There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. --- Henry David Thoreau

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best -- " and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do,
there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. -- The House at Pooh Corner

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Hard Luck Hive

This hive has again got some bees in it. I figured these particular bees were so unlucky that the Hard Luck Hive was the perfect home for them ....

I got a call from my experienced Beek mentor friend down the road. Not far from us a landowner had done quite a bit of hollow tree felling on his land down by the Willamette River. There were some cotton woods and some oaks falling over that had big hollow centers and six-foot-diameter trunks.  Somehow a limb on one of the old cottonwood trees still standing had broken off and was lying in the grove. The limb was hollow and had a very old feral bee colony inside. The limb had disintegrated when it hit the ground and there were combs and tree bark and "bees everywhere".  Did we want to come save them?

A quick look revealed that there wasn't much left of the colony: about four or five dinner plate-sized combs representing the remains of the brood nest were on the ground, scattered around were a bunch of pieces of  honey-filled comb. Everywhere there was a bunch of empty dry old comb, in colors from brownish to black. The hive had been laying in the open for a least a day, maybe longer. However there were still a lot of nurse bees tending the brood comb and there was a chance they had kept some of the brood larvae alive. They were a bunch of little Russian-looking feral gals.We tossed a tarp over the whole 'crash site' and I quickly went and got my rescue box and equipment.

I debated for a while with myself to decide which hive I should make ready for them. I had an unpainted new Lang, two vacant KTBHs, the redwood Warre` I had built this winter, and the Hard Luck Hive. Since the Hard Luck Hive was still assembled and in place, it was the best choice; although I would have to 'smoosh' some of the comb into place below the top bars. (I would have had to do that with Lang frames too, and the Kenyan TBHs would have taken a lot more surgery on the exposed combs.)

It was easy to pick up the brood nest, since it was still relatively intact. All the combs stayed together and all the bees just clung to them as I gently laid them in the bee rescue box. Most every one of the 'flyers' orbiting the crash site flew into the box too. There weren't any drones or foragers that we could see. At first I thought that maybe in the limb crash they had all flown away; but on further reflection, I now think that since it is the end of winter, there weren't any more bees present during the disaster but the brood nurses and the queen. I estimate there was only a half-pound to a pound of bees present, altogether. I picked up all the honey comb I could locate, a couple of larger pieces of the empty dried comb and took everything home.

Once home I put the central section of the brood nest and nurse bees in the top box of the Warre`, and secured the combs to the top bars with twine. I leaned the smaller portions of full comb on either side and put the honey-filled comb below it and on the edges of the brood. Since it's still cold out and the brood nest had already been very exposed to the elements, I didn't try to separate any of the combs looking for the queen. She's either in there or she's not. I'll know soon enough.  I just closed up the hive quickly and made sure everything was as welcoming to the new occupants as I could make it. Other than that, I'm leaving them alone to sort themselves out.

We've had a couple of warm afternoons since I put them in the hive.  I was relieved to see a few foragers out and about, going in and out of the hive every time the sun came out. They seem to be happy to be here.

I dunno if the brood larvae have survived the crash. I dunno if there's a queen. If the colony can survive a week or two there will be nectar and pollen aplenty, so they have a chance to make it. If they deplete the honey stores that came with them, I can feed 'em. It would be a good sign if they were depleting those stores, it would mean some new bees were hatching. If the brood hatches and there's no queen, I can always combine them with Ed's Country Bee colony.

They're Hard Luck Bees, but they have a chance now, dontcha think?

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