April 12, 2010

To Bee Disappointed

Five days after installing the honey bees in their new home, we came to check on them. It was a warm (65 F), sunny, windless afternoon. My dad and I spent 30 minutes trying to get the smoker going. We'd get the newspaper lit and add some wood pellets. After pumping air through for a few minutes and getting some smoke going it would promptly go out. We made 4 or 5 attempts and then gave up. So we gathered up the gear - coat, hood, gloves, tools for extracting the frames, etc. - and headed down to the hive.

As we approached there were no bees coming or going - bad sign given the weather. They should be out and visiting flowers. Dad removed the lid and top feeder. In side all the bees were dead, including the queen. They hadn't moved much from when we closed up the hive last Tuesday. What did we do wrong?!

Going back over the steps - sugar water, queen with marshmallow plug, top feeder full, lid securely on - the only step we did wrong was to put the queen too far to the side instead of the middle of the hive. But that couldn't result in all the bees dying - could it?!

We dumped out the dead bees, packed up the equipment and headed to the house for some wine. What a huge disappointment.

Today my dad called the bees supply store where we had purchased the bees. They had sold 1200 cased of bees and only two reports (including ours) of all the bees dying. The clerk asked many, many questions about our process, set up, location, hive, food .... She concluded that the bees were very cold because of their trip across the pass and getting jostled into the hive in the cold and rain. This resulted in them not moving up in the hive to where the food water located (we have a top feeder). As a result they stayed where they were and starved to death. Sounds horrible!

We ordered another batch of bees, but we are now last in line and we won't get them until late May. At least the weather will be better then. If anyone has suggestions about getting the honey bees established, I'd love to hear.

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