The Art of BEEing – Finding the shelves empty

Earlier today I decided to go have a quick hive check as I hadn’t given it a look in several weeks. When I had last been in the colony was growing rapidly, the drawn frames were full of brood, pollen, and “honey” – much of is sugar water based from before I had stopped feeding, but other very clearly from normal sources. Things were progressing so well at that point that even though I figured it was a long shot to even think of a single frame honey harvest this year, I added a queen excluder and a honey super just in case… Then decided to let them to it and stay out of their way.

Then the dreaded desert summer hit. In the space of a few consecutive 110+ deg F days, nearly all the wildflowers and flowering shrubs that the bees had been visiting dried out and went semi-dormant. A single (irrigated) mimosa tree was the only exception, and it was covered from dawn to dusk by bees. I had assumed that the lantana bed (also irrigated) would also be covered with bees like it is with butterflies, but not a bee was to be found on them. On closer observation I noted that the lantana flowers are very deep, and I guess that the bees can’t get their tongues down to the nectar. Given the amount of activity around the mimosa and the number of bees I could see collecting water and returning to the hive, I assumed all was well despite the changing forage situation.

Today I realized my mistaken assumption. No new comb has been drawn. The honey super is as dry as it ever was, and over half of the stores in the brood box are gone. More disturbingly, there was no brood or eggs to be seen. I started to go on a hunt for the queen to confirm that she at least was still around, but by that point the bees were starting to become agitated at the disturbance so I opted to close the hive back up.

After taking a walk around the area and confirming to myself that there is currently almost no natural forage available, I returned to the hive and re-installed the top feeder I had removed several weeks ago. I assume now that I will probably need to feed them until the winter rains bring the flowers back.

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