Dead out and the change of light…

Despite the fact that it was just above freezing and spitting sleet, I was desperate to get some food on my hives and see how they had weathered the winter.

Summer bee keeping attire looks like this:


Winter attire is a bit more subdued:


At times the storm clouds thinned, the light changed to golden-yellow and it looked as if the rain had stopped. I chose one of those moments to race out and loosen the bear-straps. No sound and a disheartening pile of bees on the top of the frames. The pollen patty I had put on late last fall was almost gone but the silence was deafening. I pulled a few frames just to see if I could see or hear life. Nothing.


A mix of rain and snow started to splatter down again and the light shifted. I pulled out a few frames and sadly saw piles of bodies.


Not wanting to inflict any more pain incase a small colony remained, I peeled a patty and left it with a wish for life.


Trudging on the crusty snow, I crossed my fingers the second hive was stronger and had somehow survived. There were no bodies littered about or smears of golden bee poop. Not a good sign. To my horror, this hive had plenty of patties left, and thousands of dead bodies.


It was a total Dead Out. No one survived to clean the hive.

As sad as this is, I struggle to remind myself it is me meddling with nature and two years of  growing the hives was worth the education which drives me to start over. They did make a difference, my neighbor’s gardens were lush and my flowers were glorious. I’ve become comfortable working with them in the lazy heat of summer and am still enjoying the fruit of their labor. My remaining jars of honey from this first chapter are more precious now.

Later, I sat by the window review the photos. Outside the window the hives remind me of tombstones in the gray light. The storm shifted again and the yellow glow returned. Bathed in weak sun, the tombstones melted into hives again and the promise of new life in the Spring.


22 thoughts on “Dead out and the change of light…

  1. Sorry to hear about your bees. Stick with it, and think about the happy post you can deliver when it all works out well next time! Savor the remaining honey and enjoy.

    • Thanks Laura. I won’t know for absolute sure until I can take the hives apart. I expect that to be a warm day in April. But I can’t imagine the winter didn’t have a huge impact on them. We had so many days and nights of double digit sub-zero weather I think they ran out of food.

  2. Do bees ever “abandon ship” if the colony starts to die in great numbers? I can’t imagine it as cold as it has been. I wonder how many others in your area lost their bees. That will be a real problem for the commercial operations when they go to place hives for the farmers.
    So sad. Hope things improve soon.

    • Thanks Chris. They do “abandon ship’ as you said when they swarm but never in winter. Many here lost hives. I think the commercial bee keepers are mostly down near your neck of the woods where the weather is more kind and they truck bees to CA and AZ.

      I will rebuild, just as you would replant your glorious gardens if something wiped them out. That’s just what we do.

  3. (Bear straps. Hadn’t thought of that, but those must be necessary or you and the bees would be running a paw-thru for the furry inhabitants)
    Very sad about the hive. Odd as it may seem, I hope it was the cold and not the mysterious thing killing so many hives. Your bees did so much good for the neighborhood.
    (Does your dog bark at the hives? Molly would – although she leaves individual bees alone, a whole buzzing hive might be far too interesting for her)

    • Thank you Phil. I should also have bear fencing but aesthetically it irritates me. I do think it was the cold, they ran out of food and froze trying to get to the patties. The tops of the hives were insulated but we had weeks of double digit sub-zero days and nights.
      Alice shows little or no interest in the bees. Luckily her skin is very thick and they would have to sting her nose for her to notice.

      • I read online about a guy who insulates his hives with plain tar paper in the winter and makes a special opening at the top. Something about condensation…not being into bees I missed that part.

      • Thanks Chris. Up here we wrap in insulated “cozies” and put a layer of homosote boards on the inside top. The boards tend to prevent condensation, a very real problem with cold and snow, but despite my best efforts I think it was just too cold for too long. I suspect they ran out of food, though one hive still had plenty of patties. It is so sad to look out at them now. Hoping for Spring so I can recolonize and hear their lovely hum again soon!

    • Allen, I do think it was the cold. They couldn’t get out to clean the hive and it looks like they froze getting to the patties I left, though there was tons of insulation. I will buy more bees and begin again. Two years was a good run and I have learned a lot from them.

  4. My daughter attends an exceptionally rigorous academic university where it’s safe to say that most likely few if any of the students have ever experienced failure in their lives on their way through high school. One of the things that made me nearly leap with joy when I went with her to her freshman orientation weekend was a lecture given by most of the department heads and upper classmen. They announced to the parents, “Just want to give you all the heads up, because it’s nearly guaranteed that while your child is here on campus during their first or second year, they will fail at least one course. They will be shocked and likely mortified, but that’s the way we’ve set it up. It’s necessary that they experience failure now and often, as when they are in the world of science and technology once they leave us, they will be facing failure after failure after failure. And we cannot have them give up. We depend upon them to recover and move forward. This is life.”
    I look forward to seeing your new beautiful batch of honey bees, Martha. Here’s to spring!

    • Thank you! I prefer to think of it as life lessons rather than failure. Bees will be bees and there is only so much we can do, right? As to our children learning to deal with these lessons and move on, your story warmed my heart!!

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