Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pandora's Box Died!

For the past several years now, there has been this one hive in my yard that would not die! They had all the hardiness traits that bee breeders look for with the exception of their mean temperament. There were some years where I didn't feed them at all before winter and they survived all on their own. But I'd noticed their guard bees would forgo the usual buzz warning other hives typically give, and move right on to stinging. So part of me is sad they're gone, but the other half is glad so I can finally setup the area to have hives there.

On one occasion I recall standing between the hive and our raspberry patch and witnessing a guard bee fly right at me as I knelt to pick some raspberries; thankfully a leaf to the plant was in the way and the bee started attacking it instead of me!  Yikes! On another occasion I had a friend over who was interested in becoming a beekeeper. So we opened two hives, and the first I don't think I needed to smoke at all. They were calm and docile. Pandora's box on the other hand was up in arms the moment I lifted the lid. In recent years the hive had cooled down a bit, and I wasn't getting as many randoms tings (which at its worse was 4 for the whole year), and they'd become more tolerable. But bees really aren't supposed to bee that in your face.

This hive dates back to when I first took over beekeeping for my dad (maybe 8 or 10 years ago). In all honestly he wasn't that good at it, and I wasn't much better. We rarely looked into the bottom boxes and this is what happens when you don't do that.  They'd built so much "bur" comb that you can't see the frames below! Their temperament had nothing to do with this of course, even calm hives can go nuts with wax production. But because they'd connected the frames to both boxes together I wasn't able to solve the temperament issue by replacing the queen, or splitting them, or anything else that would have solved the problem. Beekeepers are supposed to remove bur comb as they find it during each inspection every 2 to 6 weeks or so.

There was about an inch of bur comb, and you can tell from how black it is that it's very old. While it was easy to get the boxes separated in winter, over the summer it's virtually impossible short of a lumberjack's crosscut saw. The wax turns soft and gummy, holding everything together. I had attempted to do it one year, and I'd never seen them so angry. They don't like it when you tear apart the nursery. 

When I went into the hive, I discovered they were honey bound which explains why I only harvested 18 jars last year, whereas 60+ had been the norm in previous years. They must have hated the plastic frames in their supers that much. They also had two frames devoted to drone production which was a bit much. Drones take up the attention of about three nurse bees, which is a drain on the hive overall.

Cause of Death: Not enough workers to keep them warm in the winter. The queen didn't have enough cells to lay and maintain a good amount of bees to keep them warm over the winter. In previous years I'd left a drawn out super on top. This is a box used to for the bees to fill with honey, that's normally removed after harvesting each summer. They probably used this extra space to move their stores up there and give the queen more room to lay. (Though a long list of problems over the years certainly didn't help things.)   

This is a different hive that also didn't make it through the winter. I suspect they may have been robbed out in the autumn and all the bees starved back in January. Starvation is easy to see: there's no honey next to the cluster, and all the dead bees have their heads shoved into cells in an effort to keep warm.

Note the queen here in the middle. It's a real shame this hive failed. We'd caught the swarm last spring as just a hand full of bees. Most of the swarm had died to cold weather before we were called about getting it. This queen went on to rebound and produced an amazing hive. I'd never seen such a small amount of bees turn into such a strong hive in one year. 

As I cleaned up the two hives I lost, I started getting robber bees. Their primary target was for the capped honey, but also I found a few robbing the pollen which I'd never seen before. Pandora's box had two frames of pollen and I don't mind them taking it. It was mostly golds, browns, and yellows, and nothing unique, typical autumn sources I'm sure. (Some plants produce blue, white, pink, green, or red pollen but bees rarely work them enough to find it in the hive for long.)