The Day the Village Died

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A week ago we became suspicious.  They had been flying here and there and buzzing in the trees fine a few weeks ago.  I meant to get into the hive on the next nice day.  The last really nice day may have been Easter and I didn’t do it.  What made us wonder about the health of the hive was the fact that there were so many dead bodies on the front porch of the hive that a few were having trouble getting in and out.  The icy wind kept howling and the temperature wasn’t quite right at all this past week so I just moved the door minimizer and used a stick to move some of the bodies out of the way.  I suppose we were too late at that moment.

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The air was cool yesterday morning as I gathered dandelion flowers.  Doug came out and resolved that he would look in the hive.  It seemed too cold but we had a dark feeling about it all anyway.  He suited up and opened the roof of the hive and began to pull off each slat.  Each empty slat.

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Each slat had an empty honey comb on it.  The closer he got the front we noticed the heavy combs were black.  Not sure what that means.  The combs were empty all the way to the front of the hive even though we had left them nearly twice as much as is recommended to get through winter (17+ frames after we decided to not get any honey).  Apparently not enough.

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It was a sobering sight to see six inches of dead bees across the bottom of the hive, piling out onto the front step of their village.  The nanny bees died where they stood, stuck to the comb surrounding the last small section of brood.  Died in place as if a great disaster in this medieval kingdom brought their lives to a stop in a just second’s time.

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The hive was so prolific for most of the winter that they must have eaten more than a smaller village would.  I should have checked earlier to see if I should supplement sugar water.  Perhaps I could have saved them if I had checked on Easter.

There is no place for procrastination on a homestead.  I should know this by now.  Whether it is checking a bee hive, getting the produce harvested and preserved, getting a free load of wood to the house before someone else takes it.  Homesteading is all about timing.  One can so easily miss the window of opportunity.  In the busy months of homesteading one ought to be prepared to be up until one in the morning canning, or drop everything to drive to Denver in a broken down truck to get precious wood, or be up at dawn watering the gardens.  This life runs our schedule for the next three seasons and this loss only reminds me to pay attention and focus on each task as it calls.

Next time I will not use the top bar hive.  I will buy a traditional Langstroth hive.  There are so many more colorful, comprehensive books on the subject, and many more bee keepers to ask.  Most folks didn’t know how to answer my questions because the top bar method is just not that popular.

Well, if life is all about learning, and a homestead is its own classroom then I have learned valuable lessons this week.  But at the expense of a beautiful village.

Moving Honey Bees- Take 2

The blue and red lights of a bored sheriff flew on as soon as we turned on the main road.  We had barely gotten started, our precious load in the back, and we knew we hadn’t broken any traffic laws.  The sheriff sidled up to the truck window, lifted an eye brow, and said calmly, “The reason I stopped you is because one of your license plate lights is out.  It’s pretty dim.”

With all seriousness he said this.

Instead of blurting out, “Are you freaking kidding me?”, I gritted my teeth and replied calmly, “We have a bee hive in the back of the truck.”

“I don’t want to get stung!” he said.  I have never seen law enforcement retreat that quickly.

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The bee hive was in the back of the truck so we were already further ahead of where we were last week when Doug and I attempted to move it ourselves.

Have you ever had friends that have done so much for you that you will never in this lifetime pay them back?  That would be my friend, Lisa, and her family.  They showed up in the dark, probably preferring to be getting into bed with a nice cup of tea, and were ready to move our hive.

Lisa and I were friends with Nancy, the three of us loving all things homestead and simple.  All of us wearing our aprons around town.  Karaoke on Saturday nights at the coffee shop.  Watching our children get married and have children.  Friends like these are blessings.  Her husband, Lance, has helped us fix plumbing and set up stoves, he has helped us move heavy items.  Their sons helped us paint.  Their son Bryan built our hive, their son Brandon is a photographer and has taken many special photos of various events in our life, their son Brett is our bee guru.  At nearly nineteen he is the epitome of calm and composure, which is invaluable since around the bees, Doug and I are not.

They did not even bring suits.  Lance, Brandon, Brett, and Doug worked together quickly to secure the hive.  A piece of screen went in front of the door with the minimizer in front of it.  Duct tape went around the hive to secure the roof.  While putting duct tape across the door to secure the screen the whole door fell off and bees started flitting about and walking on Brett.  Calmly the men walked away and we all sat chatting for about a half hour while the bees settled in again.

The hive was heavy enough that four men used all their strength to get it on the back of the truck.  We placed it horizontally so that the combs wouldn’t swing when stopping and starting the truck.  Straw bales surrounded it.

When we got it to the new farmstead the four men took it deftly off the truck and placed it in its new location facing the garden.  Brett meticulously checked the outside of the hive, took off the tape, and then our friends left, travelling the long drive home late at night.  Oh boy, do we owe them!

This morning the bees are cleaning house, taking dead bees out and looking for flowers.  Tomorrow we will don our armor to get into the hive (as they will surely be irritated with us again; they ran us off the driveway last week after we tried to move them), and check to make sure that the combs are in place and that they are not any worse for wear.  Hopefully Queen Victoria has made the long journey well.  It certainly feels like we have a hive full of honey.  I can hardly wait to sample our own Wild Herb Honey!