One might think a honeybee isn’t really an animal you’d get attached to. There are approximately 60,000 bees per hive and a single bee in the summer lives only six weeks. So, it’s not like you’re building emotional bonds with each bee. But collectively, embracing the whole hive as one living organism, you do get attached. Or at least I do. I recall, with only slight embarrassment, the spring I got my first hive. I would worry about them when the nights got chilly. I would check their food supplies every few days. Like a new mom with her infant, I would lean down to the hive boxes, press my ear to the hive, and listen for the hum of life. I almost cried on a day they didn’t leave the hive, convinced they had died. (They hadn’t; they were just avoiding the cold.) Five years later, I remain attached to our hives, but I no longer fret over them. I have trust that nature will provide for them and they will do their thing, including living and dying, aided by me or not.
Of course, there are still some tasks that a beekeeper must do for their bees and one of them is to prepare the hive for the winter. Since today promised 50 degrees, Michael and I decided that we would replace their screened bottom board with a solid wooden board (for warmth), check on their food stores (they need 80 pounds of honey to get through the winter) and partially seal up the hive entrance (reducing drafts and keeping mice out). Before opening the first hive, we listened. Sadly, there was no hum. We opened the hives to find the bees dead in a cluster, where they had been working to keep the queen warm and protected. There was a white powdery mold in one of the hives, but this may have happened after their death and does not necessarily provide me with a clue as to why they died. There was honey in the hive – not enough to get through the winter, but I would have thought enough to keep them humming until now. And the bees were in the hive, which rules out Colony Collapse Disorder, as trendy and tempting of a diagnosis as that may be. So their cause of death remains Undetermined.
Regardless of how they died, they’re gone. Certainly, we’ll look on the bright side and use this opportunity to scrape out our hive boxes and replace some frames. Maybe we’ll even get a third hive in the spring, and we’ll probably relocate the hives for better viewing from the solarium. But until our new bees arrive in the spring, our yard just got a little lonely, a little more “November dreary.” (Sigh.) I think I’ll go let the chickens out of their coop and watch them enjoy some free-range frolics while they fill the yard with life.