Back at the beginning of October I conducted a full inventory of my one (top bar) hive and everything looked to be ok. There were lots of bees covering nearly all of the combs, open and capped brood and plenty of stores. Just prior to hurricane sandy, I went out to put some extra weight on the cover and noticed that the hive seemed ‘quiet’. A quick look through the observation window discovered a few bees, but not so few as to raise an alarm (to my novice mind, anyhow).

Last week, I took another look through window and seeing NO BEES, started to worry, but hoped that, because of the cool weather, that the cluster was up high in corner where I couldn’t see it.
Today was an especially warm day (mid 60’s) so I took a few minutes to open the hive and have a look. What I found is that my colony is completely dead. There was one lone bee buzzing around outside the hive (sunny, 65⁰F) and when I opened it up I found lots of (well, not really that many) dead bees. The first few frames (Top Bars) where the brood nest had been each had a small cluster in one top corner of about 75-100 (dead) bees. Some face-into the cells, some hanging on outside, almost ‘normal’ looking. Looking through the rest of the combs, there are plenty of stores and no evidence of robbing. I found the queen in one of the clusters among the dead workers so I doubt they could(?) have absconded. No swarm cells or supersedure cells; and no more than the usual queen cups along the edges of the combs.

We have not had an exceedingly cold fall (a few nights here and there in the 20’s), and I haven’t seen a mite since I installed the package in early April. I did see a few SHB at the end of summer, but there is no evidence of them now. Surely, I am missing something…

I went back a few hours later this afternoon to take some photos and there were then a few dozen bees returning to the hive (or robbing it out?). They were not aggressive or defensive in any way. I was able to remove every frame and photograph it without smoke or a veil.

What could have happened? Keeper error? Pesticides? Something else?

What to do now? There is a lot of pollen, honey and bee bread. Should I seal the hive up (is that really possible) and reinstall another package in the spring? Should I harvest the honey and keep everything else in the freezer until spring, then feed it back to a new hive?

High-res Photos here http://flickr.com/gp/duxpix/9HM65Y/ - the photos look almost normal, until you realize that all the bees are dead

Any ideas?