It has been a while since I've given everyone a bee update. Well, the good news is that we had bees survive the winter with plenty of honey stores leftover. The bad news is that the queen was not one of those bees. This meant that we either had to re-queen or combine our existing hive with the new bees that we ordered. After some research, my husband decided that it would be best to try to combine because we weren't sure we had enough bees left to attend to a new queen.
When we bought the new bees, our hope was that the hive we bought last year would make it through the winter so that we would actually have two hives. But when we opened up the hive for our first inspection of the spring, we weren't happy with what we found. It looks like there was a lot of moisture that got into the hive. Bees can't handle being cold and wet, so we think that this is probably the number one contributor to the loss of the queen and most of the bees. However, you do expect significant losses during the winter anyway because a worker honey bee's lifespan is only four to six weeks during the active season. It could be longer if the worker honey bee was born late in the season because they do very little work during the winter. With a majority of the bees dying, their bodies blocked the bottom entrance to the hive, so we plan on making a top entrance next winter. A blocked entrance prevented the bees from being able to remove dead bees or go out to do their "business" when the weather permitted, all of which could have played a role in the moisture problem. Also, because of the moisture issue, we found mold within the hive. We have been told that the bees will clean this up now that the weather is getting better so we shouldn't have to worry about it.
When our new bees arrived, we got to work on trying to combine the hives. There are things that you need to do in order to make this combining successful because each hive has its own scent. If either hive smells the "wrong" hive, it will attack and try to kill the other bee(s).
To prevent this, you are supposed add a weak hive into a strong hive by adding the boxes of weak bees on top of the boxes of the strong bees. You use a sheet of newspaper with small cuts in it between the two boxes where the two separate hives meet. With a bottom entrance, the bees on top will have to eat through the newspaper to get out. By the time that they do this, the two hives will have the same smell and will then co-exist peacefully.
However, we added our new bees (which obviously did not have any established hive boxes) on top of our old bees. Even though we had subdued the new bees with a sugar water mist, all of the bees were buzzing around before we had completed putting the newspaper down and then reassembling the hive box, so my husband concluded that the newspaper would do very little for us. If the two hives were going to war, it was already happening. We ended up just removing the newspaper altogether.
When it was all said and done, I looked at my husband and said that we had just committed a bee massacre. Unintentionally, of course, but I still felt bad. He tried to console me a day or two later when he came home from work, and after talking to fellow beekeepers, found out that some had heard that bees without a queen (like our old hive) don't have a scent. Based on that, our original hive would have easily integrated into the new hive. However, I've done no research on this and fear the worst happened.
Things that we are hoping to do this summer with the bees are to possibly split the hive if it is doing well, which will give us the two hives we wanted. We are also considering buying Indiana queens and then re-queening the hive(s) later in the summer. The reasoning behind this, based on what we learned from our bee group, is that an Indiana queen may give birth to bees better able to withstand our winters and climate as we head into the cold weather. The queen and bees we buy come from Georgia, so there is quite a difference in weather.
It's all a learning process and the learning is part of the fun I think. It can be frustrating to not do well the first time or to feel like you've lost money, but how boring would life be if we all just got "it" (whatever that may be) on the first go? I find, especially now that I'm staying home, that I crave learning. I could never understand why my students would come to class without an understanding of how fun and powerful learning could be. Maybe that's where I failed as a teacher. This love of learning is one of the things that I love about this blog too. I feel accountable to you all. I want to bring you accurate and new ideas to help you pursue whatever interests you have, whether that's beekeeping or reading or something altogether different. I hope that you will keep trying and keep learning just like we are with our little honey bees.