how are my bees doing? (part 2)

In mid April I thought of keeping track of the overcast days but stopped that when I reached 10. I realized I could subcategorize the cloudy days by: clouds, rain, downpour, horizontal rain, torrential rain, typhoon, hurricane conditions. It was epic. And it was also much colder than normal. My bees, however, stayed busy and flew about madly in the brief moments of no rain and glimpses of sun. They were still extremely defensive I had to glove-up and carefully approach the hive from downwind to observe the activity up close. They would send out the scouts to warn me off if I got near the front of the hive. The only good thing about the awful spring was that it kept the Neighbor kids indoors for most of the time.

At the end of May we had major yard work done near the house which included the use of a small front end loader. Things went smoothly for most of the morning then I saw the driver leap out of his tractor and run down the driveway waving his arms over his head. He was being attacked! This gentleman had done projects on land with bees and never had this happen to him. Thankfully the job was nearly finished, he just needed to level off and spread dirt on a few more yards. I smoked the bees while he finished and was completely unnerved that they would go after the Neighbors if they decided to play in their yard too noisily. It was time to move this hive.

It’s destination was a flat roof over our back porch, hidden from the Neighbors sight. The occupant on that side of our house is the First Church of Christ Scientist which is populated by about 17 people on Sunday mornings. The bees flight path would be well above the heads of the faithful and the church entrance is located on the opposite side of the building of our house. The problem with this location is that there is no direct sunlight, it’s in shadow all day long.

My husband and I moved the hive on one of the rainiest days of the spring. We had no choice, the neighbor behind us cheerfully let me know she was replacing the rotting stockade fence (she had no idea we have bees until I told her I was moving my hive away from her fence). She was thrilled to know she had bees so close as she noticed her flower garden was spectacular during the summer of ’08.

The move was hard. We needed full-length bee suits and still got stung several times. The loss of bees while moving in the rain was alarming. All the bees that swarmed out when we began the move were cut down by the rain and died very quickly. This was the absolute worst way to manage the exploding population of my hive. What amazed me was how much spring honey they had produced in the worst spring of my memory. The two supers I had placed in mid-April were full.

The bees are now in the shade of my back porch roof. The Neighbors had no idea we moved them although I don’t know how they missed that all-day project of two people in bee suits climbing up and down a ladder with boxes of bees. Mrs. Neighbor is definitely more friendly, although one morning her son (who screams and cries often) started screaming and crying and I heard her shriek, “Did you get stung by a BEE!!!!!!” He didn’t, but I am sure one of those kids will get stung by something and I will be blamed.

The hive is doing very poorly. It looks like there are about 10,000 bees or less–the marginal number of failure. I can’t see that they are bringing in any pollen which means either there is no queen or there is no pollen. I’ve started sugar water to try to help, which they are taking a little but it’s not bringing the numbers back. I am heartbroken.  It poured yesterday and there is more rain predicted for today. They still fly in and out with purpose when there is no driving rain which somehow makes me sadder. They are docile when I remove the outer cover now, there’s no fire in them. I will take apart the hive on the next sunny day to check for the queen, mites, wasps, signs of sickness, all the things I learned in bee school but hoped I wouldn’t ever find.

If this hive fails, I will most assuredly start anew. I would like to move it back to its former location–I have the blessing of my neighbor over the fence who misses her garden and has noticed an abundance of wasps which were not plaguing her last year. I planted lilac trees along the fence near the neighbors to block their view of the hive if it returns–because it’s been out of sight, out of mind. I have learned more from this year of failure than my previous year of success. I have also discovered that I am a beekeeper for life.


About EF Sweetman

bees, baseball, beverly, ma, culture, manners, society, writing
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