I didn’t have a lot of time last Sunday, but I managed to clean out one of the hives in the morning. (Then we got pounded by a winter storm, so the other is still waiting its turn.) It was pretty obvious that the colony was too cold and too wet. They had completely propolized (sealed with resin) over the mesh vents at the top of the hive. I have to assume it’s because they were cold and were trying to seal out drafts. Unfortunately, as my husband pointed out, “Bees aren’t HVAC technicians. They don’t know they need ventilation.” I had hoped instinct would have helped them out, but they effectively left the hive without a way to get rid of condensation–which then gets cold and “rains” back down on the bees. Bees are okay at being cold, but they can’t be wet.
As pointed out by Rusty on the HoneyBeeSuite blog–would you rather go camping in 40 degree weather with a wet sleeping bag, or in 20 degree weather with a dry sleeping bag? The choice is obvious. Temperature puts you at risk, but being wet will kill you.
I ended up making three stacks of comb:
- Comb with honey that I can harvest
- Comb with honey and mold that I’m not going to harvest (because ick), but that I can save for new bees. They will clean up the mold and be happy to have honey to eat.
- Empty/not well formed comb that I can use for wax
I ended up with an entire nuc (8 frames) of moldy comb that will give a great start to a new colony in the spring, about 12 half-full combs of honey, and about 8 partial combs of wax.
I love to see the different shades of honeycomb.
The darker the comb, the older it is. You can see some of this has been used many times by the bees. It doesn’t have much wax left in it & once you melt it down it’s pretty papery and skims off the top as gunk called slumgum which makes a good firestarter for future use.
I didn’t find the queen, but she could have been hidden in the general mass of sopping wet dead bees at the bottom. I scooped them out and tossed them under my birdfeeders. Hopefully someone will get a good protein boost once this snow melts! Looking forward to new bees in the spring.