Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beehive Update

Every time I go out to my hive (and I've been there a lot lately), I get a bit depressed. Don't get me wrong... I'm extremely grateful my queen is alive and that each time I go out there it seems there are a few more bees. But I have come to realize I made such a huge mistake that it nearly cost me my entire hive. And I'm still very concerned that they won't be strong enough to make it through next winter.

So, let me tell you what NOT to do in beekeeping. 

Going foundationless was actually a good thing. It only took them a week to build out 75 percent of an eight frame shallow super (I don't have a deep super on this hive, but perhaps I should!). Feeding the bees sugar water to get them started was also a good thing. Adding another super - fine. According to the apiculturist at UC Davis, it was a non-issue. I had a nice chat with him on the phone and learned a few things.

Stopping the sugar water was fatal. 

Yes, I made the wrong assumption that a heavy pollen load meant plenty of nectar. And being inexperienced, I didn't realize that the bees needed lots of honey stores or some sugar water with a cool spell and rain that hit and lasted for about 5 days. 

You see, the little bees fan to keep the warm air moving through the hive and to keep the brood and queen alive. They will actually cluster around the queen to try and save her by keeping her warm. They'll also feed her while they are starving. And starve they did.

They needed more carbs to keep up with the work of keeping the queen and brood warm. And they didn't have it. It's been a week and I still nearly cry each time I open the hive box and look inside to see how they're doing. I took a picture of a frame so you could see what it looks like so you'll recognize it if this happens to you (but I'm sure you'll be smarter than me!). I've knocked off the dead bees that were clinging to it, but you can see the other bees that were digging in the comb looking for food and then died. Pitiful. {teary...}

I hope I haven't made another colossal mistake, but I decided to remove this frame and replace it with a fresh one. Normally bees will clean out dead brood, but there's just so much - and dead worker bees, too! I'm only removing one, but I want to see if they'll start fresh and draw new comb on a frame. They weren't really paying attention to this frame and the queen was a few frames over, so I decided to risk it, because there wasn't much to salvage here except some comb; and only if it was cleaned out. 

Needless to say, I'm feeding them ample sugar water at this point. According to the apiculturist I talked to, I can stop feeding them if there is mucho honey in them there combs! Say a whole super full. 

I've learned my lesson and it won't happen again. I just wished I'd realized sooner. I'm having to teach myself everything because the closest beekeeping class is 2.5 hours away in LA. And that's on a good day without traffic! However, I've found a few good sites:

Sunset One Block Diet: Team Bee
Beekeeping Naturally @ Bush Farms
Mistress Beek
Backwards Beekeepers

I really appreciate all the kind comments I've received. So many have struggled with beekeeping, too. They're certainly a bit more fragile than say... chickens. But I'm already hooked. If this group doesn't make it, I'll be saving pennies to buy more next season, for sure!

P.S. Pip the Cottontail didn't make it. :-( 
Thank you for all your kind words, emails with great advice, and prayers.


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