Archive for January 17th, 2013

Oh Fer Two

Our first beehive failed in a spectacular way. Two hives went to war in the late afternoon, the sun catching them as they flew about the back yard. Far more bees than I’d seen in flight at once, each shining like gold. As the commotion died down, we knew we’d witnessed a robbery, and when we went into the hive we found it empty of nectar and pollen. Thus sealed the fate of Queen Victoria Queen Victoria Queen Victoria.

Our second beehive failed much more quietly. We’d combined the hives after the robbing event under advice from our mentors and several apiarist websites. We’d kept them fed with sugar water, artificial pollen, and bee candy as the weather turned colder. However, even on the balmiest of days we saw no activity from the hive, no bees wandering off to see what food they could find to add to the stores. We knew the hive was likely dead for a while. I’ve since confirmed it.

One hive failed for very obvious reasons. The other is more of a mystery. There are frames absolutely heavy with honey and concentrated sugar water. The hive just…failed. There were fewer dead bees than I expected. Some were forced out at the beginning of winter, others will flee a hive on the verge of failure. I wasn’t able to identity Reina Kickass, but I’m sure she’s there.

We picked a rough year to start beekeeping. Hives failed at an alarming rate all through the Northern Virginia region. Even in the best of years, hives fail, sometimes at up to a 50% rate. Even well-intentioned new beekeepers will often lose all their hives the first year. We’re trying not to be discouraged, especially when we see reports from far more experienced beekeepers who lost most or all of their suburban hives. We’ll clean out the hives, save what honey we can, and give it another go next year.

It’s a bummer. I’m surprised I cared nearly so much about insects, but they were our insects. They weren’t quite like a pet, they were self-sustaining, we were largely giving them a place to live. But they were still living things under our care who failed to keep living. So, yeah, perhaps I’m a little bummed about the hive failure.

On the plus side, all our neighbors who knew about the bees reported increased fruit and vegetable yields this year. And that’s what beekeeping is about: helping the pollinators. And, eventually, making mead.

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