Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bees Be Gone

Technically, my bees aren't gone, they are dead. Not all three hives, just the weaker of my original two hives. It was disappointing to find out, but not a total surprise. The health of this hive had been up and down this past fall, although the last time I had looked, the population was up and it seemed that it was going to pull through.

Seeing a dead hive can really bring you down, after spending all the time and money to feed the hive and nurture it with the hope of receiving a honey crop the following year.

After taking off the hive bodies, I searched through this pile of dead bees for the queen, but she was no where to be found. She may not have been there, or I may have just missed her. There was very little if any brood on the frames, which might mean she was already gone and this was a queen less hive, and without any eggs, they couldn't raise a new queen. Then as the numbers dwindled, they might have gotten cold and died without being able to cluster and stay warm.

Having a bunch of bees in the comb like the photo above makes it look like they starved. There was a lot of honey in the frames of the top hive body. If you look closely in the top right corner of the above photo, you can see bees head first in the comb on both sides of the honey, which doesn't make sense for the starvation theory.

This photo shows dead bees all over the frame, and on top of the honey that was available. That makes me think that they may have gotten cold and froze to death. The honey cappings that look torn open above were probably from the strong hive doing a bit of robbing. When I checked on the hive last Thursday afternoon, there were a few bees coming and going from the hive, but they weren't the native bees from this hive. They were already dead.

When I checked the strong hive, and pulled the top hive body off the hive, and set it across the outer cover on the ground, I noticed that there were some brood exposed. If you look closely, you can see some of the brood in the photo below.

The hive had built some comb between the two hive bodies and the queen had laid eggs and there was drone brood in that area. After putting the top hive body back on the hive, there were a couple drone larvae that had fallen out of the upper hive body laying on the outer cover. Looking closely, there were four varroa mites on the larvae. This makes me think that there was a heavy mite load on the weak hive since they were in the same environment and came from the same nuc supplier.

Whatever the cause, it is one hive down and two remaining. With the crazy winter weather we have been having in Virginia this year, I am going to do my best to keep an eye on my last two hives. If this is the only one I lose, then I am average with approximately 30% loses over the winter. The good thing is that at least I was able to recover two full deep hive bodies of drawn comb, some with honey and pollen. And as bee keepers say, drawn comb is worth it's weight in gold!

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