Honeybee Post Mortem

DSC03226 I’ve gone through two of our four dead bee hives today, with two completely different results. The first was classic starvation: The hive top feeder was empty and there were no stores at all. This must have been one of the splits which didn’t get as well established as I thought. There were also virtually no dead bees which I find a little odd.

DSC03227There were, however, four mice in residence, white-footed ones, for whatever it’s worth. They had established a very cozy home with lots of nice soft fur. They had also ripped up an awful lot of comb. I burnt two frames which smelled too much of mouse urine and trashed a plastic one that they had gnawed.

There are five more which will definitely need new foundation. I’m letting them air for a while before deciding if they too are actually kindling.

DSC03228 The second hive was completely different. There was syrup in the feeder and and at least thirty pounds of honey, mostly in the top hive body. The bees appeared to have been eating out from the middle of the hive. There was only a few pounds of honey in the lower hive body, all around the edges, but many of the frames in the upper one had only a small arc of empty cells at the bottom. There was also a good bit of pollen stored in the bottom hive body, though interestingly enough much of it had fallen out of the cells and dusted the comb with yellow.

DSC03240 The bees did not seem to be clustered, and there seemed to be brood, which was a big surprise. There also did not seem to be enough bees, nor did they all seem to be the same color. Some were quite yellow while others were orange. This was a little hard to tell since most of the ones in the main hive had been soaked in honey and were pretty far gone.

DSC03243Only the ones in the upper body or in the corners of the lower one had gotten dried to display standards. Finally, I think I saw three queens although one may have been a drone. However I only saw one queen cup, so who knows.

DSC03228 Again there were not enough bees, although if the brood indicates spring perhaps it was enough. Still, this one looks a lot like ‘colony collape disorder’. This hive also had two frames badly munged by mice. I brought out the two odd frames from the other hive, so now we’re down an even 10. These two however smell ok.

There are two more hives to go. I’m very curious about what I’ll find.

DSC03247 On other matters, the up and down egg laying continues. We’ve had a couple three egg days, so I’m getting optimistic. With decent weather, the chickens are out foraging more and more. Egil seems to do a good job of looking after his girls, though he’s occasionally needed some help from Mom and Bjarki to get them to turn around. They’re no longer as interested in veggies in the coop either, although I don’t think they’re eating much less layer ration, perhaps because they have breakfast before we let them out at the 8AM feeding. It’s hard to imagine the eggs getting yummier, but supposedly they will as the bugs and weeds become available.

2 thoughts on “Honeybee Post Mortem”

  1. Wow! Bees, too? and I thought I was ambitious! How many hives survived – I think you said 10. Do you use them all yourselves, and just for honey? Or do you rent some of them to farmers (that is a growing idea around here as bee populations dwindle). When a hive dies, is that a big cost to you? (I have no idea what a hive costs to establish…)

    And I have to ask – what kind of suit do you use to prevent bee stings?

    When they are healthy and working, how much honey does one hive yield? Do you have to do anything with it except bottle it?

    Sorry so many questions – but this fascinates me. Who knew mice even came into contact with bees? See what I mean?

  2. It’s a long story! Here goes:

    We started with 2 hives in 2004 and went up to 4 in 2005. We went away for 13 months at the end of 2005 and none of the hives made it through the winter. Valerie does not do bees and the dead hives sat there until last weekend. I’ll report what I find in the other two when I get into them.

    We have four replacement packages coming next month to restart these hives. A package of bees is $70 this year, so it is noticeable. The woodenware is something on the high side of $100, so if you have to burn it (contagious disease) as well as losing the bees, that’s a serious hit.

    We do keep them for honey although we could certainly see the improved pollination in our garden. We plan to expand some, but not too much: Maybe a dozen total hives and we’re thinking of asking the Pitcher Mountain CSA if we can put some there. The traditional rent is a case of honey per hive and we expect his memebers would appreciate it.
    We wear a veil and gloves (gauntlets really) along with faded jeans and a heavy white shirt to work the hives. That’s a unisex outfit.

    Honey yield is a big question, and obviously important. We got 5 pounds in 2004, and 70 in 2005 with drawn comb and two hives established. Both are considered good by local standards. Had we been here, we’d have sold much of the ’05 crop. As it was we gave it away left and right and still have some.

    Fifty – seventy pounds is considered a good yield from a single established hive here in NH. Over in the Green Mountains, which one would expect to be similar, they expect closer to 100. Learning what is different there is high on my to-do list. Down south 200 lbs/hive is ho-hum. Note that up here the bees need 100 lbs of pollen and honey to get though the winter. Half that is fine in Georgia. Virtually everywhere winter stores are made up by feeding syrup, either sugar or corn. This can’t be sold of course but it can be fed spring and fall when the honey supers are not installed. One of the members of our bee club gets freight salvage sugar for $0.10/lb.

    Oh yes, mice are a problem even in a strong hive. When the bees are clustered for the winter a mouse can come in and build a cozy nest in one corner which will be too cold for bugs but nice for a mammal.


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