I’m bummed. I lost one of my honeybee colonies over winter. They died of starvation, about an inch away from honey.
Across the US, about half of all honeybee hives died this past year. Not a good sign for the one out of every three bites of healthy food we eat; it's pollinated only by bees.
My honeybee colony has struggled almost from the beginning three years ago, when I first started beekeeping. Although it’s hard to discern how it happened, the most probable cause of the first queen disappearing was my bumbling inexperience as I removed the frames to try to locate her.
Two new queens later, Gertrude hive was in relatively good condition to pull through the first winter.
During the second year, the hive still struggled so a third new queen was introduced mid-summer. Although the colony made it through that winter, the family of field mice that made a nest out of half of the bottom frames didn’t help.
Then last year, with record heat, most honeybees struggled as pollen sources dried up when temps soared above 90F and plants stopped making pollen.
Last fall, as I was tucking the hives in for winter, this colony seemed to have good numbers and be well supplied with honey.
As I gently pulled the frames of dead honeybees out of the hive, it appears they didn’t have enough honeybees to cluster. Bees don’t hibernate, they literally gather in a tight ball and shiver, regularly rotating to keep the queen, and themselves, warm.
No new bees are raised through winter. The hive pulls through with a small number of bees from fall. The same worker bees that only live 4-6 weeks during summer, live as long as 6 months over winter until the queen bee starts laying new eggs when worker bees start bringing in pollen.
There are several ways I can re-start this colony. If I’m lucky, the hive should be back up and running by the end of May, when the honey season starts. This hive, if it restarts, will need to store about 70 lbs to make it through winter.
Now for another conundrum.
I am going to repaint the outside of the hive to give it a new start.
What do you think, should I change the name of "Gertrude" hive, too?
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing beekeeping at www.homesweetbees.com. Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Wiggins at firstname.lastname@example.org.