Risks of Urban Beekeeping

For the second half of December I was on vacation out of state for the holidays.  A couple of days in I received a call from the community garden owner where Leaf Litter, Cheese Palace and Boat Murdered are all housed.  She had returned from her own vacation and found the hives with their tie down straps removed and their outer covers off.  Sometime between when I fed the bees fondant and when she found the hives someone decided to disrupt the bees. This means they could have been exposed for as long as two weeks. The covers were put back on, but considering the weather, too cold to fly but not cold enough to snow, and ongoing rains I had no way of knowing if the bees were ok or not.  The bees are vulnarable in winter, huddled together and shivering their wing muscles for warmth they cannot easily defend themselves with their sting.  Needless to say, this put a damper on the vacation.  I couldn't get out to check on them right away when I got back either due to work and weather conditions, but was finally able to make it out to them a few days ago.  Unfortunatly, none of them survived.

The dead bees of Boat Murdered

I do not know if the jerk(s) who did this were simply bored and decided to be curious and destructive, or if this was the doing of a malevolent neighbor who disliked the hives and waited for an opportunity to hopefully get rid of the hives.  Whatever the reason, it is a very frustrating experience and sad for the bees.  This is unfortunatly one of the many risks in urban beekeeping.  Keeping bees so close to many people means the potential for interactions with those people.  We hope those experiences are positive and inspire people to ask questions about bees, learn where their food comes from and garner a little more respect for nature.  It also means that seeing bees may play on the fears of others who believe bees only sting and bring no good.  Further, there is the risk of destruction for entertainment, with no more explenation than to why people may decide to key cars or break windows.

Bees, dead of exposure

The bees appear to have died of exposure.  As you can see in the above image, there are many bees clumped together, many of them frozen in the cells as they were seeking more food to heat themselves.  There are many other bees similarly clumped on other frames, or dead on the bottom board or between boxes.  Though this particular frame is mostly devoid of honey, there was plenty left in all three hives as well as at least some of the fondant I had fed them shortly before someone did this.  The combination of cold water from the rain and cold air that was able to easily enter the hive from the hole in the inner cover proved too much of a challenge for the bees to survive.  The bees of Boat Murdered, arguably the strongest of these three hives, appears to have absconded from these conditions.  Sadly, they likely died shortly after leaving.  The other two hives simply could not make it even though they tried to remain in their home. 

Some urban beekeepers are lucky enough to place their hives on rooftops or other more protected areas.  Though obscured, these hives were not affored such a great barrier to access as a rooftop or even being on a lived on property.  Those in the city who wish to keep bees do not always have those options available to them, and now I am faced with questions of if the hives should be revived on this spot, or moved to potentially safer locations.  Not an easy thing to find in the city.  Whether the hives come back here or else where they will be back, and the hives of Leaf Litter, Cheese Palace and Boat murdered that the bees have worked to build over the past two years will be repopulated with a new swarm.

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