Any advice you have would be appreciated.
I'm new to beekeeping in the Houston, TX area. I ordered and built my first hive from R. Weaver about 8 mo ago, the standard 10-frame box, and built it exactly per instructions. I hived my first bees about 2 weeks ago, bought from R. Weaver apiaries. They looked great on arrival, very active, only a few dead ones in the box, queen looked active in her cage. I put them in the hive exactly as instructed in "Beekeeping for Dummies". The hive is in a dappled-sun area of a big quiet field, up on stilts which are sitting in motor oil to keep out fire-ants. The weather has been great, 70's and sunny during the day and down to 50 or so at night. Everything is in bloom now, particularly honeysuckle and blackberries. I let the bees sit undisturbed for a week. I was feeding them sugar syrup with an entrance feeder which came with my hive kit, and I never let it run out. I always saw a lot of activity around the sugar feeder, though it seemed to my inexperienced eyes that there wasn't as much bee activity as one would expect. I'd see bees flying into the hive maybe 10 times in a minute. I opened the hive for the first time after exactly 7 days. I used the smoker that came with my beginner kit. I used newspaper and the fuel stuff that came with the smoker and some pine needles. It seemed to me there weren't enough bees in the hive-- maybe 400 total. I couldn't find the queen, but I did see drones and workers and thought maybe I just wasn't experienced enough to find her. There was NOTHING on the foundation except for 6 or 7 hexagons filled in with a bright orange crystal-like dry compound. The comb was being drawn out in a very small area, about the diameter of a drinking glass. I saw no eggs. The queen cage was empty. I removed it and put back the 10th frame, and closed up the hive. Today I opened it up again, 3 days later, and everything looked dead. There were about 400 bees all balled up together on one of the frames. No motion, no noise. I could pull them apart and look them over, their legs were drawn up and I couldn't see anything else wrong with them. The foundation was still the same, just a small area with drawn-out comb and nothing stored except 6 or 7 hexagons of orange crystals. I figured the bees were all dead. There were a lot of dead-looking bees on the floor of the hive. Nothing smelled bad. I took the frame over to feed the dead bees to my chickens. After walking about 200 yards in the bright sunshine and 72 degree weather, the 400 "dead" bees started to stir. After about 5 minutes they were more active and some were flying around. They still didn't look very energetic, but they weren't dead. I stuck the frame back in the hive, but clearly something is very wrong.
What did I do wrong? Did they starve? Were they asphyxiated? Is it some disease? Did they swarm away?