Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goodbye, bees

I'm sad to tell you that my bees didn't make it this year.  I'm not sure exactly why - I have many theories, but nothing solid to work with.  My hive was never a strong one - I had gone through 3 queens, and the numbers of bees never expanded much.  All I can tell you is that one day, I had a queen who was laying eggs and lots of happy bees.  A week later, I only had enough to fit into my cupped hands (don't worry, I didn't actually try that!).

After many conversations with experienced beekeepers, I decided to stop feeding the bees because it became apparent that the bees hanging out in my hive were robber bees.  Checking the hive every few days after the feeder went dry, I knew the ones that remained were my girls, and they were doomed.  I figured the least I could do was provide them shelter until the end.  The last time I checked on them, I decided to not wear my jacket and veil, because I knew there wouldn't be many left.  As I opened the outer cover and peered in, I could have actually counted the remaining bees, there were so few.  One little honey bee looked up at me (I swear she did!).  A few days later, all the bees were gone:

My theory is that it was pesticides.  We all went out for ice cream one evening in August, and we saw several honey bees on the patio of Graeter's, writhing around.  Something was clearly wrong with them.  We were so close to our house, for all I know, those were bees from my hive.  I checked the hive the next day and saw that the hive was almost gone.  It also could have been mites or hive beetles (although I never saw anything major happening with those); it could have been that my hive swarmed (but none of the signs of swarming were present); it could have been a bad hive location, weak queen, or many other factors.  I'll never really know for sure.  If you are interested in learning about some of challenges bees and beekeepers face, I really recommend the documentary The Vanishing of the Bees.

The good news is that I learned a lot this year, and I'm going to get bees again next year and try it again.  There are things I'll do differently (like checking them every week instead of every two weeks).  I'm optimistic about having bees again, and overall, it was a wonderful experience.  I never knew I would care so much about them, and feel so much responsibility for their well being.

Here are some shots of the hive in happier times.  Each of the Bachsters visited the hive with me at least once, and they all loved the experience.  Here's our 8-year-old on her first beekeeping excursion:

Here's our oldest DD - she wanted to hold a frame with a lot of bees:

Here's Little Dude, who just enjoyed hanging out close (but not too close) to the bees:


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