Freezer Burned

Beekeeping requires lots of unusual tools: blowtorches, pinecones, crisco, & deep freezers.  I use 4.  Freezers are an important line of defense.  One of the first things you learn in farming (on any scale) is that anything worth producing has a pest that wants it at least as much as you do.

For bees, pests range from tiny mites to black bears – and all in between.  On the smaller side, there are 2 insect pests who love beeswax comb: wax moths and hive beetles.  Both destroy bees’ precious comb.  Wax moths fly in and lay eggs which hatch and tunnel through the comb creating a spidery webby mess.  Toss that in the burn barrel.  Hive beetles prefer honey.  They lay eggs which hatch into grubs and crawl through honeycomb creating a fermented, slimy gunk of unusable honey.  An abundance of either pest can lead the bee colony to flee the hive completely, regardless of season or resources.  (I can’t really blame them on that one).

 

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Wax Moth damage  photo by Bee Informed Partnership

So as the honeybee colony population in a hive contracts in the fall, there is lots of comb that goes unsupervised.  Good for pests, bad for bees.  Beekeepers try to keep on top of this by removing empty comb to storage.  But the wiley pests tend to follow, having already laid eggs in the beautiful comb!  So to kill any hitchhiking freeloaders, we freeze the empty comb until it is needed again in spring.

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Small hive beetles photo by Omafra.gov

Under assault from both wax moths & beetles, I brought a bunch of full, heavy honey frames to the freezer.  Ahh, safe.  Now some sad little hive can enjoy a pick-me-up with the addition of this donated treasure.  But the other day, I smelled something foul near the freezer.  Kinda like mead, actually worse like bad vinegar.  I opened the freezer, staggered backwards at the smell and discovered that the freezer was off.  And had been off for days.  The old appliance had tripped a GFI and now sat idle.  The fouled frames inside had fermented, leaked, molded, & generally stunk up the place.  HUGE yuck.

(Hive beetle damage is gross.  You don’t actually want to see a photo.  If you do, google it.)

Desolate & generally P.O.’d by the loss of so many precious frames, I yanked the sticky mess out and pitched them into the trash, slamming the can lid soundly to show my frustration.  By daybreak I realized how bad of an idea that was.  “Hey Mom, Dad says every bee you own is outside,” Aaron told me.  Of course they are outside.  I don’t keep hives inside (ok sometimes).  I peeked out the window.   They were definitely outside, outside their hives & in my trashcan.  Those hungry girls had sniffed out the spoiled honey and were trying to salvage what was left.  General avoidance of the area is the best and really only treatment until the bees return home at night.  But by nightfall there was still a gaggle of them scouring the bin for drops of honey to hoard.  Life lesson: Undoing dumb mistakes is infinitely more time consuming than making them.

(I would include a photo of the melee but photos of bee chaos significantly underrepresent the event.)

So it’s 9pm, pitch dark, hoards of confused, half drunk bees.  Kind of like rush week on college campus.  Time to suit up and dumpster dive – par for this course.  And time to check the next box in my quest to rule out every mistake before settling on the right way to do anything.  I pulled out the even-nastier-now frames, shook off the bitter clinging bees, and stashed the frames.  Where?  In my car.  Where else do I store things?  At least until I could haul them off site to be burned.  Cue the curtains to close & plays taps for the faulty freezer.

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Frozen frames safe in a working freezer

So with one less freezer, the kids now have to dig through bee frames to find the ice cream.  (Which doesn’t seem to be slowing them down).  I was able to salvage a few of the frames to other storage and feel they are now safe from attack.  Given the value of the contents,  I’ve learned how important it is to check those freezers regularly.  (A good excuse to, say – inventory the ice cream).  Gotta keep those freezers running, or risk getting freezer burned.

 

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