An update from my junkyard / backyard / beeyard.
I’m not upset about my dwindling winter colonies. This is how beekeeping plays out sometimes, whether through human error, environmental conditions or combination of both. Just look at the losses commercial beekeepers in Canada experienced this winter. Most of those losses are likely related to Varroa, which we don’t have in Newfoundland, but wintering losses are part of beekeeping no matter how you look it. I think it’s fair to say it happens to everyone eventually, even small-scale beekeepers.
I still have my Sherlock Holmes hat one for this one. All my dwindling colonies were the ones I wrapped in silver bubble wrap. But…
1) I may have missed something crucial in the way I wrapped them, something that allowed moisture to get in and not get out.
2) I may have fed syrup too late in the fall so the bees couldn’t cap it, which could add moisture and mould to the hive. This seems to be the case for one of my hives, but not all of them.
3) Some of the colonies were started from late-season queens that I don’t think mated well, and the clusters weren’t as big going into winter as I’d like. When there aren’t enough bees to “patrol the comb,” the neglected comb can get mouldy. With dry empty comb or capped honey, that’s not a big deal. But with open syrup, mould can develop. However, I’ve only found evidence of uncapped syrup in one of the dwindling colonies so far.
4) I’ve seen first hand how heavy ventilation using something like a moisture quilt — a quilt box with ventilation holes — can dry out a wet winter hive in about a week. This year I used a variation of a moisture quilt, but one that may have held in more moisture. But my setup is also similar to a typical D.E. Hive set up, and all kinds of Newfoundland beekeepers use those without any issues. So…
I experimented with a couple other things, but nothing that should have held in excess moisture.
Conclusion: I don’t know what happened, though it’s likely a combination of things. Small clusters, uncapped syrup, improperly wrapped hives. And living next to the cold bloody ocean.