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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Amelia, VA
    Posts
    34

    Thumbs Up Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    I started beekeeping last spring, and began with two hives. In the late fall, I relocated them about 50 miles, all went fine, tho one colony was quite a bit stronger, and had put up plenty of honey stores, which I let them keep for the winter (for lack of extration equip). Winter was pretty cold, and I felt bad for the other hive which seemed weaker.
    Spring arrives and I see plenty of activity from the weak hive, but none from the strong one. Looking up at the screened bottom board, lots of dead bees. Opened the top, entire full super still full of honey, untouched. The next super down, (brood & stores), dead bees. On the frames, in the cells (head first), dead. The main hive body, same. The middle two frames where most of the cluster was, all dead, and between frames 5&6, a green moldy mass of dead bees. No smell, plenty of pollen stores, no brood capped or uncapped. Dead bees everywhere, some even head first in the cells. I gathered up the deceased from the bottom board and did find some mites, but fairly low compared to the size of the colony.
    MY CONCERN lies with the darker color wax on many of the middle frames, I thought the wax darkened after a couple years, not the first. I guess I need advice on wether I can salvage the hive. i.e. clean out the corpses, clean and dry the frames, & install a nuc or package. I have not joined a group in our new area yet, and do not have any local keeper contacts. ADVICE???

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Solano, California, USA
    Posts
    1,453

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Not likely they froze to death. That rarely happens in a healthy colony with adequate feed. More likely a disease issue. My guess either mites or nosema,


    As for the darkening comb.

    Once you have pupa casings the cell walls turn darker. Means the queen was laying at some point. The body oils from the brood as well as the pupa casing does the darkening. (think butterfly cocoon to get a better mental picture) Don't panic and throw away or burn the frames unless you have afb or efb in them. (not likely in new equipment) Part of the natural process. They help feed the wax moths. Very nutritional for them.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Orange, Virginia, USA
    Posts
    382

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Dont feel bad I had similar thing happen to me.

    Was doing great. Checked all my hives in Jan and all were doing well, well is seemed. My largest hive 2 deeps and a medium full of bees, easy basketball sized cluster was still in bottom box. Came back last week to check again and that hive was dead. Lucky I checked when I did, waxmoths had started to move in and I have 20+ completely filled out frames of pollen and honey. Froze them quick for later use. The extreme cold we had didnt let the large cluster move that much which ended in death of the hive. Is a shame that my biggest hive went down, however it was my meaniest hive when it came to defensiveness.

    Oh well... snow today, not a shocker, nice weather Jan, bad feb, semi poppie Mar.

    Just glad I did not get early packages...

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Location
    Alexandria, VA
    Posts
    370

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Dark combs should not be an issue. That just means the queen laid there and that area was used as brood comb. Shake or blow (leafblower) the dead bees out as much as reasonable, and you should be able to give the combs to the next colony--they'll clean it out and fix it up how they want it.

    "a green moldy mass of dead bees" I'd be concerned about this. Mold usually means moisture, and moisture will kill a hive quicker than anything, from what I've read. Did you have any sort of top ventilation, so the warm moist air could escape? It may not have been the cause of death (it might have gotten damp after all were dead) but maybe think about fixing it for next year.

    Bees head first in the cell usually mean starvation--I know they had a full super, but if it was cold enough for a long enough time, perhaps they couldn't move far enough out to reach the honey. The reason the smaller hive made it, if this is the case, is because a small cluster has a much smaller volume-per-area than a large cluster. They just ate a lot less, and could last longer over the period of very cold weather.

    Personally I'm a fan of wintering smaller clusters. I think bees in nature do not grow such huge numbers, and I think they're much more efficient at wintering in a double-tall nuc box or something (I use all medium equipment). Next year, maybe look at splitting your huge colonys down after the nectar flow and overwinter a couple nucs instead. That way, even if you do lose one or two, you still have more than when you started the winter.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Pepperell, MA.
    Posts
    3,772

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Sounds like a cold starved hive to me. The mold is common. The mass of bees, typically in the center of the cluster holds residual moisture and blocks ventilation. That doesn't mean that you don't also have a ventilation problem, it just means that you might not simply blame it on poor air flow.

    When cold weather hits, bees need fuel. They get it from their stored honey. I've seen larger colonies crash very quickly even though there's plenty of honey stores just a short distance away. The larger mass of bees has no trouble generating heat (and moisture) but in doing so, they consume stores quite a bit faster. If they can't break cluster to move to where the honey is, they starve in place. You could call it freezing if you'd like since they really just run out of energy to stay warm. They die from lack of fuel / warmth.

    Finally, you could have mitigating factors to their health as well and most of us likely do. Mites, etc., have a negative impact to the overall health and stamina of a colony. I've had winters where a colony surprised me with their strength, going into the winter weak and coming out strong. I've had other winters where the cold cycles and the available fuel has all but wiped out a yard of bees. A lot depends on my time, the bees health, the weather and some luck.

    Oh...the dark comb. No problem. It's normal!
    "My wife always wanted girls. Just not thousands and thousands of them......"

