Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Busy Summer Part 2 - Swarms!

This is the continuation of my Summer of Fun post...

Honey bee swarms are a colony's way of reproducing and perpetuating their genetics. While there are multiple possible triggers for the swarming instinct, one of the major causes of swarming is overcrowded conditions in a hive. Preparations for swarming begin several weeks before the swarm actually happens.  Because the current queen of the colony will leave with the swarm, the workers must make a new queen in order to replace the queen that leaves. The workers will produce multiple queen cells and they will prohibit the current queen from killing off the developing queens in those cells. Additionally, the workers will stop feeding the current queen in order to get her to slim down for her flight with the swarm (she hasn't flown since her mating flight which may have been a year or more ago). The entire process of swarming is a finely tuned dance that shows us the incredible decision-making process that honey bees are capable of.

Around the time when the new queens hatch, the old queen and 50-65% of the workers leave the hive in a massive cloud of bees - they are leaving the parent colony behind and will search for a new home. They gorge on honey so that they have energy for the next few days, when they will not have access to food like they would in their old home. After leaving the hive, they gather in a large cluster on a tree limb or fencepost or some other convenient spot not too far from the original hive. While they are stationed at this temporary "home", they will send out scout bees to look for the best possible cavity to make their new home in. The decision of where to make their new home is another amazing example of democratic decision-making (Honeybee Democracy is a book about this process). Once they have decided on the place, the entire cluster will fly to the new spot and begin to make their new home. Now, if the beekeeper can get to the swarm while they are clustered at their temporary home (they may stay clustered like this for a few days), it is relatively easy to catch the entire swarm, queen and all, and place them in a hive. Because they don't really have a home to defend and they are honey-drunk, swarm bees are generally very docile (see this video here).

Meanwhile, back at the parent colony, the new queens are hatching and killing each other, its survival of the fittest. The most bad-ass queen wins! (Although sometimes a hive will "throw multiple swarms" and a few bad-ass queens can win.)

In general, if a swarm leaves from one of your hives and you don't catch it, you are a sad beekeeper - you just lost a bunch of bees and a lot of honey! But, if you catch a swarm from a wild hive or someone else's hive - FREE BEES!

Alright alright, on to the story of my swarm captures this summer...

The Bleacher Swarm
I got a call one afternoon about a swarm near a church on Cheltenham Avenue not too far off of Route 611. I packed my car, hopped in and drove to the scene. I arrived to see this, pretty freakin' cool...

Just hanging out!
View from below

I brought the bee-vac setup (without the vacuum) because its a good way to transport bees, it offers good ventilation and an easy setup once you get the bees to the apiary. It worked out really well. I basically put the box under the cluster and gently dislodged the cluster, they fell into the box.

Stragglers making their way into the box to be with queenie

A few bees with their butts sticking up in the air, spreading pheromones to let the others know the queen is in the house
This capture went super smoothly, very easy. I closed up the box and drove them home. I set this swarm up in a hive on my roof. They are doing great.

The Honda Swarm
This swarm call didn't go so smoothly because I was unprepared and rushed. I will let the pictures get the story rolling...

Swarm is near the ground under this bush
I clipped off the branch into this nuc box, about half of the bees went into the box
My first mistake was closing this box. You can see the bees gathering on it because the queen is inside with the other half of the bees. I closed it because I was in a rush and I didn't want the bees inside to fly away. I also think it was a mistake to use this box because it is screened, and therefore open to the light, on the top and the bottom. At this point I figured well OK, I will place this entire box into my large Rubbermaid container and I'll put it all in my trunk and drive home. Problem was that the nuc box didn't fit into my other container (and the Rubbermaid didn't fit into the trunk!). So I decided, my second mistake, to place this box on my passenger seat and drive home this way. The worst that could happen is that the bees on the outside of the box would fly around a bit, but at least I had the queen locked up in the box. Besides, I had to get back to work!

Well, you can see that the bees didn't stay in place!

Flying all over the place! I kept my protective gear on while driving

Rear window
What a sight I must have been! Driving down Kelly Drive with my veil on and 20,000 bees flying around my car! As I was driving I reminded myself that at least the queen was in the box and when I got to the apiary I could set her up in a hive and all of these loose bees will find her and move into the box with her and the rest of the bees. Don't know if you have guessed by now, but I was wrong again! It turns out the the nuc box wasn't closed tightly and the bees that had been in there were also out, the entire swarm was flying free in my car!! I didn't figure out that ALL of the bees were free until I got to my apiary.

