After treating our hives a few weeks ago, we anxiously waited for a break in the weather to take a peek under the hood.
That break finally came on Tuesday , but the news wasn’t good.
Our plan was to check food stores and give all three hives a dose of probiotics to try to combat any possible side effects of the Oxalic Acid.
We opened Buzzers’ Roost and immediately saw the worst had happened. Though there was plenty of food (cleared away before taking the photo), there was no activity whatsoever.
Not a single living bee in sight, and not many dead.
Dreading what we might find, we opened FreeBees to find a similar sight.
Both hives seemed damp, so I immediately concluded they died from too much moisture. Bees can handle cold better than damp, so this is a possible explanation. “A wet bee is a dead bee,” is a phrase commonly bandied about by more experienced beekeepers.
The Engineer focused on how few bees there were, which reminded me of the number of dead we cleared out last time we were in the hives. Too few bees = not enough warmth because it takes a certain number to generate enough heat to keep the hive warm.*
Either of these could be the cause of the die-off. Or they could be merely a symptom.
The only thing we can rule out is lack of food.
Both hives had honey, which you can see above, as well as sugar patties. (And although the bee above looks like she is alive, she’s not.)
We knew NewBees were still alive, possibly thriving, because they were out flying.
They’ve been out more than the other two hives all winter, but we put that down to the difference in how they were winterized. “The Pink Igloo” has proven to be a simpler, and warmer, winter cover. Because it goes over the hive, with airspace in between, it gives our girls a means of getting outside the hive without having to face winter weather. And that space also allows air circulation to help keep their home drier.
Where do we go from here?
The Buzzers’ and FreeBees hives are gone, but we still have NewBees (crossing fingers, wishing hard, praying they make it to spring), plenty of drawn comb, and even some honey and pollen to help build new hives.
When the weather warms, we’ll move FreeBees into one of the empty boxes to begin that process. I’ve ordered a package of Saskatraz bees for the other.
In the meantime, The Engineer and I will take an afternoon to dismantle, clean, and try to autopsy Buzzers’ and FreeBees. If we can get an idea what happened, we can try to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. (On a side note, I think next year going into winter, there will be a row of pink palaces in our yard, rather than one pink and two black-wrapped hives.)
We will also be keeping a watchful eye on NewBees and hoping for a good spring nectar and pollen flow.
*Such disagreements and the resulting discussions are one of the many reasons I’m glad our beekeeping is a team effort. It’s been extremely helpful because although we work well together, we think differently and bring different skills to the job.
There were lots of bees flying today – it was 50-ish and sunny. And it wasn’t just cleansing either; these girls were going places. We didn’t see any pollen(still early for that), but they were definitely flying out somewhere.
This is a good thing because the the hive lid is looking more and more like a very messy ladies’ room.Check out the propolis on the screen.
Then, it was a look under the hood of both hives.
First, it was Buzzers’ Roost.
Followed by FreeBees.
As you can see, neither hive has eaten much of the sugar patties we put in a few weeks ago.
Once the hives were closed again, a few girls consented to some closeups.
According to The Ohio State GDD calendar (https://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/gdd/CalendarView.asp), we have a while yet before the Silver Maples bloom, and the bees can get some pollen. Hive Beetles have been a continual problem this year, especially in FreeBees, so we’re reluctant to put in any pollen patties because the patties seem to really attract them.
Still, we are cautiously hopeful our girls will survive the rest of winter.
The bee ball is continually in motion as bees from the cold, outer edges are replaced by bees from the warm center, thus keeping all (or at least most) of the bees warm enough to survive.
However, if a hive is too small, there may not be enough bees to keep the temperature high enough for survival, and the bees will freeze to death.
Starvation is another danger, caused by the bees not producing or storing enough honey for winter, having a greedy beekeeper take too much honey, or because the bee ball is too far from the honey to be able to reach it.
Winter is always worrisome for beekeepers, but for now, both our hives appear alive and well.
