The loss of a beehive.

On 7th May, we lost our brave Violette.

For those of you that might be interested to know, in April I wrote that our favourite hive, Violette, swarmed.  The swarm arrived happily in a nuke that we had placed on the roof of the old chicken coop and subsequently we transferred her to the end of the garden where we keep our hives.

Violette BeehiveTwo weeks later we noticed a small bundle of bees on the ground, in front of Violette.  We suspected that the new queen was among them as I had read that sometimes on return from her nuptial flight she is so tired and heavy that she cannot fly well.

Queen bee outside the hive with her courtSo I decided to gently pry the bees to see what I could find.  “There she is!”, Amelia noticed.

Queen bee outside her hiveI lifted the queen gently and placed her in front of the hive entrance.  She walked in and soon the rest of the bees followed her inside.  Unfortunately, this happened three times, over two days.  Each time she appeared to have tumbled out of the hive.  Something strange was definitely happening.

So a couple of days later, on Sunday 7th May, we prepared the smoker to open up Violette.  There was no need to use the smoker, as the hive was completely empty.  No bees to be found, dead or alive.

I spoke with a couple of very experienced beekeepers who told me that they too have had hives completely empty.  They believe that whilst outside the hive they must have been poisoned and subsequently died.   We found three closed queen cells in Violette and opened them to see fully formed queens, abandoned by the bees.  There was no visible sign of disease on the bees before.  We found it strange that a week earlier the hive was full of bees and then nothing.  No bees!

The swarm that we had collected from Violette in a six frame nuke, however, was so busy that for a couple of nights we saw some bees staying outside the hive at night.  It appeared that there was no room in the inn.

Nuke with too many beesAs we had the smoker ready we opened up the nuke, and found out that she had very large brood on both sides of five frame, and a lot of bees moving around.  We quickly transferred to a full ten frame hive, plus a super.  She is now called Iris.

Iris Bee hiveViolette’s frames were all destroyed in case of any illness, or transfer of any possible poison.

But nature is what it it is and we have to accept that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.

The two pairs of blackbirds in the back garden appear to have each raised two chicks and the fledglings are ravenous.

Black bird with fledglingsThe large poppy seeds that I planted at the edge of the vegetable garden last year and they did not grow then, are now in flower and are loved by the bumblebees as well as our honey bees (and of course by us!)

PoppiesThe phacelia that self-seeded from last year’s planting is also well loved by bumblebees and the honey bees.

IMG_0180So as consolation, I made a cup of coffee for Amelia with a little chocolate bunny.  “But who is sitting in my chair”, she cried!

IMG_0128The little tree frog, our daily visitor, was nonplussed by our intrusion.

Tree frog

Kourosh

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35 thoughts on “The loss of a beehive.

    • That is exactly what many beekeepers suspect. The crop around us each spring and summer are rapeseed, followed by maze and sunflower. And of course vines. The maze seeds and rapeseed are pretreated with systemic pesticide and fungicides, which rise into the flowers. The farmers also regularly spray the pesticide on all their crop.
      Pesticides such as nicotinamide have the effect that the foraging bees get disorientated and cannot find their hives and die in the field.
      It is all a sad story, I am afraid. – Kourosh

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Very sad for you and brave that all livng creatures in your garden are willing to keep trying. Is it not possible where you live to have samples of your struggling bees and those of your experiend beekeeper friends tested in a laboratory to try to find the source of the poison. Here in The Netherlands by unexplained sudden mass bee death we can call in an official investigation.

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    • Thank you. It is a great idea to have the bees tested to find out if they have been poisoned or not. Here in our part of France nobody does that, Not even professionals with large number of hives.
      Our problem was that a few days earlier they appeared quite busy and then a couple of days later there were no bees dead or alive to send a sample for testing. Entire colony collapse has been common these last few years.
      We just have to try harder and take more precaution against varroa and the Asian hornets. It is nevertheless very comforting to hear your views and experience. Thanks. – Kourosh

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    • John, good to hear from you. Thanks. I hope I did not depress anybody.
      You are absolutely right. I do get a lot of comfort from the fact that I made a division from Violette last year (called Pisenlit in French which means dandilion). She is doing extremely well. I also capture Violette which swarmed a few weeks ago and again she is doing very well. That is not too bad at all. The rest we just have to accept as one of those things that happen in nature. – Kourosh

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    • The poisoning by farmers using far too much pesticide is a common problem. But as you say we still do not understand fully what happens to bee colonies when there is a total collapse.
      As the bard said: there are stranger things in the heaven and earth than all our philosophy.
      We just have to learn and move on. – Kourosh

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    • The complete absence of bees seems points to something else (at least as far as what you describe). Unless all the bees were out and they were all directly hit with some heavy-duty insecticide and dropped on the spot away from the hive, I would assume you’d have found some evidence of poisoning (dead bees) in or near the hive.

