It is now 31st March, I want to tell you of the happenings of the last week in the hope that in doing so, you will avoid making the same mistakes that I have.

Let me tell you about hive 1, which began life the Summer before last with the introduction of a new queen following the untimely demise of the encumbant. It became very quickly obvious that this was no ordinary queen as the colony was soon to prove. Their numbers seemed to almost double over night, her brood patterns were textbook and her offspring worked tirelessly throughout the daylight hours. I decided to add another brood chamber which they quickly occupied and that was how they over wintered in 2010.

Glad to say, they all over wintered and again hive 1 was conspicuous by it’s activity and numbers. I was able, largely to populate five new colonies with bees from 1 such was her fecundity, three of which, glad to say, headed by her offspring. This seemed in no way to dent their numbers and I was able also to use them as my brood rearing colony as part of my Cloake-board queen rearing effort. In addition to all this, hive 1 supplied me with just short of fifty pounds of honey.

From what I have said you will see how much hive 1 meant to me. I desperately wanted them to enter this year unscathed as apart from any other reasons, I wanted her to head this year’s queen rearing program for me. Believing honey to be the best food for bees, and because hive 1 still had plenty, I decided that was how they would over winter. I left one full super on the hive and after going through the brood chambers, concluded there was in excess of fifty pounds of honey for them to see out the winter with.

Spring came early again this year and late February, early March saw plenty of activity in the meadow with lots of pollen coming in. All looked well until a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that hive 1 seemed to be lacking activity compared with the others. Within a week there were barely any bees to be seen outside the hive. Last Saturday was quite a warm day and I decided that there was no option but to open the hive. All I found alive was the queen and about half a dozen bees. The super was empty as was the bottom brood chamber but the top box was still almost too heavy to lift. There were no more dead bees on the hive floor than one would have expected and there were no obvious signs of brood disease in the boxes. I immediately sent a sample of dead bees for a microscopy test. I knew from the weight of the sample that these were not freshly dead bees. News of the test later that day confirmed there was no desease evident and that the sample comprised mainly of long dead bees.

So what then had gone wrong with hive 1 and why were all the others spared. The only thing different was the winter feeding arrangement, I had left bees to over winter on their own honey before perfectly satisfactoraly so why not on this occasion.

Back to last Winter. Some time following last Autumn’s honey extraction I was labeling some jars to complete an order I’d received when I became aware that all the honey from hive 1 had crystallised. None of the other honey was affected so what had happened. I hadn’t seen any Rape in the immediate vicinity as to my mind, this was where the honey must have come from. I can only imagine that because hive 1 was much stronger than the rest that their bees must have foraged that much further afield and that was why the other colonies were not similarly effected. It did concern me at the time that hive 1 stores would probably contain some of the crystallised honey but it was too late to do anything by then other than wait for the first possible oportunity to open them up, and that was what I did last week.

Upon opening the hive, as well as the bees which I mentioned earlier, I found the bottom brood box and the super had been stripped clean but the top box was still so heavy I could barely lift it. It was, as I had feared, full of crystalised honey. The bees had uncapped most of it but had been unable to use it. A sorry sight I can tell you with the tails of numerous dead bees still protruding from the comb which they had accessed. Made worse in the knowledge that it was my doing.

So as I said earlier, “A salutery lesson” and one I don’t intend to repeat. In future I shall extract sooner if I have reason to suspect that the bees have been on the rape and if I do leave honey in the hive I shall ensure that it was laid down long after any rape has dissapeared. As I said, all my doing, overlooking the obvious?  probably, and I’ve lost my best colony as a result. Fortunately, I have three colonies which are headed by her daughters and I’m hoping that at least one of them will follow in their mother’s footsteps. One thing for sure. you can bet I won’t make that mistake again.

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