We’ve been keeping bees for a little over seven years. Over that time, we’ve made an observation that may be purely coincidental, but it’s worth noting. And I’d love to hear what you all think in the comment section.
We live in a residential farming community and our property is surrounded by thousands of acres of farm fields. We have a local feed store that rents much of the farmland around us to grow its crops. Each fall we see their trucks harvesting the crops and it’s an amazing site as giant dinosaur-like farm equipment makes its way down our narrow road.
Each year the fields rotate in thirds. One year its soybeans, then wheat and straw, then corn. Occasionally a field will be seeded for hay, but for the most part, it’s those three crops in rotation.
A few years after we moved in, the feed company approached us and asked if we’d be interested in renting out our side-section of property for their crop use. We declined as we learned that they don’t use organic farming practices and grow GMO crops. We want to keep our land as organic as possible in case we ever want to get certified.
Our first corn year
Our second year beekeeping was a corn year. One afternoon after a warm summer rain shower, my husband and I went for a bike ride. Along the way we passed one of the corn fields. With corn on both sides of the road, we were surrounded by a sweet floral scent intensified by the damp, steamy, freshly rained-on air.
Zach and I both marveled that the corn must be in bloom and that we never realized corn had a ‘scent.’
Later in the summer, we harvested our first batch of honey. We couldn’t wait to bring it inside, so out in the field we each took a finger and dipped it into the delicious golden nectar.
“What do you think?” I asked Zach.
“It’s good…it’s definitely honey, but there’s something else. It tastes like something familiar.”
“I know…” I agreed. “I’ve tasted this before, but I can’t put my finger on it.”
Sometime later we went out for a drive and passed the cornfields.
“Corn!” Zach suddenly exclaimed.
“The honey tastes like the corn smelled that day we went for a bike ride.”
“Oh my gosh, yes! That’s the flavor!” And it was. Our honey smelled and tasted like the scent we smelled when the corn was in bloom.
This revelation made us aware that our bees were visiting the feed store corn.
We didn’t do another hive inspection that year. After our harvest, we let the bees be. When the weather got cold, we tucked in the bees for the winter, wished them well and hoped for the best.
In the spring, we opened the hive and found piles of dead bees.
Do we know what happened? Nope. Maybe they froze, maybe they had a virus. Maybe it was a combination of things we did wrong, or nature or both.
It was still early enough that we were able to locate another bee package and start over.
The bees did great their first year. The second year, they were doing so well that we were able to split the colony and start another hive. We didn’t take a harvest that year, but instead gave the new colony plenty of honey to keep them fed.
More corn and death of the bees
The following year was a corn year. The bees did well enough through the season. Both hives were producing well, though the new hive was doing better than the old.
The following spring we found two boxes of dead bees. Again.
To be clear, I’m not blaming our bee deaths on the corn. To be fair, I don’t think we’ve been doing this long enough to really make a positive correlation between the two. But it’s something we’re noting. There has been enough of a correlation to where we’re wondering if we should bother to spend the money on another colony if they’re just going to die every third year.
We are starting a U-Pick Lavender farm and it’s my hope that our bees will visit the lavender fields and give us delicious lavender-infused honey. I’m hoping that this might act as a deterrent to keep them away from the surrounding cornfields, but I have my doubts.
What about you?
I’d love to open this subject up for discussion to you the community. Have you experienced something similar? Do you think it was something we did as beekeepers and this is merely a coincidence?
Chime in below with your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you have to say before we invest in bees again.