I’ve been remiss with my bee blog as I have bad news. Our bees did not make it. It has been a couple of months since we discovered our hive was down to only a handful of bees and then there were none.
I believe it was the constant attack of the wasps that finally did them in. There were never a lot of wasps around the hive, just a constant stream of wasps to the hive.
What I have learned this year is that bees have a lot of struggles to overcome. We didn’t experience them all, but we experienced enough to know why bees are in danger and how beekeepers are helping to keep bee populations at higher levels than if there were no beekeepers.
Here is a list of the struggles we observed with our hive:
- Losing queens: Our hive lost two queens this year. This takes a toll on the population of the hive and decreases its numbers. A weaker hive has a harder time defending against wasps and taking care of all the work of the hive – caring for eggs, larvae, pupa, queen, young bees and foraging for food for the hive. Queens typically live for 3-7 years, so it is highly unusual to lose two queens in the same year from natural causes. This is where pesticides come into play, weakening the bees normal functions so that they aren’t functioning at 100%. Foraging bees sometimes bring back pollen and nectar with poisons in them for the hive to consume.
- False queen: This is a natural phenomenon that happens when the hive goes without a queen for a period of time. It is unhealthy for the hive and will lead to the hive’s destruction if not fixed. The fix, unfortunately, requires reducing the bee population which isn’t good either. So, either way, the hive is harmed. This is a secondary effect of the hive losing its queen if the queen is not replaced quickly.
- Wasps: Wasps and yellow jackets want what the bees have, hive and honey. They are very aggressive about getting it. A healthy bee hive has the defensive bees and energy to fight off attacks and kill wasps, but a weaker hive is less effective. This is what finished off our hive after the first two items in the list above weakened them.
- Mites: Mites are bee parasites and we had them in our hive. Fortunately, we didn’t have them in big enough numbers that we needed to treat the hive for mites. Our hive had its share of problems this year, but this wasn’t one of the contributing factors to its demise. When a hive has a big mite problem, the hive weakens. A single mite on a bee is the equivalent of a person having a basketball size parasite attached to them. It greatly hinders their ability to get their job done.
- Rookie beekeeper mistakes: Our hive was most critically harmed by the first three items on this list. I would be remiss if I didn’t list out the two mistakes that we made that also decreased our bee population:
- When putting the sugar water feeder on the hive, we missed that the bees could get to the sugar water through the gap at the top that is there for air flow. This miss allowed the bees to get to the sugar water directly (not through the screen that protected them) and caused many bees to drown.
- Putting the 6 gallon honey bucket out in an upright position for the bees to reclaim the residual honey. Over time, the honey that coated the sides pooled in the bottom of the bucket, causing a dangerously deep pool for the bees to drown in. Once we discovered this, we fixed it. It seemed like all the bees recovered, but this had great potential to harm the hive as well.
All in all, we did what we could for the bees. We learned much about bee habits, health and what is involved in being a beekeeper. We miss our bees and are disappointed that we weren’t able to keep them alive and healthy. One of the points made in the September Bee Club meeting was for beekeepers to combine any weaker hives with strong hives before heading into winter. We only had one hive, so no option to combine.
We’ve decided that next year, we will have three hives. We’ve already ordered our bee packages from our local apiary store: The Bees Nees. We ordered two 3 pound packages of bees and one 4 pound packages of bees. A pound of bees contains around 3,000 bees, so we have about 30,000 bees coming our way in the spring. Each of these packages come with a queen that will need to be introduced to her new hive. Our new bees arrive on April 13th, 2016.
Dave and I are planning now for our new batch of bees. I’ve got designs for how I want to paint the new bee boxes that we’ll need to purchase and we are plotting our strategy – what are we going to do different, what will remain the same.
Dave and I enjoyed our beekeeping journey this year and look forward to continuing next year.
Happy Holidays, Sheri