Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lost Hive

I've put off writing this post because frankly, it's depressing. However, I think it's important to document our homesteading setbacks, and not stick to sharing only our successes. Mostly because I'm partial to the narrative arc of bumbling novice transformed into homesteading superhero, but also because honesty is the best policy. And so, to be honest: we lost a hive.

A dirty entrance is a bad sign.

If you remember, we started out with two nucs. From the beginning, one hive was really active and busy, and the other always seemed to lag just a little. We assumed the active hive was the anomaly - it was the one we usually opened first, and the one that stung the hell out of us as we tried to work the hive. Because the bees were riled up, we replaced the lid and slowly walked away (or, you know, ran for our lives). This meant that we never really got a good look at the second, slower hive. Mistake number one.

One morning a week or two ago, I took a peek at the hives. I like to watch the bees fly in and out of the entrance and observe them doing their work - it's calming and assures me that despite our beekeeping ineptitude, the bees are taking care of themselves. The active hive looked fine - healthy and strong, with hundreds of bees passing in and out while I watched. Then I turned my attention to the second hive, and knew immediately that something was wrong. There was no movement whatsoever - I watched for about five minutes and saw not one bee leave or come home. Instead, I saw ants crawling all over the side of the hive body - another bad sign.

When Nathan got home we put on Tyvek painters suits from Lowe's (our cheap beekeeping suit substitution - thanks to Ten Things Farm who suggested it in the comments of my last bee post!), got the smoker going, and carefully opened the hive. It turned out that we didn't need the suits or the smoke - the hive was almost completely empty. Of bees, that is.

The last bee. Saddest thing ever.

While we didn't find any bees, we did find a variety of other disgusting things. Hive beetles and wax moths, roaches and maggots. Really upsetting, and really gross, and I'm only including the following photos for educational purposes. Consider yourself warned.

Hive beetle.

Ruined honey.

Maggots. Gag.

We're not sure exactly what went wrong, but we have a theory. We think the bees swarmed - left our hive for some reason that only the bees know, and found a better place to set up shop. Maybe we placed our hives too close together and the bees did not approve, maybe they weren't strong enough to fight off the hive beetles and we should have treated them sooner. It's hard to know why they left, but they were definitely gone. And after the hive was empty, all those bugs and roaches and moths and maggots took over, devouring the honey left behind, laying their own eggs in the comb, chewing away at the wax, and basically ruining everything we'd build and bought for our bees. Bastards.

Burn, baby, burn.

There was only one thing left to do - burn it all, and try again next year. On the bright side, our second hive - the active one - is still going strong. So maybe - just maybe - there's hope for us after all.