So Saturday March 21st was my first true hive inspection of 2015. On the first day of spring, it snowed! Saturday, all morning I was bemoaning the weather and how foggy and cloudy it was, by 11am it was only 34 degrees! How was it ever going to get high enough for me to check them?? The weather forecast promised 56 degrees but I was having a hard time believing it. I had been planning this all week so I was “chomping at the bit!” Lo and behold, by 12:30pm the sun had come out and by 2pm, 3 inches of snow had melted! The bees were happily buzzing and I announced to my husband “I’m going in, are you joining me?”
Off the bat, it was easy to see that all hives were extremely active, except for the orange hive. This hive had the smallest cluster going into winter and was alive about 2-3 weeks ago. But apparently, during this final cold snap, they gave up the ghost. No bee greeted us and the only live critters we saw were the curious ones alighting on the frames as we pulled the dead hive apart. I have to say, I’ve been very fortunate since starting this adventure in 2011: this is the first hive I’ve lost. And even though I had 3 very strong hives, I felt horrible and like a failure. Ugh. What can you do?
I’ll tell you what I saw and didn’t see as we pulled the hive apart. The top box was filled with honey. I run deeps so that was approximately 80 lbs of honey. The bottom deep had empty frames on the ends, a couple of full frames as we moved closer to the middle and finally, in the middle, essentially empty frames. Bees were dead in an expanded cluster over 5 frames. We found the dead marked queen and many bees with their bottoms up in the cells, a classic sign of starvation. There was a large pile of dead bees on the bottom board.
During the winter, I use a flashlight and shine it under the screened bottom board into the bottom hive body. This allows me to see bees that may be on the bottom frames but also the numbers of dead bees on the bottom board. I had noticed there were a lot of dead bees earlier in the winter and this hive always seemed to have less activity.
Our county bee inspector looked at my hives last summer and despite my hives being colored, he used the “block of wood,” “the 4×4,” to differentiate my hives in the report. When both pieces of wood were 4×4, with the only difference being the length of wood, it was difficult to determine to which hive he was referring. Based on what I remember, I’m pretty sure the orange hive had what is referred to as PMS–Parasitic Mite Syndrome.
You know what else I found which was SO bizarre? Queen cells. Two queen cells which both had perfect exit holes. And NO brood. Not one single dead capped cell.
What do I think happened? I think the queen was failing and unable to lay the brood needed. The workers, in an effort to replace her, made queen cells but clearly there were no drones to mate with, so the queens wouldn’t have mated well. Also, the winter came on pretty hard and cold, the virgins likely never made it out of the hive. If the cells were made more recently, the virgins still would not have mated. With a failing queen, the hive was doomed.
Even if I had known about it a few weeks ago (there were NO days that allowed deep hive digging–and if we were lucky enough to have sunny days then the winds were ridiculous), I would not have boosted them with capped brood because the hive’s only hope was a new queen but there were no drones for mating, least of all flying temps! Essentially, the hive was doomed.
Classic picture of starved bees–butts visible as they starved scrounging for food that wasn’t there. You can see the dead queen at the bottom of the picture–light green mark on her thorax.
Queen cell. There were 2 with nicely opened ends. No queen cells as far as I know, going into winter. Either way, no mating would have happened.
Big pile of dead bees on the bottom board. I could see a large pile early on in the winter, but nothing like this.