A few weeks ago I posted that my favorite hive, the one that made lots of honey last year, had died over the winter. At the time I didn’t have a good idea of what happened. My best guess was that the bees got dysentry, possibly from eating fermented sugar syrup. I think I’ve now come up with a better guess of what happened, thanks to the help of a couple of bee folks who know way more than I do.
Apparently fermeneted sugar syrup was probably not the problem because that would have made them sick right away, when they initially digested the syrup while filling the combs for the winter. Judging by how little food they ate from the combs, they probably died in November, so they made it past any bad syrup I may have fed them.
There is another salient observation about the hive: the cluster was split into two groups, one on the left side of the top box and another on the right side of the lower box. Apparently this is fairly unusual and indicative of a problem with the queen.
The folks-who-know-more-than-me wouldn’t even guess at what killed the colony until I mentioned the hive had been superceding in the fall. Sometimes a hive isn’t happy with their queen. When this happens, they will start rearing another queen, which is called superceding. This doesn’t always work and if the old queen is dying when the supercedure fails, the colony can end up without a queen. Without her pheremones to keep all the bees together and organized, the hive will die over the winter. I’ve been told those two pieces of information- the attempted supercedure in the fall and the split cluster in the hive- indicate there’s a pretty good chance the colony died because it was queenless.
Although sad, it’s good to know the colony probably didn’t die from a disease that I mis-managed. If I had more experience I may have noticed they were queenless going into winter but who knows. And I still don’t know for sure that’s what happened but it’s the best guess I have right now.
For those who are interested, the other hive is still doing really well. They’ve been bringing in lots of pollen so everything looks great.
And in a couple weeks I will be welcoming five new hives to the Beanstalk! I’ll post about their arrival when the time comes. I’ll have six or seven hives this summer, which probably won’t be enough to provide everyone who would like honey with some, but with my level of experience I’m cautious about getting much more than that.
Only other thought, noting the bee parts you found on the frames, is that mice may have gotten in there during the fall/winter and really disrupted things. But the evidence would have been quite obvious (mouse droppings, potentially a mouse nest in the middle of it all…).
Any chance you have another hive strong enough to do splits? I just learned about doing this and when it’s feasible it is great. Also grafted queens, which is amazing.
I had a mouse in there a little bit, but it didn’t do much damage and it looked like it might have been in there later. But that could have been a contributing factor for sure. I hadn’t really thought about that much, thanks.
I do have other hives that are strong enough. I’m thinking about doing a split today or tomorrow. I’m worried they’re so strong they may swarm otherwise. And I finally found my camera so I’ll be able to start posting photos of my little apiary again!