Grieving For Bees

Yes, for people like my wife, grieving for bees may seem a little overdramatic and when I’m forced to watch another episode of ‘One Born Every Minute’ by the missus, I can appreciate that it is. Still logic doesn’t account for emotions, and my marital comeback is that ‘it’s my hive and I can cry if I want to.’

The death of a hive is not even a subject I can expect much matey compassion for down the pub (well not before five pints when even the chip shop being closed can seem slightly heartbreaking). Nobody seems to understand that I have been going through a grieving process but let me explain…

Grieving For Bees

Hopson B & Adams J (1976) Transition – Understanding and managing personal change

Please refer to the dotted (b) line on the graph above as the (a) line is for positive events which this most certainly wasn’t.

My Grief Cycle

Day 1. 6pm. Distress – Gut wrenching moment when I realised there was no bee activity. Compounded when I opened the hive and found dead bees. Thousands and thousands of dead bees burrowing into their comb looking for food that wasn’t there and starving to death. It turns out a mass insect grave is pretty horrific to look at. (See: Starving Bees)

I went back home, barely mentioned my heartbreaking discovery and went on as usual. Perhaps opening that bottle of Sloe Gin barely five minutes after taking off my bee suit might have been a hint something was up.

Day 1. 6.30pm. Disbelief – I couldn’t believe it. I thought the bees were tougher than this. I proceeded to do a good Victor Meldrew impression – i.e. “I don’t believe it”.

Day 1. 6.45pm. Denial – I needed to feel that the colony could live on. I made up some sugar syrup and went back out to feed their dying bodies. It was like armageddon in there but I didn’t feel at all like Ben Affleck.

Day 1. 7.00pm. Guilt – I was responsible for these bees and I obviously couldn’t be trusted. This was the worst feeling to handle especially as I couldn’t share it with anyone – least of all my wife who was wanting me to look after our daughter the next morning. I still had to maintain that illusion of competent carer…

Day 1. 7.05pm. Loss of confidence – My improving self-image / esteem as a beekeeper was at an all time low. Just as I had started to think that yes, one day, I too will be mingling confidently with those bearded old pros at the associations, it was now clear that would never happen. I would have to give back my ‘Brilliant Bee Keeper’ badge which I say my wife made me (but I so obviously helped with).

Day 1. 7.10pm. Anger – I was angry with myself. I had no one else to blame but myself. This was worse than when I rolled my parents car two weeks after passing my test and was consequently car-less for the rest of my teenage years. (Though I do have to admit, the loss of a hive probably doesn’t stunt my middle-aged sex appeal quite as much as the loss of wheels did).

Day 2. Bargaining – Just as I was about to take the hive apart, I found the Queen alive. I felt I could do something. I fed them again. Maybe I could be Ben Affleck after all…

Days 1-5. Chaos – Yes I had about as much success as Tony Blair being the Middle East Peace Envoy. After I fed them they were robbed, fights broke out, wasps had a go, there was carnage. I then decided to block the hive up. I then unblocked it a few days later. I did everything I could think of.

Days 3-5. Resignation – I began to accept the probability of this colony not surviving.

Day 6. Depression – There was nothing else to be done, this colony was not going to survive.

Day 9. Acceptance – I took the hive apart. I was now a beekeeper with just one hive. It is unlikely I will be making 50 jars of honey next year. My local monopoly on all things honey-related will have to wait.

Day 10+ Partical recovery so far, rather than a new confidence. I am now able to write about it at least.

I am starting to think about lessons learnt. Ironically, one may be that despite my aim to be as natural a beekeeper as possible, in this case more human intervention was needed. Those bees needed to be fed earlier.

Beekeepers Anonymous

I feel like there is a need for a beekeepers support group which can help us deal with our grief and help us on the beekeeping journey. I have created a page called Beekeepers Anonymous for this purpose. I’m happy to be the first to stand and say ‘Hello, I am Roger and I miss my bees’. Let me know how you guys have handled any loss of your own (and make me feel a bit more sure that I’m not alone!).

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Grieving For Bees — 11 Comments

  1. Hang in there, there’s an old, although not very comforting saying: Where there’s livestock, there’s dead stock.

    It’s hard but we have to keep going.

    • I like that saying. I’m no farmer, so need to become a bit more robust. My nod to treating my bees as livestock is by not naming the Queens … I’m afraid I’ll become too attached to them otherwise. 🙂

  2. Big shame – such lovely honey – however – man up – get your own TV – and sort your bees out – don’t forget to tell them everything that’s going on – I went down there and thanked them for there honey and told them my wows – it was nice

    • Thanks for talking to the bees … I’m sure they appreciate it. Feel free to tell them your news … like when your boys have flown the nest! 😉
      PS. I’d just like to point out to readers that I do have my own tele (though to me wife’s dismay, and a source of marital tension, I prefer it off).

  3. You will need to stop the robbing to save the hive. There are two ways to do that… one is to move it to a place where there are no bees (which I doubt you will achieve) or build or buy a robbing screen . My last nuc got robbed out 3 different times… Total caos… In fact it gave the resident bees of the nuc a good case of dysentery due to stress. I built a robbing screen and the robbing stopped immediately. I never thought the nuc would survive. Now it is thriving. Build a screen. You’ll be amazed how well it works. Good luck!

    • Thanks John. I had not heard of robbing screen before. I have read more about them and written about them here: Robbing Screens. Are they widely used? How effective are they? You might want to comment on the Robbing Screen page.

  4. Hopefully the writing will help you to feel better about what happened.
    You are in the early days of bee keeping, so the best thing you can do is learn.
    Life is full of stumbling blocks, twists, turns and dead ends, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense, or at least you don’t think if does until you wake up say five years, or even weeks or months, down the line and find yourself with a renewed vigour and improved understanding of what it all means…and more prosaically, it’s unlikely you’ll make the same mistake again.
    Carry on, focus on the other hive and resolve to do better next time.
    Luck in the hive loads to you.

    • Thanks Bee Strong. I have definitely learnt my lesson on feeding those bees. My only concern is that I am now over compensating. Hive Two has consumed 19.5Kg of sugar (that does not include the water). Can they take down too much, or unlike humans, do they know when enough is enough?

  5. There’s always a silver lining to every situation is what I always say…and look for. You’re nuc sounds like the silver lining and a blessing. You know, I plan on being a beekeeper Spring 2014, My property is a blooming buffet prepared for the bees. I will likely talk to my bees as I already do talk to my roses and herbs. My roses are referred as “he” and “she” according to their commercial name. I am famous for living and learning 🙂

    • Thanks Jan. I’m afraid there is no nuc anymore, just Hive Two (which seems to be doing well). I have been hotly anticipating a famous person reading and commenting on this blog. 🙂 Do spread the word and good luck with your bees next year. X

  6. We just put our first package ever in a week ago. Thought things were moving along, super excited. I am in VA so we have had some pretty cold weather up until a few days ago. Long and short of this story. We determined we did not feed them enough, never saw queen, colony dwindeled each day. This moning we went out and there are a mere couple of hundred remaining, no comb, no queen, no nothing except a lot of dead bees. I called the supplier and made a decision to get another queen stat! It may not work or help but i still would not be able to get the next package until May 8th. I really appreciate your write up on the sadness. It is so strange but I feel know exactly what you are saying. Grieving for the colony. They are so amazing and we already have such a problem with the lack of honey bees on this planet. feel like a neglectful owner. You do feel a sense of respect and respnsibility for these creatures and you want them do well and thrive. I know there are trial and errors with this but I am not taking it well either. I was glad to come across this! Thanks.

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