One of my honey bee colonies died over the winter. (See A Winter Die-Off, A Winter Die-Off Post Portem: The Photos and Why My Honey Bees Died for more details.) It starved to death because: (1) I thought it had enough honey of its own and didn’t need to be fed extra honey or sugar syrup in the fall. I was wrong. I’ll feed my colonies in the fall for now if I have any doubts about their honey stores. (2) I wrapped all my hives for winter on December 1st and didn’t check on them for two months, not until February 3rd. I waited too long. I should have checked on them first thing in the new year and given any starving colonies some sugar.

Dead cluster on a frame near the brood nest. (March 10, 2013.)

But now I know and I’m not discouraged by it. I had to lose a colony sooner or later. I went into the 2011 winter with two colonies, 2012 with four and 2013 with seven. So now I have six instead of seven. That’s not a catastrophic loss and it’s a pretty good survival rate for three winters of beekeeping. I also now have an extra twenty frames of drawn comb to work with this year. That’s a luxury I’ve never had.

9 Responses to “Winter Die-Off Post Mortem: The Video”

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  1. Emily says:

    That hive looks enormous, bigger than any of mine. What a shame. But you’ve done well to only lose one over the winter, and you know how to stop it happening next winter.

  2. Phillip says:

    Yup, it was a large colony. The trick now to make sure none of the other colonies starve before spring. I’ve given dry sugar to all the hives (and pollen patties last week). Some of the colonies are gradually eating through their sugar, while others, the large colonies, are eating through about 1kg of sugar a week (over 2 pounds). I won’t be able to check on the hives until next weekend, by which time they’ll have been on their own for two weeks. I’m not sure what I’ll find.

    I keep hearing about bees bringing in pollen this time of year. We still have snow on the ground in Newfoundland.

    I’d love to get my bees through winter without feeding them sugar or pollen, but I wonder if that’s even possible in Newfoundland.

  3. Chris says:

    I wonder if the size of the colony was a factor in its starvation? If it’s a really big colony going into the winter, then they’ll eat through their food stores way faster than a smaller colony.

    It’s maybe even a good thing you didn’t feed in the fall, because it may have stimulated even more colony growth heading into the winter.

    Sorry to hear about your loss. Never a happy sight. :(

    • Phillip says:

      I know a larger colony has a better chance of surviving the winter, but clearly that only applies if the bees have enough honey stores. In this case, a smaller colony probably wouldn’t have starved.

      I don’t think feeding them in the fall would have stimulated more growth. From what I understand, the colder, shorter days and the lack of regular pollen triggers the queen to stop laying in the fall. Once she starts shutting down, any extra sugar syrup or honey is stored and capped for the winter.

      I think the colony went into winter with virtually no honey in the bottom box and not much in the top box. Definitely not enough to last two months.

  4. Jeff says:

    It sucks as I had three that starved out. It hurt me deep.

    • Phillip says:

      Jeff, I think you’re doing a fantastic job with your bees. Considering how well you’ve built up your colonies in three years, starting from one hive, then four and now, what is, over a dozen? I wouldn’t be discouraged by the loss of three colonies.

      I don’t like seeing so many dead bees in a hive, especially knowing I could have prevented it, but I think there’s a lot to be gained from these experiences. That said, I’m glad this didn’t happen during my first winter. That would have hit me hard.

  5. Sheila Retherford says:

    Great photos of your starved out hive, very evocative. I always feel a little sad when I’ve done something that damages or kills off one of my hives.

  6. Phillip says:

    Another colony almost starved. I think it’s been two weeks since I last checked on the hives and gave them all some pollen patties and a small amount of sugar. The colony that I call Old Grumpy had no sugar left in the hive, so I dumped in another 2kg. It’s a massive colony and most of the bees seem to be above the top bars. Too bad they’ve always been grumpy bees.

    The rest of the hives had plenty of sugar left in them, though I topped up a couple just to be safe.

    I’ll check them again in two weeks.

  7. Phillip says:

    This is a good reminder for NL beekeepers too.

    http://www.honeybeesuite.com/r.....ot-nectar/

    I doubt we’ll see any pollen until April, if we’re lucky, but it is the time of year when the queen begins laying more. More mouths to feed means more food required. I’ll be checking my colonies at least every two weeks until May. I may have to give them more food to hold them over. A bit of sugar (or syrup when it’s warm) is fine, but I’m on the fence about feeding pollen this year. I’m not sure I want my hives exploding with bees (and swarming) again.

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