Beekeeping Disaster

Remember how I mentioned a while back that I was feeling a bit off with beekeeping? Well last Saturday certainly did not help.

Earlier this year, Mackay and I sold four nuc hives, and Saturday was the day to see three of them out the door. The fourth was built on Saturday for delivery in mid-May. And good thing it was, because Saturday was a disaster. First, Hive 1 and its nuc went really well. The hive is strong, the nuc is strong, the queen looked great and was easy to spot…. No issue. In fact, midway through, Mackay looked at me and said, “The magic is back!” And it was. On to hive 2!

Hive 2 and its nuc, as it often seems to be, was a duplicate of Hive 1. In fact, we found the queen even faster. Oh how nice this trip was turning out to be! On to hive 3!

If you remember, Hive 3 (formerly Hive 5) was our gynormo hive of two weeks ago. From this hive, we had split off two nucs and still had a fully supered hive. It was incredible. So in we went to find the queen. No queen. No queen anywhere. But the nucs looked okay with eggs and brood and so on. We did see quite a few drone cells as well. Definitely on the high side, but not so high that I panicked, which I think I should have now.

At this point, Mackay had to leave, and we were approaching about 75 minutes in the hive. However, since one of those nucs was going out today, I had to find the queen. So back in I went by myself, this time using some extra boxes I had from some unused equipment to make the search a little easier. I searched everything. The hive, the two nucs… everything. No queen. I was at this point pretty frustrated, but I had seen eggs in both nucs and the hive. I had even seen eggs on the bottom of the cells instead of the walls. Again, lots of drones, but not so much that I was panicked.

By now, this particular hive had been open for about 90 minutes. Definitely time to close it up, especially since the bees were getting pretty darn mad (I used gloves for the first time in a long time). I determined that I would tell the guy who was buying the nucs that evening what I had found (or hadn’t found), and see what he thought.

That evening, he came by. I pointed out that the first two nucs were ready, were solid, and that I had seen the queen and everything looked great and ready to go. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen a queen in the third nuc, that I was concerned about it, but I thought it okay to go. I told him that if he didn’t see evidence of a queen within a week, I would send him money to get a queen (there is a supplier pretty close to him). That seemed fair, and we both agreed to it. I wasn’t too concerned because I had seen that third queen pretty recently.

So today… I get an email from the guy asking for a refund for that third nuc. I can’t say I blame him. He had another friend (a beekeeper) come and help him install that nuc, and they looked it over and found some pretty strong evidence of a laying worker (groan…), something I had missed in the ordeal of Saturday and because, frankly, I wasn’t looking for one. I didn’t think to look for one since I had seen her not too long ago and everything looked well.

We talked about it for a bit, and I agreed to the refund (I’m not in this for the money). But then I started thinking about the rest of Hive 3 and that fourth nuc we created from Hive 3 on Saturday. I started to put two and two together, and I’m thinking now that Hive 3 is a goner. If there was a laying queen in that nuc, my guess is she came from Hive 3 when I created that nuc originally. It would certainly explain the masses of drones. But it also means that those eggs I put into that fourth nuc? Drone. All of them. It would also explain the lack of the queen in Hive 3. At first I assumed I had just missed her (she’s not marked), but I don’t think so anymore.

So what to do…. Yes, I know what I could do, but I’m wondering what I will do. See, Mackay and I are both exhausted. When we sold the nucs, we were excited and ready to go. Now? We’re tired. We’re both feeling quite overwhelmed with school, work, family, and church responsibilities. Bees are something that is easy to drop right now, and we had already agreed to do just that, which is why we sold our two new packages to Lee. So what to do with Hive 3….

The hive is currently strong enough that if I can get rid of the layer, we’ll be fine. When we opened up 3 on Saturday, the hive was literally boiling over with bees. It looked like a full production hive in July. The thought of first moving and then dumping all those bees to get rid of the layer sounds… tiring. It really does. Exhausting. And yet, I know that I should. Had this happened last summer, this wouldn’t even be a question. Now? It’s a handy excuse to get down to just two hives.

Courtney and I were talking about it on my lunch walk today, and I came to the conclusion that I’m done. I’ve really enjoyed it, but I think I’m done. And not done-done, just taking a rest. Maybe.

I’m not going to kill off the hives, but I honestly can’t quite get up the desire to launch into managing them either. Having, yes. Managing, no. Not right now.

I’m going to talk to Mackay about it tomorrow, but don’t be surprised if we commit to getting that fourth nuc done (I’m a man of my word), and then leave Hive 1 and 2 fully supered and see you in August. As for Hive 3, I’m not going to buy a new queen. I just don’t care right now. I might shake out the layer. More than likely, I’ll stack some empties on the bottom, put the old hive on top, wait for the foragers to come into the bottom hive, and then let the top hive die (the layer will be in there). Then I’ll throw in a frame of eggs, stack the supers, and see you in August. Maybe.

Sigh… I admit that this is all kind of depressing. And then again not really. I think it would be more depressing to keep pushing through after the passion is gone. Mackay has already announced that he’d love to get rid of all of them. I’m starting to agree….

So here’s my question, fellow beeks: Have you burned out before? What did you do to get back into it? What would you recommend? Did you take a break and then come back later? I’m not one to just have the hobby; I want to be the hobby. Whatever the hobby.

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2 Responses to Beekeeping Disaster

  1. Emily Heath says:

    I understand how it feels to be really busy and the bees seem like one more thing to worry about. It should be fun, not stressful. Sounds like cutting your hives right down or even selling them all for a while would be a good idea if you have too much on.

    • daveloveless says:

      Yep, and that’s about how I feel. We currently have 4 because of the split with the egg-laying worker, but I expect that hive to die. Three is probably a nice number for this year.

      We’re also changing our style from more proactive management to hands-off, lazy beekeeping. I really hope to NOT give it up. I enjoy it. But it needs to change enough to make it pleasurable again.

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