A Winter Die-off

It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.

My first starved out colony. Yup, they’re all dead. (Feb. 03, 2013.)

I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of my hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes.

I’m okay with this loss because it’s part of the learning process. I’m working without a net here, without any mentors, and I finally decided to try what made the most sense for me: give the bees their own honey, not sugar syrup. Internet chatter, bee books and know-it-all advice (which I was a part of) can only go so far. I had to find out for myself what really works. Six out of seven colonies that were given their own honey survived. One died. That’s not too bad. I don’t know for sure yet if the colony died from starvation. I’ll know more in a couple weeks when I can take the dead colony home and give it a close inspection. Stay tuned…

March 24th, 2013: See the post mortem photos for more details.

10 thoughts on “A Winter Die-off

  1. I was expecting it. If it was my first year, I’d be bummed out. But I’m okay with it.

    I now have 20 frames of drawn comb, which will come in very handy.

  2. Sorry to hear man. I take a peak into mine during the night with a head lamp looking in through the inner cover hole. All my bees are on top (except 3) so I need to add some candy boards just to be on the safe side. It’s only another two months and the alder pollen will be starting to flow.

    Also I have one colony that stinks. I accidentally blocked off the top entrance the fall and forgot to remove it for 3 weeks after I moved it. There were all kinds of dead drones there trying to get out. I can be 20 feet away and it smells like a dead carcase, yuk. The numbers look good but I think I will need a little honey bee healthy when I add the next candy board.

    Keep an eye on the other ones.

  3. Hey Jeff,

    No big loss. Six colonies are as good as seven for me, and now I have 20 frames of drawn comb to work with. It balances out.

    The bees in most of the hives were clustering well below the top bars and still seemed to have plenty of honey stores. I gave them all a ton sugar anyway, just to be safe. It’s possible the dead colony froze somehow, though I would have expected the hive with the open screened bottom board to be the cold hive.

    Another colony, the one I call Old Grumpy, had its top cover blown off (or vandalized) at some point. The insulated inner cover was still on and covered with about six inches of snow, ice and snow running down the sides into the hive. But the bees didn’t seem to mind.

    I may have to find a new location for the bees in the spring, some place where I or someone else can keep a closer eye of them.

  4. I wouldn’t assume they died because their own honey wasn’t enough for them. Maybe you harvested too much of their honey, and they were weakened earlier in the year. Lack of nutrition in the fall when they are making winter bees can create big problems.

    It could also be from a pollen dearth, or nosema or mite-vectored viruses might have weakened them. Or perhaps they were just a weak strain that couldn’t hack it.

    So many possibilities….

    • I know it’s not mite-related. We don’t have mites in Newfoundland. But yup, the possibilities are many.

      I’m curious to see what I find when I bring the hive home in a week or two.

  5. You don’t have mites in Newfoundland?? I thought they had spread across the globe. Wow. I’m so happy for you. No wonder you’ve only lost two hives in three years. Lucky dog.

  6. I lost one to starvation too Phil. They were well down so I assumed they had good reserves but when I checked on them I pulled some frames and you cans see they had starved. What a shame on my part. I read them wrong.

  7. Agreed. A closer inspection on my part would have went a long way. This was a good size starter colony from last year.

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