      Also, I’m no bee expert by any stretch of the imagination, but assuming that the queen outside the hive multiple times was the result of fatigue is just that; an assumption. It’s also possible there was something about the hive they did not like.

      Again, not an expert or even an informed hobbyist. My knowledge of things bees is confined to the consumption of honey on my Hawaiian sweet bread toast.

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      • Thank you for your thoughts.
        There could have been many reasons for the complete loss of colony. I myself do not claim to fully understand it, even after consulting people who are far more knowledgeable than me. Other beekeepers I talked too have had similar experience in the last few years – sudden colony collapse.
        A virus? pesticide? The hive had been used by the same colony for sometime and a week earlier the colony was nice and strong. Something did indeed go wrong. The weak queen could be a sign. May be one day I will find out. Meanwhile I’ll keep my eyes on the other colonies. – K

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  2. It sounds like the bees absconded. I’ve read that sometimes varroa can make them do that, but it sounds like something different and odd was going on with your queen.

    Perhaps something about their home was unsettling them? Was any brood left behind? Poisoning would usually kill off the foraging bees as they return to the hive and you would see writhing bees by the entrance and dead ones outside from what I’ve heard, but it’s not something I’ve experienced myself, touch wood. Good that you destroyed the old frames.

    I love the clamouring blackbirds and pretty tree frog.

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    • Thank you, Emily. And I do hope that you do not have to face similar situation – ever.
      Here I have heard beekeepers tell of similar stories of total colony collapse. One, of course, is never sure what happened to each of them. Some beekeepers blame themselves and wonder if they did something wrong.
      In our case, I feel that after Violette swarmed and we captured her (now called Iris), the left over Violette seemed to be doing fine. Any brood left, of course would have hatched three weeks later and eventually all the nurse bees would become foragers. So perhaps that is why there were no bees when we opened the hive.
      As you say, there are many possible explanations. There were no brood apart from three closed and abandoned queen cells. That was sad as the queens were fully formed.
      Just one of those mysteries of life.
      Thankfully Violette’s division of last year and her swarm are doing well. So Amelia and I console ourselves with that.
      Good luck to you this season. – Kourosh

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      • Thank you Kourosh – and I hope it never happens to you and Amelia again. The bees are so vulnerable when they leave their hives and we are powerless to defend them. As no dead bees were found perhaps there’s a possibility the colony absconded to a new location to begin again there.

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  3. I am very sorry to read this and the suspicion of poisoning points straight back to the little conversation we had yesterday. I simply cannot understand, if it pesticides were responsible for this holocaust, why manUNkind is being so foolhardy. On the one hand there is mass hysteria about loss of bees (mainly born of selfishness that we have woken to the fact that they are an absolutely essential part of the life-chain) and yet we persist in laying poisons for them. Long live Irish and long live you two quietly doing great work. And the frog. I can’t ignore the frog 🐸

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    • Here! Here! I totally agree. What kind of a world are we leaving for our grandchildren? The profit and the interest of a handful of giant multinationals and their lobbyists seem to take precedent over the lives of bees or mankind.
      We do try to ‘Give Nature a Home’. We use no pesticide in our land and cultivate only bee-friendly trees and flowers. Our garden in France is now full of solitary bees and butterflies as well as our beehives. It is only a small gesture.
      I just hope that our politicians and legislators wake up before it is too late. – Kourosh

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      • My parents-in-law were scoffed at for having entirely pesticide and artificial fertiliser free gardens in England (Berkshire) and France (a tiny courtyard in Provence) from the 1950s onwards. But we were all rewarded with marvellous insect life and gardens that were as resplendent in beautiful ‘weeds’ as they were in cultured shrubs and herbs and flowers. I know they would both be delighted at the work you are doing. I add my quiet voice to yours and hope, too that the so-called leaders wake up soon enough. And not just to pay lip service but to really encourage action at every level. I am a hopeful and positive sort so I won’t give up!

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    • Thank you, Sue. I do hope I did not depress you. As others have suggested, there could be many explanations for the loss of a colony.
      But that is nature (or man’s stupid actions). We just learn and spread the word. -Regards. – Kourosh

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    • Thanks, Mark.
      We are just happy that we made a division from Violette last year and she is doing very well and we also captured Violette this year and she is also doing well. So I keep my fingers crossed and move on. Regards – Kourosh

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  4. Sorry for the loss. Sounds a bit like colony collapse disorder.
    You mentioned neonicotinoids but I thought the EU ruling had restricted use of these systemic pesticides and France had additional regulations in place.

