Our Bees – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Ray and I are fledgling beekeepers – we are newbees!  🙂

We started in this venture two springs ago with our newly built Top Bar Beehive.  We decided to use Top Bar Hives not only because we could make them ourselves (which saves money), but for quite a few other reasons you can read about on my previous blog post about top bar hives HERE.

I thought our first attempt at beekeeping would be successful, but noooo.  I circled in red some of the dead bees that were literally buried face first into the honeycomb, which indicates they were starving, yet there was honey still in the hive!

Lets start with the Bad.  Our first bee colony died.  We were so sad. 🙁  But we had been warned that this might happen, especially since we were new at this.  So what did we do?  We built another Top Bar Beehive and bought TWO bee colonies to populate both the old hive and the new hive.

Those bees did great!  Although we had a serious problem of predation of the bees by bald faced hornets and yellow jackets this last summer, the colonies themselves seemed to be largely uneffected and both entered winter weather fairly strong in numbers.  In fact, to help them along, we insulated the hives with – well – insulation!  And, since too much moisture in a beehive is not good, we placed a few diapers over the top bars, hoping that they would absorb any excess moisture within the hive.  We were trying to cover our bases.  Apparently, this strange approach worked.  We had bees sunning themselves on their doorstep and even foraging on warm sunny winter days!

We packed the rigid insulation in pretty tight, right up to the comb furthest back in the hive, and planned to remove a couple pieces a week as soon as the weather started to warm in the spring and some flowers were starting to bloom.

The Ugly?

Well, this past winter when I was away visiting a friend, Ray decided to spray our orchard with a pesticide that killed tree borers.  A couple of our fruit trees have boring pests in them and we were hoping the spray would help. Although we are trying to be as organic as possible, it was either spray or have dead fruit trees. Our two top bar beehives reside in the orchard, and, unfortunately, Ray forgot to cover the hives before he sprayed.  He didn’t even close their entrance holes!  Uggggghhhhhh!

I wasn’t aware of this until the next day revealed untold carnage.  I couldn’t figure out why our poor girls (all worker bees are girls) were dying by the hundreds outside of the hive! My first thought was that our neighbors, who are pot farmers, had sprayed their crops with pesticide.  But it was too early to have “those” plants out!  But then, when I showed Ray the carnage, he admitted that he had sprayed the fruits trees and forgot to close the hives for a day. Those poor girls weren’t even able to get back inside after they had found pollen for the new brood… they were just too weak from the poison.

These poor little girls didn’t have a chance!  And they worked so hard for that pollen!

Ray endured a few choice words from me, and they weren’t kind words.  Lucky for him, somehow both hives survived, but were undoubtedly weakened.

We are now thinking that the hives shouldn’t actually be in the orchard!  Right next to or even down the lane a bit, but if we ever need to spray ANYTHING on the trees to control a pest or a fungus, it would be better not to have the hives within the spray range.

mistakes in beekeeping

One of our local native bumblebees dancing in the blooming broccoli.

In the middle of March both hives were still alive.  It was still cold and rainy, so we didn’t want to open the hives to see how strong they were, but we certainly didn’t see many bees through the observation windows.

This picture was taken of the new hive (hive #2) after Ray had sprayed the orchard. There were bees still present, but not very many.

I actually thought we had made it through the winter, which is like winning a beekeeper’s medal!

WAHOO!  (happy dance)

Um

Nope

I was watching the hives right around the first of April and noticed that no bees were coming and going from the new hive (hive #2).  It was finally a warmish day, so Ray and I decided to open up the hive and see what was going on.

We were devastated.  It was UGLY!  There were just a few live bees left clinging together in a clump on the comb.  Since they weren’t all dead, we thought it would be best to just close it back up, leave it alone and watch for a few days. Well, a few days later there were no live bees left in the hive.  Bummer.

When I was cleaning out the hive and trying to figure out where we went wrong, I found a huge dead yellow jacket queen in the hive.  She was big and we couldn’t figure out how she had squeezed herself into the hive, but somehow she did.  Worse yet?  There was no brood.  None.  Nada. Who knows how many times the Yellow Jacket queen had come and gone.  Worse yet, there may have been more than just the one yellow jacket queen.  I guess the main reason we are sure the Yellow Jacket(s) was responsible is that while there was no brood, there was still a lot of honey.  Yellow Jackets are huge predators because they are carnivorous and feed insects (or pieces of your picnic hotdog) to their brood. She must have either killed or taken our honeybee queen (we never found her), and stolen all the brood to feed her own.

bull hornet

This is a picture of a Bald Faced Hornet that I took last year. Between this bee predator and the huge queen Yellow Jackets we have, our poor beehives are constantly under attack!

Urrrrgggghhhhhhh!  🙁

We figured this probably happened because the hive was weak due to the spray Ray had used a few weeks before.

