Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Tragic Day

Before the winter began, we prepared and closed up the hive. All winter long, I thought about our beehives and whether they survived. This photo was taken during the first big snowstorm that we had back in November. There really was nothing we could do but wait out the winter and hope.
A view of the rooftop hive last month. When there is snow on the ground, we can't get up to the roof, so we checked it out when it's a clear day. Opening the hive when it's cold is forbidden, the draft alone will hurt the bees. So wait and wait, and hope for a mild winter.
Yesterday, the temps went up to the mid-50s so we took the opportunity to do our first hive inspection this spring. First we went up to the rooftop hive and started pulling frames. I felt a lump in my throat. No sign of life. Frame after frame, dead bees. And then we pulled out the frame with the Queen cluster.  The duty of the worker bees during the winter is to huddle together and keep the Queen warm. Here are the bees in a little cluster. The cluster looked awfully small. There was also evidence of unborn brood.
A closer look of the cluster, and in the center, here you see the Queen. You can't tell from this photo, but she is marked by a blue dot. Poor Queen Bella. Her attendants tried their best, but the cold got to them. Since this was the weaker of the two hives, I suspect there weren't enough bees to keep the hive warm enough. These bees are southern bees from Georgia and they aren't acclimated to the cold northern weather. The strange thing about this hive was when we dismantled the boxes and looked into the bottom board, there was little evidence of dead bees, not the thousands of dead bodies you'd suspect. More like a few dozen. Did they fly away and die before it got really cold? What happened to them?
Next we went to the 2nd beehive location in the backyard. The first few frames that we pulled out had lots of honey! Frame after frame of honey reserve that was supposed to be food for the bees throughout the winter. This was a really bad sign. That meant the bees didn't survive the winter to consume any of the honey.

This frame was almost filled with honey! This is not what you want to see when you pull frames after a winter season.
And then the moment of truth. I pulled a frame with the Queen cluster. Both sides of the frame had bees hovering over the Queen. They most likely froze to death. I was heartbroken. On the verge of tears.
The hardest part of all, was when I got to the bottom board and saw all the worker bee bodies. My heart sank.  This year, we decided to source more hardy winter honey bees to see if they can survive our Northeast climate. Despite the fact that the Southern bees are good producers, we would prefer that they survive the winter.
At the last frame of the box, I noticed something disturbing. The majority of the frame was filled with mold. We will have to throw out this beeswax and install a new foundation into the frame. The evidence of mold is a sign of improper ventilation and dampness in the hive. That also could have been a factor in the bees not surviving.
We learned many lessons from this winter experience. This year, we'll try hardier bees, and this winter better ventilation, and perhaps building a partially enclosed shelter to cover the bees from the snow and elements. Our new bees have been ordered, and we shall be starting the season soon. Farewell Queen Bella and Queen Etta. You will be missed.


  1. Sorry to hear. Better luck this year.

  2. I'm so sorry. It must have been so hard to not take a peek during the cold month. It is really touching that the bees died clustered around the queen.

  3. Sorry that your hives didn't make it through the winter but I'm glad to hear that you're sticking with it and obtaining more bees. Were you able to locate a source for northern stock? Are you going with packages or nucs? Good luck!

  4. What a bummer :(

    I've thought about trying beekeeping but it just seems like a lot of work and when my bees die, I'd be kind of sad...

  5. Keeping my fingers crossed for the bees for the next winter..

  6. Really sorry to see such loss. I do hope that something can be done for the future. I gather you need seeds. If interested, then I could send you some, just name the type and I shall see if they are available here in the UK. Just as long as you send a picture of them growing! Take care, and good luck.

  7. I'm so glad I found your blog! I've been interested in beekeeping and will love learning from you!


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