Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lost Hive

I've put off writing this post because frankly, it's depressing. However, I think it's important to document our homesteading setbacks, and not stick to sharing only our successes. Mostly because I'm partial to the narrative arc of bumbling novice transformed into homesteading superhero, but also because honesty is the best policy. And so, to be honest: we lost a hive.

A dirty entrance is a bad sign.

If you remember, we started out with two nucs. From the beginning, one hive was really active and busy, and the other always seemed to lag just a little. We assumed the active hive was the anomaly - it was the one we usually opened first, and the one that stung the hell out of us as we tried to work the hive. Because the bees were riled up, we replaced the lid and slowly walked away (or, you know, ran for our lives). This meant that we never really got a good look at the second, slower hive. Mistake number one.

One morning a week or two ago, I took a peek at the hives. I like to watch the bees fly in and out of the entrance and observe them doing their work - it's calming and assures me that despite our beekeeping ineptitude, the bees are taking care of themselves. The active hive looked fine - healthy and strong, with hundreds of bees passing in and out while I watched. Then I turned my attention to the second hive, and knew immediately that something was wrong. There was no movement whatsoever - I watched for about five minutes and saw not one bee leave or come home. Instead, I saw ants crawling all over the side of the hive body - another bad sign.

When Nathan got home we put on Tyvek painters suits from Lowe's (our cheap beekeeping suit substitution - thanks to Ten Things Farm who suggested it in the comments of my last bee post!), got the smoker going, and carefully opened the hive. It turned out that we didn't need the suits or the smoke - the hive was almost completely empty. Of bees, that is.

The last bee. Saddest thing ever.

While we didn't find any bees, we did find a variety of other disgusting things. Hive beetles and wax moths, roaches and maggots. Really upsetting, and really gross, and I'm only including the following photos for educational purposes. Consider yourself warned.

Hive beetle.

Ruined honey.

Maggots. Gag.

We're not sure exactly what went wrong, but we have a theory. We think the bees swarmed - left our hive for some reason that only the bees know, and found a better place to set up shop. Maybe we placed our hives too close together and the bees did not approve, maybe they weren't strong enough to fight off the hive beetles and we should have treated them sooner. It's hard to know why they left, but they were definitely gone. And after the hive was empty, all those bugs and roaches and moths and maggots took over, devouring the honey left behind, laying their own eggs in the comb, chewing away at the wax, and basically ruining everything we'd build and bought for our bees. Bastards.

Burn, baby, burn.

There was only one thing left to do - burn it all, and try again next year. On the bright side, our second hive - the active one - is still going strong. So maybe - just maybe - there's hope for us after all.

13 comments:

  1. I'm so sorry to read about all of this! This makes me sad!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well poo! I am glad to hear your other hive is doing well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Aw, sorry to hear about the second hive.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ugh! But, I kind of already think of you as a homesteading super hero.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Knowing nothing about beekeeping, I was anxious there would be pictures of hundreds of dead bees! I'm so sorry about your hive, but I hope the bees are still out there somewhere, doing their bee thing.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Because you didn't find a bunch of dead bees, I think you are right - they probably swarmed. Do watch that other, healthy hive - when it gets too full, you can split off and start a second hive, and you'll be back to two before you know it! Don't give up, everyone has setbacks! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We did find some dead bees at the bottom of the hive, but definitely not all them. So that's good to know!

      Delete
  7. I totally understand your situation and it is quite discouraging. I agree with the previous poster about being able to do a split next year. You might even come across a swarm that needs a home.
    I put in a new nuc at the beginning of June. It was very active but they never seemed to be bringing pollen. One day, I noticed two bees dragging the queen out. It was the first and only time I've seen the queen in any of my hives. She was missing part of a wing so I suited up and checked what was going on inside. There wasn't any brood but plenty of nectar and some capped honey. It took me almost 4 weeks to get another queen into the hive. I'm hoping it was fast enough to build the colony back up but I'm not certain it will survive because the nurse bees are very old at this point. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have a total honesty rule on my blog too. I am sorry for your troubles. Thankfully you have one healthy hive left. Learning to do anything well is hard work and full of disappointments. I think they are built in to make sure we appreciate our successes. Good luck with your beekeeping. I bet next year will be even better.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh sad. We only have one hive--this is it's second year, but it's been doing weird things and we aren't sure if it's going to survive the season:-(

    ReplyDelete
  10. How awful! I am so sorry this happened! But I am so thankful that you have shared this disappointment with me. You see, I am a "baby homesteader," in that I live with my husband in the suburbs with roommates, and I tried to grow basil, garlic, and marigolds (to keep bugs away and look nice). I was doing well watering the plants, and they were growing. But one day, I went outside, and my plants had been eaten. All gone. I was devastated, and I felt so alone. I started this journey after being inspired by the many beautiful blogs like yours, but very few share the bad news. It hurt so badly, to lose my hard work, and to feel so stupid. But I have now seen a few people who have had problems, and with a lot of encouragement from my husband, we start again next time with renewed hope. Thank you so much. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michelle, I'm so glad that this has helped you feel a little less alone! I'm a baby homesteader too, and you're right - so many blogs make it look so easy, when it's really a lot of work! I think it's important to show all sides of the homesteading adventure, so people like you and me don't get discouraged and give up. :)

      I hope you replant soon, and have better luck next time. Maybe you can put a little fence around your plants to keep the critters out? At any rate, good luck!

      Delete
    2. Sorry to hear about your hive. Sometimes no matter what you do it just does not work out. The bees don't read the same books we do. :) Did your other hive finish out the year strong? This would be a great post to share with my readers on my beekeeping blog hop. Check it out! http://www.beverlybees.com/beeline-buzz-hop-1/

      Delete