I spent yesterday afternoon burning my bee hives. That’s not a sentence a beekeeper would ever want to say. It’s not something I have ever had to do in my previous 10+ years of beekeeping. As I watched the flames I realised 2016/17 has been my hardest beekeeping winter ever.
It started last October when we lost the Bee Buddy. He had been ill but was a strong and resilient man so his death was sudden and unexpected. With him died his 35+ years of experience, his ability to make any situation a chance to learn and improve. He motivated and managed every beekeeper in the area. He encouraged us to attend local meetings, to work together to get bigger jobs done and share news both good and bad. He organised most of our buying needs to ensure we benefitted from bulk discounts and were always ready for whatever the seasons threw at us. Mostly he was just there, at the end of the phone, to give great advice and support. He made me bad coffee and great sandwiches and he always made me smile. I spent many happy days working with him both with bees and bushcrafts, his other great love.
He knew he was ill and had been struggling for a while so the 40+ hives of a few years ago had been reduced to 13. Although I initially agreed to look after them we were able to divide them between the local beekeepers until they could be sold. 4 apiaries in isolated areas is a big commitment. I have spoken about the 5 hives I’m caring for, which are all doing great.
It’s my own hives that are the problem. I lost one last month, although at the time the other two were alive and well, I thought! This month I have lost another and on Monday evening the Hubby came down to help me move them off the field. This was a job for two as the woodpecker cage is pretty immovable and the hives were heavy, very heavy.
The bees were dead all over the hives
The bees looked almost as if they had just died walking around the hive. There was no brood in the cells. I have come to the conclusion that a combination of condensation, fluctuating temperature and poor queen quality is to blame. Basically I could/should have done more last year.
The bees were horrible last year, I’m guilty of leaving them to their own devices more than usual. They should have been properly requeened. They should have been better ventilated. They probably should have been moved to a better position. I definitely should have realised they weren’t happy and given it more thought. I let life get in the way and used it as an excuse to not put in the work. Now I’m having to sort out a bigger problem.
I initially decided to cut out the comb and save the frames but that’s a sticky thankless job. I had 72 frames to work with and the binmen might not have appreciated the landfill contribution. So I started a little fire which soon became an inferno. Honey and wax burn hot but they smell lovely. The neighbours must have wondered why I was barbequing on such a chilly day!
The melting wax and honey spread across the lawn and are flammable so we couldn’t leave it for a second but within the hour it had almost all gone. This piece of lawn is earmarked for more veggie beds as soon as I get round to digging it so it was expendable.
It’s been a sad, bad winter. Lessons have been learned and teachers have been lost. But you can’t beat nature and that’s what makes it so great. Time to regroup and start again.