This was certainly an exciting summer in the bee yard. In addition to the usual maintenance necessary every spring, we caught a swarm in May, we split one of the hives that had gone rogue over the years, and we introduced a couple new queens. Requeening is always exciting work, because you have to first find the old queen and remove her before you can introduce a new one. Otherwise, the bees will kill the new queen. (Sometimes they will do that anyway.)
Then in June, at possibly the worst time we could have picked, we had to move our hives to another bee yard, in anticipation of flooding “of historic proportion” along the Mississippi River when the Army Corps of Engineers opened the flood gates upstream. Although our hives were about a mile from the river, they were very near a creek that backs up when the river floods, so we decided not to take a chance on losing the hives. As it turned out, the river ran high all year but not so high as to threaten our hives.
After we moved the hives to the new bee yard, we noticed that one of them was sick. For weeks, the hive had been building dozens of queen cells and bringing in little to no honey, but in all that time, they had not managed to raise a healthy queen, and the brood was now shriveled. Jim suspected European foulbrood, which is less deadly than American foulbrood, so we treated the hive with tetracycline, which seemed to help some but not enough. Eventually we decided to order a new queen, but by that time, there were not enough healthy adult bees to take care of the brood, and the hive seemed doomed. We tried feeding the hive to give them a boost, but it was too little too late, and the hive finally died. I felt bad for the beautiful new queen, who never had a chance.
This summer made me appreciate even more how different every hive can be, even within a very small bee yard. Early on, Jim dubbed one of our hives the “mortgage lifter.” It started building up early after the winter and the thousands of field bees brought in honey continually throughout the summer, so we had to keep adding boxes to the top for more storage space (and to try to keep them from swarming). As is often the case, this hive was also more aggressive than the others, but it turned out to be the only hive that produced enough honey for us to harvest. The other hives were industrious enough but started out behind, with fewer bees and young or ailing queens.
I also found out this summer that I am officially allergic to bee venom. I have since begun to take shots to build up my immunity, because I don’t want to stop keeping bees. I also wear my gloves now and am considering getting a full bee suit (not just the bug-baffler hooded shirt I have been wearing for the past twelve years). I had been stung before without incident, but I had my suspicions, as early as last fall, that I might have a problem, when I was stung by three bees and immediately became dizzy and had to lie down on the gravel drive for a while. There’s nothing like lying on your back watching the clouds float across a brilliant blue sky to remind you how much you want to live—while your husband and dear friends worry over you and call 911.