Monday, March 6, 2017

Spring Wins and a Loss in the Bee Yard

 Beekeepers await spring with a fair amount of angst. In the south, we have an advantage since we usually have lots of sunny fine days even in January when we can see bees coming and going. Many times they can even be observed bringing pollen. Compared to our beekeeping friends up north, whose hives are often wintering under a layer of deep snow we get to ease our minds from time to time. 

That doesn't mean that we don't worry, though. It's easy to be caught off guard sometimes. This year, because of the unusual weather we had, abnormally warm all fall, then two early arctic blasts, I had my first over winter loss in 5 years of beekeeping.  Here's what I saw when I opened the first hive at my second bee yard. For a reference point, the picture at the top of this post is what I found in a healthy hive on the same day.

Beekeeping involves a bit of detective work to figure out what is going on in the hive and stay ahead of it when things are good, or analyze where things went wrong when they go bad.

This hive had plenty of honey going into fall. I fed another that looked weak but this one looked like the strongest one all winter. On any warm day since the first of the year this hive had quite a lot of traffic at the entrance. So what happened?

Let's look at the clues: I didn't find bees with their heads down in the cells in a cluster, which is a sign of starvation. The bees I did find were clustered together in small groups on the surface of the comb.

I also did not find one drop of honey anywhere.

There had been tons of bees coming and going on fine days.

Their demise is most likely due to a combination of things. Like having too few bees to generate enough heat and being caught unprepared for the sudden arctic blasts we had. The clusters I did find were separated. We had one day when the temperature dropped from 70 to below freezing in one day. It could be that the sudden drop that day got them. All of this could probably have been prevented if I'd realized this colony was as weak as it was and combined it with a stonger one going into winter.

But then, where did all the honey go?

After the bees froze the bees from the strong colonies robbed them out, which is why there was so much traffic at the front of the hive. If I had been looking more carefully I probably would have seen that they weren't bringing pollen. 

Beekeeping means paying attention to detail. Something I'm working on. Now that we've seen an example of what can go wrong, let's look at what the other hives looked like.

On this frame, you can see capped honey.

Look at all these healthy bees and that patch of capped brood. This is good stuff!

Here's a frame with lots of bees, capped brood, capped honey, and pollen. 

This makes my heart happy.

Here are all the things a beekeeper is looking for on one frame in the brood chamber.

The weather isn't cooperating at all with me. I spent two gorgeous days for working bees in a classroom at the master beekeeping course and now we have several days of rain forecast. I have hives that need honey supers, a hive that needs moving, and one that needs to be split to prevent swarming. Lots to do, but I can't do any of it in the rain.

Beekeeping also means paying close attention to the weather and being frustrated by it.

These are my personal experiences in beekeeping. For expert advice and information please refer to your local extension service or any of the land grant university websites.


  1. Sorry to hear you lost a hive. I hear you on the weather frustration - I've sat indoors through so many lovely days at work only to find rain at the weekends.

    1. The sun did come out a bit this afternoon and I worked quickly to get a few inspections done. I have one angry hive that needs moving until I can requeen, so hoping the weather holds for that.

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