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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Today is an unusually warm day and I decided to check on my hive. We've had some rollercoaster temperatures lately swinging from 10 up to high 60s and more on the wet side. About a week or so ago, I noticed a large number of dead bees at the entrance, but there was still a number of them outside the hive drying off and flying around. But today there was no activity at all. I used a small stick and scraped another good amount of dead bees to make sure the entrance wasn't blocked, but I have a feeling the hive may be gone.

My question is, should I open the hive and check for signs of life, or leave it be? This is my first year as a home beekeeper, but from what I've read it's best not to open the hive when the temp drops under 50. This week will be around the 40s, but it will be awhile before it's back up, so I'm reluctant to get in there.

As far as I could tell, the bees seemed to have a good set of stores. I got them as a nuc, and they grew very rapidly this summer. I started with 5 frames, and by the end of the summer they filled the whole box, plus 2 more medium boxes I added on top. On my last inspection, the top box was a little light, but the middle one was full of honey. Because it was their first year, I didn't harvest any, or feed them. They were reduced quite a bit by October from kicking out the drones, but they still seemed pretty strong going into it.

Is there a safe way of verifying whether or not the colony is still alive? Is it worth the chance opening one of the boxes?
 

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Was there honey in the bottom box and did you treat for mites at all? Your stores sound light, but if you didn't treat for mites, that is the likely cause if they are indeed dead. An ear to the hive or stethoscope will confirm. Don't check the hive unless its above 50. If its a deadout, nothing you can do anyway and if they are alive, best not to expose them to the cold unless necessary. J
 

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Remember, the bees are not "dead" until they are "warm and dead". Bees go into torpor below 45 degrees. You might open the box and find them "lifeless" but when they warm up, they might start moving around. I wouldn't open the box at this point. Not unless you get a couple of 65 degree days and still no motion from the hive.
 

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On many occasions when temperatures were above 45 degrees I have removed the tele-cover and peeked through the inner cover for signs of life with no problems. Use a flash light and make it quick. If the bees can live in a cluster in below zero weather, a 5 - 10 seconds of exposure to 40 - 45 degrees will not be an issue. Do not remove the inner cover. If it is colder than that, the stethoscope idea would be a good choice.
 

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I'm also in Ohio a little north of you but farther east. Had a lot of activity at my hives today, temp around 55. I'd say open and look through the hole in the inner cover, as suggested a flashlight helps. If you're not comfortable doing that and don't have a stethoscope handy, use a water glass with a flat bottom put the open end against the hive and your ear against the bottom (old movie reference :) ) As suggested, if you didn't treat for mites you were taking a big gamble, OA is cheap and the dribble method is effective. Also, Sugar syrup is also cheap if they don't take it, they don't need it. Both the preceeding are cheap insurance. We'll probably have some more warm days the way this winter is going. Pick up some OA at the hardware store, google dribble or search here for the technique. While you're in there, spread some paper on top of the frames and pour some dry sugar on it for emergency food. If they don't need the food, they'll carry it out of the hive. Too late to feed syrup.

Good luck,
 

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I'm a little north of cincy. It was 72 today. A record. My hives were cranking. If there was zero activity I would be concerned. I lost a couple hives to mites this season even though I was monitoring for them.
 

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Welcome to Bee Source, sackeri!


It is nice to know that you have nice weather sometimes. At 30F you can still open the hive for a
one minute hive check then quickly closed it up. They are probably at the bottom brood nest and not
at the first super going up yet. So if you lift the honey super on top of the brood nest box then you
will see them there clustering. At 50-60F you can definitely check the hive. I gave them my homemade
sugar loaves patty subs today at around 50F. All hives received a loaf or 2 because they are low on stores.
I would do it for a peace of mind!
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thank you for all the support and responses so far. It's all very helpful. I will pick up a stethoscope and will check the top hole entrance to see if I can see or hear anything. I usually can't get home before dark, but should be able to check on Friday and report back.

As far as mites go. I did not treat them. So it very well could be the cause of the possible dead-out. I realize this is a bit of a hot-button issue, but I'm still learning and reading as much as I can about it. Some people absolutely swear that you need to do it, and others have good arguments against it. I'm not totally for/against treating them, but I was hoping to avoid it unless I at least detected them first. Although I acknowledge that due to inexperience, I may have missed it.
 

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The 2 things that can really hurt your hive late in the season are mites and robbing. I did a better job monitoring for mites this season. I still lost a couple hives though. I also used robber screens which kept my hives strong and heavy. I battled yellow jackets last year. I hardly saw any this fall.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Good to know. I did see some activity this Fall with Yellow Jackets which is when I put in an entrance reducer, but I'll have to look more into the robber screens.

Overall I thought the hive was pretty strong. I was surprised how fast they grew early on. We did lose the queen a little late in the summer as they raised a couple of new ones. I'm not sure if that was a factor, but going into winter that had me a little concerned. I've been a little lax since our last inspection in November, but I didn't see a large number of dead bees until the temps started going from 10 to 70 like the other day. I saw a lot of bodies on the landing board last week which was the last time I saw any live ones. When I went out on that warm day 2 days ago, the landing board was clear, but there was a lot of bees on the bottom screen right behind the entrance. I wanted to open it, but the forecast didn't show any more days above 50 and didn't want to risk it.
 

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Probably the dead bees are from the mite kill or from the nightly brood chills.
Try to look for the deformed wings or body as an indication.
 

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I'd first knock on the side of the hive and see if you can hear them buzz. If not take the top cover off and see if any bees are there to greet you because of your knock.
I'm guessing since it was so warm and you didn't see any activity, they are either dead or have absconded.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Ok, so due to the weather I had to wait until today to get a good look. I bought a cheap stethoscope and listened in with a couple of knocks, but didn't hear any noise. So I got a stick and scraped a bunch of dead bees out of the entrance and using some sticky tape I slid some underneath the vented bottom.

From the debris picked up with the sticky tape I found 3 varroa mites. And picking through the 60 bees I scraped out, I found 3 more. So mites are definitely present. How much worse it may be in the hive, I don't know yet.

It's sunny in the high 40s today, so I just went ahead and popped the top entrance. I can't see much past the top medium super, but nothing came up, and sticking my ear to it, there's nothing but silence. So I'm pretty confident at this point they're gone.

Before I go any further, I just have some questions about what I should do with what I recover from the hive. I assume since we do have below-freezing temps at night, everything in there is dead including the mites. I'm pretty sure there's a good amount of honey in there. Should I leave it out there through the winter, or break it down and bring it inside? If I can reuse any of it next year I'd like to. But I don't want to leave it exposed for rot and robbing.
 

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I stack my deadouts in my garage with a solid piece of plywood at the bottom and top so no varmints get in. Then they are ready for spring to use in hives or swarm traps.
 

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Bring it in to your garage or house and save it. You probably should freeze the frames in case there are any wax moths there. You can save the frames to use next year. Drawn comb will be useful for your new bees. You might even have some honey to extract!
 
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