Red Bucket Farm is an urban farm on a quarter acre property in an average residential neighborhood. We are located in Wisconsin, USDA Zone 5. We focus on chickens, bees, orchard fruit, and raised garden beds for fruits and veggies. We hope to reduce our footprint on the planet by growing some of our food, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and gardening with sustainable practices. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Apiary Meltdown

We experienced a disaster in the bee yard at Red Bucket Farm. Due to extreme heat in the first week of July (over 100 degrees for three consecutive days), we discovered that all the combs in the red hive had melted off the top bars and dropped to the floor of the hive, crushing hundreds or thousands of bees. This was our newest hive and it had been doing fabulously, building a dozen combs, laying eggs, tending brood, bringing in nectar and pollen.

Last weekend (July 14) we cleaned out the melted mess from the floor of the hive. The combs had not melted off the top bars. In fact, there was still an inch or two of comb attached to each top bar, but the bulk of the comb had dropped in the heat. I remember a day in the extreme heat (when I was preoccupied with trying to keep the chickens alive) that there were suddenly a large number of bees on the outside of that hive. At the time I assumed it was normal bearding behavior in the heat, but in retrospect I believe the returning forager bees clustered outside because of the disaster inside.

We also discovered bees building comb in the roof of that hive. This was new comb without honey or brood, so we suspect they began building there after the meltdown. I have to admire their work ethic and resourcefulness.

After cleaning up the disaster, we shook the bees out of the rooftop and back into the hive body, then replaced all the top bars and let the bees get back to work. We're rebuilding the rooftop to repair the warp and prevent them from accessing the space. We also built an arbor-like structure over the bee yard and sewed awnings to provide some shade from the summer sun. The awnings can be removed in the fall when the sunshine will be beneficial to the hives.

We're concerned that it's rather late in the summer for that hive to rebuild enough that it will be strong for winter survival. This morning we took two top bars from an adjacent healthy hive to share with the struggling colony. The borrowed combs were full of honey, brood and bees. Perhaps this will jump-start the red hive for a chance at survival. If the queen was lost in the disaster, they may be able to groom a new one.  We're also providing supplemental cups of honey.

There is some good news. One of the hives is quite strong. We harvested 20 cups of honey which we can use to feed the weaker hive. Maybe there will even be some honey for us to enjoy. It's been a fascinating journey. There is nothing like an emergency to teach us about bee life.

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