Last weekend we made the saddest discovery. The blue beehive colony had failed.
Our Cedar hive , just next door, were buzzing in the unseasonable warm weather. There were bees hanging out outside the hive, waggle dances, bees going off on little foraging expeditions & others clearing out any deceased bees to keep their hive clean & healthy.
Not so the blue hive. Not a single bee was to be seen. We knew that the colony was a bit on the small side, as it was a swarm that was caught last spring, but it had been quite strong in the last month or so of summer. So, alarmed, we peeked inside to see what might the matter be.
It wasn’t good. Despite loads of honey stores AND their emergency fondant (which is a sort of sugar loaf) which we had given them for just in case, they had all died. The funny thing was, there wasn’t any sign of disease that we could detect. They had had a clean bill of health in early Autumn & we knew their varroa load was quite small. (Varroa are mites that live on honeybees and can make them ill.)
It was both sad & baffling
I think the most likely explanation is that their Queen died. Which meant that they gradually all died off, and the colony went into a fatal decline. In Spring or Summer if a Queen dies, the colony might have the chance to create a new Queen from a just laid egg. Or the beekeeper might be able to transfer a new Queen in. But in Winter, when few or no eggs are laid, and the beekeeper mostly stays away from opening and inspecting their colonies to prevent heat loss, sadly, it means almost certainly that the colony won’t survive.
We held a little funeral of sorts, making a kind of pyre by burning the frames of honeycomb in our little incinerator. It’s unwise to re-use combs & frames, in case of diseases. We’ll scorch the inside of the Blue Hive too with a blow torch too, to ensure that on the off chance it was a disease, and not simply the Queen dying, that a colony that we might want to home there in the coming year won’t be in any danger.
We now have all fingers crossed that the Cedar Hive colony survives, so far it’s looking very strong so we are quite optimistic. As it’s such a strong colony & in it’s second year, we’ve been advised to allow it to go to a second brood box (IE double its size) which will give it the room to expand, and prevent it from thinking it might want to swarm elsewhere to find a bigger place to live. Which I think probably is the best thing to do.
We would like another colony however, just the one leaves both it (and us) a bit adrift if something goes wrong. Having 2 or 3 colonies means that if one colony is weak, a frame of baby bees from the other can boost it, or if a queen from one dies, a queen cell from one of the other colonies might be faster & more reliable than hoping the queenless colony will be able to make their own queen from the babies left to them.
So let’s see what Spring brings. Maybe a swarm might settle near us… Maybe another beekeeper nearby will have colonies that are too big & need splitting.. Or maybe even our own Cedar Hive colony might want to swarm and create a second colony despite the extra room we plan to give it.