Sunday, May 18, 2008

Maintenance sucks

These pictures look spooky to me. Dead bees. Lots and lots of dead bees. These are two shots taken from below two different boxes. When I visited the beeyard last Friday, I cleaned up some of the boxes I didn't get to when I brought the hives down several weeks ago - in the dark.

This visit, I did major maintenance. Cleaned out dead bees, painted and scraped boxes and rearranged the unused equipment to make a windbreak. No photo - I lost track of time and had to bolt, and even then I missed my niece's Broadway Kids show. No worries, though as I was able to go the following evening. Anyway, the hives were full of honey, and the dead bees were all over it. It seemed to me that they got caught out of cluster during one of the February cold snaps and just died of the cold.

Some of these bees might have starved. When you see a lot of bees with their faces buried deep in the cells, that is evidence of starvation. The starved bees' wings are visible in the center of the pictures. However, there were thousands of bees all over the hive, and it appears to me that there were two different disastrous episodes. The first, in which many bees died of cold, caught out of cluster, probably during one of the cold snaps in February. The second would have been the remaining bees dieing of starvation because they regrouped away from the ample stores of honey and couldn't move the cluster. This loss was particularly poignant to me because when I visited the hives in January, I saw that they were raising brood already (it was warm enough to check). So yesterday, kneeling is long lush grass, brushing off dead bees and scraping off mold, I came across a lot of frames with unhatched brood. But what made me want to cry were the 10 or so bees that had opened the capping of their cells, but never had a chance to emerge.

I have had winter losses before, but these were such good productive gentle bees, and I really miss them. Also, it is wicked expensive to replace bees now.

Sometimes, though, when I am in the midst of a disagreeable chore, I get smacked upside the head with something awesome. Again, no photo, but in one box, the tops of the frames were covered by a layer of wings. It looked like a town's-worth of fairies had dropped their wings for a night among us. I giggled as I swept them away with my hive-tool, thinking how surprised they'd be when they came back and found them gone - not thinking that they would be permanently deprived of flight, but that they'd have more at home - just like the boys at the swimming hole whose clothes might be stolen.

Upshot of it all is that the two hives I started last year are getting going. But it is a slow start. Not much brood. I reversed the boxes, switching top for bottom, because with the brood box on the bottom the queen will keep moving up, expanding the nursery. This is the first year in a number of years that I will be letting the nursery be in deeps. Two deeps in one colony, and a deep and two mediums in the other. I'm hoping that they will build quicker in the more generous space.

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