VERY Close call

Adam Taggart
By Adam Taggart on Mon, Dec 3, 2012 - 10:40pm

As we invest in our preps to increase our resiliency, we are often operating in new territory. So, we are vulnerable to the unexpected - or as Donald Rumsfeld would put it: the 'unknown unknowns'.

I recently had a wake up call on this front.

Yesterday I came within 1 inch of losing my hive. I mean that literally: ONE inch.

If you've been on the site for a while, you probably know I became a beekeeper this year (you can read about my surprisingly positive experience here). 

Here's a picture of my hive back in the halcyon days of Spring:

The hive is on a hillside overlooking a creek. It's a great spot (sun, water, lots of wildflowers)

It's a little hard to tell from this picture, but the drop from the little plateau where the hive is to the creek is about 15 feet.  It's a pretty steep plunge.

For most of the year (starting about 3 weeks after the picture above was taken), the creek dries up to a trickle. No more than 3 inches deep, maybe.

Well, if you've been reading your news, you've probably heard about the rains Northern California has been getting. We've been dumped on pretty harshly by Mother Nature over the past week.

Despite worrying about how my house might fair in the deluge, it didn't even enter my mind that the hive could be at risk. It's so high above the creekbed. Surely it wasn't in any danger.


Here's the hive at midday yesterday:


The rain runoff had swollen the creek so quickly that it rose and overflooded its embankment. The stand my hive sits on was underwater, and the water level was only 1" below the entrance to the hive. A little higher and my bees would have drowned.

Fortunately, the water quickly subsided. Here's a shot just 2 hours later:

I've added a red line on this image to show the high water mark (which is now stained permanently on the hive wall).

So, fortunately, this story has a happy ending. But my point is: it almost didn't; and that this vulnerability blindsided me.

I've now learned a valuable lesson that will reduce my risk exposure as a beekeeper going forward. But I'm also furiously wondering now: what unknown vulnerabilities do I have in my other preparations?

The takeaway here is that no system is foolproof. And fate has a way of surprising us when at our most confident.

Use my close call as a reason to look at your own preps with fresh eyes, and to challenge your assumptions about their dependabilty. Perhaps engage in some extra scenario planning to determine what you would do if a backup system you're counting on were to suddenly fail when needed.

We'll never be 100% prepared. It's wise to remind ourselves of that from time to time.


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mobius's picture
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A Close Shave, Adam

From the sounds of it, your house and home were high and dry, but jeepers, that was a close shave.

That's particularly excellent advice with prepping, or any other routine matter:  "To look at it with fresh eyes".

Hope the rains subside out there!

Cheers, Joanne.

grandefille's picture
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consider top entrances


Your bees won't necessarily drown if the entrance is flooded.  Most of the hive activity is above the floor.  As the water rose, brood in the lower box may drown, but most bees would move up if possible.  If high water levels persist, not having an entrance would be the biggest threat.  No foraging, no incoming food, no
"cleansing flights".

Consider using top entrances on your hives.  Michael Bush's web site has details of his system.  I use a couple of wedges, 10-12 inches long.  They taper from nothing to 1/4 inch wide.  Place them on top of the uppermost box, then add the inner/outer covers.  Be sure to place the covers so that there is a gap that bees can crawl through.  It took my hives quite a while to adjust to top entrances.  If the lower entrance was flooded, I bet they'd quickly learn to use the top entrance.wink



Amanda Witman's picture
Amanda Witman
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Thanks for the reminder,

Thanks for the reminder, Adam.  Here in the Northeast we have had not one but two massive hurricanes in the past year-plus.  It doesn't happen often, so the quickly rising waters and resulting flooding and devastation caught many by surprise.  Perhaps we all should consider where the water sources are near our homes, how the runoff flows, and what we might need to consider if we have basements or cellars underground. 

I definitely have some (hopefully minor) improvements to make in my new cellar -- sealing up some areas where we get seeping dampness in rain and thaw -- because, as I learned the hard way in Hurricane Irene, where water seeps under normal circumstances, it will pour under extreme circumstances.

Also a good reminder to get roofs and gutters checked and upgraded as needed.  Our new house has virtually no gutters and we may need to rethink that.

Best of luck to anyone here who is recovering from the heavy rains out west.


RJE's picture
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Adam, thank you, you remided me to...

...shut the valves to my exterior water spigots!!! I don't need pipes bursting and flooding my basement pantry or shorting out my freezers that supplies my kitchen pantry, and refrigerator freezer. I mean it, THANKS!!!

Happy Holidays


Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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thanks for the reminder

There's an old saying. "two is one and one is none." Consider setting a second hive in another location.

You made me remember we need to get tarps in case there is a problem with the roof



Damnthematrix's picture
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hope it rains soon....

Earlier this year, our local creek, which is much bigger than Adam's, rose 20 feet in 4 and a half hours...!  We're nowhere near it, and in no position to get flooded fortunately......

But we're having prepping problems of our own right now....  the inverse of Adam's, we've had just 40mm oe 1,5 inches of rain in five months.  The temp has been above 30C every day for ten days, and 43C (almost 110F!) yesterday with no sign of rain.  And I have just this minute drained the last of the garden water from our header tank.  That's it.  Zip.

Wish us luck....  I would have gladly accepted Adam's downpour.

jturbo68's picture
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Another thought



It had been a long time since I kept Bees and I didnt enjoy the process at the time.  Not sure if my hives were just unusually agressive, or I am just not calm enough for bees.... anyway.

