If you’re squeamish don’t read this. For the rest of you if you want to be a beekeeper then you must get used to dead bees. Don’t worry, they don’t haunt you…well kinda but not really. You may have a few sleepless nights wondering what happened and worry just how awful a beekeeper you are and a myriad of what ifs and what should I have done differently and even grave doubts and serious thoughts of should I give up beekeeping!!! Then the sun rises and the bees in the other hives hum and dance in the mid-day heat and carry on bringing pollen and nectar as if nothing ever happened to their neighbours. Nature is like that – it just gets on with it.
Alternating cold, wet, windy, dry, calm and we’ve even had a few days of grapple (a new word in my lexicon), it’s no wonder I’m pacing the floor like and expectant father (mothers are otherwise busy). I can’t see inside – I can’t see how my bees are doing. I’ve resorted to regular listening bent down with my ear to the hives. Is that a faint whoosh I hear or am I imagining it? I change position. The other hives sounded a bit louder with an odd bizz, bizz. This one is maybe a bit exposed to the cold east wind and the recent mini beast-from-the-east. I try both sides then front and back. Nothing. It’s a fine day, I shouldn’t do it but I do, I knock at the hive, “Is anyone in there?” Hope trailing like my voice. No guard bee emerges, no small group of confused bees at the entrance. I lift the lid and the untouched layer of fondant. There’s a small cluster of dead bees hugging two of the frames. “Ah, you poor things, there wasn’t enough of you to keep you warm this winter.” There’s nothing more I can do for this hive. I dismantle it and bring it home. It’s farming. It’s sad. Follow the rule book as you will nature will do as nature will. As I drive home the list of what could I have done flickers like a B-movie in my head (oh look, a pun!!). Treat for varroa? Nope done that. Feed earlier? Nah they had plenty of stores. Combine them with another hive? Hmm and lose a queen? These were a small swarm caught in summer perhaps I could have put in a nuc box and put them on top or edge to edge next to another hive in a more sheltered place. Maybe. What will I do if I catch a small swarm next oops this year? My mind goes in circles. Nothing to it but to dismantle the hive and sterilise every piece of it and rescue the wax for perhaps making candles or swapping out for fresh foundation as some suppliers will exchange foundation for precious beeswax.