My beehive is probably dead. We hear no gentle humming when we put an ear up to the hive and the bodies of dead bees outside the door is piling up to alarming proportions. I think I made a heap of novice beekeeping mistakes and those rookie errors killed my hive but I won’t know until Spring.
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Why I Think My Bee Hive Is Dead
It’s January 13 (hubby’s birthday) and we take a look at around the hive because it is a nice day and we are working out how to build the second hive. He used a piece of straw and scraped a lot of dead bees from behind the hive entrance excluder onto the ground. I felt gut-wrenchingly bad that my hive is dead.
There are several reasons why I think my bees are dead and are all novice mistakes so I’m writing this post to help other beekeeping novices learn from my errors. I wasn’t able to photograph the dead bee pile since the chickens came and make a quick meal of the dead bees so at least nothing was wasted. You can watch my short YouTube video below:
Winterization & Insulation
Before the hard frost, we wrapped the hive in tar paper and placed straw bales around 3 sides of the hive as insulation and a tarp over the top to keep the straw dry. Perhaps we over insulated, my information was from Montana not Utah winters. On driving about over the weekend we spotted a hive in a orchard locally. Other hives in our area just have the tar paper so we may have caused the bees to freeze to death.
Right up to Thanksgiving we had a wasp problem. Those yellow and black, angry stinging, winged arseholes normally mistakenly called “bees” were all around the hive.
I watched guard bees fighting them in the narrow entrance and I watched wasps sting workers and carry them off to eat of feed the wasp hive. Around Thanksgiving I saw wasps under the hive entrance and few worker bees to fend them off so there is a possibility that wasps overran the hive.
Our bees were Italians, gentle creatures which were not an uproar when we inspected the hive or opened it up to feed the bees. We bought them from a local store but found out after purchasing that the bees were raised in California, not really acclimatized to our winters which may contribute to them not coping throughout winter, you want cold hardy genetics in your bees for cold winters.
Weak Hive & Lack of Food
The hive itself was weak. We were constantly feeding it with bee food (sugar syrup) because they were not filling frames with enough honey to last the winter. By September, they had not even begun on the top deep super frames we had added in high summer and the hive needs two deep boxes full of frames to make it through the winter here so we didn’t harvest any honey this year, we wanted to be sure there was enough food available for the bees to eat throughout winter.
This problem also brought an insight to me of my local area: there was not much for bees to forage and eat, starvation is one of the most common causes of colony death in hives over winter.
My Next Moves
Unfortunately, I have to wait until Spring to confirm the situation of the hive. Opening up now will likely cause the death of the hive in the cold temperatures if the hive is still alive. But, there are some other things I can do in the mean time and a loss of my hive doesn’t mean I’m going to stop beekeeping, especially when the benefits to the garden are so great.
Design for Bees
The permaculture design course I took has given me the tools to start designing for bee forage on my property. I learned in my permaculture research that:
- Honeybees will only collect nectar on one flower species during that one flight. For example the worker bee is foraging and finds a raspberry plant and some strawberry plants in flower. She heads for the raspberry plant first and starts to collect the nectar, she will only go the the raspberry plants during this foraging trip, she won’t start collecting from the flowering strawberries at this time. This is why honeybees are so good at pollinating.
- Provide corridors of windbreaks to the hive so that the workers will expend less energy flying through the prevailing winds on the site.
- Diversify flowing plants and ensure there are a range of flowers available from very early spring bulbs to late fall flowers.
- Plant multiple of the same species in an area for example, plant a couple of sunflowers or 2-3 different apple trees to provide more flowers for the bees to feed on in that foraging trip.
Diversity isn’t just in the planting of flowers for bee forage but from a human perspective, diversify the breed of bees you have and where you purchase them from. This year, if we have completely lost the hive, we’re going to buy a nucleus colony again and a package of bees with a queen in a queen cell but from different suppliers with different types or breeds of bees.
If we haven’t lost the hive, we will get a different breed of bee in a nucleus colony or package and set up the second hive with that.
I’m looking for bees raised in cold hardy areas to be able to cope with an unpredictable Utah winter.
I’m going to use the fake wasp hives around the property and hive to deter the wasps from setting up home. I’ll also be actively trapping them with a trap which does not lure bees, they have a tough time without being trapped!
Trapping is particularly important during late summer and fall with meat to lure them away from the bee hive and the protein snacks they are after. Spring trapping will be most effective with sugar water.
If you are a regular reader, you will know I’m experimenting in my garden with biodynamics. I am taking the winter lull in the garden to find out more about biodynamic beekeeping and working more on developing my permaculture designs by researching native plants to Utah and what to grow as the English cottage gardens of my homeland are not quite right for the arid climate here in Utah!
For more information on beekeeping and articles you may find the following useful:
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