Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Oh Doom and Disaster, What Absence of Mind!"

The title of this post is taken from a favorite children's book that we read in our house, Schnitzel Von Krumm - Forget Me Not and it succinctly sums up how I felt when I discovered the disaster in my bee yards this winter.  In the story, a family is packing their car to go on vacation while their little weiner dog, Schnitzel Von Krumm, excitedly runs around getting in the way of everything as they continually shoo him out of the way, too busy to mind him. Turns out that the family is so busy getting ready to leave that when they actually do leave, they forget to bring the dog with them. The following is the story of how I was so busy that I forgot some very basic beekeeping rules. I have been putting off writing this post because it still hurts when I think about what happened this winter with some of my bees; something that could have been prevented with a little less "Absence of Mind". If you are a beekeeper, please learn from my mistake! Well, here goes nothing...

On one of the warmish days in late February, I took the opportunity to make a quick check on my hives. I went to Woodford House first to check on the Honda swarm hive and the Conshy swarm hive. I pulled up and saw that the Conshy hive was flying but the Honda hive was not, which was a little strange because Honda had been the stronger hive and was heading into its 3rd summer. As I inspected the Honda hive, I didn't see any bees until I got to the 2nd to last box and I came upon a small cluster of dead bees. Hmm, OK, not the first hive of bees to have died under my watch, let's take it apart and see what happened this time. I go into the bottom box and I see an absolute mess. I see the rest of the cluster of dead bees, many of them decapitated. And I see comb that has been destroyed and chewed up, small wax flakes all over the place.

I'm thinking, what the hell could have done this? I have never seen this kind of destruction in a hive. Takes me a minute to realize the answer - Ohhh, I know, this must be what mouse damage looks like! Upon closer inspection, the tell-tale sign of mouse poop confirms my suspicion. I look down at the entrance to the hive and the entrance reducer, the little piece of wood that limits the size of the entrance, is not set on the smallest setting, which is what I usually do heading into winter to keep the mice out. A big mistake! Do I know for sure that the mouse was the reason this hive died? No, and it is even possible that the bees were already dead when the mouse moved in. But in this case I am going to assume that the mouse was at least part of the problem, if not all of the problem. There was plenty of honey in the hive, so that wasn't an issue. If a mouse takes up residence in a hive when the weather is still pretty cold, the bees won't break their cluster to try to drive the mouse out or kill it. So as long as the mouse stays away from the cluster of bees, it can have its way in the rest of the hive. DAMN, very stupid mistake!

I took a box of honey from this dead hive and put it on top of the hive next door, which was doing just fine (no mouse problem because the entrance was reduced to the smallest possible size - about the width of a few bees). So the tiny silver lining is that I have plenty of honey to donate to the remaining bees and maybe even enough for a small spring harvest. Here are some pictures...

Dead cluster of bees around the middle frame

Damaged frames, comb is chewed out

Top frame has wood damage in bottom left corner. Bottom frame has no comb left at all.

Bottom Board full of debris, dead bees and wax

Still kicking and cursing myself, I left Woodford and figured I should go check on my other Francisville hives just to take a quick look. Both of the hives in Francisville have been strong and healthy for the past few years. One of them was from a Wolf Creek Apiaries package and the other was from the removal job at Oakland Cemetery.

When I get to the apiary, I don't see any bees flying - not a good sign. I quickly open up one hive, taking off box by box and I am not finding a single bee inside the hive! Nothing, nada, zilch, zip, totally empty! As I get to the bottom two boxes, I see the same type of mouse damage I saw at Woodford, double DAMN! Now I am really upset. I move over to the next hive and repeat the same woeful experience - zero bees to be found, mouse damage for a third time! I am beside myself. My guess is that the mouse moved in and was somehow disturbing the bees so much that they said "We're outta here" and they just up and left, in the middle of winter, leaving behind pounds and pounds of honey!

Oh doom and disaster! A perfectly preventable disaster, assuming the mice were the cause. This was my worst day of beekeeping since I started this whole endeavor. The thought occurs to me that I am going to quit this beekeeping thing and the thought stays with me until I get home and pick up the phone to order some new bees for the summer. Is that a sure indicator that I am a full-fledged bee junkie? Wait, don't answer that...


  1. Adam,
    Thanks for the post. It takes guts to divulge all that and I am grateful you did. I've just moved my one remaining hive from a roof top to a garden and am wondering if I've opened the flood gates to beetles and mice. Get back on the horse and buy some mouse guards. See you around!- Chris

    1. Yes, Chris, it was not easy for me to write that and I definitely considered not doing it! But ultimately, as someone who fancies himself a teacher, I had to. Ya can't just report the good news! Thanks for the note of encouragement! - Adam

  2. Bleuuuuurgh. So far we haven't had to deal with mice. I don't mind mice, as long as they stay outside.

    Around here in Oakland California, we mostly have spiders living on the outsides of our hives, which is mostly okay except for the Black Widows.