Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dead Outs in The Polar Vortex

It is a beekeepers worst fear. Dead outs. We have three of them. All three colonies in the top box, none of them looked like they broke the cluster. We didn't leave much honey but it seems that would not have mattered. In at least one of the hives we found the dead bees were situated right next to a large rim of honey. They were simply too cold to move to the honey sources and starved to death.

It has been bitter cold here with temps dropping into the -60 degrees with the wind chill factor for several nights last week. I had very little hope that we would find any thriving colonies. Still it makes one very sad. I try to think of the silver linings, an opportunity to clean equipment, get rid of old comb and start new. Still, I am sad and as silly as it sounds I wonder what I could have done differently to save them. I know I don't have magical powers to fight old man winter but I can't shake the "bad beekeeper" feeling.

This is what it looks like to clean out the hive, a very grim sight indeed. We wanted to scatter as many of the dead bees as we could on the ground, the bees will make for good compost in the spring. We only got through the top two boxes of this hive and left a box full of bees to deal with later. Altogether we took four boxes down.

So far I have harvested about 20 brood frames of old comb. Comb which I believe it too old to keep using. It is dry, brittle and packed with pollen that probably harbors pesticide. That pollen is what the nurse bees feed the brood. I don't want my bees getting toxic pesticide from the get go. So, for the first time we are pulling all the wax from the brood frames and in some instances even getting rid of the frames. It's been five years. This housekeeping measure is long over due. I am guessing I have gotten through about half the frames and have filled a very large bin with wax to make candles. I like knowing the wax won't go to waste.

Winter, usually it is a time for the beekeeper to wait. We wait patiently to see who will survive the cold.  The work room is filled with the scent of comb. We can dip beeswax candles, stir honey into yogurt, inventory and clean equipment but mostly we wait to see. It can be hard, all that waiting, not knowing.

 For me the waiting is over. I know what I face, total replacement. I am spending hours tinkering with equipment, reorganizing, making lists and making strategies for two bee yards this spring. There is new equipment to be ordered, old equipment to be repaired and painted and the opportunity to be still and be quite and listen. These are good days even if the bees are gone.

1 comment:

beegirl said...

I am so sorry to read of the losses, Cari! I haven’t checked on mine yet - I was gifted with 3 swarms this year, and consolidated them all on my goat farm and sheep farm locations - this year, hives at our house East of Lake Harriet. We will have you two over when the weather turns fair.