Saturday, March 12, 2016

To Bee or Not To Bee

I used to be a beekeeper.  I never managed to get much past the amateur-owner stage, but I had hoped to.  At one point, I made it up to 15 hives that I thought were all strong.  I figured at least 2/3 would make it through the winter and I would be able to expand further the following Spring.  This was several years ago, just when Colony Collapse Disorder was first starting to gain a bit of press.

When Spring came, all 15 hives were dead.  A couple died from normal winter problems.  One got wiped out by skunks.  The rest were just gone.  There were baby bees in the combs, lots of honey in the larder and NO bees, which is what happens with CCD.

Keeping bees is a tough business.  The bees are plagued with mites and disease.  The honey they produce sells for pennies a pound because of stiff competition from cheap, poison tainted honey flooding in from China.  Equipment is expensive and so are the bees.

Keeping bees can be brutally heartbreaking.

And yet, there is something very satisfying in tending a hive, in watching the flight of busy bees, in sitting next to them on a sunny day and listening to the quiet, vibrant hum of life.  There is satisfaction in pressing your ear up against the cold side of a hive in deep winter and hearing the quiet thrum of survival.  Honeybees are fascinating creatures, so profoundly alien in their endeavors and yet, so similar in their goals.  We all just want to survive and thrive.

I came to think of individual bees as cells, much like a red blood cell. A single honeybee cannot survive on her own.  The hive can lose a few cells, but cannot survive if it loses too many.  Every bee is a cell, with a job to do and a path to follow.  The hive, as a whole, is a distinct organism whose blood flows throughout the world.  They are the living proof that we all share the same circulatory system.

I've gathered up some of my old, abandoned hives and I am trying to decide what to do with them.  It looks like a pile of junk, but there is real potential there.  Most of these could be full of bees in a couple of months if I want to invest in them again.  The price of buying new bees has more than tripled in the past five years though and they can be hard to find.  At $150 each to reestablish a hive, this could be a large investment.  Aside from the money, I am not so sure my heart can afford it either.

A lot of this can be salvaged and I have more hives stacked in FB's Quonset hut that are in excellent condition.  Some of them are still brand new, not even painted yet.

Some of it is beyond repair and not worth bothering with.

And some of it is just down-right sad.  I found several frames of comb that had been full of capped larva.  Each one of these cells holds the remains of a dead baby bee.  This hive died just days, even hours, before all these babies would have hatched out.  They probably froze because there were not enough adult bees left to keep them warm.

There should have been.  This came out of a hive that was chock full of bees and honey going into the Fall.  There was still at least 50 pounds of honey in this hive when it died in late winter, more than enough to feed them through the rest of the cold.  But, there were no bees.  None.

The hives were all over at FB's place and I have not been able to keep a hive alive since the farm down the road from her started growing corn.  I do not think that is a coincidence.  A toxin introduced into the bloodstream cannot be removed.

We plant seeds that have been coated with poison and that poison travels into every cell of the plant.  From there, it travels into every cell of every creature who consumes that plant.  From one bloodstream to the next, from the pink coated seed in the ground to the larva in the hive, the poison is in the blood.

And so I come to that age old question, to bee or not to bee?  Do I scrounge up the money and the fortitude to buy enough bees for just one or two hives and try again here on Hellwind Hill or do I list it all on craigslist and let someone whose heart is more whole try where I failed?


  1. Don't worry readers, that is not a deceased border collie puppy in that one photo; although, I know it SURE looks like it. That is Connor's toy, which I find VERY morbid. By the way, Connor looks a little worried about the whole bee prospect. Tanner absolutely DID NOT approve of bees! I like bees, but prefer chocolate to honey!

  2. Connor does look worried!
    You know I always wanted to have bees. I've thought about putting it out that if someone wanted to put hives on my property they could -I have tons of wild flowers and no toxins. I don't really want the honey (although I love honey) I just love bees.

  3. I did not see a lifeless pup! I thought one of you crazies just added another pup! As for the bees just do it. The pleasure they give and good they do are worth the investment on a small scale. I may have a lead on local nucs if you are interested.

    1. The horrible dead border collie toy is in the very first picture on the left! What kind of person gives their dog a dead puppy toy? Don't think for a minute that I would give Bess something like that!!

    2. If you do have a lead on local nucs, I would certainly like to hear about it. There is a guy right here in McDonough and I may talk to him, but bees are scarce and another source would be good.

  4. A friend in Virginia used to send me a pint of his "home grown" honey every year until Colony Collapse Disorder struck. Now he has to acquire his gifts from other states. Here in Nevada we seem to have lots of bees. My backyard and all my trees, rosemary, lantana, etc. are helping to keep someone's hives fed.

  5. I saw the toy and it gave me a moment's pause! However, I do love honey and my hubby used to keep bees when he was young. I worry about the bees in our area since we are now getting surrounded by 'big business' farms and not the family farms any more.

  6. Stella and I had great luck with our hives...until they planted corn in her front field. Three years in to that and she sold her one or two REMAINING hives to get them away from here :-(. We'd like to put a hive back in this year because the corn field is going to be planted with alfalfa. We are just planning on picking up a swarm instead of buying a package, although because now that we WANT one, probably no one will call us to come get one ;-). Maybe there are some beekeepers in your area that would be thrilled to let you go pick up a couple swarms so they don't have to!

  7. I was very worried about the "dead puppy" - so glad it's just a TOY -

    I knew someone who raised bees in Tucson, AZ, where the weather is hellish and bee hives are very hard to disguise from vandals - he kept at it, because he felt it was truly important. It was a labor of love - maybe you could find someone like that to sell the hives to at pennies on the dollar?

  8. That look on Connor's face is priceless!

  9. Oh oh oh oh. Yes, please do it! I love the idea of beekeeping, but have found the task of learning enough to try it too overwhelming. I'd happily learn about it from you though. What a treat that would be. :)

  10. You will make the right decision! Here in Minnesota Bee keepers do real well, they send their hives to California for the winter:)

  11. Ralph and I just listened to this woman talk about bees and it was an eye opener....maybe this site would "bee" worth your while to visit?

  12. Very interesting post. I just lost my first (and so far only) hive and it is so sad. I have two more hives almost ready, though, with the bees arriving on Saturday, so I'm committed no matter what. It is awful nice to have bees around.

  13. I'd like to start keeping a hive or two also. I'm in the 'catch a swarm' camp. I haven't seen any activity in our bee tree yet - some trepidation that they expired over the winter - but if they are there I will try to catch a swarm when they cast one off. And if they've expired I'm sure a swarm from somewhere else will come investigate the tree and either move in or hopefully take a fancy to whatever catch box I come up with.