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  5. You are right. The use of neonicotinoids has been restricted (until the stock finishes (isn’t that stupid). In addition I understand the the chemical companies have now replaced it with a new formulation that is slightly different but just as bad and it might take another generation before that is banned too.
    I listened to a program on the French TV and a professor from a lab was explaining that the problem is that the toxicity stays in the ground for at least five years . AND he said when it is mixed with other pesticides the effect is even more disastrous.
    Best wishes to you – Kourosh

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  6. I’m so sorry for your loss of Violette’s hive – I know how it feels to lose a hive and particularly to worry about your favourite bees. I’m glad though that you had a split so that Violette’s family of bees lives on in Iris. I’m hoping that our favourite line of queens will be successfully split and requeening other colonies this year so that our eggs are not all in one basket, so to speak. As you say, sometimes nature will have its way and there is not much else to do except watch, wait and accept. All the best to you Amelia and Kourosh, Emma.

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    • Thanks, Emma.
      One accepts the way nature teaches us patience and hope.
      Amelia and I are grateful for what we have and we have learned a lot about the bees and from the bees.
      Best wishes to you and Emily and your families. And of course all the best for your bees, too. – Kourosh

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    • Nature in general can be difficult at times. We “talked” recently about the loss of vines and other precious plants that we lovingly looked after all year and just in one cold night….bang.. we lost them.
      Nevertheless, one must learn patience also from nature.
      I am just happy that we did keep Violette when she swarmed, so in some way, although we lost Violette, we really kept her and re-named her as Iris. So, she will live on.
      Thanks for your comments and best wishes – Kourosh

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    • That is perfectly true.
      Nevertheless, the nurse bees in a strong colony as we had do not abandon their charge of larva – specially not queen cells.
      Whatever happened was unusual that the bees completely abandoned the hive and presumably once they left, they died outside. They certainly did not swarm, because when they swarm, they leave behind a part of the colony. – K

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  7. My guess (it’s always only a guess with bees) is that you had a strong swarm. More than 1 queen cell hatched and there was a battle of sorts which is why you kept finding a queen outside. I did once find a queen near a hive and put her back in only to find her outside being bundled by bees. I went through the whole hive to find a 2nd queen. I killed one, locked the other in a queen cage in the hive and the next day released her. The hive survived (hooray).

    Anyway, back to your bees. If there was a battle or even just a dopey queen, there may not have been a successful maiden flight. So there could have been a queen that was unable to lay. Then the bees have 3 choices: 1) let the colony die a slow death (in my experience, this is the most common outcome, they just keep doing what bees do – forage and clean); 2) a worker starts laying – this is still a slow death, but you have a bunch of drones to deal with in the process or 3) abscond. My money is that yours absconded and begged themselves into the hive with the queen whose scent they fondly remembered. I hope that’s what happened and the happy colony is reunited.

    I have had poisoning events hives and never lost all the bees in 1 go but ended up with huge handfuls of dead and dying bees in front of the hive (dreadful to see). It is a rare poison that will kill an entire hive in 1 go, generally just the bees that were foraging on that plant die. Then the next round of house bees get promoted to field bees and they might feed again on the poison plants and die. That cycle should only last 3 days or so until the pesticide toxicity has diminished on the plant. Your colony is greatly reduced and may not be able to recover but the nurse bees are intact, the queen keeps laying and you have lots of dead bees in front of your hive. This just doesn’t sound like what happened to your colony.

    Swarming is always a risky time for any colony. I am often surprised that the silly species has survived for so long when I see the number of times either the swarm or the old hive perish/vanish after a swarm. But history shows what they’re doing. Let’s just hope our rampant use of poisons, transport which introduces pests & diseases, mono-culture, land clearing… don’t tip the scales against these amazing creatures.

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  8. Many thanks, Laura. It is so good to hear from you.
    I am strongly persuaded to accept your possible explanation. That makes a lot of sense.
    In the past they used to say that a virgin queen leaves the hives only once and goes on her maiden flight. Nowadays, it is understood that the queen is often not sufficiently fertilised and needs to fly several times. That can be tiring and dangerous.
    Our seeing the queen outside three times in three days might explain that either the queen was not adequately fertilised the first time, or just she was not up to the job. The bees made other queen cells. Possibly another queen was born and ejected the first queen. The bees had made also another few queen cells (we opened three cells with fully developed bee inside). As you say, the bees eventually gave up and moved off.
    Within the short distance we had placed the nuke with the same colony that had swarmed four weeks earlier. They could have accepted the bees. After all they were the daughters of the same queen. In addition nearby was another hive which was also the division from last year of the same hive. They too were half sisters, so might have accepted them.
    The mysteries are plenty with the bees.
    I do like your explanation which makes a lot of sense and I thank you for it.
    Best wishes
    Kourosh

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