by Reynold Conger
We never learned the reason, but most of the colonies in the bee yard had died. Then a large dog had run through the bee yard knocking over hives and scattering boxes. Our hive had been knocked over, but then some kind human had turned it upright and dropped a cover on the top. The winter box had been lost, but we had a hive intact. As queen, I directed the struggle that fall to stay alive, but with hard work and rationing we survived until a mouse invaded the hive.
I could never understand how mice make it through the small entrance slot of the hive, but they do. The mice are attracted by the warmth of the hive and the availability of the food. We could not afford to let the mouse eat our honey or the larvae.
As we battled the mouse, reports came to me that a small snake had slithered into the hive. I had never seen a snake, and there was no time to consult the historian bees who, by memory, passed historical information from generation to generation. I assumed the snake would be a threat, but it did not seem interested in the food stores or the larvae. It slowly slithered through the hive until it came upon the mouse. After a short struggle, the snake ate the mouse. A few frames were physically damaged, but the snake had been our savior. It spent most of the winter basking in the warmth of our hive as the mouse was digested. Eventually it slithered around scratching off its skin. Again more damage, but damage that could be repaired. The snake was a blessing, It kept us free of mice.
Warmer weather brought the promise of nectar. With our numbers depleted, I hesitated to send out too many scout bees, but one warm day in late February, a scout bee reported blossoms on the apricot trees. The field bees swarmed out and collected nectar until the cooling temperatures of late afternoon drove everyone inside. With the warming weather, the snake left in search of food, but there was hope of being able to feed the colony. My concern was space. We needed most of the space in the brood box just to raise new bees to replace older bees as they died. Where would we store next winter’s food stores?
A nurse bee rushed up to me. “Your majesty, wax worms are destroying the nursery combs.”
“How did a wax worm moth get in?” I asked.
The captain of the guard bees. when summoned answered, “Our patron did nothing to reduce the size of the entrance. As you know, our numbers are low. The guards are stretched thin to defend the entire opening. I can not explain how or even when, but if we have wax worms, a moth got in somehow. We will sting those we can reach, but most of them are deep within the wax of the combs.
The guard bees did their best, but occasionally other wax worm moths got in and laid eggs.
It was bad enough that brood combs were damaged to the point that some of the larvae died. Other combs were damaged so badly, that when filled with honey, they collapsed, falling from the frame to the floor.
As hard as we tried, we could not increase the population of the colony. More foraging bees were needed to bring in food. As it was, we were eating most of the nectar and pollen as it was brought in from the fields. We needed more housekeeping bees to repair the damaged combs. There were barely enough nurse bees to care for the larvae.
Eventually we had to abandon the end frame because it was so badly damaged. Debris, collapsed combs and threads of silk from the wax worms, filled the space between the wall of the box and the damaged frame. Over the course of a month, we had to gradually retreat as one frame after another was damaged beyond repair.
A typical bee box has ten frames on which the housekeeping bees build combs either for reproduction or for food storage. By the end of June, We had abandoned all but three frames at the far end of the box from where the wax worm attack had started, and one of those was partially damaged. My small colony was squeezed into about one quarter the space we should have had in the brood box. Wild bees work without frames and build what is known as burr combs, hanging from what ever support can be found. In desperation, the housekeeping bees began to build burr combs in a gap between the last two frames. This gave us a few more cells for raising larvae.
I was at my wits end. There were barely enough open comb cells for laying eggs. As larvae hatched, the housekeeping bees worked as hard as they could to clean the cells for the next batch of my eggs. I did not know where we would store honey or pollen, but that hardly mattered because we were consuming almost all of the nectar and pollen being brought in.
Human voices could be heard from outside. Guard bees spread the alarm that two humans had walked up to the box. Since they were not wearing protective suits, we doubted it was patrons. More likely they were honey thieves who would destroy the hive looking for honey. We prepared to protect our hive.
To be continued
Copyright 2012 by Reynold Conger. All rights reserved.
I wish a Merry Christmas to all