Did you notice Buzzers’ Roost bees seem to prefer the top exit, while FreeBees like the bottom? Why? My guess is it reflects where most of the bees are in the hive, which likely means that’s where the bulk of their honey is.
How do they decide where to store their honey? No one knows but the bees, and they aren’t talking. Folk wisdom says bees tend to start lower in the hive and move up, but we all know bees don’t always follow the rules.
After six weeks, two runs of antibiotics (along with two other prescriptions), and innumerable over-the-counter remedies, I finally feel like myself.
My daily chores, including helping Mom, no longer feel like insurmountable tasks.
And despite a somewhat bumpy holiday season, Mom’s also making progress. Not quite her previous independent self, but moving in that direction.
Christmas was low-key and lovely, thanks in part to Darling Daughter being home with her boyfriend (BF), though I must admit a (small) part of the wonderfulness can be attributed to the fact that they willingly(?) took on dish duty.
And everyone (including DD, BF, and The Engineer) was assigned a part of Christmas meals. Mom was not assigned a part, although she gamely offered to help.
The assignments were as follows:
Dutch Babies (not the diaper-wearing kind, see here for a recipe), scrambled eggs and toast, along with fresh blueberries, real maple syrup and butter, and Mimosas [Buck’s Fizz to my anglo-centric readers]): All cooking done by me. All cleanup by DD and BF.
Dinner Turkey, bread sauce, stuffing, Yorkshire Pudding – Me
Brussels sprouts and gravy made from the Bisto his sister sent (because he always says I make it too thick) – The Engineer
Carrots (because DD and BF do not like sprouts) – BF (grown by our CSA and done up deliciously with butter and honey)
Mashed Potatoes – Darling Daughter
All cleanup — DD and BF
Post-celebration snack during traditional family Scrabble game Mixed cheese plate with crackers, honey, and home-made hot pepper jam (delicious, although I may have been the only one eating the jam) — Me
It was great.
Well, I thought it was.
I’m not sure what everyone else thought because by that point, I was falling back into Sinus Infection, stage 2.
I do know how Mom felt about it because at her appointment on the 26th, she basically told her orthopedic surgeon the holiday was “Meh.”
At the time, I nearly jumped out of my chair because I felt like I’d made such an effort, despite still feeling so crappy.
She’d shared a wonderful breakfast, lovely gifts, and a delicious dinner with her family. What more did she want?
When I asked myself that question, the answer came almost immediately. What Mom wants is to not be old, with a broken elbow, depending on everyone else for the smallest task.
Sadly, I can’t make that happen.
What I can do is help her while she needs it, and try to help her become as independent as possible, given her age and physical condition.
So, that’s what I’m doing.
Thankfully (as I said earlier) it no longer feels like an insurmountable task.
I’m failing at the “goodwill to men” part of Christmas.
In fact, I’m failing Christmas full stop, and can’t raise the energy to care.
Usually our cards go out the day after Thanksgiving. This year, I’ve sent exactly two.
Forget decking the halls. The decorations are still packed in their boxes.
The Engineer and I did get them out of the loft, and bought our living tree, temporarily stationed in the garage where it makes me absurdly happy to see it every time I pull in. This is some progress, I suppose.
But, this is the time of year I’m normally busy delivering plates of baked goods, and the oven has been stone-cold all month.
By now, maybe you’re wondering how a Christmas-loving elf becomes a Scrooge, a Grinch, a fill-the-stockings-with-coal holiday drop-out.
Well, my mom fell on November 1. She went out with her cane, rather than her walker, and did a face-plant at the Verizon store. It’s a struggle for me to not to assign blame, so I will only say after she broke her forearm (both bones) in March, I have refused to take her anywhere without her walker.
This is because I noticed her doing what I call a dipsy-doodle — losing her balance briefly and recovering with a little side-step. She’s too heavy for me to pick up if she falls, so when she goes with me, she takes the walker.
She wasn’t with me. Furthermore, she’s an adult, certainly capable of making her own decisions, even if that choice results in a bruised face and broken (the orthopedic surgeon called it “crumbled”) elbow.
