As I travel along this MooseBoots trail, I think it equally important to share my foibles, as well as my successes. Indeed, most of my learning is a direct result of one misstep or another. Mistakes, errors, and blunders provide very fertile ground for true understanding and profound wisdom. In this spirit, and with sadness in my heart, I share this.
This year, like last, the bees did not make it through the winter. The failure was for a completely different reason this year. Last year, the bees were queen-less, probably from the beginning. This year, the hive was healthy and strong. I watched as the bees built bar after bar of comb. I watched as the bees gathered pollen and nectar, filling the combs with honey. I kept an eye on the comb as it was filled and capped with honey. In summary, this is the way a healthy hive behaves and grows.
I knew that the bees were dead before I opened the hive. I hoped to find a cause ... where had I failed them? So, I removed the cover and the comb-less bars and the feeder, which I had left in the hive. Very quickly I got my first clue into the reason for their demise. There was plenty of honey, in fact it was dripping onto the floor of the hive. So, they did not starve, which was my guess. In a mild winter like we had this year, the bees can stay active and deplete their stores of honey before the spring. This was not the case.
The pile of bees in front of the entrance provided all of the explanation that I needed. The bees, trying to keep the hive warm to protect the colony, had piled themselves up in front of the opening to keep the wind out. They had frozen to death. Clearly, I did not protect them from the elements enough ... wind is deadly to bees because it sucks the warm out of the hive.
We want to honor the bees to the best or our humble ability. We cleaned the dead bees out of the hive. Then, in the interest of helping out the next set of bees, who arrive in May, by giving them a head start, we left the brood comb and some of the honey comb. Of course, if you read the previous post, you know that we had neighboring bees raid the empty hive and take the honey back to their hive. We gathered some of the remaining honeycomb and put it into a bucket, still undecided as to how to use it.
In order to better protect the bees this coming winter, we have moved the hive closer to the house. This will reduce the exposure to the cold winter north winds. Further, the hive will be exposed to more sun, keeping it a bit warmer. Wendy and I plan to build a straw bale "house" around the hive(s). The bales will be used in the spring as raised garden beds. In spite of the fact that the past two years have been a phenomenal learning experience for us, we hope to be able to keep the colony alive this year. Better would be to have them alive and strong enough to produce a swarm next spring.
Today, to honor the bees, I made 6 gallons of mead, with an added 1/2 cup lavender flowers. The mead should finish out at about 10% alcohol with a lovely lavender flavor and smell. I was reading, in Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation, that traditional mead, brewed with all of the hive parts (honey, comb, propolis, pollen, and even bits of bees) is very healing and, so, I used crushed up comb for the wort. I have never made mead, but it seemed appropriate to remember them this way. We also jarred up 2 quarts (1.9 liters), or 6 pounds (2.7 kilograms), of raw honey for us to eat.
So, with a hopeful heart, and a profound sense of gratitude, I eagerly anticipate re-populating the hive in May. My neighbors remarked, last year, that the had never seen their plants so healthy, which they attributed to the healthy hive in my backyard. I look forward to a successful, mutually beneficial relationship, with these fascinating, incredible beings as I continue plodding my way along this MooseBoots journey.