It’s really autumn. Today is very cool, sunny now but started out raining with spats of snow. This makes me think of holidays, classical music, lighted windows, warm food, spices and long winter nights.
I have a heaviness in my heart when I think of this winter. I won’t have my bees in the hive, clustered in a shivering ball, keeping the queen and the brood warm as they weather the cold. I won’t see them flying out on sharp sunny days to take cleansing flights. And I won’t have the promise of spring in the dead of winter when these amazing bees fly out in late February and actually find pollen to bring the hive out of hibernation.
My bees are gone. They died out and the hive was taken over by wax moths.
It was horrifying to discover and even worse to know I should have stopped it. I was such a novice but so fortunate as a first year beekeeper. I had a great harvest when so many experienced beekeepers had almost no honey during the summer of 2008. It gave me a false sense of superiority in my beekeeping skills. In truth, my hive was located in an ideal spot in an area that had an abundance of well-tended flower and vegetable gardens. The bees did well because their circumstances were ideal.
It all fell apart when I moved the hive. As stated in previous blogs, my neighbor was not comfortable with the idea of a thriving apiary right next door. As stated previously, I understand so I moved the hive. It was a catastrophe for my bees and they died. It was heart-breaking for me to open the hive and see it full of moths. Worse was dismantling the frames and seeing how many moth larvae were present, chewing away at the wax, the bottom board littered with bee bodies, dead brood, pollen pellets and all covered with moth shit.
I was gob-smacked, completely put in my place. There were a few feeble workers and drones flying in and out but that was simply because they had no other place to go. I felt my heart break, really, pain in my heart. I killed this fantastic hive by bad beekeeping. I didn’t really know what I was doing and they suffered the consequences.
The rules of moving a hive are either less than 3 feet or more than three miles or the bees will continue to return to the original hive location. That’s most likely what they did and I probably would have had a better idea of what they were up to if it weren’t the rainiest April, May and June in my living memory. That was another major error on my part: I moved the hive during an incredible rain storm. I couldn’t locate the queen during the move and very well could have killed her or knocked her out of the hive when I dismantled it.
It wasn’t just the bad move, the mismanagement started long before when I did nothing to manage the size of the hive. I didn’t use my queen excluder because I had read one article about letting the queen have free range of the hive. What was unaware of, in my inexperience, was that she will lay eggs everywhere and increase the size of the hive to a point where there was too many bees for the space I was providing. So my lack of management allowed for an enormous amount of bees. Because they had such an ideal location and were thriving, they were preparing to do what big healthy hives do in spring: swarm.
I knew I wasn’t experienced enough to catch a swarm and I had just had my uncomfortable conversation with my neighbor who aired her grief about what she was certain was a bunch of murderous bees intent on stinging her precious screaming children’s little fingers and little toes. The rain of the spring of ’09 hadn’t commenced and my bees were edgy and defensive.
Instead of consulting with an experienced beekeeper, I flipped through one of my bee books and decided on a new location to change the flight pattern and get the bees out of the neighbors sight. It was a fatal move, the bees probably died in massive amounts on the first few days of rain when they flew to their home site and got drenched. The rest that stayed in that crappy new location probably used most of their energy trying to stay warm and fight moths and wasps that were often hovering near the landing board. I tried sugar water because I observed they had no pollen and they took that but really, the battle was lost.
Wax moths sneak in and hide in corners and along the underside of frames. I inspected the comb a few times after the move and was unable to find the marked queen, which meant she probably perished in the move. I was all right with that because I found queen cells and it was early enough to re-queen and salvage the hive. I left the hive alone for what I hoped was long enough for the new queen to establish herself but I think that was the time the moths took over and proliferated. When I looked into the hive 2 weeks after I found the queen cells, it was full of moths. Devastation. No queen cells, no brood, moth silk drawn across from one side to another. Nauseating. Bad beekeeping. I wasn’t a beekeeper, I was a bee-haver–someone who has bees but does nothing to help them along. No, I was worse, I wrecked the hive.
I’m over the agony of my actions. I know other beekeepers who lost hives to moths, disease, swarm, bears–yes BEARS! and skunks–yes, SKUNKS! In fact, I don’t know of any beekeeper who hasn’t lost a hive, it’s kind of part of beekeeping. But I don’t know of any beekeeper who was the cause of their hive failure by bad beekeeping decisions. It’s a costly mistake; I have to start over completely next spring. The moths were so invasive and proliferative that I got rid of all the comb for 2 deeps and 2 supers. It’s going to be a longer winter this year but it’ll give me time to prepare and learn beekeeping properly.
Mrs. Neighbor has been decidedly friendlier but I wonder how she’d feel if she knew she’s still going to be living next to bees. She still does, after all the devastation of my bees, on the last warm day this fall, I found a honey bee gathering pollen from the nasturtiums in my garden. Good for you, bee.