I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bring out your dead...

…I’m not dead yet!” I couldn’t resist a little Monty Python reference  I am thrilled and happy to report yesterday afternoon when my friend Michelle drove me home, as we were pulling into the driveway, there were bees industriously buzzing around the newest hive. I was stunned and excited and could have done cartwheels out of the car! God heard our prayers.

Yesterday evening when Fred got home from work we went out to watch the new hive for a bit to see just exactly what was going on. It is still too soon and too cold to open it to really make any judgment about how they fared so we just watched. One of our books says: a good sign that a new hive has successfully reared a queen is that the bees look purposeful, instead of coming out of the hive and just hovering around without directions. Good worker bees, when leaving the hive, should do so with purpose and return in the same manner. We were hoping to observe just that. What we saw was ever more interesting in the extreme.

Bees can carry massive amounts of weight. You will often see them with their leg pouches bulging with pollen. They carry water, nectar and sometimes honey back to their hives for all kinds of uses. What we never realized until yesterday was: a bee can carry more than its weight, for a significant distance, all in the name of survival.

Can you imagine? I cannot. I know how hard it was to carry all my bunker gear, an air tank, a charged hose and an TNT tool a hundred feet or so into a building. This was with the help of grown men and all of these things together only represented around half my body weight. I cannot fathom picking up a body slinging it over my shoulder and carrying it for the equivalent of miles! This is exactly what we watched the girls do yesterday evening.

If you remember, from Monday’s blog, there was a myriad of dead and half dead bees pressed against the entrance to our newest hive. Fred and I basically assumed we had killed our first attempt at “splitting” but decided to leave it alone in hopes that the warm temperature might find some Lazarus bees stepping from their death rags. We are still not sure why the bees did not go back into the brood box when the temperature started to drop we can only speculate that it dropped too quickly and that the rains came too swiftly leaving them stunned and drowning. As sad and upsetting as it was, we realize there was nothing for us to do but wait. So we left them. You can imagine how ecstatic we were when we realized some of them were still alive.

So, yesterday evening as we watched, what we witnessed was quite bizarre. If a bee dies or is killed in the hive you will often see several worker bees dragging the deceased to the front and pushing them out the entrance and off the lip of the hive, like a little unceremonious funeral procession. But apparently a multitude of dead bees calls for a more drastic solution. We watched as worker bees flew from the hive, clutching the dead bodies of one of their sisters in their arms and flying off into the horizon. When they returned they were empty handed. I do not mean they flew several feet or several yards from the hive I mean they flew away until we could no longer see them.

I am riddled with curiosity. I would love to know if they took the bodies somewhere specific or merely a certain distance from the hive and why? Was it because even bees do not like the decaying smell of corpses at their front door or was it to avoid attracting predators or disease? It is fascinating how similar they are to us in their basic needs and impulses. I could not help but be reminded of the Monty Python excerpt when during the plague they go around collecting the dead (and the not so dead) and disposing of the bodies.

All that aside, as interesting as it was to watch, Fred and I decided to help them out and remove the remainder of the dead from the entrance to the hive. Worker bees are notorious for working themselves to death and, of course this was a new hive which had seriously smaller population to begin with. We are still unsure how many of our new colony survives and we did not wish to kill a precious few by letting them work themselves to death removing their dead when really they should be tending the brood and collecting supplies. Also with the temperatures still dangerously low we feared they would easily get out and get too cold trying to fulfill their duties leaving them unable to return and further depleting the colonies numbers.

So we brushed away the remaining dead, which were significantly fewer than we had originally assumed, we don’t know if this was because they’d already efficiently carted off the bodies or if more had survived than we originally assumed. Whichever, there were probably only about thirty dead bees remaining.

Our next major concern was, with the depleted hive number, would there be enough bees to keep themselves and the brood warm through the rapidly falling temperatures which we knew would approach freezing over night. Normally, in a healthy full hive this is only a minimal concern in the spring. Some of the outlying brood towards the edges of the hives will normally succumb to the cold, dying in whichever stage they were but we worried that without a significant number of bees in the new hive they would not even be able to keep themselves warm. We decided to drape the new hive in a comforter, leaving the entrance exposed for ventilation.

We still do not really know where we stand or if this hive will survive but we are reminded in this trial that God perfects his work in our weakness. II Corinthians 12:9 tells us “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” God is faithful and just and he has chosen to spare our bees, for at least the moment. As our first real foray into anything “self-sustaining” the bees represent a great deal more to us than just an investment. They have come to be a symbol of our struggles and the day to day challenges of living a more thoughtful “green” existence.

Hopefully, our chicks will arrive today. The coop is almost under roof. And the next chapter in our adventure begins…

Thank you for reading, much love,


  1. LONG LIVE THE BEES! (and Chicks!)

    - LuAnn

  2. So happy for the little creatures God has allowed you to learn from. He is teaching you so much more than just about bees, but of course you know that. :) Did you go to Journalism School? You are certainly a very good writer, I am just curious. No need to answer really, I'm sure you have much to do. Thanks for sharing! God Bless!


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