I have (another) problem.
It’s an amazing blessing to have so many people praying for Beeing Hopeful and donating to help the Women of Hope. A lot of people have been asking me about the bees. Usually I tell them the bee efforts are going well and our current plans for the future. However, now we’ve had a problem and the bees are not good at all. In fact, we are even worse off than when we started.
Our hive is a filthy wreck. The damaged hive led to infestation of termites and wax moths, which meant spoiled honey. It’s no wonder the bees have been testy. We needed to clean the hive so Dad and I hatched a plan. We would take one box and empty it of its honey. Then we could repair and repaint the hive box. After that we’d move on to the next box, transferring the combs from the current box into the refurbished box. From there we could clean out the next hive box and we’d do that for all three boxes. This method worked great on the first box we tried. We took the box to a separate location and set up three large floor fans. We were able to harvest a large amount of honey without getting stung. We set the box aside to wait for the remaining bees to leave then we got right to work and fixed it up. We thought we were doing great, we had honey and a clean hive and we were ready to move on to the brood box. The Langstroth hive (the kind that we have) is made up of wooden boxes and the bottom is called the brood box. This is where the queen lays all the eggs so that the eggs are separated from the honey. So when we were going to transfer the combs, we would also be looking for the queen. We took the clean hive down to where the others were and set up our gear. That’s when everything fell apart. Literally.
The box was filled with propolis, a black sticky substance that the bees make to use as glue. It’s everywhere! We can barely pull out the combs and when we do, they break apart in our hands. It’s easy to see why; termites have made tunnels through the frames themselves. The bees have been trying to keep them together with massive amounts of their black “homemade” glue. The combs were so old, they were almost black, and there are hardly any eggs and no queen to be found. Many of the combs have grown together so she might’ve been in there but there was too much damage already to try and break combs on purpose. We managed to get a few combs into the clean hive but many were destroyed.
I had no idea what to do next. We couldn’t take the combs, even though they had some honey in them, they were too old. We could discard them but we were afraid the bees would starve, because we had taken too much honey already. The only thing we could think of was set the honeycombs in the space between the boxes.
Any beekeeper reading this might cringe but honestly I was grasping at straws and I fully understand that I made the wrong call. We left the box we emptied to wait for the remaining bees to leave and we would come back next week to get the hive to clean it up.
Isn’t it funny how much can happen in seven days? Days seem to get longer everyday, (even though we live on the equator so they don’t) but still weeks are gone in a flash. We went down to check on the bees and to collect the empty hive and what we found almost made me sob.
The bees were gone. Wax moths had built their nests on the comb we left sitting. Wax moths eat and destroy combs by building cocoons of their larvae and burrow tunnels throughout the comb. The mere thought makes me want to puke. Also termites had retaken their territory and their tunnels ran all throughout the hive. The pests drove our suffering colony out for good. I knew that this was always a possibility; I just never thought it actually would happen.
Now that I really think it through, this is mostly my fault. We shouldn’t have left the combs sitting there and we should have moved the hive away from where we knew the termites have built a nest. But maybe this is a blessing in disguise, now we can have a fresh start with a new colony. We can begin at step one instead of step 46.
So what is our step one? We still need to clean out the hives and get rid of the pests (since the writing of the blog post, the wax moths hatched and are crawling all over the hive. It makes my skin crawl to think about it). From there, we’ll move the hives to a new location closer to our house and build stands to prevent termites from climbing into the hive.
Then we have two options. We could wait for swarming season, around March, and hope that bees find our baited hive. Or we could ask to take bees from a fellow beekeeper here where we live, but his bees are even angrier than ours were and we’d have to find the queen. Both options come with pros and cons, we are thinking we’ll do both and see which works best for our hives and us.
With our three boxes, we’ll start three different colonies, which will help with honey production in the early stages. Later on, we can build more boxes to go on top with frames that can fit a honey extractor. Then things go back to business as usual, bees foraging and making honey as we harvest it and create products.
Yes, it is frustrating and I know it’s mostly my fault. I feel like I’ve wasted a gift. A “no longer colonized” hive is just one more thing to worry about on top of the never-ending list. But I am very lucky to be in contact with some successful beekeepers. When I told them my problem, they offered very helpful advice and encouragement. So even though the little head start I had is now gone, I have hope for the future of Beeing Hopeful. Our plans have taken a few steps back, but isn’t that where you get a clearer vision? God hasn’t forgotten us or our bees that have found a new home. And with high expectations for these next few months, I think we’ll go even farther than we ever thought we would.