Life (as a Bee) is so Uncertain

It was way too quiet up on the hill: The bees should have been buzzing around our hive on a warm and springlike Sunday afternoon. Sure enough, when we opened the the box and pried apart the propolis-glued frames, we were met with a very sad and disappointing sight. The box was filled with dead bees. With plenty of honey left  in the frames, it does not appear that they starved. We’re not sure what did them in, but we suspect they may have been overcome by an invasion of varoa mites, evidence of which we found on the bottom board. 

We knew this could happen. We thought we’d done everything right, when we got them ready for winter, hoping for the best. You might say they’re only bugs, but we’re truly grieving the loss of this fascinating colony of insects that captured our hearts with their industry all last summer.

If our bees had survived, within the next two weeks, they would have started gathering nectar and pollen from Spring’s first blooms — a good two-month jump on last year. Starting over, new bees must put all of their energy during the first honey flow, into building a new home. Not so much honey this year. 

It’s a setback for sure, and our confidence is shaken. We are, however, resolved to try this again. Unfortunately, all the frames inside the current hive must be burned so we don’t spread bugs or disease to the new batch of bees that have already been ordered. They will arrive in mid-April.  These new bees will start again on new foundation building comb to lay their eggs in. It takes time, a lot of bee energy and much feeding with sugar water, to make wax. We do still have one super from last year’s bees in storage. We may be able to give this to the new hive to fill with honey once they’ve completed their work on the two brood boxes they must establish to (hopefully) survive next winter.

We had planned to expand to two hives this season, and we may still do this. That means one additonal bee package to be ordered, and a new set of frames assembled with new foundation. The good news is our friend Glenn has offered us a fully assembled and never-used hive he has in storage. Thank you Glenn! With that, and the new frames for our current boxes, the next generation of Mehaffey bees will be good to go.

Life is uncertain under the best of conditions. Poor bees! But we’re not yet ready to give up. Last year’s honey was too delicious to not try again!


We appreciate the encouraging posts from all, and especially from beekeepers, past and present. We’ve had many good conversations with beekeeper friends since I wrote this, who’ve dealt with such losses for years, and have perservered, sometimes with great success. Everyone tells us to keep the frames we’ve got and add more bees. The new bees will clean everything up and build on what’s there. We’re also going to act on their advice to split up the filled frames we have now, putting five in each of two brood boxes on two hives, along with five new frames in each, to give the bees something to build on. The honey- and pollen-filled frames will give them a head-start. The prospects are now a whole lot less disheartening, as it seems we have a chance for a good honey crop this year, after all. 



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4 responses to “Life (as a Bee) is so Uncertain

  1. Marcia Farina

    Bruce and I are so sorry for the loss of the bees, we know they are not “just bugs”, you guys put so much energy into this project. So glad you are getting new ones anyway, and we will all move on. I wonder what caused the mites to flourish, sad. Keep us informed of what’s happening, and let us know what we can help with soon with the farm!! ox

  2. Melanie Dzenowagis Ring

    Maggie you do not need to burn your frames if you only had veroa mites. The bees will clean up the dead bees in the frames . You only need to burn hives if you have american foulbrood. Veroa will die if it doesn’t have a host. Melanie

  3. Leslie Metzger

    The life of a farmer is always a crap shoot, isn’t it? There is always too much, too little, too late, too soon or something like a damned virus! Resilience is the word for forward looking people like you guys.
    Your friend, Winnie The Poo

  4. Glenn Meurer

    Second Melanie’s comments. Don’t destroy anything until you get a positive diagnosis of foulbrood!!! I recall another disease that might require destruction of the old hive, but also recall it’s exceedingly rare. Foulbrood is pretty easy to spot IIRC.

    Classic mite damage (at least what got my hives several times over the years I was active) is a strong hive at summers end, signs of activity through the winter on any warm (>55-60 deg) days (hive cleaning, cleansing flights, orientation flights as spring progresses) then, just as you expect them to burst forth during a first warm spell like this past weekend, little or no activity. I’ve opened hives on 60+ deg days at this time of year to find a pitiful, fist sized mass of bees alive, but a fragmented, spread out pattern of eggs and brood. If the mites get to the queen, she’s compromised and not producing the numbers of viable eggs needed for the hive to rejuvenate. The few remaining bees are doomed – it’s a numbers game and they’re no longer at viable numbers. Nothing to do but close them up and get another package on order. I never had the heart to kill off the remainder, though some would probably recommend it to kill off the mites that much sooner.

    There are some non-chemical mite management protocols out there. County extension (if that still exists) or local bee supplier could be of help. I’ve got a couple names if you need them.

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