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Beekeeping, Honey Bees

“We house in our hands the corpse of a city….”

One moderately big, moderately happy family, we hope....

One moderately big, moderately happy family, we hope….

Another quote from a Sean Borodale poem.*  But this particular poem, “10th February: Dismantling the comb” captures perfectly my mood right now. My mean garage bees have been out in force, gathering pollen, buzzing into the conservatory, generally the noisy little she-devils they usually are. This even on the now cold, now warm, now frost, now sunny days we have been having lately, with a bit of pouring rain mixed in. But nothing keeps them down. It’s funny, of our two hives I would have always said they were the ones most likely to suffer starvation, especially the first few years because they were always the smallest of the two going into winter.  But after last summer, they seemed to have taken on quite a bit of muscle.

Ah, my two hives. When will I be able to say that again?**

Those aren't live bees....

Those aren’t live bees….

I did not expect to see a bee’s point of death. I hope Sean will forgive me another line from the poem. But this is what I discovered in the main hive today–the corpse of a city. I had been alerted earlier this week, during another one of my regular tours of the hive, a sight a bit perturbing but no entirely unusual for this time of year.

Usual housecleaning for this time of year?

Usual housecleaning for this time of year?

And, I had finally seen them out and about the hive on 8 February, as per my previous post.  Still, these past few days, when it has grown warmer despite morning frosts, the garage bees were all out but the main hive bees (for this was our first hive so they were always ‘the main hive.’ Geez, no wonder the garage bees have such an attitude…) were worse than not to be seen at all: I was finding them frozen all over the face of the hive. I knew I had to go in, and so took advantage of some sun today….

So close....

So close….

It’s definitely starvation, and it just goes to show how quickly it can happen. They looked fine at the beginning of the month. There was even signs on the frames today that the queen had started to lay as well as nectar in the comb. But there was waxy, crystallized honey sawdust everywhere…

Either that or it's some kind of weird bee carpentry....

Either that or it’s some kind of weird bee carpentry….

Borodale describes this as well in his poem of the death of a hive (comparing it here to Pompeii): much like that gritty, accumulating, reduction.  and this is our prognosis: starved house. She was laying in a warm spell, she was deluded.

Weren’t we all? It is because it is the main hive bees, the direct descendants of our very first bees living in the house we actually made (with a lot of help from our local bee association). They were always a good natured hive, laid-back group. Now, I see, probably a bit too laid back for their own good. Not like their beastly sister-cousins, the garage bees. They are too mean to die. I hope.

I hope this is not a sign that our beekeeping days are coming to an end…

Speaking of things too mean to die

Bought the humane trap, filled it with peanut butter. After a few weeks of seeing the rat cavorting about it, looked inside. Totally wiped clean of peanut butter. Not a smudge in sight. I have no idea. It makes an appearance every now and again, but not regularly. Now, we have put a fat ball smeared with peanut butter inside it.  Watch this space….

And another living creature found in the hive, probably too slothful to die…

Too slimy?

Too slimy?

Oh well.

Attribution: See Bee Journal. I hope he doesn’t mind me using the odd line or two. People are awful sensitive about copyright nowadays, and he does seem to look a bit moody in his publicity photos…

**To all my forbearing readers, please accept my apologies for quality, or lack thereof, of photos. You know we are inept, or at least without the latest high-tech equipment. And yet you keep coming back. Bless you.


18 thoughts on ““We house in our hands the corpse of a city….”

  1. I’m not going to “like” this post. Sniff for you and your laid back bees. Oh, so sorry about the girls. I was so paranoid about my bees starving this winter that I constantly peeked into the hives, just on the top mind you. As it happened, they had plenty, but I’ve heard that starvation can creep up very quickly.

    It’s also a little disconcerting that one has to be mean to survive, but, hmm, maybe that’s a universal truth.

