One of the challenges with commuting back and forth between our current home and our future home is our inability to always react to warning signs when we see them. It’s frustrating, but currently unavoidable.
Back in August when we were in a nectar dearth, we noticed some big, ugly hornets around that we had never seen before. We also had one formerly strong hive that had been abandoned. We wondered whether the two were connected, but we had to head back to the land of the paychecks and just hoped for the best.
As always, one of the first things I did yesterday was check bees. Four of our 25 hives had no or little activity, while other hives were very active gathering resources. Bees were returning with huge bags of pollen and traffic in and out was heavy. I knew I couldn’t check all the hives, so the four worrisome ones became my priority. Sadly, three of the hives were devoid of bees or any manner of resources. At the bottom of one of the hives we discovered a dead hornet. Mystery solved: the hives had clearly been robbed by European hornets — the largest hornet in America.
The hornet in the picture clearly hasn’t been dead long, so we assume the critters have been moving from hive to hive. Before we drive back today, we’re going to make sure every hive has an entrance reducer and that all reducers are using the small entrance. This will make it far easier for bees to defend their homes. The hive in which we found the dead hornet — and it was at the back, far from the entrance — was a very strong hive when we last checked it. Our records also show that the queen was young and producing well. One of the other hives was less strong, percentage wise, but had two brood boxes on it, so there should have been plenty of bees in that one to defend from invasion. The third hive was not strong and was queenless last inspection, but with queen cells about to hatch. It’s debatable whether than one failed because of the hornets or because of the transition to a new queen.
The last hive I checked was happily doing well, and I did see the queen actively running around looking for a good place to lay more eggs. They have pollen and nectar stored, and they now have an entrance reducer. Still, if we assume that the hive we lost in August was also because of the hornets, we’ve lost four hives to hornets in just over a month. We need to do whatever we can to combat them. For us, pesticides are not an option. We’ll do more research about them before we come back and hopefully have some ideas to try. The good news is that we haven’t actually seen any this trip — maybe Hurricane Irma blew them to another state!
Speaking of the hurricane, we’ve been able to restore order to the bee yard. Just like the kitchen cabinet reno, we saw this as an opportunity to re-organize and take inventory. It’s amazing how putting a positive spin on things makes restacking bee-boxes fee a little less tedious. It was a harder to clean out dead hives and frame that as a learning experience, but we will install entrance reducers at the first sign of fall dearth from now on! (Or maybe anytime huge hornets are in the neighborhood.) Other good post-hurricane news is that hubby, with the help of our wonderful neighbor, was able to successfully to take down the wind-blown tree that was in danger of falling on the power line. Thanks again, BH! Additionally, the two NUC boxes in the foreground of the picture are the only ones that were crushed by the falling tree. We have so much to be thankful for.