It has not been a good season for our backyard projects.

Last season’s lone survivor, Dorcas, had made it through the winter. And there was much rejoicing as we planned splits to restore our apiary to its usual size.

In early May we treated her with a thymol preparation to knock down a not terribly high mite count. Whereupon we let busier-than-usual life distract us.

We never found time to visit the hive but merely looked on from a distance until one day the usual clouds of bees seemed suddenly smaller. And then one very hot day there was no bearding. We still could not find time.

Eventually, with trepidation, we finally made time and found Dorcas not overflowing with bees although with comb after comb full of brood. Unfortunately it was all drones. Not a single cell of worker brood. No queen to be found so laying workers. The hive was not yet dead but doomed.

Rather than let the drones hatch along with however many mites we scratched open every cell, cut loose the comb, and scattered the bits far from the hive for the wildlife to snack upon. We left Dorcas open to the elements, not knowing what else to do with the remaining bees. Somehow killing them quickly may have been the merciful option but we were ill equipped to do so.

Our hypothesis for what went awry this time is that Dorcas swarmed without our noticing and her new queen failed to begin her reign. Eaten on her mating flight by a bird is an oft-mentioned scenario. Had we been paying closer attention we may have obtained a new queen in time. But we did not.

We thought we were getting competent at this but here we are, beeless once more. We have been so for quite a while, late even reporting our loss due to distraction and sorrow. In spite of the wildlife that passes through and the singing birds flitting about and other pollinators to observe the place seems peculiarly empty without the bees diligently ignoring us watching them as they work the blooms. Next season we begin yet again.

On the other hand we are giving up on the wee orchard. The quince tree, our favorite, had succumbed to fireblight last year in spite of our best efforts so we cut it to the ground. Raccoons have ever consumed the apple crop, leaving us only broken branches. This year they also devoured the Asian pear. At least they denied the wasps a chance to hollow out the flesh and leave a deceptive, empty peel. Enough. All these will also be cut to the ground.

And the tomato crop this year? Let us simply say ‘crop’ has the wrong vowel.

Last evening we saw that the ground in front of both hives had a score of drones aimlessly wandering, climbing grass blades and falling off, or just staying still, evidence of a phenomenon we have been anticipating, the eviction of the drones.

Bee lore says this occurs as part of preparation for winter, although it has sometimes been observed in dearths as well. While there is speculation that they may assist in other functions about the hive, the main function of the drones is unarguably to go out periodically and try to mate with a virgin queen. When there is no longer time for a new colony to establish itself before winter, swarming ceases, no virgin queens fly, and the large drones with their large appetites become useless drains on the resources that must last until spring nectar flows. And so the workers eventually stop feeding them (Drones can not even feed themselves.) and forcibly throw them out of the hive.

Naturally we must fret. This eviction is generally said to occur in the autumn and while it is the month of September, the equinox is still a few weeks away. Is this early for the eviction? Is it an indication that the bright goldenrod is not providing a lot of nectar? Is heavy feeding in order? We may learn more at the next meeting of Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers this Wednesday.