I pulled my car into this little alley near my Francisville beeyard and proceeded to discover that the nuc box was now pretty much empty of bees. After a failed attempt at finding the queen and also trying to lure her into another box, I left my car parked in that alley with the doors open and all of the bees flying around and in my car. I had to go to work for a few hours and I figured I would come back and deal with it later. I came back with a vacuum to suck up the bees and I returned to my car and found a surprise! After vacuuming up a bunch of bees, something caught my eye...

Can you see the little beady bee eyes peaking out from behind my door handle?
Now you can see them! They moved INTO MY DOOR!

Another view

Yep, inside the speaker too!!
As an aside, while I was home gathering my vacuum and equipment there's a knock on my front door. Its a policeman -
Cop: "Are you Adam Schreiber?"
Me: "Yes, that's me."
Cop: "Do you know your car is sitting on Field St with its doors open?"
Me: "Yep, I know, with a bunch of bees flying around in it!"
Cop: "Oh, OK, we just wanted to make sure it wasn't stolen or something."
He didn't really care about the bees! I was impressed with how quickly they responded to the "problem". Actually this wasn't the only police involvement in the story, but I'll get to that in a minute.

So anyway, I vacuumed what I thought was the majority of the bees and drove the car back to my street so I could deal with the rest the next day. I left the bees in the car overnight, put a box in the car with honey, thinking they might migrate into the box. No such luck - in the morning I saw that none of the bees had taken the honey bait, they were still all in the door peering out at me! I would vacuum them in dribs and drabs as they would come out to investigate. It was a slow process. I tried banging on the door to get them to come out, which only helped a bit. At this point I am thinking that I might have to remove my entire door panel to get to them.

Then Eureka! - for once in this whole ordeal, I had a good idea! I lit a smoker and proceeded to puff smoke into the door through whatever tiny holes I could find. Aside from having my car smell like a campfire for weeks, this worked well, the bees came pouring out to escape the smoke. As they left the safety of the door, I'd suck them into the vacuum. I even saw the queen pop out a few times and I tried to grab her, unsuccessfully. Here's a good view of how things looked...

No big deal, so there are some bees in our car.
Daddy is crazy!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot police involvement #2. I am in front of the house sucking up bees - wearing a veil, vacuum screaming, smoker smoking - when a cop comes up to me. Obviously he can see I am dealing with a "situation", but he is nonplussed. He has come to tell me that I need to move my car forward because it is impinging upon the handicapped space next to my house! I swear, the car was no more than 2 feet into the spot, which is more than big enough to fit a car anyway. My neighbor called the cops on me and this officer didn't care what I was dealing with, he said, with bees buzzing around his noggin, "Just move the car up." So of course, being the law-abiding citizen that I am, I moved it and then renewed my efforts at extracting the rest of the bees.

Once I finally had removed all of the bees, I saw that they had started building honeycomb inside my door! Incredible! Somehow they thought they were going to set up house in my car! Anyway, a significant number of bees died throughout this whole fiasco, but within a month's time, this hive was back on track and they have done nicely at their new home in Fairmount Park.

I don't have any pictures from my third swarm, but suffice it to say that with the timely help of fellow beekeeper Daniel Duffy and a maintenance man with a big ladder, things went very well. That third swarm has also built up nicely this summer. Even though one never knows where swarms come from, it is great fun to catch them and also nice to add genetic diversity to your beeyards. There is always a chance that the bees are from feral, survivor stock and this is something that every beekeeper wants. Some beekeepers worry about picking up diseases from swarms but I ain't worried and besides, if I didn't capture swarms I wouldn't have such great stories to tell!

What A Summer!

Well it's been a long time since I wrote but that's not because there hasn't been anything interesting going on. Between family, work, being president of the Guild, caring for my 9 hives, editing a book and trying to have some fun, I haven't had much time to write. There is so much to tell that I split this entry into two - be sure to see the "Swarm!" entry for some great pictures and a hilarious story.

As I mentioned, I have 9 hives this year, the most I have ever had. Here's the breakdown of the hives and then I will update the status of each -
  1. Overwintered hive from last year
  2. Hive from Oakland cemetery bees
  3. I ordered 4 packages from the Seaborns this spring - two were placed at Woodford Mansion
    and two at Marathon Farm.
  4. I bought one nuc from Don Sausser in Delaware.
  5. I caught 3 swarms this year.
(Yes, I know that adds up to 10 hives, but you'll see what happened!)

