They say that the real examination for a new beekeeper is to keep your colony of bees alive over your first winter. On this criteria I regret to report that I have failed. As yesterday was the first day of the year for the temperature to hit double figures I thought it timely to conduct my first hive inspection of the new year. This is something one would normally do in March and indeed last year, in February. As reported in an earlier blog, ever since my last inspection last Autumn, I have feared that the colony would starve to death as the bees had quickly eaten through 5 full frames of honey – even before the onset of the Winter. Until now it has been too cold to open the hive fully so I have just lifted the lid to add food. I have made regular visits to the hive in the past few weeks to check for activity but seen no signs of life.
Sadly my worst fears were confirmed yesterday when I found several hundred dead bees clustered together for warmth in the centre of the hive. It was a scene reminiscent of the discovery of Captain Scott and his colleagues except that the bees left no diaries or letters. It is touching to think of them all packed together for warmth in their last few days. Did Queen Michelle die last and watch all her daughters slowly perish? Or did the poor bees see the Queen die first and realise that they were all doomed? Was a rescue party sent out into the cold in one last desperate search for food? I found a couple of hundred corpses outside the entrance. However, I suspect that this was a result of the housekeeper and undertaker bees keeping the hive clean right up to their final few days when they too had no more strength to survive. Given that they had not touched the extra food I left them before the Winter, I suspect that they died many months ago. It was a depressing sight. I received my first bees exactly 53 weeks ago yesterday.
However, I have picked myself up and determined to get the hive up and running again. It has not been a complete waste of time and money. I have learned much and will be much more conscious in future of the need for earlier intervention to feed the bees artificially in poor weather conditions. I have therefore cleaned and sterilised all the parts of the hive and this week will make up some new wax frames for a brand new colony. The challenge then will be to admit my failure to my local beekeeping society and to find some more bees. Unfortunately I have heard several tales of even experienced beekeepers losing 2 out of 3 colonies this Winter. Moreover, with the very cold Spring there is not much food about for the bees and their foraging season will have been delayed. It looks like my 2nd year of beekeeping might be just as challenging!