    I once had a bit of a rat problem in my outside areas. A zoologist told me that rats are so smart that you have to keep changing around the traps and the food-as-bait. That once one is killed ( I know it’s not your situation), that the others figure out what’s up and change their habits.

    Another possible disconcerting truth–are we often outsmarted by rats?

    Posted by Tina | February 27, 2015, 8:51 pm
    • I know, whenever someone posts sad news, it’s difficult to know how to respond. Still, I guess a ‘like’ is a gesture of support. I probably should have done a bit more peaking, like you.
      Iknow I definitely feel outsmarted by the rat, but thanks for the info about changing things up. Probably will come in handy….

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | February 28, 2015, 10:30 am
  2. My understanding of beekeeping…”If you keep bees, you will lose bees.” My two weak hives went down this month. They were light going into the autumn, so I knew what to expect, but I found honey in one of them, so I don’t know why they perished. We are close to the cranberry bogs, though.
    Best of luck with the rest of your bees.

    Posted by solarbeez | February 28, 2015, 5:28 am
  3. Poor bees! My husband kept bees on his family’s farm as a teenager. He can go on for hours about bees. Marvelous creatures they are! And what wonderful, orderly cities they live in!

    Posted by Bluebird Annie | February 28, 2015, 6:21 am
  4. Oh no, why did it have to be the sweet natured bees? 😦

    The queen was right to be laying at this time of year, she needed to be for the colony to have any chance of surviving. The winter bees can only survive so long, new wings are needed to take advantage of the coming spring flowers.

    Posted by Emily Scott | February 28, 2015, 9:21 am
  5. As Pat says: ”If you keep bees, you will lose bees,” so sorry to hear of your lost hive but not the end of your days beekeeping, it is all part of the journey. It is sad to lose a colony, we eventually lost a weak colony in spring 2012 that couldn’t get a laying queen after winter because of prolonged rains in spring. The hive was combined to save the remaining workers but it is still sad to see a colony dwindle away 😦

    Posted by Emma Sarah Tennant | March 1, 2015, 11:52 am
    • That’s what we had done: combined the hive with a swarm (from the mean bees) we had in a nucleus. The main hive had been a bit backward during the summer, so we thought an injection of mean bee blood might do them some good. And things were going well. I think what was shocking was how guickly it happened.

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | March 2, 2015, 9:25 am
  6. Sorry about your bees. I don’t think you can be humane with rats. Once they are settled in your neighborhood, it becomes very tough to dislodge them.

    Posted by P&B | March 3, 2015, 1:20 pm
  7. So, are we sure that the hive’s demise was because of the rat? They could have “cold-starved” and then the rat took advantage of the unguarded honey.

    Posted by avwalters | March 3, 2015, 4:49 pm
  8. I like your quotes from the Sean Borodale book but I wondered what you thought of the poem(s) overall? I have just started reading the book and found it hard going which, of course, is probably a reflection on me. But I did read Alice Oswald’s comments on the back: “……these are pre-poems, note poems….”

    Posted by philipstrange | March 5, 2015, 4:42 pm
    • Between you and me, I agree with you about the poems in general. However, to give him some credit, some of the poems or at least some of the lines from the poems, speak directly to beekeepers. For me I found that especially true with the death of the hive. I am not familiar with Oswald’s work (although I note that she is also a TS Eliot prize winner). Do you think Borodale would be complemented by having his ‘finished’ work described as ‘pre-poems’? Sounds like, ‘not quite poems’ to me…

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | March 6, 2015, 12:21 pm
  9. I can relate to your sadness! This is our second winter in a row having lost all of our hives and it’s SO sad to clean out a dead hive. Non-beekeepers just can’t understand the sorrow! The quotes are spot-on!

    Posted by avillarreal101581 | March 21, 2015, 8:58 pm
    • Glad you like the quotes. So sorry to hear about your experiences with beekeeping. It’s just so hard to tell, starvation it seems can happen so quickly. And the galling part is when you know there is food there…I hope you will keep trying

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | March 22, 2015, 10:25 am

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