My over-wintered hive from last year did great this summer. They grew to 7 boxes tall and are as healthy as ever. I harvested about 60 pounds of honey from this hive in July. At a recent inspection I saw signs that this hive had swarmed - the population was smaller than usual, there wasn't as much honey in the hive and there were lots of hatched queen cells in the hive. I'm not too worried about them but the swarm and the loss of population and honey could be a potential problem heading into winter. There was a new queen present and she was laying well. And the nuc from Don Sausser has done well too, they are on my roof. I harvested about 35 lbs of honey from them. Although one thing I will say about these bees is that they are a bit feisty and they don't always take kindly to my bumbling inspections! My total honey harvest this summer was about 150 lbs - most of which is already gone (either sold or given away!).

The last time I wrote was way back in April and I was writing about the removal at Oakland cemetery. The bees from that removal have done quite well for themselves this summer. Unfortunately we did kill the queen in the removal process but the girls quickly made a new queen and therefore perpetuated the genetics of this feral hive. The colony proceeded to settle in to their new home in Francisville and they have built up nicely over the course of the summer. About 6 weeks after this removal job, I got another call from Jackie. It turned out that she hadn't had a chance to fix the window and roof and another swarm of bees moved in to the same exact spot!! So we went back to the cemetery and removed that colony. It was an easy job because the comb was being built right out in the open.

Woodford Hives with some great 'shrooms from all of the rain this summer

Another view of the 3 Woodford Hives

In late March when I installed my new packages at Woodford Mansion and Marathon Farm, I tried a new queen installation method where I placed the queen in the front door of the hive instead of placing her between frames inside of the hive. Well, that experiment was a TOTAL FAILURE!! I lost 3 out of 4 of those queens!! It turns out that the weather was too cold for that kind of queen introduction and the bees basically abandoned their queens to die on the bottom boards. At Woodford, one of the queens actually survived and the bees from the hive next door (who had lost their queen) all moved into the hive with the healthy queen! When I opened that hive it was bursting with bees (6 lbs worth) and the hive next door was empty! I was going to split this hive back into two hives but when I caught some swarms, I decided to leave this super hive alone. (This is why I only have 9 hives instead of 10.)

The other 2 hives at Marathon had no eggs to grow themselves a new queen, so this lead to a situation known as having a "laying worker". Basically this is when some of the worker bees start laying eggs because of a lack of a queen. Sounds great and pretty amazing, right? But the problem is that laying workers can only lay unfertilized eggs, which produce drones, the male bees. So if you don't remedy the situation, the hive will eventually die out. The solution for both of these hives was to donate frames of worker eggs from my other hives so that the queenless hives could make themselves a proper queen (this is when it really pays to have multiple hives). It took a few weeks but both hives eventually made themselves a new queen.

Because these hives lost so much time, they didn't grow to be big enough to make it through the winter, so I recently combined the two hives. I removed the queen from one hive and placed her in a nuc with some other bees as an insurance policy just in case something went wrong with the combine (the nuc is in my backyard, not sure what I will do with it). Then I simply stacked all of the boxes from both hives on top of each other with a sheet of newspaper between them. The newspaper helps to temporarily separate the hives from each other so they don't fight. In the time it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper, they will accept each other and not fight. It's a neat little trick.

Notice the bees flying around on the left, trying to figure out where their home went!
The next day - see the little green fuzzy stuff in the corner of the bottom board?
And a big pile of green fuzzy stuff on the ground next to the hive? That's chewed up newspaper!!
Combining these two hives greatly improves their chances of surviving the winter. We'll see how it goes. If they survive the winter I can split them back into 2 hives in the spring.

My 3 other new hives are made up of swarms that I caught this summer. In the interest of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I made a separate blog post about my swarm stories from the summer, including the very funny story of "The Honda Swarm". Go read it!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bee Removal at Oakland Cemetery

Philadelphia Honey Bee Rescue and Removal has done our first bee removal of the year and it went very well. The bees were living in the walls above the window of an old stone house at Oakland Cemetery in Northeast Philadelphia. Jackie and her family live on the grounds of the cemetery and through a mutual friend she contacted us for help in removing the bees. Jackie was super nice and helpful - she even fed us fresh fruit and awesome homemade carrot cake. One of the coolest things about this job was that many years ago Jackie's father used to keep bees at the cemetery. She showed us and offered to give us an old honey extractor that was being stored in the attic of one of the buildings. The grounds of the cemetery are quite beautiful and Jackie told us it used to be farmland. There are several large greenhouses on the property and the family still uses them to grow and sell some annual flowers.

