Scott and I decided to add bees to the farm this year. We added our first hive in April and a second in May, but now we only have one - because I made a huge error. Throughout the spring, we checked the hive every few weeks to get acquainted with our bees and learn our beekeeping tasks. Once summer arrived, however, we stopped going in the hive because it takes about 3 days for bees to adjust after a hive inspection, and we didn't want to stress them out too much. The heat this summer was stress enough for anyone, and daily exterior inspections indicated that the bees were doing well.
Fall is the time to resume hive inspections, but I failed to keep an eye on my calendar, and before we knew it November had arrived. That was simply too late. A week ago, the bees were busily buzzing about the hive. Now they are gone, and we have no definitive answers as to why.
Did the queen die? Was she superseded? Were the bees starving or did they sense that starvation was imminent given the amount of honey they had accumulated? These are questions we can't answer. What we do know is that the bees had stored away about 4 frames of honey (which wouldn't have been enough to feed them through winter) and quite a bit of pollen (that had begun to mildew) in the upper hive body, and that there were a fair amount of developing bees abandoned in the lower hive body. We saw no evidence of disease or infestation, just a fair amount of honey and a disturbing lack of presence.
We cut out the combs, melted the wax, and then separated the wax from the honey by straining the liquid through a cheesecloth. It's a messy business, but was well worth it (thank you Peggy!). We got 3 quarts of delicious honey and about three quarters of a pound of wax. If you count the cost of the bees and beekeeping equipment, (and don't factor in the wax) each quart of honey is worth about $60. Now that's an expensive education! Luckily the equipment can still be used, and we aren't done with this beekeeping business yet.
The bees we got in May are still alive and with us. We are feeding them sugar water now to help increase their winter stores and hopefully they'll stick around for the long haul. We plan to buy more bees in the spring, and this time I promise to pay better attention to the calendar (well, with a little help from Scott). For now, I'll just enjoy my honey and hope for better times ahead.