…or not. This morning found Fred and me standing out in a drizzly icy cold mist desperately and futilely ripping the wire mesh from the front of our first attempt at an artificial swarm. Today would have been the 4th complete day of secluding the hive. Every proceeding day, since we had isolated them in hopes of rearing a new queen, we have found noisy angry bees pressing up against the wire. Up until this point we had taken that as a good sign. Angry bees are active, alive bees. To create a new colony, bees must be isolated in their new hive from three to seven days. Seven is ideal if the new hive is close to the old one, that way the bees will not just up and go home to their old digs.
Our main concern, up until today of course, had been leaving the new queen in seclusion for too long and thus causing her to miss her mating flight. This would leave us with a virgin queen. She would be incapable of laying eggs and eventually she would have to be killed and the colony re-queened. That possibility was traumatic enough for us novice beekeepers. This morning we learned that we have bigger problems.
As we went out shortly after sun-up our plan was to determine what additional supplies we would need to finish the chicken coop and make a trip to 84 Lumber. We had not planned to do anything with the bees today. Yesterday we moved the new colony to its permanent foundation and with the weather being rotten we were going to leave them alone until the anticipated warm up on Wednesday when we planned to release the hive. While Fred headed down to the building I decided to go ahead and take a peek at the girls and remove the edges of soggy newspaper which were making our new hive extremely unattractive. As I got closer I realized that my new hive was extremely still. Now at first I did not worry too much about this because it was extremely wet and noticeable cool this morning, neither of which are conditions that honeybees enjoy so usually they stay deep inside the hive doing routine maintenance on days like today. Plus, it was only about eight a.m. getting up and out of the hive at this hour is considered too industrious for bees which tend to make warmer flights later in the morning.
The closer I got the more worried I became. Our two oldest hives look normal. No bees at the entrance (they huddle deep in the brood box in a ball when it is cold to conserve heat). The new hive, however, was a mess. Bits of what appeared to be now dead bees pushed awkwardly up to and through the mesh screen. I began to tear at the tape holding the screen to the hive body while yelling frantically for Fred to come up from the building. I didn’t realize it but Fred had stapled the mesh for fear the tape would slough off in the rain. Fred came quickly and began to pry at the staples with his pocket knife. As we finally tore loose the screen we gazed helplessly on the pile of seemingly dead bees crowded at the entrance of our newest hive.
I felt tears well up in my eyes. They’d been strong yesterday evening before the rain. Yes, they had still been crowded at the entrance but I assumed that nature would take over as the rain set in and they would move deeper into the box to unhappily plot my demise. I was wrong. You see bees cannot fly very well once their wings become damp they become veritable cripples. That is why when it begins to rain the bees will suddenly crowd at the entrance to the hive rushing to get back in. I have been told, and seen on beekeeping videos, that bees can drown mere centimeters from their hive entrance as their bodies become weighted down with water and they are prevented from crawling back into the hive by the force of the rain drops. Sometimes when it is warm out and the rains are short the bees will dry out as the sun emerges and there will be a happy ending.
I fear this will not be the case for our fledgling hive. They were struck with the doubly cruel force of a driving rain and the rapid decent of temperatures. I am afraid that some of my girls drown and some simply, for lack of any better explanation, died of exposure becoming too cold in the night and being trapped against the screen unable to return back into the brood box. I cannot estimate how many little bee bodies lay at stark and horrifying angles in a tangled mess against the hives entrance. I was appalled and struck dumb by feelings of guilt, loss and failure. Fred reached down and began to remove their little corpses from the run but as he did so we could see the occasional twitch of a wing or a leg. I told him not to kill them although I was torn between the mercy of killing them and the selfish desire to leave them alone in fervent hope for their recovery.
The temperatures today have remained well below what I had hoped and the drizzling cold rain will trap any survivors in the hive at least until warmer dryer temperatures prevail. This leaves Fred and me in a painful and anxious waiting pattern. We cannot open the hive to check for survivors because if there are any they will be few and we would surely doom them by allowing elements to permeate their new hive. When I had composed myself enough to quit sniveling I put my ear to the box and tapped lightly on the side. I did hear a faint buzzing but I do not know how many survivors remain inside. If there are too few and the nights remain cold and the days remain rainy they will surely freeze or starve.
Right now I am very low in spirit. I know that God’s eye is on the sparrow and the beast of the field. I know that he knows the number of hairs on my head and the needs of my soul. I pray that he sees fit in his infinite wisdom to spare my little hive but whatever happens I pray that Fred and I willingly give ourselves to God's plan. The selfish, human part of me does not want our first major attempt at anything monumental to be a failure. I do not want this to set the tone for the rest of our endeavors. I will update as soon as something is clear.
Thank you for praying for us and thank you for reading.
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."