Entrance to the cemetery from inside

Bees living above 3rd floor window on the right

In addition to the 3 of us (Daniel, Joel and I), we had some help from Jackie's 5 year-old son Aidan. Here he is, ready to go!

The bees had been living in this house for at least 3 years and fortunately we were able to do this job from inside of the house - makes our lives a lot easier! I was excited to try my new bee vac, especially because the one we used last year ended up killing more bees than it rescued! With some help from bee mentor and master woodworker Vicco Von Voss, I built the Bushkill Bee Vac. The Bushkill vac was awesome - there were very few dead bees when the job was all said and done. There are a few tweaks I need to make to it, but overall I was really happy with how it worked, thanks Robo.

The basic idea behind the Bushkill vac is that you have a top and a bottom and in between them you can place as many supers/hive bodies as you would like. You can see in the bottom picture I have two medium supers in between the top and bottom. This set-up allows you to vacuum the bees directly into a hive, which maximizes the space available to them and minimizes the disturbance to the bees when you have to get them into a new hive after removing them. The design allows for plenty of ventilation so the bees don't get overheated (a problem with some other designs). I was even able to put some water inside the vacuum for the bees to drink by filling a few frames of drawn comb with water. The bees get vacuumed into the bottom (see top picture) and then can settle into the supers. The vacuum gets hooked to the top, where there is a screen in order to prevent the bees from getting sucked into the shop vac.

Here you can see the top of the vac - one hole is where the vacuum hose goes, and the other hole has a small piece of wood covering it that pivots in order to moderate the amount of suction. There's Aidan again, doing quality control supervision!

We could clearly see where the bees were entering from the outside, but it is always a bit of a mystery knowing exactly where they have built their comb. We had to make a few holes in the walls to help define the boundaries of the hive.

It turned out that the hive was located directly over the window, right above Joel's head in the bottom picture. There was a lot of traffic going in and out of the hive, so we were expecting a large colony. As we removed comb the bees flew towards the light and gathered on the window. The bees will cluster there and stay there, so we left them alone until the end of the job. It's actually better to minimize their time in the vacuum and have them on the window instead. When we were done cutting out comb, we easily vacuumed up the large cluster of bees that had gathered on the window.

Clustering on the window

The job took us about 5 hours, including a leisurely lunch (and the delicious carrot cake!). In the end, the space that the colony occupied was fairly small, although it was densely packed with bees. Below is a view looking straight up into the now-empty space that the colony had occupied.

We ended up with about 7 medium frames of brood comb. There was very little honey in the hive, it looked like they were living hand-to-mouth. Because of the small size of the space, we figured that this colony must have been swarming fairly regularly. Jackie had seen at least one swarm a few years ago.

I took the bees home and quickly set them up in a new home. Because of the bee vac, setting up the new hive was very easy, with minimal disturbance to the bees. I removed the top and bottom of the vac, placed the supers on a bottom board, filled the supers with frames of honey and drawn comb from my dead hives, placed the super with the brood comb on top and closed them up.

Here's a little video of the girls as they settle in...

 And here they are all tucked in...

Given what happens during a bee removal, it amazes me that the bees are as calm as they are. Sure, they fly around in confusion, but they are not aggressive at all. We each got a few stings, but mostly because of our own carelessness. We are not sure if we got the queen alive, but I will give them a week or two to settle in and then check for signs of the queen. I have been watching the activity at the entrance to the hive and the bees are behaving as if they do have a queen but we'll see. If they don't have one, I will give them a frame or two of eggs from the hive next door so that they can make a new queen. All in all it was a great day and things went very smoothly. Thanks Jackie for looking out for the bees and giving us the opportunity to relocate them!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bees at Marathon Farm

In addition to Woodford Mansion, I am super excited about my other new apiary location this year.  Thanks to friend and fellow acupuncturist Laura Hawley, I learned about the Marathon Farm project a few months ago. It's a project of the mini-chain of Marathon restaurants in Philly. In a nutshell, they are taking a big vacant lot at 27th and Master in the Brewerytown neighborhood and transforming it into an urban farm. The food grown at the farm will be bought by the restaurants and also sold to the community via a small farmers market near the site. You can read more about the farm and their progress here. When I learned about the project I immediately emailed farmer Patrick and asked if they would be interested in having bees at the farm. He spoke with the owner of Marathon and everyone was really excited about it, so it was a go.

