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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Work of the Mortician Bees in Winter

We have had very cold weather for late November in Atlanta. When I came home from a week away for Thanksgiving, all of the hives had dead bees on the front porch. It is part of the cycle of life that bees die during the winter, but when it is too cold to fly the mortician bees can't carry out the dead.

As you can see in the two pictures below, the dead bees accumulate on the bottom board of the hive until it is warm enough for a mortician bee to carry the bodies away from the hive.

Today although it has continued to be quite cold for Atlanta, we did have a few hours above 50 degrees. The bees can fly under those conditions and they carried away the dead, leaving their front porches clean and shiny.

This was true on my strongest three hives: Bermuda, Mellona and Aristaeus2. These hives went into winter with plenty of honey stored for the cold days and I often see bees at the entrance when the temperature approaches anything close to a flying level (above 50 usually, but sometimes these bees go out at 45 if it is sunny).

Note the clean porch below compared to the picture above with dead bees lying all around.

Persephone is another story. Her landing had dead bees on it on Sunday (see the picture below) and still has dead bees today. Closer inspection shows that there are many dead bees in front of this hive. I wonder if the hive has been killed off, as was the absconded nuc hive.

I opened the top of the box to see if they needed more food and only saw a few bees.

The baggie feeder is on top of the super and the cluster may be in the bottom box, if there are any bees left. I checked the syrup in the baggies and this hive is low. I will make some more tonight and see if they are there tomorrow to give it to them. When I went out to take a later picture, I did see a bee carrying out a body from this hive so maybe a small cluster is still alive.

Tomorrow I'll replace the baggie feeder without really opening the hive and hope for the best.

Note: My daughters who put credence into magical thinking asked how could I expect a hive named Persephone to survive? They reminded me that in the winter Persephone is condemned to the Underworld and her mother, Demeter, forces the earth to languish and almost die before Persephone returns to the Earth in the spring.

If this hive does make it through the winter, I'll rename it and maybe relocate it in the spring to take away this bad Karma!

At this point I have three hives that appear to be doing OK and this Persephone hive that appears to be in trouble. My first year only one hive made it through the winter: Bermuda. Bermuda entered the spring with bees ill from varroa-vectored diseases and was quite weak. Last winter both Bermuda and Mellona made it through the winter, and because of my attention in the fall with powdered sugar shakes (I assume) both were strong and healthy.

If Bermuda, Mellona and Aristaeus2 manage to live until spring, that will be an increase of one hive per year! Aristaeus2 is the small swarm that I collected from a shrub in Dunwoody. The bees are tiny and feral in appearance and it would thrill me if it lives until the spring.
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  1. names and numbers are important to me.

  2. Sorry about you dead hive, hope your bees make it through! Incedently, I never knew there was such a thing as a mortician bee!

  3. Once again, Linda, your entries reassure me, the rookie beekeeper! My one little hive had a few handfuls of dead bees on the grass in front - from varying points in time - which I assume means someone's in there to keep booting them out... here's hoping!

  4. Anonymous9:02 AM

    I'm so sorry for your losses Linda, but nevertheless you remain an inspiration to beginner beeks! If you do rename Persephone next year, I nominate "Apollonia" as a contender, since their hive body is so bright yellow. A more cheerful name, it honors the feminine form of the sun god Apollo. Symbolic too, as from the Underworld and out into the Sun. --Chantal, NC

  5. Thanks, Chantal - I'll go for it - Apollonia is perfect and fits what I am trying to do for the hive spirit - moving into life instead of death!


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