The dead hive that isn’t
Saturday was a perfect day on the northwest coast. Rumor claims that all the elements come together only six days a year: warm enough to go coatless, clear enough to see the sky, dry enough you don’t dissolve. It was a perfect day to take apart my dead-outs and do some maintenance.
Late December, when I was assessing my losses, I closed up the dead hives to keep out local varmints. One loss that was particularly heart-wrenching was a hive I had built for a gorgeous swarm. I was out of equipment at the time, so I rigged a hive from miscellaneous parts and called it the drainfield hive, since that’s where it was.
Just before Christmas the cluster was the size of a baseball. I counted it as a dead-out because I knew it couldn’t possibly survive. But I didn’t seal the hive because even if they were doomed I wouldn’t deny their freedom. As the weeks went by, I totally forgot to go back and tape it shut.
January was cold and nasty. The ice storm dropped two sixty-foot trees within inches of that hive, one on either side of it. Snow piled on its roof and blocked the landing board but I did nothing. After all, the hive was dead.
Fast forward to last weekend. The sky was bright and cloudless. The occasional whiff of woodsmoke reminded me it was still cold, but the sun felt like warm toast on my cheek. Trillium and skunk cabbage sparkled beside the stream where a fingerling made a splish-splat in the riffles. A steller’s jay glinted blue and metallic in a nearby cedar. All around, things croaked and twittered and cawed.
As I approached the drainfield I saw honey bees coming and going with determination etched on their faces. I immediately chastised myself for not locking down the hive—no doubt these were robbers, looting for all they were worth.
I threw off the lid to have a look, muttering all the while about beekeeper incompetence. But, to my utter astonishment, I found not comb rent asunder by robber bees but a basketball-sized cluster covering four frames of brood! Whoa! How the heck did that happen? How could it happen?
Needless to say, I am elated but still a bit nonplussed. It seems impossible that a cup of bees could morph into a full-size cluster in spite of rain and snow and ice and wind and cold and falling trees and beekeeper abandonment. But it did. It proves we never know it all. It proves nature always has the last word. It proves we should never give up . . . or give in. It proves that honey bees rock.