It’s been a really rotten summer. Record breaking heat, record breaking drought, another record breaking fire season, and yesterday, our city was the city with the most unhealthy air in the nation, due to the smoke from all the forest fires hanging over us. It’s been absolutely nasty for a week now, with the brown, the sun a hot orange and casting a dull orange, creepy light everywhere. But yesterday and the day before were the worst. I’ve had the windows in my house shut up tight for days now and yesterday when I went outside, it was literally choking and acrid. You couldn’t stop coughing until you went back inside. It kept me up until midnight because even with the windows closed, everything reeks of bitter wood smoke.
Yesterday, I noticed that the girls were out, but acting weird. Instead of their usual flitting like little jets in and out of the hive, sparkling up into the sun and zooming back in, they were just kind of twirling slowly around the hive in super slo-mo, not really going anywhere. At the bee supply house today they said the bees were all disoriented and they found a bunch of them away from the hives, by the house, on the grass, moving slow and looking around like they were totally disoriented.
It makes sense – their whole world is about living and navigating by smell and everything smells like smoke.
I’ve been worried all summer about the drought and whether my bees will get enough food to last them into the winter. Then these last few days, I was scheduled to inspect the orange hive but I didn’t want to go into it because I figured if I was out there gagging and choking it couldn’t really be good to totally open the hive up.
Today was much, much better as we had pretty good winds overnight (NOT great for the fires). So I decided about 9am, when it was 61 degrees to go out and inspect the orange hive. Last time I was in there was 3 weeks ago and they weren’t doing as well as the other hives, with not nearly as much brood as the other two.
But first – DEFINITIONS: CCD, SWARM, ABSCOND
CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder
What it looks like: All the bees in the hive suddenly disappear, like overnight or in one day. No dead bees on the ground. The brood and food all left in the hive and the bees just – gone.
Causes: Not determined completely yet, although consensus is that contributory factors are mono-cropping and the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticide use.
What it looks like: The bees leave brood in the hive, with about half of the bees, which are nursemaids, behind to take care of the brood. They take some food but leave plenty of food for the growing brood. They leave either a live virgin queen in the hive, or several queen cells ready to hatch so that the hive has what it needs to survive. This usually happens in the spring, but can happen later in the summer.
Causes: The hive has been growing, and the queen brooding up, so quickly that the hive feels it’s running out of room. So it sends out scout bees to find another good spot for a hive. They start to prepare the hive by creating new queens. Then they take what food they need for their journey and take the existing queen with them to find another home, leaving a healthy half-hive in the original spot. It’s their way of dividing and multiplying, like dividing daffodil bulbs.
What it looks like: Everybody and everything is gone. The bees have all left, absconded with the all the food they can possibly carry and left nothing – no brood, no or little food, no bees.
Causes: This usually occurs during a drought, or dearth, and the hive feels there is not going to be enough food and/or water to keep them alive, so the stop laying babies, scoop up all the food and leave to find better hunting grounds.
My orange hive absconded. I have no idea when in the last few days or week this happened, but I believe it happened a few days ago.
Orange Hive inspection synopsis:
5 western boxes to start. There were a scant 2 frames of bees, but I don’t believe these belong to the hive (more later). There were 12 frames that had some honey (half a frame or honey in the corners). There was no brood at all, no queen and all the frames, were entirely cleaned out.
Hmmmmm. I wondered if this could have happened because of the smoke? So I went up to the bee supply house to hopefully have a talk with The Wiz.
The Wiz wasn’t in, but his faithful worker Laura was. She said it sounded like they absconded and that there was probably not as much food because other hives, including my own, were robbing the hive of it’s food. She said if there were little brown dots all over the front porch of the hive, this was a sign other bees were coming and and robbing the hive. I discussed with her and decided I needed to combine what was left of the orange hive with the newer yellow hive since it was healthy.
About 3pm, I decided to go out and see what I could do. I took a piece of newspaper, a razor cutter, and then moved several of my big rubbermaid totes/lids and several empty boxes out to the bee deck.
I took apart the orange hive. Sure enough, I don’t think the activity in this hive was it’s own bees. There was quite a lot of furor (I didn’t see any wasps or hornets so that makes me think this hasn’t been going on for long) and any frame that had honey had bees all with their heads stuffed down in the cells and their butts up, which means they’re sucking up honey.
I decided there wasn’t really any hive to speak of to save and I need to get the robbing situation under control so the wasps don’t move in and I don’t end up with local bees who think it might be fun to move on to one of the other two healthy hives and start robbing them.
So I need to get rid of every trace of this hive.
I tore it down, smoked it and started moving frames. I managed to fill one box with 8 frames that had quite a bit of honey on them. I moved this box over to the top of the yellow hive. First on top of the current top honey box, I put a single sheet of newspaper with a tiny 1/2″ slit cut in the middle. Then I put on the new box with honey. That’s just in case some “riders” came with the honey and I don’t want them in fights. They’ll take a few days to tear a big hole in the newspaper and by then they’ll all be used to each other. And the yellow hive will have more honey then they had before.
Then I took each and every frame, one by one, out of the orange hive. I brushed it off and put it in a box in a rubbermaid tote. The bees were pretty wild and angry, although not aggressive and stinging. They just did not want to let go of any frame that had any amount of honey. So I had to keep brushing them until the second before I popped the lid, put the frame in and slammed down the lid. That tells me that there’s a dearth of food since they are trying so hard to get at all the food.
It took me a good 45 minutes to get through the whole orange hive.
By the time I was done, I had the one box of honey on the yellow hive. and 3 totes with boxes that have frames with at least some honey and nectar. I had brushed all the bees of all the equipment and put it all, along with the sealed totes, into the bee shed and closed the door tight.
The bee deck was quite chaotic with bees all over in the air, so I backed out after cleaning up and let them be.
I read up on Absconding on the web and several beekeepers said that when their hive absconded, it was always during a dearth/drought and it was always a hive that was a little concerning already because of their lack of food or brood.
Blue and Yellow hive:
I quickly checked both the blue and yellow hives to makes sure they weren’t in the same situation.
The blue hive still has 3 absolutely full and heavy boxes of honey on top and in the middle of the top brood box I found lots of capped brood and some open brood so I went no further.
The yellow hive still had 2 absolutely full boxes of honey, and now has a 3rd full box on top. In the top brood hive, I spotted the queen, so I left them alone, too.
I’ll be gone next week for work, but instead of waiting 3 weeks between inspections right now, I’m going to check on the other two hives food stores at least weekly. Any time I find empty frames, I’ll go into the totes and replace them with frames that have honey/nectar.
With the bees building up for winter, they can go through a lot of food really quickly and if there’s no more food out there, I need to make sure they have enough.
This could be a fall when I have to feed the girls just to get them through, although I don’t think so. Between the honey bank and what I took off today, I have about 3 boxes of honey.
So that’s why I got a 3rd hive. In case one goes belly up, I still have two healthy hives instead of just one.
It’s still a bummer, but not devastating like it would have been my first two years.