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The First Death

Yesterday I experienced my first hive death as a beekeeper. I went out to remove the mouse guards from my hives and open up the entrance reducers (since it is still going to get cold out, I have decided to just use the medium opening). What I found in Hive A was that many bees were pushed up against the entrance. I expected some deaths, but I was concerned that the bees hadn’t been cleaning out the dead like the bees in Hive B had been doing, and I hadn’t witnessed them doing any/many cleansing flights. When I removed the entrance reducer and started to clean out the bottom, piles upon piles of dead bees came out. And I knew, before even opening the hive, that my poor, struggling hive was no more.

Upon opening the top, the feed patties were untouched. I could see down through the frames and there was not a little soul alive. There was still honey on the frames I had last seen them on. I could not see any brood. I anticipate that they had been so small going into the winter that they may not have had enough bees to keep themselves warm. Or perhaps I had no ventilated the hive well enough – I could see evidence of condensation and small amounts of mold on the frames. From my brief inspections and the lack of sunken in brood, I believe the bees may have died from the cold. Or perhaps lost the queen and then slowly died themselves. If you’re interested in how to discern why your bees died, I found this article to be very helpful: How to Autopsy a Honey Bee Colony.

I have some thoughts for next year. I’m going to endeavor to better insulate my hives and provide better ventilation (most likely by adding a notch in the inner cover to allow some of the moist air to escape). I’ve also started researching doing hive splits since Hive B is massive (already) and I’m sure will be bursting at the seams next month. It is a better alternative than letting the bees swarm. If you’re interested in hive splits, I’ve found this video to be very enlightening – Splitting Hives by UoG Honey Bee Research Centre.

I’ve also started looking at buying a queen. It’s still a bit too cold to do a split in Colorado just yet. Some nights are freezing, which would make it difficult to supply them with a sugar syrup feed. They also would not be able to keep enough of the brood warm. But at the end of March/beginning of April, I’ll see if I can get a Russian Queen (everything I’ve read has indicated they’re excellent at disease resistance, produce lots of honey, and are good at overwintering). If nothing else, my Italian queen seems to have done well in Hive B, and so I may get another one of those.

There is a lot to consider. I’m still a bit disappointed that the hive that I thought was making a solid comeback ultimately perished. If nothing else, I take comfort that Hive B has survived and is flourishing. I’m excited to see what kind of honey surplus they generate this year!

 

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Second Hive Check

Last week, I performed a second check on my beehives – primarily to see how they were doing and to take a closer look at Hive A (the hive that lost its queen and struggled to build honey reserves through the summer). I had concerns because, unlike Hive B, when I did my first check there wasn’t a single bee flying around the entrance. Usually in weather that is 65 degrees or warmer, bees will take cleansing flights and also take the opportunity to do a bit of house cleaning (removing dead bees, waste, etc). While Hive B had a small swarm flitting around its entrance, Hive A was quiet.

So I popped open the hive. To my dismay, the feed patties hadn’t been touched. The wax paper was still in tact and, from what I could see, the feed was still all there. Luckily it was a balmy 74 degrees, so I could risk opening the hive up a bit further to see if there was an actual cluster – or if my girls had perished.

After taking out 3 frames, all still stocked with pollen and honey, I found a small cluster of girls hanging onto one of the frames. After closer inspection, there were about 3 frames (at least) in the upper deep filled with girls. I quickly put the frames back, put the feed patties back on top, and tucked them back in. I believe it is safe to assume that they’ve “made it,” as they have both feed patties and sufficient honey stores. It would seem that, due to their smaller numbers throughout the summer and into the fall, they have a significantly smaller cluster compared to Hive B and so are not yet as active.

Hive B is… a different story. Bees are crowded around the entrance, passing in and out, going about their bee girl business. When I open up their hive, I can immediately tell that they’ve been snacking on the patties (which they probably didn’t need, but that I added as a precaution to help them along). The wax paper is already chewed up and some of the patties have been harvested. One poor bee got stuck in the patty and perished (much to my dismay – I know it’s going to happen, but it still makes me a little sad). I removed her dead body to avoid contamination. A brief glimpse into this hive shows a wealth of honey still left over and plenty bees bustling around.

This was also my first trip where I managed to keep my smoker going from start to finish – usually it peters out by the time I’m done with Hive A.

Overall, I’m looking forward to a very busy and productive season. I’m gearing up to do my varroa tests and start medicating if the counts are high. I’ll need to order a few frames, some extra supers, and look into adjusting the ventilation in my hive (I can see some mold growing on the bottom of the outer cover, indicating a moisture problem). But I’m excited and we’ll see what summer brings!

First Beehive Check

Last year I started raising bees. I received my packages at the end of April and hurried to install them into their respective hives in the middle of the cold. Unfortunately the weather was not good, and I had to hurry and dump them in before they froze.

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Everything went well into June until I noticed that the queen was not laying eggs in one of my hives. Soon after, I witnessed them starting to create queen cells – a clear indication that the queen had somehow died and now the bees were rushing to replace her. This put them behind in production quite a bit (in terms of drawing the hive frames into comb and filling it with eggs/pollen/nectar/honey.

I frequently fed my bees throughout the summer to help them build as much comb in the hive as possible (so they could in turn use that to store more eggs, pollen, honey, etc). We even planted trees next to the hive (A Kentucky coffee tree and a linden tree for both shade and flowers).

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As was to be expected, neither hive generated any extra honey in the first year; usually the bees do not have enough time to create comb for their entire hive, create honey, and then provide a harvest. Going into the winter, I noticed that the hive that originally lost its queen was light in honey, and I’ve been nervous ever since. If they don’t have enough honey stores (usually about 60lbs for Colorado weather), then they’ll starve before spring arrives. To prepare for this, I’ve ordered 15lbs of winter feed, which can be packed in between wax sheets and placed at the top of the hive for them to feed on. Hopefully if they do find themselves with bare cupboards, this will help get them through the cold weather.

I was delighted to find, during my first hive check of the year, that both hives were alive and well, and apppeared to still have honey stores. Nonetheless, I will be feeding Hive A (that lost its queen) to ensure that they are able to pull through.

Here’s to another successful year raising bees and, hopefully, a bountiful harvest in the fall!