Puff Puff..Where are the bees?
Some stories are harder to tell than others. As if saying it out loud makes it more official, and real. This is one of them.
Bees are active through most of the year but in winter I have to wait to see the bees. I always wonder how they are doing. Sometimes when I can’t stand see them for long periods of time, I go up to the hive and blow a puff of warm breath into the upper entrance. On real cold days it can take a few breaths but a curious bee will eventually come out to meet me, look a little annoyed, and return to her cluster. It always makes me smile to know the colony is still alive. Then, there are the times when I puff and puff and no one answers, no one comes to see who is daring to come so close to their home.
If this happens I take the next step and open the top of the hive. At this point I can feel myself becoming a little tense as I peek down the hole in the inner cover. I f I can see right down to the screened bottom board it’s bad, real bad. It has happened a few times this winter. I checked after the cold snap and both colonies at ARMS, Queen Lara and Queen Purple, named a Rivers Day have passed. I saw them, cold and unmoving with a small cluster of bees all around them, maybe 50. All dead. My heart broke. I always feel responsible for caring for them and seeing them dead makes me feel like I failed, that I made a mistake somewhere and caused this to happen.
From what I am learning there are many causes for bees to die off. From what I can see in the hive there was no shortage of food, they had stores of honey and pollen. There was also no sign of disease, nosema, a disease that affects the bees gut and causes them to have diarrhea leaves traces behind and you can see it, smell it. Looks like brown runny drips close to the entrance usually. Like they tried to make it out but couldn’t quite get there in time.
There was a reported increase in European Foul Brood this past year according to the Apiary Inspector Jaquie Bunse but her description of seeing twisted off-white larvae in the comb was not seen in these hives. There are no larvae this time of year. And lastly the dreaded varroa, well I did not treat with chemicals this year and we did have some varroa. The bees in the hive had wings and did not show signs of being deformed from the ravaging varroa that crawl right into the comb while they are still forming. So I am not sure what the problem was exactly. I do know it happens. Most healthy Bee colonies split into two every year and it stands to reason that not all of them would survive or else we would inundated with bees.