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!