Sunday, April 03, 2011

Beehive postmortem

We cleaned out the hive today. Optimistically, I prepared my honey gear, thinking I might at least get a bar or two.
The hive was almost fully built out. This was the last comb on the last bar, nearly full size. And empty.
Every comb was empty. Until we got to the pathetic little cluster of dead bees.
There was no honey left. But also no capped brood, and just scattered open brood. Clearly the queen had died at some point. But when?
The combs were well-formed, and hardly attached to the sides at all. There should have been a ton of honey in there. We harvested two bars last May and that was it.
There was a lot of debris and dead bees in the bottom of the hive.
I found one queen cup.
A handful of bees were lodged head-first in the honey cells, a sign of starvation.
I can't figure out how they looked fine all summer, fall and winter (buzzing happily around the entrance on warm days) and then poof. Gone.
Lacking honey, I figured I'd at least render the beeswax.
Many interested bees from other hives in the 'hood kept me company outside. That's a good sign there will be another swarm soon enough for me to catch and try again.


  1. Sad. Educational, but sad. I'm on the mailing list for the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, a beekeeping supply company here on the East Coast. One of their employees is a new beekeeper -- just started last April, when I did. She writes a monthly column about her experiences. In their most recent newsletter she reported that she lost one of her two hives over the winter, and she said she was so sad about losing it that she couldn't go near it for a week after seeing that it was like yours, totally empty, with some bees facing downwards in the cells looking for a drop of food.

    This can be an emotional business for some of us.

    BTW, I've noticed that the Brushy Mountain people do not sell top bar hive equipment and it appears that they are engaged in a push-and-pull with the top bar community over the benefits of each style (TB vs. Langstroth). I've got enough on my mental plate without adding this debate to the mix, but I AM intrigued by the top-bar style. It seems both easier and harder at the same time. I tell ya, beekeeping is NOT simple.

  2. So sad to see I hope you get a swarm soon

  3. I'm sorry you lost your beehive. Don't give up try again and good luck next time! Nice blog, nice posts!

  4. So glad you posted your blog site..I'll be watching for that new swarm.
    I caught a tiny swarm for my TBH..still hanging in there but not sure how much chance they have.

  5. Thanks, everyone. I'm pretty confident a swarm will come my way in another few weeks. I wish I knew why they ran out of food. It's very strange.

    Pam, I had not heard about the Brushy Mountain brouhaha, but it's probably like Mac vs. PC. I like the TBH, but if I lived in the country, I'd probably try both.

    The bigger divide is over treatments. There are probably those who will say my bees died because I didn't load them up with antibiotics and miticides.

    Thanks, Breezy!

    Heguiberto, do you have bees?

    Carol, I'll cross my fingers for your swarm.

  6. We are beekeepers in WA state, the west side, and always have trouble in the spring with losing our bees. The dysentary could be nosema which is usually treated with antibiotics, though we did not treat this year as we wanted to see what the spring results were. What might have happened is the hive was weak due to malnutrition (they might have been hungry as seen by lack of honey in the comb) which then caused the nosema to take over the hive. So treating them might not have helped at all.
    We feed our hives early spring and watch them all winter. This year we made candy boards. We use Langstroth hives as we can keep the two bottom deeps separate from the honey comb so if we need to medicate (in the spring or fall) we can without any contamination to the honey as it is either already pulled or not yet on. Also :) we use peppermint oil in the spring feed for mites.
    Swarms are always a challenge. We get a few every year, only the ones that can build up with enough stores for the winter usually survive. Definately need to feed them in early spring and have to keep a close eye on them.
    We had 8 hives going into the winter, now have 4 - frustating :) and always get so disappointed when we lose one...
    Email if you have any questions - We try to keep as natural as possible in our beekeeping practices
    Good luck!
    Cyndi S
    Bonney Lake, WA or

  7. Thanks, Cyndi! That's good info to know. I do feel guilty about screwing up somehow, but there are so many factors that could have contributed. And it helps to know I'm not the only one who's lost a hive.

    This hive started as a swarm two years ago. They made it through their first winter just fine. And they should have had plenty of stores, since I didn't harvest but two bars, last spring. Who knows?

    Good luck with your bees this year!

  8. Have you seen "Vanishing of the Bees"? Very sad but also very interesting. Basically, industrial pesticides are thought to be causing colony collapse disorder -- leading entire hives to disappear. The beekeepers in the film were sending their bees out to farms that used the pesticides -- not sure your bees would encounter the same in Wash Park?

  9. This is what has happened to our top bar hive, not once, but twice. We've given up for now, and gone back to Langs.