A Nuc Hive of Dead Bees :(

Rebecca Chesney: dead bee. again and again, 2008

I revved up the table saw and made three inner covers for my nuc hives, and I cut a round opening in each through which I can feed the bees their syrup.

But when I opened the hives to give the bees their snug, new, inner covers, I discovered one of the hives dead. A dead hive is soooo quiet. Creepy. And disheartening.

Wow. The dead hive really surprised me…this is not the time of year for a colony to completely die off. And the other nucs, all of which have the same arrangement, were doing fine. So, I presented all the living hives with their fancy new inner cover and a new jar of syrup, and they’re all still flying.

After sort of reviewing the situation to figure out what happened, I scraped the pile of dead bees into the grass. I’m leaving the comb from that hive in its box and out in the sun so wax moths don’t destroy it before winter hits us.

What happened to the Nicola hive? I’m not sure, but the comb and all the dead bees were wet. Either condensation (warm days + cold nights = condensation build up) had collected on the top cover and dripped onto the bees, or (and this is my suspicion) I didn’t let a proper vacuum seal the inverted jar of syrup I placed atop the hive, and it dripped onto the bees. And they died.

Either way, I guess I killed them. Dang.

I’ve learned to cut myself a lot of slack when it comes to making mistakes that cost either bees or honey. It’s disappointing, but I try to consider these lessons learned. And I’ve found that it’s good for me to immediately get over the situation…analyze the hive, say some sort of thank you to the bees, and scrape them out onto the ground. Then I clean up the equipment for the next colony.



The Sweetest Sound

It’s March, but it’s still cold. Too cold to open the hive boxes and check on the bees. But I sort of did it anyway. I did it because on Sunday I discovered that my friend Jim lost his second hive. All dead. And then yesterday I discovered that my friend and bee mentor Chris lost all five of his hives this year. So, I braced myself for what I thought was the inevitable and lifted the lid of my Amazon girls.

I didn’t have to do much…I simply lifted the lid…and when I began to lift the inner cover, I heard them—loud buzzing. I put my ear right to the inner cover, and—sure enough—they’re still alive in there. I closed them back up as quickly as I could and practically danced my way back into the house.

On Saturday, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the 50s. Which means I’ll get to open the boxes and feed the bees. Hang on girls.

Christy's Bees Are Dead, Too

Christy’s bees died, too.

A few weeks ago, we talked about how worried we’ve been about our bees, and on the only nice day last week, Christy opened her hive to find a ball of dead bees. She had only the one hive—she got about 90 pounds of honey from it last summer. This would have been their third year. She had concerns because there were no signs that the bees were cleaning the hive…no dead bees piling up outside the entrance of the boxes. You just get this feeling in your gut that things aren’t right.

So, she’s not sure what happened to kill them all. But she has a PhD in one of the sciences…biology, maybe?…and she’s very very scientific about this stuff, so she and Max-the-bee-mentor are gonna do a little autopsy to figure it out. I asked her to include me.

I’m betting that they simply starved. All that rain we had last summer really set the bees back. They don’t forage in the rain. And if they don’t store enough food, they die. That’s my guess, anyway, because so many of us lost colonies this winter. And we’re all walking around with long faces, though we light up at the thought of our new bees arriving in April. We’re all trying it again.


Even with the one hive of bees dead, I’m so so eager to get started with this stuff again. I’ve now got a basement brimming with pretty brood boxes, supers, bottom boards, inner covers, outer covers, feeders…and there’s nothing I can do with any of it until spring…meaning March or April. Okay…I need to settle down a bit because it’s only January.

But it’s the end of January. Which means it’s almost February. Which means my one sweet Amazon queen will begin laying her eggs. Which means there will then be new bees. Which means the possibility of swarming. YIPPEE.

I mean, really, it was quite affirming to see those girls so busy in that box yesterday. It warmed my heart. I want a yard and a garden full of them.

I like the guy in this video. He’s one of those hearty Minnesotans (if you’ve never been to Minnesota, trust me…GO!). I like the way his bee yard looks. I like the way he’s set up his hives (mine aren’t set up this way, but I might do it in the future). I like his attitude. Maybe I’ll go to Minnesota to meet him.


One Dead Hive

It’s confirmed: We have one dead hive. Dead bees everywhere. But there weren’t as many as I would have thought…I just don’t think this colony was ever very robust.

The temperature today is in the high 40s or low 50s, but it’s been raining all the danged day. So Deb and I headed out in the rain to open the hives anyway because later in the week the temperatures will drop back into the 20s, and it’s hazardous to the bees to open their home in that kind of cold. They don’t love getting visited on a rainy day, either, but it seemed the smartest choice. After digging around in that quiet, dead hive, it was such a happy happy sight to lift the lid of the swarm-hive box and see and hear thousand of bees buzzing. I felt great relief.

Then we placed a piece of parchment paper on top of the frames (and on top the bees that were hanging out there…I hope we didn’t kill any of them!); on the parchment paper we poured about 1/2 pound of granulate sugar for them to munch on in the next weeks. We quickly closed things up before we got everyone all riled, and I hauled all the hive parts belonging to the dead back into the basement where I’ll clean it all up before starting again in the spring.

Dead bees in snow

Snow Litter

The snow outside the swarm colony’s hive’s box was littered yesterday with dead bees. I think this is normal, although there were very few bodies in the snow outside the weaker colony. I wonder if there are any bees left living in the weaker group.

The weather warmed up a bit yesterday, and when I visited the hives, I saw a couple of girls flying about. That made me happy…but all the dead bees spotting the snow was somewhat unsettling.

There’s a lot of trash on the bottom board of the hive box, too…some of it is dead bees and some of it is broken bits of comb. I think the living bees are supposed to remove the dead, because bees are fastidious about their living quarters. I guess they won’t work much until it significantly warms up, though, because they do not want to “break cluster.”

As I understand it, in this cold weather, they all cluster around the queen…it’s warmer this way. They resist breaking cluster…even to find food or to drink sugar water left at their doorstep. So, as the weather warms this week, I hope they’ll start eating and cleaning up.

Dead bees in snow
Dead bees in snow

Getting Out: Hive Fever

Yesterday I hiked up to look at the bees in the snow. It was in the late afternoon when the winter light finally hits the hive boxes, and when I stooped to peek in the entrance a little bee flew out. I was so happy to see her! She flew out into the woods, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s looking for out there. There is nothing to eat and everything is covered in snow. Maybe she just had cabin fever and needed some space…I can relate to that…and it was a lovely sunny afternoon.

A few more bees were moving around at the bottom of the hive, but most of the bees littering the bottom were dead. This shouldn’t be surprising…lots of them die off over the winter…but it was sort of sad to see.