Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Dead Bees. Damn.

It happens. I know it happens. But the Cherokee Girls (white hive) are on their last legs, and I am deep in mourning for the loss of my industrious little bugs.

The hives. Cherokee on left, Great Grand on right. Giant shadow courtesy of the beekeepers and a late afternoon sun.
I haven't been in the hive for 2 months, but on last inspection they were killing it - brood, bees and honey galore. They have always had a fairly large dead bee yard in comparison with the Great Grand Girls (green hive). And I have noticed fewer bees at the entrance over the last month or so at the Cherokee hive.

Then on Sunday the hive just had a feeling of desolation. It was a warm day and the Great Grand Girls were out and about, and I could see them checking out the Cherokee hive. The GG Girls are more of a vibrant orange color, and the Cherokee Girls are a more subdued brown. I quickly popped the top of the Cherokee hive and there was no sign of life. A quick look into the top of the GG hive and and bees were spilling out of the inner cover. Something was wrong.

Yesterday was what appeared to be the last warm day of this oddly warm fall, so it was time to dig deeper. Kris, brother and bee apprentice extraordinaire, came over and we started our investigation. I still don't know what happened, so I'll lay out the clues to you as we found them and see if anyone in the ether has a better idea of what happened to my lovely bees.

First, a panorama of my bee setup. The hive openings face SE, with a wind block directly behind them. They are surrounded by pines and scrub oak, so they are protected, and receive adequate sun in the mornings. They are shaded in the later part of the afternoon.

And here are the dead bees in front of the hives. First, Cherokee. The bees look as if they have baked in the desert, and this has always been the case. But now, there aren't any bees that look "fresh dead," if you will.

The dead bees at the GG hive are almost alive in contrast. (Poor drones - it's a rough time of year for those fellas.)

When the Cherokee hive was opened, there were no bees in the top deep but it was totally full of honey. When we removed the upper deep, the lower deep looked deserted.

We found tons of honey but didn't hit signs of potential brood, or see the remaining handful of bees, until we arrived at the fifth frame in the center. The bees who are still alive were clustered at the bottom of the frames in the lower left hand corner of this picture. They were lethargic, listless and could have all fit into a large coffee mug.

This was the scene when we popped the top on the GG hive. Very different.

We started digging into the lower Cherokee deep for clues. As a novice beekeeper, I couldn't quite tell what was uncapped honey and what was possibly dead brood. There were random dead baby bees who seemed to be mummified right before they emerged. We did not spot a queen, or recent signs of a queen, on any of the frames.

Gummy brood here on the bottom? There was capped honey at the top of the frame. This frame does not have cell starter, so this is all bee-made honeycomb.

It's hard to see, but there are 4 mummified bees in the chewed out looking holes in the bottom right of the picture. The spotty pattern of the filled cells doesn't look healthy or normal to me. 
I did poke into one of the ambiguously glossy cells and it was a white goo. Not "ropey" as some of the worse foul brood diseases talk of, just mush. You can see it in the destroyed upper left portion of comb. I also popped out one of the mummified bees, which is on the end of the stick. There was no distinctive smell of yeast or rot to the hive or the frames.

And that's where we stand. What happened to my bees? Maybe chilled brood? There are definitely not enough bees to cover a substantial amount of brood. Did the queen die somehow and now we're just watching the remaining bees die of old age? Do the mummified bee remains hint at chalk brood? I just hope it's not something contagious since I added the Cherokee Girls' upper deep of honey to the GG Girls in order to help them through the winter. Whatever the cause of the Cherokee Girls' collapse, the freezing weather this week is sure to finish them off.

Bees. All of the prep. The books. The classes. The care in selecting hive locations and placement. And still I can't control the loss of a colony. It makes me sad. I hope to do better next year.