Nuts!  Shoot!  &%$#@&%!

I’m not sure what we are going to do about this problem in the future.  We have reduced the entrance to the hives and we have hung numerous wasp traps, but the yellow jackets and hornets keep coming.  We haven’t seen any hornets yet this spring, but we know they will be coming soon.  Anyone have any ideas, because we are just stumped.

The good?  We decided not to give up.  Not yet.  We are almost there, but wanted to try one more time, so we bought one more package to replace the dead colony.  We will be installing those next week.

Installing bees into a top bar hive

Here’s a picture of Ray installing a bee package (3 pounds of worker bees and a queen) last year in the new (#2) hive, which is the one we need to replace. We hope to be successful with the install this year also!

So the saga continues.  We need prayers, good thoughts and some old fashioned luck sent our way, because if we lose these two colonies, we will have to just give up beeing beekeepers!  It’s sad, but sometimes you just have to understand your limits.  Besides, each box of bees and a queen is costing $125, which can make beekeeping a fairly expensive hobby.

Please don’t let me discourage you if you would like to keep bees.  Each situation is different, and I think living in a forest with all the wild creatures to contend with, our situation may be more difficult than others.  However, if you have been a follower for very long, you know that I always “tell it like it is” and prefer not to “sugar coat” anything.  Why tell a story if you can’t tell the truth?

So… any suggestions?

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17 thoughts on “Our Bees – The Good, Bad and Ugly

    • I think the real problem is that I get so attached to the little girls! I guess I shouldn’t have so much empathy. And the truth is that I really don’t think our garden or orchard depends on us having bee hives, because with all our bumblebees, mason orchard bees, carpenter bees, etc.. our stuff gets pollinated anyway. I hope you will try keeping bees. I have learned so much and have a lot of faith that eventually we will get it right!

    • Actually, we have home-made reducers on the hive. That is why I was so surprised that such a big Yellow Jacket queen was able to get in! However, maybe that is why she was still in the hive, dead – she couldn’t get back out without the honeybees getting her on her backside as she tried to exit! Ah well, another lesson learned.

  1. Oh, that’s so sad. Those poor girls, I feel terrible for them!! Since I’m allergic to bees and hate honey I’m never going to take up this hobby, ha ha, but I sure hope the third time’s a charm for you!

    • So interesting… I’ve never heard of anyone hating honey! How about mead? Do you dislike that also? Anyway, so far we aren’t allergic, though I did have a strange reaction last year to a bee sting, so our doctor gave us a prescription for Epi-Pen, which our insurance paid. I look at it like insurance, because you never know when someone with allergies might come for a visit to my garden, and many people develop allergies in adulthood, so you never know!

    • Good afternoon, Uwe and Angie! Do you have many honeybees in Germany? I wonder what kind of hive is most popular in your area? Thank you for visiting my blog today, and I wish you both a wonderful day.

      • Hello Vicky,
        Since we do not know very well with bees and beehives, and to do nothing wrong, I would ask you to research the Internet in the Internet, which is so with us in Germany.
        We are looking forward to your next contribution.
        Many greetings to Ray from us.
        Uwe and Angi

  2. It is so wonderful you have your own hives. We are lucky to reap the benefits of so many beekeeper near us, for we have hundreds of them visit my garden every day, and not just honey bees…mason bees, bumbler, and many I don’t even recognize.

    Yael from Playing In Catnip

    • I’m so glad you have lots of bees! With the decline in honeybee colonies due to colony collapse disorder, it’s truly a blessing to have lots of other types of bees to fill in the void. We also have lots of bumbles and mason bees and just love them all! To an extent, we also appreciate the wasps, as they consume many garden pests (caterpillars, beetles and bugs) along with the occasional honeybee. The good thing about keeping bees, of course, is all the honey and beeswax we get to harvest! Have a great week, Yael, and thanks for commenting.

  3. We have had our hives for one year now and so far, so good. I guess there are different problems depending on where you live and since we are in the south, I don’t have any suggestions. I hope it works out for you this time. Its a learning process for sure.

    • Thank you for your good wishes, Nikki! From what I have read so far, each area does have different problems. We have wax moths, but the poor people back east have hive beetles. We all have varroa mites. Hears to learning and thriving!

  4. Thank you for having the courage to post your story. You are surely helping other beekeepers by sharing your experience!

    I discovered your blog through the Chicken Chick. I hope to check back and find that your next efforts at beekeeping are a success. 🙂

    • Oh – don’t you just love the Chicken Chick? Now that’s one smart lady and I have learned so much from her blog. Please do come back. By the way, I checked out your blog and enjoyed it, but noticed that you haven’t written a new post in quite a while! I would enjoy following you… so get writing! 😉

  5. Beekeeping is one of those things I really want to try but I am actually scared of. Not the actual bees themselves, but the ramifications of something going wrong. But it IS on our list.

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