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Bee Starvation - Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Wendy Slatt head shotWe learned a hard lesson on the farm here last week, one I feel is worth sharing in the hopes that others might learn from it.  We lost our entire colony of bees due to starvation.

This year in South Carolina, we've had a very mild winter.  I'm hard-pressed to even call it winter, it's been so warm.  Several times, I've spent the day with the windows thrown wide open, and I know there was at least one time in January that the children and I were running around in shorts.  No matter how long I live here, I'll never get used to it.  In my mind, winter is supposed to be all about bundling up, scarves and mittens, sitting near the fire with a hot cuppa in your hands, and getting your outside chores done as quick as you can to get back inside.  But here we are building greenhouses, tilling gardens, repairing fences, starting seeds and being excited about the progress of our garlic bed.

Garlic bed
But the blessing of warmer temperatures had a consequence we didn't anticipate.  Just a day or two before, we were both sure we'd seen bees coming in and out as usual, but on Thursday morning there was no activity to be seen and no buzzing to be heard.  We opened it up and found all the bees dead.
 Inside bee box
I'll confess that our first reaction was to immediately suspect a spray of some kind.  After the experience last year of having the local power company drive through our area unannounced spraying herbicide and killing not only the wild blackberries around our mailbox but every other piece of vegetation in sight, I don't think you can blame us.  But after a little research and a conversation online with a master beekeeper, the truth became clear.  With a milder winter, and the start of the spring brood, the bees expended a lot of energy looking for pollen that couldn't be found, which caused them to eat through their stores a lot faster than we anticipated.  Our strong, thriving colony had starved.

We're putting our beekeeping endeavors on hold for now.  Replacing the bees is not in our budget and most apiaries are sold out.  Perhaps next year we'll be in a position to give it another go, but for now we hope that others will benefit from our lesson.  If you keep bees and your temperatures are mild, don't assume that everything's fine.  Check with experienced beekeepers in your area, and don't be afraid to give your bees a little help by feeding them.  Hopefully, it'll only be a few more weeks before spring truly arrives and you can sit back and enjoy watching your bees do what bees do best.  
 Bees enjoying Anise Hysop flowers