If you have read any agricultural magazines or even bought a pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream lately, you know that Honeybees are in trouble. This means we could be in trouble too as Honey bees are critical to our food supply. We need bees to pollinate many of our fruits, veggies and nuts. Without bees, we will miss out on many of our favorite (and needed) foods.
There is this mysterious disease that causes all the honeybees in the hive to just disappear – Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). There are no real conclusions to what causes CCD but there are some choices we can all make that can help the “Plight of the Honeybee”.
At Camp 4, we thoughts it would be great to just jump in and get a hive. Seemed easy enough after reading “Beekeeping for Dummies” cover to cover. What we have learned is that it is harder to keep these little beauties alive. Honey on the grocery store shelf never looked so much like liquid gold before!
Everything started off fabulous as “newbee” beekeepers (first of many bee related jokes I am afraid). First you get a hive and paint/stain the outside about 2 weeks before your bees arrive. No problem! We even built a little stand to set it on.
Next came the bees.. this is where things got a little more exciting. The bees show up in a buzzing box complete with about 30,000 bees and one queen.
Getting them into the hive can be tricky. First you spray them down with sugar water. Then you pull back the top of the package and pour the bees into the hive. This works really well if you have managed to coat each bees with the correct amount of sugar water. What they fail to tell you is that the ones that are not sprayed down fly up into your face when you pour them into the hive.
They also don’t tell you that every bee package opens differently. There was no easy prying back of the lid for me. Nope! I hacked my way in with a crowbar only afterwards to realise I could have just lifted the feed can off the top to let them out. Good news is that everyone (including the queen who unceremoniously flipped into the hive) made it in and I was the only one worse for wear.
So our hive was rockin’ along. Drawing out comb, laying eggs, brood (baby bees) were hatching.. smooth as silk. Then things got sticky (once again, pardon the bee humor).
I went one weekend without refilling their sugar water thinking they would go out and forage on the flowers, and next thing I knew, I was walking up to a hive with 1/2 of the bees dead. Ironically, it was Memorial Day.
I was so distraught. I immediately suspected CCD or local pesticide use- Damn you cruel world! But alas, this was my fault. Operator error and no one to blame but myself! I should have left the sugar water on until they stopped taking it. So what happened was the hive’s population started to double (as new babies were being born daily) and the unseasonably cool weather kept them indoors.
You can tell you have starved your bees when you find them “butts up” in the comb (meaning their little butts are up in the air because they died trying to lick the last of the honey/pollen/sugar water out of the bottom of the comb.) How sad, right? My husband has seen similar situations when I am trying to get the last of the ice cream out of the bottom of a pint (except I am not dead, just usually cranky).
After two panicked phone calls to local beekeepers for advice, I got a hold of one who told me what had happen and my next course of action. I needed to shake powdered sugar all over the hive. That way the bees that were still alive could lick it off themselves and get the energy they needed to start cleaning up my mess.
So imagine me standing over my hive in my bee suit and veil sifting powdered sugar onto a hive of 1/2 dead bees and trying not to burst into tears. (Sorry no pictures of this.. in my panic, I failed to document the carnage on film). This is not what they share with you in “Beekeeping for Dummies” by the way.
Well, it has been six weeks later and while my queen is still alive and I have about 2000 bees left, the hive is struggling along. There are not enough worker bees to keep the brood warm and fed, so I lost about 3 frames full of brood (more tears). There are definitely not enough bees to gather nectar so no honey this year for me (even more tears). But they are trying to recover and I am pretty sure I heard “I will Survive” playing from inside the hive the other day.
So I’ll keep you posted as things develop (or don’t) in our first hive. Despite everything, this will not be our last hive. There is nothing more rewarding than discovering one of your own honeybees out in the yard gathering pollen. Makes you proud to be a “bee mom” or “new-bee mom”.
So what you can do?
If you don’t want to jump straight into keeping bees, here are some easier approaches:
Light Green Choice – Plant some bee-friendly plants in your garden/containers and don’t use pesticides! While there is nothing conclusive that says that pesticides cause CCD, it certainly doesn’t help that pesticides are everywhere in the environment. Eliminate use in your gardens and lawns. Is it really going to be the end of the world if you have few dandelions in your lawn?
Green Choice – Eliminate pesticides AND support local honey producers by purchasing their honey. Hobby hives are helping provide some diversity to the bee population. You can also buy other products that support honey bee research and only use ingredients that help honey bees.
Super Green Choice – Eliminate pesticides, buy “bee-friendly” products AND start your own hive. Don’t be discouraged from our mistakes. We are learning and you can always check back here to share what you have learned too.