With the support of an incredible array of volunteers, the farm has come together quickly and seeds have already been sown. There are a bunch of raised beds and a small greenhouse. There are plans for a picnic area and a small play area for kids. These are the kinds of projects that we need more of, especially with the ridiculous number of vacant lots in our fair city!

Since my packages of bees for this site came earlier than I expected, we had to scramble to get the site ready. Including myself, there are now 3 Adams involved in the Marathon Farm project - the farm manager and the education director are both Adam too. Farmer Adam, the owner of the Marathon Grill, Cary and I cleared a spot for the hives in a location where they should receive nice early morning sun. We plan on putting some kind of low barrier around the hives to discourage people from getting too close.

Checking out the queen with farmer Adam.

I meant to do the same type of front door queen introduction that I did at Woodford, but I forgot to bring a little stick to attach to the queen cage and I couldn't find anything on site. So instead I just laid the queen cage on the bottom board.

Dumping the bees in on top of the queen

Check out the "hive stands", rounds of tree from some of the weed trees that they cut down as they were clearing the lot (remember that if you click on images, you can see them full size).

First hive set up, getting ready for the second

Second hive

In the next picture you can see the raised beds of the farm and the greenhouse. Across the street from the farm is a recreation center with some ball fields.

Both hives set up, view of the farm and greenhouse

This is the view looking in the opposite direction. You can see this is an oddly shaped lot, triangular, with long brick walls that must have been part of a large building. The lot just goes back into a corner. This is where they plan to put in a kids play area.

Future site of kids play area

The weather last week after installing all 4 of my packages was pretty nasty, cold and rainy. The bees didn't have much chance to forage, but they should be fine with all of the honey and pollen that I gave them. I was able to look in the hives this weekend to check on things. One of the hives was bringing in bright yellow pollen, it didn't take them long to find food! Mainly I wanted to see if the queens had been released from their cages and three out of four of them were released. One of the queens at Woodford was still in her cage, all of the attendant bees in her cage were dead but she was fine. The bees in the hive didn't release her for some reason, it actually kind of looked like they were ignoring her. I am learning that you can tell a lot about a hive by observing the activity in front of it and the bees in front of this hive were acting weird, they were not aggressive but they looked disorganized. I opened the queen cage and gently placed her on top of the frames and watched her scoot down into the hive. Hopefully everything will be fine, but only time will tell. Once the weather warms up a bit, I'll do a more thorough inspection of all hives to see if I can see signs of healthy, laying queens.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Winter Recap and a Fresh Start

And what a winter it has been, snowy and cold like last year. Bee-wise it has been flat-out depressing. Following the debacle of the Francisville stolen honey frames, things only went downhill. Two more of my hives died, making a total of 4 dead and only one colony remaining. Those are some bad numbers - if I was a baseball player I'd be hitting .200 and riding the bench! As far as I can tell, these two hives met their demise because their populations were too small - both of these hives were queenless for a long period of time last summer and this hurt their numbers going into winter. One of the hives had zero pollen in it, which probably isn't enough to kill them but it certainly didn't help.

And as usual the silver lining is that I have lots of honey, pollen and drawn comb from my 4 dead-outs. After cleaning out the hives of bees I piled the equipment in my backyard - must have at least 80 pounds of honey sitting back there. Most, if not all, of that honey will go towards feeding my new colonies this spring (I'll get to that in a minute). My remaining living hive looks really strong and they should hopefully pull through the rest of this cold spring with no problem. If this hive is strong and the weather warms up a bit, I will split it into two hives in a few weeks.

Contrary to my beekeeping, this has been an awesome winter for me and the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild. In January I was elected President of the Guild. Then in February we had a hugely successful event when Ross Conrad came to speak to us. We had over 100 attendees come to Penn Charter School to see Ross and everyone was extremely happy with how the day went. After Ross gave his two talks, we had a showing of a documentary called Vanishing of the Bees. It was a great event which we hope to replicate in some form next winter.

