive to warm-way, so I headed over there next. I knew before I touched it that the hive was empty. There were a pile up of bees on the landing pad, and on the ground just outside the hive. I gave her hive a good thwack to ‘wake up’ the bees, but got the same silent result as I did with both of mine. The bottom box on her hive has a window in it, so I peaked in that to see how many bees were on the floor of the hive. The floor was almost perfectly clean. I decided to peel back the cloth on the top box and peek into the hive this time, since my cousin was with me and hasn’t seen the inside of a hive before. The hive was empty/silent, but eventually a single bee came flying out. I think she was one of the last ones, because there weren’t any other bees visible so far as I could tell. I closed it up anyway and left it there for the few remaining bees to die off.

I’ll remove all of the frames/comb from all of the hives and extract all of the honey from them so I don’t spread disease. Thankfully its early enough that I have time to order new bees (and this time hopefully locally) for this year. I plan on getting two packages, one for White Hive and one for my aunts hive. She’s as excited to have bees as I am, and it was really handy to have an empty hive around last year.

I’m a little annoyed with the whole thing, because unfortunately there’s not anything that I did wrong and can learn not to do next time. As far as I can tell its just a case of Colony Collapse Disorder, and the bees all just left of their own devices. The colonies all smelled fine, so I assume that there’s not any brood rotting away in them, but I’ll open them up sometime when its a little warmer and I can break the frames apart a little easier. All there colonies were about as full of honey as they were when summer ended (I’d say White Hive weighs more than 80 lbs) and even if they were a little short on pollen they shouldn’t have all died off this early.

I suppose the good news is I can look back into what kind of bee I’d like to try, and see if I stick with carniolans again. I think I’ll keep them at my house at least, but I may try buckfast or something else for my aunts house, as she has a little bit more distance from her house to her hives, and a slightly more aggressive bee won’t be as much of a bother.

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8 responses to “Three Hives Gone”

  1. Emily Heath says :

    Your research project sounds really good, but I feel really bad for you that all three hives have gone, so unlucky. Do you think varroa could have been involved, as you saw deformed wings on the drone?

    • willowbatel says :

      I suppose it could be, but I didn’t see any mites on the bees/in the brood (I would occasionally uncap some of the drone brood and check) during the summer. I’ll check White Hive’s sticky board when I get a chance to open it up.

      • Emily Heath says :

        Unless you have a really bad infestation you’re unlikely to notice mites in the hive, but the drone brood is a good test. Varroa is thought to be the number one killer of hives in the UK, so I always suspect it!

        • willowbatel says :

          I don’t think the stats are so bad here. I talked to my food sustainability course teacher, who keeps bees as well, and he said it sounded like colony collapse too. Because in White Hive there are definitely not any bees piled up at the bottom of the hive. The hive is almost completely vacant, except for a few random bodies scattered about.

          • Emily Heath says :

            This colony collapse problem is very mysterious, especially as it seems to be mainly a US problem. I hope they get to the bottom of it soon. Wishing you better luck with your bees this year.

            • willowbatel says :

              I stayed home sick today, and it was warmer than it’s been in weeks so I took a little stroll around the garden. There were a few bees coming and going from Trunchen Hive, which makes absolutely no sense. There can’t be robbers out this time of year, can there? I’m going to pull apart White Hive this weekend if I can, because I know that’s empty, but I may suit up and take a peak into Trunchen Hive to see if there are still bees left somehow. I don’t know why they wouldn’t have responded to my banging on the walls of the hive though…

  2. The Honeypotters says :

    So sorry for your loss!:( It seems there are so many losses this year and we’re not all the way through winter yet.

    What kind of bees do you think you’ll get next?

    • willowbatel says :

      I’m not sure. Carniolians are what I’ve always had/gotten, but they’ve died off every time, so I may need to look into something sturdier. I think I may try Buckfast or Russians.

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