Beekeeping, The Ups and Downs

Despite our best efforts one of the hives died this winter

[captionpix imgsrc=”” captiontext=”One of the beehives died this February” imgtitle=”Dead Out”]


Back in the fall we added mountain camp feeders to the beehives so the bees had supplemental food if they ran out of honey, which they did. We usually get a thaw in January and were counting on that so we could check the hives to see if they still had enough honey or sugar. The thaw never came and we just couldn’t get into the hives to check them. One never opens a hive in wither with temps below 40˚F (4˚C.) The end result is hive two, Ruby, starved on 16 February.

There are many reasons a colony of bees could die. They may get wet from moisture in the hive, they may be overloaded with varroa mites and be weakened, or there could just be too few bees to maintain a cluster for warmth. The mountain camp feeders took care of the moisture and we didn’t have any significant mite problem. 

In winter honey bees will form a ball of bees, what’s called a cluster. The cluster creates heat by vibrating of their wing muscles. The bees will gather around the queen bee and the eggs she lays, laying only when the temperature is favorable. It’s a constantly moving mass of bees, sometimes as large as a basketball. To feed, the bees on the inside of this ball slowly make their way to the outside of the ball and move to honey or sugar of a snack. The bees on the outside of the ball slowly make their way to the middle to gain some warmth. The temperature inside this cluster can reach an unbelievable 94˚F (34˚C), but the ambient air in the cluster isn’t increased all that much.

Usually I’ll give the hives a listen twice a week by putting my ear to the side of the hive and tapping. If the hive is alive there will be an increase in buzzing. No noise indicates there may be a problem. Both hives were doing fine and the noise inside was very strong. When I tapped on hive two there was no noise so despite the low temperature I opened the top to find the dead bees.

What it came down to is the hive just flatout starved. Going into winter the stores of honey were light, maybe 70 pounds, which is another reason we added supplemental feed. This weight is just a guess though, there may have been less.

The mass of bees you see in the photo is about one-half of what was in hive. When I took the hive apart there were as many inside the top super clinging to the frames.

At this point we were concerned that hive one may also be short on food but we couldn’t risk opening that hive due to the cold. It would be six days of nail biting before we temperature rose to 25˚F (-4˚C) and add emergency feed to try and save that hive.

Come spring we will split hive one to make a new colony to replace have two. Providing hive one is strong enough that is.

We made a video of us adding sugar patties to hive one as emergency feed. You can see it at our Youtube channel by clicking this link.

If beekeeping interests you here is a great website to get some knowledge about beekeeping and all it has to offer. Honey Bee Suite.

  • reply Your sister-in-law Pat ,

    Oh NO–what a bummer about Hive #2. I hope the bees in Hive #1 will be OK.

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