Chronicles of Honey Country
By Reynold Conger (Copyright 2012, all rights reserved)
During the In late summer, the second year of my reign, a large dog ran through the bee yard, knocking over bee hives. Our hive was one knocked over.
In the case of our hive, large staples attached the brood box to the bottom board. This prevented the frames in the brood box from being seriously damaged, but the winter box and super were sent flying and ended up some distance from the brood box. Fortunately I was in the brood box with a large number of worker bees. I ordered the colony into a defensive mode to protect the brood box, where a large number of larvae and pupae grew, but there was little we could do. Fortunately most of those bees who were in the winter box and super eventually made their way back to the brood box.
About a half hour later our patron and his wife came through straightening out boxes. The patron was heard to remark, “Not many of our colonies survived last winter, and the wax worm moth killed off most of the remaining ones. I’m not sure it is worth the effort to continue in the honey business.”
Someone turned our brood box onto its base, and seeing us inside, stuck a lid on the brood box. In doing so, the entrance of the box was turned north. Bee hive entrances usually face east so that field bees are warmed in the early morning as they start out to forage. With a north facing entrance, field bees did not start as early as usual. Production of nectar and pollen decreased. Damage control bees supervised the repair of damaged combs. Unfortunately, our living space had been considerably reduced, and our winter stores of honey and pollen had been cut by half or more.
I immediately ordered all drones, those lazy males, expelled from the hive. That would stretch our honey supplies.
For the rest August and early September, we worked to fill every available comb not being used for the growing brood, with honey. When the weather turned cold and nectar became scarce, I ordered scout bees to search for external honey supplies.
The report was not good. Most of the bee boxes had simply been piled into large stacks. Only one other colony survived and they were having troubles of their own. The scouts found our winter box. Of course all brood were dead, but the frames with honey stores were still there. They also found our super in one of the stacks of boxes. It was empty. The patron had taken the frames to extract honey from them. Two or three hive boxes were scattered about with honey stores in them, but no bees.
I ordered the bees to raid our winter box and those unoccupied hive boxes with honey. We lived entirely on raided honey, preserving our stores of food. During warm weather, this worked, but on cold days, the raiders got chilled. Many of them died. About the time, the weather got too cold for bees to work outside the hive box, I got reports that there was little honey to be had outside the hive.
Considering how short of food we were, I expected the patron to insert a feeder into our box. That would at least allow us to survive on sugar water, but no one touched the hive after the day the dog knocked it down. I realized we were on our own.
We went on half rations. Many bees died prematurely. The remaining bees were weak and hungry.
On warm days, scout bees searched for stores of honey to raid, but seldom found anything that was not in an active and defended hive. The temperature in the hive dropped slightly, but not enough to kill the brood.
“You majesty,” said an excited worker. “We have a mouse.”
“A mouse?” I said.
“Yes, a mouse just inside the entrance eating honey combs.”
Mice are always a risk. Small mice can often squeeze into the entrance of a hive even when patron has narrowed the entrance for winter. Ours had not been narrowed. With our depleted numbers it was difficult to keep enough guard bees at the entrance. In any event, mice have a knack of slipping quietly into a hive without being noticed until they have eaten their fill of honey. Even a with a full complement of guard bees, hives are frequently invaded by mice. In the close quarters of the hive, it is difficult to deliver enough stings to send the mouse packing.
With dwindling food stores and the colony already on half rations, a mouse in the hive was a serious crisis.
“Your majesty, we think he just entered the hive. He has only started chewing on a comb.”
“Attack the mouse with all available bees. We must try to drive him back out or we starve.”
The first wave of bees attacked the mouse. That distracted him from eating, but accomplished little more than the deaths of the attacking bees.
One of the guard bees flew up to me. “Your majesty, a snake. We tried to drive it out but it is very difficult to plant a stinger in a creature with scales. It is only a small snake, but he is all the way into the hive.”
“Just what we need. Another threat to the hive.”
to be continued