Do you know what happens when you are eighty-eight, live alone, with arthritis in your left shoulder and atrial fibrillation, and you break your right elbow (after breaking the same arm seven months earlier)?
They send you home from the emergency room with a note to see the orthopedic surgeon the following week.
Chance would be a fine thing. The earliest appointment available was November 26 — twenty-six days after the fall — although ultimately, she got in earlier due to a cancellation.
The ER report also recommended following up with her GP, but they always say that. As far as I know, no one told my brother the GP was the one who might help us coordinate care for our mother.
Here are some of the things Mom could not do unassisted:
Feed herself anything that required cutting.
Use the bathroom.
Walk, even with a walker (it takes two hands to steer).
Put in her hearing aids.
Clean her false teeth.
Feed her cat.
Clean the cat box.
Sweep the kitchen or bathroom.
Pour a glass of water.
Yet, they sent her home. And for various reasons, after about a week, the bulk of her care ended up falling to me, which meant going over each morning to help her dress and get set up for the day, and going back in the evening to get her to bed.
In between, I was terrified she would fall again, until finally she suggested checking herself into a nursing home for a few weeks until we could sort out some help.
There, at least, they had nurses on duty, aides to help her shower and dress, and a doctor to keep an eye on her progress.
The downside was, she mostly sat in her room. And then she caught a cold, which turned into a respiratory infection.
Still, it gave me time to organize some non-medical help for her. To my surprise, the doctor at the nursing home also wrote orders for a nurse, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist.
Meanwhile, on the day before I took Mom home (and several days before all the help kicked in), I got the flu, followed by a sinus infection and bronchitis.
The last time I felt that bad, I had pleurisy (which was way more painful, but a lot shorter lived). I could hardly raise the energy to get off the couch, but the thought of Mom sitting there waiting, unfed, unwashed, undressed, forced me to go. Because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure who would.
I should mention that I have several friends, as well as a cousin, who expressed a willingness to help, but, well, you can’t exactly expect a friend to clean your mother’s false teeth, can you?
To complicate things, I couldn’t bring myself to go to the doctor, even when I knew I needed antibiotics, because the last few times I saw a doctor, I was charged not only for the doctor and prescription, but also a “facility fee.” The Engineer calls this a charge for “the pleasure of walking on their tiles,” and since it was over $200 to essentially pay their electricity bills, I just couldn’t do it. (See my previous blog on the subject.)
Finally, I remembered some drug stores have clinics with nurse-practitioners and/or physician assistants. I went to one of them for a total cost of $109, plus about $5 for the prescription.
I know this post sounds whiny. Be thankful I didn’t have the energy to write it earlier when I was really feeling peevish. (And can I just say here what a brilliant word that is? Peeeee-vish. Somehow it sounds exactly like what it’s saying.)
Things are finally getting better. Mom has a helper three mornings a week, which means I’m only “on duty” for the remaining four, and she can get herself to bed. After she sent the aide home early one day, I’ve also signed off laundry as a task for the aides, instead of dragging it to my house and back.
This has freed me to do things like buy Mom a lift chair and one with arms for her kitchen table (to better enable her to get up on her own), take her to the doctor, buy groceries, and all the rest. Thankfully, I’m feeling well enough now so these no longer seem like insurmountable jobs.
I even got out for a walk today (walking, Yoga, and Pound class having been distant dreams for the last six weeks).
The “walkers” have been trimming the trees of our beautiful park as they do every year. The sight always makes me smile, and I’m sharing these pictures in the hope they’ll do the same for you.
Also, if you feel the need to hear the song that’s been rolling around in my head for the last week and a half, visit here to see a Youtube video of “We Need a Little Christmas” as sung by Johnny Mathis.
Eventually, I expect to feel energetic enough to put up a few decorations, wrap presents, and bake. It may not be Christmas as usual, but it will have to do. As John Lennon supposedly said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” (I just looked it up, and Lennon may not have been the first to say this.)
