Saying Goodbye to My Bee Girls

As posted on ursulav's journal:

“Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error!–
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.”

— Antonio Machado

I went out last weekend, in the sunshine, to find a cloud of active, healthy bees around my hive. John and I were happy for a moment, thinking that they were actually orienting bees, and the mite treatment had worked, but it turned out that it was a healthy colony robbing out the last dregs of my poor hive...

They killed off the very last bees in my hive, and were taking all the honey that they could take, which is actually kind of good for them, as it'll help them survive this fall, and the winter. The poor last spots of brood were dead or dying from lack of care, and it was just all pretty much gone.

A failure, truly, and I think I have a little more of an idea as to what went on. The mites were taking over badly, and the cold weather after I'd taken off the last super really didn't allow for there to be much nectar around. There was honey in the brood chambers, so they shouldn't have just starved, but the cold probably made it hard for them to get around, and there was no pollen to be had. Maybe if I'd put pollen patties on? I dunno, as some people really advise against it because it seems to signal spring to some brood, but it would have been what they needed when they needed it. Plus, I'd seen pesticide die off on the front step, so some of the girls had gotten into something they really shouldn't have.

It would have been better if I'd been able to treat them with mite treatment when I actually had ordered the stuff, 2-day postage, but they were unable to fulfill the order for nearly three weeks. So I was stuck and then the weather went freezing for another three days before I could go in. Better yet was if I'd gotten the Mite Away and actually applied it in July when I saw mite drop. Next time. Next time...

Honey from my mistakes...

Anyway... John and I pulled all the boxes that night, except for the lowest brood box that had half a dozen tiny native bees who were living on the honey and wax that night. They left in the morning, and I got everything into the garage. We just dumped all the foundation with pollen and the spotty dead brood, in case there was pesticide in the pollen, and cleaned off all the frames, and the remaining eight drawn comb full height foundation frames I've been rotating through our deep freeze to kill of wax moths, and then store, sealed in bags, in the garage for the next time I actually get bees.

Tim Brod is a local bee breeder, and he supplies queens, not so much workers, but it might be fun to buy from him next time, instead of from California. Someone kept saying that I should find a wild hive and claim it for my own, but I'm not going to bother native bees that are comfortable in their own habitat. A swarm? Maybe. But not an established colony.

In any case, I now have the winter off as a beekeeper, and the surprising thing is that while I have mourned the girls, and burned offerings in their memory. I loved having them a lot, but it's also something of a relief not to have to worry about them anymore... when there's a cold snap, I don't have to wonder how it's affecting them, and when it gets hot, I don't have to worry about how much ventilation they're getting.

Anyway... I was very glad I had them while I had them, and grateful to them for all they did for me and taught me.
  • Current Mood: okay okay
This makes me feel rather reverent about my imminent package of bee love. I'll toast your girls with every cup of tea & every yummy bite of toast.

I wonder if the fact that the mite treatment was in short supply is indicative that many other beekeepers have been having the same problem? I know here it's been a very odd year, weather-wise, and I've noticed we've had different bug problems than in other years. (Every year we seem to be plagged with an invasion of something noxious - this year it's stinkbugs.) Our local honeybees have been agitated for some reason: I got stung for the first time in 40 years, and Mr. hg has been stung many times, sometimes several times in one day.

I certainly hope it goes much better for you & your girls next year. I suspect your idea of getting your bees from someone close to home is a good one, with what little I remember from my yrs of Bio & Environmental Science in college (back when everything was on stone tablets & the occasional papyrus scroll..... )
Perfect. That would be a wonderful way to remember them!

Yes. A lot of the keeps in this area were having exactly the same problems I was, unusually heavy mite loads, die offs, starving due to the cold weather, and there were losses for some of the professional keeps that were above 50% of their colonies, so I don't feel too bad in some respects. It wasn't just my lack of experience that killed my girls, so to speak. With the early cold into fall, a lot of colonies don't have much in reserve so they're far more likely to attack people in defense of what they have.