In March the Guild held its first Beginner Beekeepers Course. Four of the Guild officers, myself included, planned and taught the course. We had 20 "students" and this day also went really well. For me it felt great to be teaching again, something I haven't done for quite a few years. We plan to offer more and longer courses in the future.

OK, back to the bees. To make up for my losses this winter I ordered 4 small cell packages from the Seaborns at Wolf Creek Apiaries. I have already installed two of the packages at one of my new apiary locations. Woodford Mansion is located in East Fairmount Park and was built in 1756. I want to say a quick thank you to Bruce Schimmel and Martha Moffat for helping this apiary location happen (Martha also took some of the pictures of me below). Here is the front of the house...

This site should be a great home for the bees - in addition to tons of nearby red maple trees (an important source of early spring pollen), there is a new orchard that was recently planted around the grounds of the house. And the bees will have the run of the entire East Park, they should find plenty of food. Here are some more pics...

 A new home

Two packages in trunk of my car
Beautiful frame of pollen from one of my other hives
Queen cage with attendant bees
When bee "packages" such as these are made up by suppliers, they take a queen from one hive and worker bees from multiple other hives. So the workers and queen don't "know each other" yet and if the queen was not caged, the workers would likely kill her. So when you are setting up a new hive from a package, you generally give the workers a few extra days to ensure that they accept the queen. The workers will release the queen by eating the candy (the white stuff on the left side of the cage) and revealing a hole which she can crawl out of and then get to work. There are many ways to introduce the queen and I tried a new technique this time. I attached a small piece of wood to the queen cage and slipped it under the front door, with the end of the wood sticking out of the front door for easy retrieval. The most typical way of introducing the queen is to stick the cage in between frames inside the hive. One problem with this method is that in a few days when you go back to check if the queen has been released, you have to disturb the bees and frames in the new hive. The "front door method" allows me to just pull the stick and queen cage out of the front door with minimal disruption to the hive. We'll see how it goes when I check on the hive in a few days.

Queen cage slipped under front door and into hive

Workers dumped on top of queen cage
Frames are in, dumping the stragglers into the hive
I installed two packages and everything went very smoothly, no problems. I will go back in a few days to check on the queen and see how the bees are taking to their new home. Here's hoping this year is better than last for the bees!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Support a Great Project!

Friend and fellow Guild officer Daniel Duffy is starting a project in West Philly that will train youth how to keep bees.  They will also sell their beehive products at farmers markets in Philly.  Watch the video below and if you are so inclined, make a donation to this project by clicking on the "KICKSTARTER" link in the lower right-hand corner of the video -

Saturday, January 22, 2011

CSI: Francisville

Well, unfortunately my suspicions were confirmed. Someone was indeed meddling with at least one of the hives that recently died. How do I know, you may ask?  Well, I broke down the hives in order to do a post-mortem and to see if I could determine the cause of their demise. As I was taking down one of the hives at the park, I quickly noticed that one frame was missing from one of the boxes - hmmm, I thought, it is unlikely that I neglected to replace a frame during my inspections, but hey, anything is possible.  When I got everything home and took a closer look, I saw that it was actually two frames that were missing.  Now, I might be forgetful sometimes, but there is no way that I put a hive back together with two whole frames missing.  Then, as I continue to examine the hive, I see this -

The honeycomb from this frame was cut out - look closely and you can see the thin vertical wire from the foundation in the middle of the frame. Someone just went and cut out the comb - amazing!
When I saw the frame with the comb cut out of it, I was kind of in shock.  It took me a few seconds to figure out what I was looking at, because I never expected to see something like this.  So, this confirmed it beyond the shadow of a doubt. There's a honey thief in my 'hood!! More important than the pilfered honey is that I will never know how often this person was messing with the hives and I'll never know how much of a role that played in the death of these hives.  So I don't stand to learn much about beekeeping from this, except that I need to be much more careful about hive placement in the future.  Here is a picture of part of the tiny cluster that I found in the robbed-out hive, there were so few bees in there it was sad -

The other hive had quite a bit more bees in it (though not a ton) and no obvious signs of tampering, so who knows what killed them.  There was still a lot of honey and pollen left in both hives, so the thieves did not take it all.  The drawn comb and all of that surplus honey (about 3 medium supers full) will give my new bees a great head start in the spring.  And if necessary, I can feed this honey to my other existing hives if they are running low.

Just another day in the wacky world of beekeeping in the city, I am undeterred...