It's still not really spring here (five feet of snow) but yesterday I went ahead and cleaned out the hive I had hoped to winter over. It was pretty nasty and I'm wondering if the bees died of nosema or what.
First, winter was much warmer and snowier than it normally is, with the minimum temp about -20 and very deep snow. I had wrapped the hive in late fall, expecting the normal winter temps of 60 or 70 below without snow insulation. Anyway, all this to say that the dead bees were totally unclustered and the population was huge, filling two deeps and a med. super. So apparently I overinsulated them and they were too warm to cluster.
This being the case, I had expected to find that they'd snarfed down all their stores early in the season and subsequently starved, but lo, one of the deeps was almost totally full of honey. There was also a little bit of honey in a few of the other frames.
There was lots of brood comb but nary a capped cell of brood. The queen in this hive had been great all summer, but I did find a hatched queen cell on one comb so that could have something to do with the lack of brood. I also noticed several largish areas where the comb had been chewed.
Anyway, my suspicions of nosema come from the amount of poop in the hive. It was amazing. The top and side bars of the frames, the insides of the hive walls, and especially the area right around the upper entrance hole were lavishly decorated. It wasn't at all orange or liquidy or anything, very normal looking, just lots and lots and lots of it solidly caked on. Not much on the capped honey, though, just sometimes a few streaks.
I know that they have to go somewhere and there wasn't much (or any) chance to take cleansing flights, but on the other hand it's a huge amount of poop.
The other thing that makes me wonder about disease is that many of the dead bees had turned black and there was a strong, definite unpleasant smell, though whether this was from the poop or the dead bees I don't know.
The dead bees didn't have "k" wings. It didn't look like they all died at once...the black ones had mold growing on them but others looked like they'd just croaked very recently.
I'd like to salvage what I can of this and reuse the less dirty woodenware and drawn comb if possible. Despite the iffy indications, should I assume that nosema is the problem (I didn't medicate for it in fall guilt guilt) and sterilize the frames and boxes? Should I trash the drawn comb or sterilize it too? Can I safely feed that honey to my new batch of bees or is it likely infected? Would it be best to just trash it all?
Or should I figure it was just a problem with the queen situation and tracheal mites or something and the prodigious poop is a result of being cooped up for eight months rather than a disease symptom?
Obviously I don't want to harm my new package bees by using contaminated stuff but I also hate to just toss all that equipment and (especially)a whole deep full of honey.
I'd sure appreciate wisdom and advice on what to do. Thanks!