Last night I opened Aretha’s hive to gather samples of the dead bees to send to the lab. The colony died out during the winter and I don’t know why, so I’m putting my faith in entomological science to find out what killed them.
Opening the hive was a surprisingly sad experience. Aretha had always been so strong and healthy, but now as I lifted apart the boxes, I found dead bees; all of that life extinguished. The bees were, as if in suspended animation, caught on the frames and over the queen excluder. It was if as the hive had been hit by the Avada Kedrava; its inhabitants all petrified – suddenly dead, and without any apparent reason why.
I felt rather forlorn. I have spent the past two years caring for these creatures. They were bright, healthy and agile when I left them; scurrying across the frames in a moving carpet of brown and black stripes, and stinging as if it was going out of fashion. Last night however, they were but fragile skeletons, dried out husks of their former selves, being blown off the frames by the chill March wind.
I never thought that I would bothered about the demise of insects (because everyone knows that insects are gross: to that end I spent much of my childhood and adolescence trying to kill any one that came within touching distance of me), but this got to me. It would appear that I have made an emotional investment in my bees. I can only imagine what I’d be like if I keep pigs; I’d probably cry every time I saw a rasher.
As well as the emotional knock of loosing livestock, there’s also the more practical impact that “dead bees don’t produce honey”. Hopefully, therefore, the lab will be able to identify a cause which I will be able to remedy it for this coming season. Of course there may be nothing amiss, it might just be nature; an old queen going into the winter and not enough time or strength to raise a new queen in the race against the cold. (That is also called bad beekeeping.) The lab will tell.
The other day I was surprised and delighted to receive an email from Inga, who is a wonderful woman that I met at Bee Camp at Gormanston last year. Like me, Inga is a novice beekeeper (with two hives, possibly three) and she keeps them in Kilkenny, not too far from mine in Carlow. Anyway, the blog has been a bit sparse of late so I decided that I’d treat you to a wee snippet of our beekeepers’ correspondance:
… Aretha is doing very well. We had a quick look last Monday (the day was a little windy, so we didn’t hang around to inspect the frames for fear of chilling the brood). She had a full box of ten frames with bees, so very happy with that. I’ve put on a second brood box of new clean foundation and hopefully the girls will have started to go up into that and draw it out. We decided to keep her clean and use new foundation as she was a swarm into a new hive that had never been used before. (Frank won the hive at the raffle the year before last.) Granted that means she’ll be slower and we’ll get less honey out of her, because they’ll have to draw up the frames, but hopefully it will keep diseases out.
Down in Spa Hill, we’re having mixed fortunes. A cow got in before Christmas and felled one of the hives, and that was the end of that. So then we were down to four out of five at that apiary. We’d put in the Particularly Vicious Bees down there in September (they’d swarmed in July into an old hive that Frank was keeping in the shed). I wanted to bring them back up to the house and keep them at the door during the General Election. I was particularly looking forward to setting them on that most beloved of Carlow politicians; Mary White.
Anyway, we opened them up about three weeks ago to find that they were dead! Very strange. The whole colony was wiped out. Really weird, just opening up an abandoned hive, with nothing more than a couple of hundred dead bees on one of the frames. So we’ve no idea what happened them: perhaps they didn’t go up to take down the syrup; Frank suggested that they swarmed, but we moved them down in late September, so it was highly unlikely that they’d swarm at that time of the year. Anyway, the PVB’s are no more. So now we’re down to three hives on that apiary.
Better news from the third box, which is absolutely jammers. The brood box is full and they’ve filled the super that they were left with over the winter. (We’d given them back the empty frames after extraction for them to have a feed on.) So we’re delighted with that, and they now have a second brood box on and next stop for them will be supers.
Box four isn’t looking as fab. It’s not doing badly, but it’s not absolutely hopping either. She was given another brood box too.
Box five is feckin’ flying! Frank reckons we might have problems trying to stop the whores from swarming. She’s really, really strong. Like box three, about a hundred million bees and a super full of honey already. We threw on a second brood box to give her some space and hopefully that’ll do it. Frank reckons the trick with that is to give her lots of space nice and early; no point trying to give her space when you open up and find the place stacked with queen cells. It’s too late by then, she’s already decided to go.
I haven’t looked at the three up at the house, but I don’t think they’re doing as well. The girls in Spa Hill seem to be the stronger.
P.S. Oh, and the dandelion is coming in really strong!