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    Amelia, VA
    Posts
    34

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Thanks for the feedback y'all. I did give both colonies 12 oz. of 1:1 plus nozevit before winter, not sure how effective that is... I put hivetop feeders on both colonies too, both full of 2:1 plus HBH.(wasn't sure how to achieve ventilation with these, relied on the notch I cut out of the inside cover)2:1 syrup was untouched all winter, poured it into storage to dilute for use later.
    Another thought just crossed my mind...the deceased hive got very little if any direct sunlight, whie the survivors did get a.m. solar.
    Sooo...based on the feedback, I'm thinking of shopvac'ing out the carcasses, and reusing the whole kit. Any thoughts on bleach/water or peroxide spraydown on the frames with moldy bodies?
    Last edited by rtsquirrel; 03-27-2011 at 06:36 PM. Reason: ventilation comment

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Indian River, Florida
    Posts
    232

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Sounds like a health issue caused from mites.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Seneca, sc
    Posts
    830

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    I would say no top ventilation, moisture killed the bees. If you left the feeders on, especially if they had feed in them, I know that was the reason. Cold does not kill bees, if it did there would not be any bees survive 20-40 below for weeks in Canada.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
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    Pepperell, MA.
    Posts
    3,772

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    I agree. Syrup + cold + low ventilation can be trouble.
    "My wife always wanted girls. Just not thousands and thousands of them......"

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Coatesville, Pa, USA
    Posts
    839

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    This may not be the case in Va where you're from, but depending upon how you started it may be a genetic thing also. (Canadan bees are different than Va bees or Georgia bees etc) I know that some breaders bread for honey production and not for overwintering. Ther are many possible things to focus on, but in my area I have heard of almost 100% dying due to packaged queens. Most that I've heard from will requeen before the end of fall to overwinter properly. I have researched many that say that it isn't the moisture that kills them, however I don't say that at this point. I have read other threads where it seems that the bees for whatever reason didn't move to where the stores were. They were dead / heads in / starved it seems w/ stores in the next frame over. Why did this happen? Well there are perhaps several reasons. But the main thing for this post is I wouldn't be too terrified to reuse the frames. One batch of brood can / will darken the cells.
    Unless you have reason to think that they were diseased for some reason I'd encourage you to reuse your stuff. If you'd like you can freeze the frames for a few hours to get out anything that may have gotten in them, but I'd reuse it all w/o trying to burn the inside or use any scrub. This is unless you have reason to think that there's an issue. Nosema you'll see. Mites wouldn't effect any future hives that come any more than giving them new equipment. The mites will be all out. I think the benefits outweigh the "risks" for sure. If you'd like you can put some of the old comb in nuke boxes and try to catch a swarm or whatever. It'll be a natural lure. Be carefull though because you'll also catch wax moths and the like. Keep an eye on timing using "old" and used comb.
    Sorry to be so long winded. Just my 2c.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Camas, WA
    Posts
    1,960

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Back before mites (both kinds) my hives either made it or they starved. Starving was pretty easy to figure out since there was no honey in the hive. Once in a great while something would happen to a queen over winter and they would dwindle into spring and I would have to combine them.

    After mites all sorts of things started happening. They would die inches from honey and large hives would suddenly die. Now I hear about cold, bee butts, moisture, mold, etc. as being or indicating the cause of hive death.

    One thing to remember is that large growing hives many times contain large growing populations of mites. The more brood that is raised the more mite brood that can be raised. The weak hive or one that has a brood break over summer can many times be the stronger hive the next spring. But watch out for the following winter.

    I don't think that I have ever seen a dead hive without bee butts sticking out of cells. I had never heard of a SBB for the first 10-15 years of beekeeping so I only had solid boards and moisture was the same problem for a hive that died. Mold starts in a hive that dies in an area like ours with plenty of moisture over winter.

    The point is that I think that mites are the root of most hive deaths. They might starve because they are too weak to move to more honey, or they might die after being a super strong hive the past summer and fall, but mites will be the base cause. The moisture will take over after that.

    Suspect mites.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Indian River, Florida
    Posts
    232

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Strongly agree, mites are the root of most hive problems. Recently I was speaking with Dr. Malcomb Sanford, probably one of the most respected gentlemen in the bee world and he was very convincing about the mite problems. Solve the mite problem and you will have eliminated the biggest problem for the hive.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Location
    Coatesville, Pa, USA
    Posts
    839

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    >Suspect mites

    So then if my understanding is correct. . . It'd be a good idea to let your bees (most / all of them) go with a time w/ no brood. (for the natural / no treatment folks) So perhaps in the early fall / late summer take the queen with a small amt. of bees / brood and put it in a nuke, let them build it up for winter and "help" the main hive (with many different ways) to be requeened with either a queen cell, or allow them to rais the queen, so that there's a break in the brood pattern for winter so that the mites will be kept in check. Is this correct? What are your thoughts on this?

  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Indian River, Florida
    Posts
    232

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    I would not take that approach, it might work for some but not for me. Keep the hive strong at all times, it will get weak during the winter months especially where you are located. Weak hives are a concern and we all face this problem from time to time. I just returned from my nuc yard where I have about 50 nucs at any given time. The weekly check of all these nucs reveals interesting changes in the condition of each. The hive that I would grade as excellent one week leaves me scratching my head the next.
    Some of these nucs could not be located in a better location, plenty of food and plenty of sun. Some of my nucs will explode in two weeks and others will take time to develop, then they will come alive like you would expect. I am too slow at moving nucs from the nuc to the full hive body, seems like I let the nuc get so strong that it does more harm than good. I know that statement sounds a bit odd, we are stressing for strong healthy nucs then kick myself for letting it get too strong. Oh well, keep'em healthy and reap the rewards.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Camas, WA
    Posts
    1,960

    Default Re: Dead Colony, Froze to death?

    Actually, I have considered this as a management plan for my hives to stop swarming and keep mites levels low:

    Just before our flow when the bees are building up rapidly (mid May for me), remove the queen and some capped brood and build a nuc from each hive. Let each hive raise a new queen during the flow.

    I have done this with a few hives, but not all yet. If timed right, most swarms should be stopped, mites will be lowered by the 4 weeks or so that they are without a laying queen, and you double your hive count assuming that they are all strong enough for the split.

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