Given that sometimes I have had to flee the hive (so to speak), have been stung with the hive open, or if I simply lost footing while working in the hive.

Seems like it would be possible to get hurt on the embankment, or to fall holding a part of the hive and then get swarmed.




RJE's picture
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Geez!, Adam he has a point!

Geez!, Adam, John has a point! Your hive is perilously close to the edge. You might want to re-think some safety there Big Guy. Just a terrific concern this gentlemen had, and it is obvious to me he has a point sooooo....? Hell, with all that saturation has the ground been compromised? Are you sure if the answer is no? Are you a geologist too?! LOL...Seriously, you need to take a look see.


westcoastjan's picture
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in addition...

Floods are not always of the natural variety. I have witnessed disasters from water main breaks, and septic back ups into basements. Not pleasant to deal with... ugh! frown Another flood risk is the after effects of a small house fire. You might not lose everything in the fire, but the rest of your stuff will have been doused with water to put it out.

Perhaps putting extra thought into the storage of your emergency supplies with an eye to keeping them dry would be a good idea. Obviously off the ground storage is good. Some of my stuff is stored in those barrels that canoeist's use for their gear, which has a very strong sealing lid to keep out water. They are extremely sturdy, stackable and can hold a lot of stuff in a very small space, which is a must for me. As a bonus they are great deterrents to bugs and rodents. If a flood happened they would just bob around in the water.

And Adam, I agree with Bob re the safety of that bank now. It is likely compromised. I would hate to see you and your bees get caught in a mudslide, even a small one.



RJE's picture
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Why Jan, you just described

Why Jan, you just described Country living. From the well house to the crawl space and maintenance is required, and you better be of the preventative maintenance mind-set because winters in Michigan are cold and plumbing issues always happen in the winter. Regarding a mud slide, I lived in Detroit, and we had so many canals that canoeing to a friends house could be accomplished streets over and then a short walk after tying up. I mention canals because that's in effect what Adam has only in nature, and I have seen the walls of the canal just slide in. They weren't 15 feet off the ground and at such a steep angle either. Hint, Hint. OK Adam, time to get back to the troops with your intentions because I'm at the age where friends, well, they fall off cliffs or slip. Yikes! Sorry to be such an overbearing parent type but John started this, and you have to answer now young Man. 


Happy Holidays


Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
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Posts: 3247
I'm OK, thanks

Sorry for the slow response. It took me a while to dig out of all that mud after the creekbank collapsed under me....

Poor humor, I know (now you know what my wife has to put up with)

But honestly, thanks for the concern, everyone. I'm not going to get close to the hive until things dry out substantially. 

The good news is there's a higher vantage point about 10 feet out of frame of the pictures above, where I can keep an eye on the hive's activity from safety. So please don't worry about me.

Safewrite: this hive is located in Silicon Valley, so I only visit it occasionally when I'm down there (some of my former neighbors help me tend it). I am putting in 2-3 hives at my new home - so I should have both greater yield and greater redundancy.

Jturbo68: I wonder if my bees are of a different breed than yours? I wasn't stung a single time this year while tending the hive (and I was often in shorts). That said, I'm sure that would change in an instant if a mudslide took me and the hive over the bank...

grandefille - thanks for the good advice. I am not using top entrances now, and you can be sure I will be after this!

Thanks again for the concern everyone!

12bones's picture
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Posts: 7
bee hive


Do not move the hive more than three feet. If you do the bees will not find it and die. If you want to move it more than that take the bees at least 3 or 4 miles away and leave them for at least three weeks then move them back to your new location. 12 Bones

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
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Posts: 3247

This post is a heartbreaker to write...

A week ago, I headed down to Silicon Valley for Christmas. While down there, I planned to spend some serious time working on the hive, making sure everything was OK after the close call I wrote about above.

It had been raining steadily for the few days leading up to my trip. As I was about 10 minutes away from arriving, the rain really started to pick up. So I called my neighbor, who has a hive next to mine, and suggested we meet at the creek and take the precautionary measures of moving our hives to higher ground. He agreed, and told me he had checked things an hour earlier, and while the creek was rising, things looked fine.

I arrived at the creek minutes later to find the waters raging, swollen 10' higher than in the worst of  the pictures in my orginal post above. Our hives had been swept away. Our bees were just -- gone.

So sad.

And SO frustrating to have missed being able to save them by an hour (or less).

I failed in my prime duty as a beekeeper. That colony of 20,000+ depended on me to ensure they had the essentials to thrive: a hive to live in, nearby water and plants, and safety. Due to my overconfidence, I failed in providing the latter. And so they died.

My takeaways from this painful loss are:

  • Situational awareness is key - assess ALL the risks involved in your preparations. In this case, I knew there was flood risk, but even after my earlier close call, I underestimated my vulnerabilty. I thought I had more margin of error than I did.
  • When things fall apart, they frequently do so faster than you can react - Chris says this all the time. I just had a pop quiz (and failed)
  • When you think you finally have things under control, that's when Mother Nature/entropy/fate will intervene to prove otherwise
  • Have backups for everthing you care about - I have 3 new hives on order. For a much more flood-safe location

As intended by my original post, let my failure here be a motivator for you to challenge the security of your own preps.

Doug's picture
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Posts: 3207
Sorry to hear

about your hive.  That sucks.

I just snowshoed up past mine into the woods.  Hive appeared to be ok, but I found a dying ash tree that may be an indicator that the emerald ash borer has arrived.


westcoastjan's picture
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Posts: 577


So sorry to hear that! As you said, lessons to take away from it... experience always costs us something doesn't it...


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