Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fall Back, Spring Forward

winter losses
a colony that didn't make it
We've obviously been shy to post many updates recently. This is partially because there's been little going on in the bee yard.  And it is partially because, what is going on is a little sad and sad is decisively less fun to talk about than than happy.

We were very fortunate last winter.  We didn't lose any hives.  We also had very few hives, and most of them had the full summer to build up their population and their honey supply.

This winter, we've lost almost half of our hives, 46% to be precise.

We did a lot of speculating about the reasons why.  It is really tempting to offer a lot of possible suggestions (the high mite loads that have plagued the rest of the industry found us, perhaps we should have treated with the chemicals we decided against using, perhaps our experiment to overwinter smaller hives backfired, perhaps the warmer winter caused the bees to overconfidently burn through their food supply, perhaps a little bit of all of this, and/or perhaps the cookie just crumbled that way).
leakey, post trauma
leakey survived a run-in with a cow

Pests are definitely a large factor and we've found heavy mite loads  and particularly small clusters of bees in the dead hives we've inspected.  However, whether pests were the primary factor or a secondary factor we don't know.  We do know what happened in one instance.  A cow accidentally got into a field where we kept two country hives and used them as scratching posts.  One, Leakey, survived, but the other hive, one of our best hives, Quinn, wasn't so lucky. Quinn was knocked over in the cold and her bees, we assume, fled.

pollen baskets!
the return of pollen baskets!
Though really a combination of all of the previously listed reasons is probably most likely, we've had to settle on an overall answer of  "inconclusive" to explain our losses.  While unsatisfying, we just don't know.  And then there's the sad truth that a 30% loss in beekeeping is the industry standard.  Still, we  strive for better than that.

The good news is that we still have many hives that are thriving, and that we averted that tornado that had us really stressed.  And with the many warm days and flowering trees and plants we've enjoyed recently, we've been able to reclaim our summer joy of watching them fly to and fro with pollen baskets bulging. And that is one of the most pleasurable harbingers of spring for a beekeeper.


  1. Hey Grant, There is a giant wild honey bee nest in the walnut tree behind my shop. I think the landlord is wanting to remove the tree. Would you be interested in relocating the hive/colony?

  2. Hi Mason,
    Yes! We'd be very interested. Thanks for thinking of us. We'll be in touch soon.