To sum up the Christmas part of this post, I encourage you to read some of the “Christmas Notes” on my original “Reading, Writing, Ranting, and Raving” blog. Just search “Christmas,” and see what you get. If this is too much work, go here to see the best Christmas carol ever, performed by Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I realize this is only an opinion, but I am a Christmas song aficionado, so feel my thoughts on the subject should bear some weight.
As always, I am grateful for your readership, and I promise not to make a habit of writing posts when I’m feeling cranky.
Wishing you a very merry Christmas.
Bee update: We winterized the hives a few days after Thanksgiving. First we pushed them together as close as we could, fit foam insulation between to keep in the warmth, and wrapped them together. We also put in shims, fit sugar patties in the open space, and put more foam insulation under the outer cover. The Engineer built a little shelter for them, which I’ve mentally dubbed “La Hacienda de la Apis Mellifera,” which if I’m translating correctly means “The House of the Honey Bee.”
On sunny days like today, a few crazy girls come out for little flights, even when it’s only in the thirties. Inevitably, a few end up in the snow. One of the (many) reasons I love my husband is because he always goes out, scoops them up, brings them inside to warm up, and then returns the survivors to the hive.
Yesterday morning, the ambient temperature outside was 4* F.
The hive was a toasty 82*.
We know this because the first thing I do each morning after I jump (or stagger) out of bed is aim my phone at the precise point where it receives Bluetooth reception from the hive. (It’s right under a spot where a bird made a small mess, which means I can never wash that window.)
Anyway, 82*. What a relief!
We had been bracing ourselves for the inevitable truth that the bees wouldn’t make it through winter.The daily readings had been dropping steadily since cold weather began until they were skirting the low 40s.
You see, bees die when their bodies hit about 40*. To survive winter, they form a “bee ball” and vibrate their bodies to generate heat. (See HoneyBeeSuite for a better explanation.) When there aren’t enough bees, they can’t generate enough heat, and the hive will die.
Between the Yellow Jackets and the Varroa, we weren’t sure we had enough bees.
Still, we clung to the hope that maybe the bees hadn’t reached the part of the box with the temperature sensor. Also, from time to time, bee corpses appeared on the “porch” and in front of the hive, leading us to believe they were still moving around inside, trying to keep order.
Or it could have been the bodies of bees mistakenly went out for some reason and froze.
See the bee bodies on the snow on the porch and the ground?
The hive scale was also showing a slow decrease in weight, but we’re new at this and weren’t sure how much to read into this, though we hoped it meant the girls were eating.
We just didn’t know.
Then, just a few nights ago, the temperature shot up an amazing 20 degrees overnight!
Glory bees! They’re still alive in there!
I’m trying not to get too excited. This doesn’t mean they’ll make it through winter. Many bees make it through the cold part of winter, but die in March because they run out of food.
But for now, they’re okay.
Side note and catch-up time: I was stunned to see my last post was all the way back in November! I apologize for the neglect, and proffer this small catch-up. We managed to move the hive away from where the Yellow Jackets appear to nest and where we hope it will get a little more sun. As part of the procedure The Engineer also shortened the legs of the stand and set up the scale. Then, on the last warm day in early December we seized the opportunity to replace the full honey super, and re-wrap the whole thing.
If we get a warm spell in January or February (above 50), we’ll take a peek and add sugar patties if they are near the top of the hive.
We’ve also learned a good snowfall can add ten pounds to the hive’s weight.
On an unrelated note — though maybe it’s an excuse for my lapse — we’ve been busy cracking black walnuts.
Yes, they fell in November, but you’d be surprised how many nuts two aging trees can produce. Every year, we think they’re dead, and every other year, they surprise us with a crop. This year, it was a bumper one. Harvesting them is a major pain, but that’s a post for another day.
Meanwhile, I hope you can follow our bees’ example and stay warm!
One more thing, if you’re really interested, you can check the temperatures (and in some cases, the weight) of hives around the country by visiting Beecounted.org.
Update: It’s -5* this morning, and the girl’s are still at 77*.