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.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

The drainfield swarm.
The drainfield swarm.

Comments

Heidi
Reply

What a delightful surprise to find! All the best.

Phillip
Reply

“A steller’s jay glinted blue and metallic in a nearby cedar. All around, things croaked and twittered and cawed.”

And somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.

That is very cool news. I’m in awe seeing the bees come back to life every spring. It’s normal for them, but it’s still so new to me, I can’t get over it. But your story is even more awe-full. That is just so cool.

Rusty
Reply

You are so funny I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. I’ve never been told my writing is awe-full.

Tom
Reply

Thanks Rusty

You obviously know birds and flora as well as you write. (Not many know how to spell Steller’s Jay!)

Where are you located? I know BC well having vacationed by sailboat from Bellingham up to Queen Charlotte Straights most summers with the kids.

Tom

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

Thanks for the compliments! I’m about fifteen miles south of Olympia, WA . . . and a sailor also, by the way.

Dana Hoaglund
Reply

I found your site a month or so ago while trying to figure out what to do about my bee predicament of the moment. I was getting into beekeeping after being absent when the mites showed up early 90’s and seemed to be doing everything wrong – poor bees!

I had allowed the rains to return, October 12th, 2012, without feeding two weak hives and was fearing chastisement when seeking advice about what to DO? Your easy going, understanding, humble, caring tone set me at ease immediately.

It was a very happy surprise to discover our climates are so similar, as I too live about 15 miles south of Olympia, unless you’ve absconded.

Thanks very much,

Dana

Rusty
Reply

Dana,

No plans to abscond. I’ve been here for 18 years and love it.

Thanks for the compliment!

ScoobyDoBee
Reply

Makes one rethink things, doesn’t it? And Dana, we apparently followed the same path to end up here at HBS, if I may. :) And I too was instantly enamoured with Rusty’s easy style and forthright writing. Thanks, Rusty!

Deborah
Reply

Hi Rusty, also a person with sea water running in my veins!

Question, can you please tell me what is inside of your most intriguing cardboard flower pot hive? And, how can I find out how to make one? That is just too, too awesome!

Thank you in advance.

Rusty
Reply

There is nothing inside the flower pot-shaped swarm traps; they are hollow. I purchased mine from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and I don’t know how to make one. They seem to be formed from paper mache that has been infused with some type of waterproof material. Mine have been out in the rain for years and they are still holding up.

trisha
Reply

After a terrible bee breeding and honey season here in the UK Rusty, those of us who believe in rearing climate-adapted bees for our increasingly challenging weather are going to be rearing from survivor stocks. I’d be watching these ones if they were mine :)

Rusty
Reply

Good point, and I am!

William Solomons
Reply

I am a bit confused which is not unusual. However, isn’t your picture showing a swarm trap instead of a bee hive?

Rusty
Reply

William,

When a reader doesn’t understand something it means the writer screwed up. Plain and simple. The swarm trap shown is the trap where I captured the colony that is the subject of the post. As I read it again, I see that the nexus between the two in not at all obvious. I will try to fix it or change the photo. Thank you for pointing out the problem.

Viktor
Reply

We should not be surprised, honey bees lived on their own before we started to keep them.

Anne johns
Reply

Hi
I have a lonely bumble bee under my step at home, how can I protect it in this cold weather?
Thanks

Rusty
Reply

Anne,

One lonely bumble bee is probably an overwintering queen. If you want, you can find her entrance hole and surround it with a little straw, wood chips, or loose mulch to help keep her warm, but don’t close off the hole and don’t make the covering too thick. They like the bare soil.

Anne johns
Reply

Thank you

Tara
Reply

WOW, what a great story!! A great example of not over fussing in a hive!!! LOL Thank you for all the great information and stories!!!

RB
Reply

Cool!!!

It’s never wise to try to predict Mother Nature or Her creatures (of which we are one) which sometimes, in spite of heavy adversity, survive it all – and thrive!!!

Craig
Reply

I’d say that’s the hive you should start breeding queens from. :)

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