Thank you for your purchase and for your hopes and wishes for next year. Thank you!!

Edited at 2014-10-14 01:47 pm (UTC)

I'm glad that you can remember the good times with your girls that made it worth it.
*hugs warmly back*

Yeah. I think that's important, too. And it was an amazing beginning of this year. So *many* bees....

thank you!
Oh no, poor bees, and poor you. (And at least there's the relief of not worrying for a bit. Which is one of those things that sounds awful sometimes, but it's a thing, and so.)

*hugs back gladly* Yeah... it was very sad for a while, but yes, it is a thing...
I'm sorry about the girls. I'm thankful you got lessons out of the experience (in addition to honey).


I am thankful, too, and the experience may help.

Though, honestly, even the experienced keepers had a heck of a time this year, and the losses in the county are around 50% of the colonies. It's really been horrible for them, too, and the mite load this year was just insane. So... it's not just me, but I'm not entirely sure that makes it better.

I know you see the experience in its entirety, and I admire that, but this is nevertheless a hard thing. My condolences for your loss.
Thank you so much.

Yes, the grief is real, too, and it is hard, especially with the other hive actually wiping out the last bits that I'd hoped might survive. Still... something to be said for clean endings.

I was just reading ursulav's tumblr, and I don't know if you've seen this:


Somewhere, an aging worker addresses a tumble of bright-skinned larvae. “Those gardens you’ll visit? Each one is the result of a single sloth-like hominid, working for thousands of bee lifetimes in service to the flowers that feed us.”

"No way!" chorus the larvae, who are all female.

"It’s true," says the worker, who is venerable at over two months old. "No one knows how long they live. We believe there are some over a decade old." (The larvae gasp.) "But they have very poor vision and can only see a couple of shades of blue, and they live very widely spaced. Be kind to them. They are probably very lonely creatures."

…a lifetime’s work is relative, after all.
Ooooo... that is lovely...

And compared to the tangle and busy crowd of bees, yes... I suspect that we'd look quite lonely. Wow.

Thank you.
*hugs* They were well-cared-for during your time with them, something that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been there.
*hugs* True, I think... John's always said that I did well by them, and they were so strong for so long, that it was positive feedback, for sure.

Thank you.
Oh, good heavens. I can well imagine feeling horrible, and a bit more so because it seems like "but they're just *insects". But I think it's also very normal to bond with any living thing that you're caring for, especially something that requires as much thinking/working as this.
Oddly enough, sometimes it's actually been useful for me to think of the colony as a giant, expensive, productive ant farm... they are just insects, but insects now surrounded by such a lovely cloud of myth, political weight, and oddly a halo of environmental angst, that it all gets kind of stretched.

But your observation about just how much attention, work, and time I put into these critters is right on. I made an emotional investment, and it has been hard to lose the girls as I liked to call them so that I could care for them.

So, yes... thank you.
I just read this entry this morning, and it cut me to the quick. I'm so sorry. I know how hard you worked and how proud you felt. It was a joy to learn about how everything worked and I was really hoping it would be a first-rate success.
Thank you for your sympathy... it helps. Yes... the joy of figuring it all out was pretty amazing, and I think that it was a sort of success given the circumstances, and the fact that I started this colony in the midst of some of the biggest bee die-offs in remembered beekeeper history.

There are so many things that are out of my control, and I think I realize that better now. Whew. Anyway... thank you.
*comes with hugs, too*

I'm really sorry for your loss. It's always so sad to see the end of something you've been investing in and caring of, even more if those were living beings. And you looked like you were having so much fun with them despite all the effort it took. Anyway, I'd say they were in good hands all this time, and you still have memories and experience if you are willing to try again.
*hugs back gratefully*

Thank you. Yes... it was a lot of fun and a lot of work.

I will have those things if I try again... not just beginner's luck. *laughs*

Thank you.
So sad. My heart goes out to you. Even something as simple as bees it can hurt so much. I'm happy you're taking it well and trying to look on the bright side. I hope you have a relaxing fall and cozy winter. Mostly just take care of yourself and your family.