Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bad News At Sutton

Sometimes I am a bad beekeeper. Case in point: the hives in Sutton. I checked this blog (which I use to record what happens in the hives), and the last time I was at Sutton was in late January. That's when I discovered one of the hives was dead. I had fed "bee candy" to the other hive which was still alive, and it looked in good shape.

Fast forward to last weekend. I had plans on getting a new package in early April to repopulate the dead hive at Sutton, and I was going to check on the other (live) hive at that time. But the packages were delayed (still not here yet), and I never made it out there.

I did make it there this last weekend. When I visit the Sutton hives, I usually park in the driveway, get out and suit up and get things ready (light the smoker, prepare the equipment, etc.) before I walk to the hives. This time I though, "let me take a peek at the hive first before I get all suited up."

I did, an instead of a healthy amount of bees flying in and out, I saw a bunch of big black ants crawling in and out of the hive. Not a good sign.

So I started taking apart the hive. This hive went into winter with an extra honey super on top - the frames weren't fully filled by the bees, so I just left it as food over the winter. I opened up the hive and saw the bee candy pretty much untouched from when I put it on in January. Also, I was surprised at how heavy the top was. When a hive dies from starvation,the frames are usually light and empty.

Then when I lifted the top brood chamber, it was also surprisingly heavy. Here are a couple of frames I found:

In these frames, you can see the "cluster" of bees (in #1 they are along the top toward the left; in #2 the cluster is along the bottom toward the left). The wax covered areas (a little on the lower left and a lot on the upper right) is full-fledged honey. I also found full frames of honey in the outer frames.

Based on what I saw, I think the bees died when an extended cold snap trapped them in a small cluster and they were unable to get to the honey right next to them. The cold did this hive in.

Because there was plenty of honey in the hive, I don't know what else I could have done. I've heard of other beekeepers who late in the fall go in and rearrange the frames for the optimal overwintering configuration (according to the beekeeper). But generally the bees do that themselves.

Here's the bottom board:

That's a thick layer of the dead bees.

The one good ray of hope in this hive is that there is still a lot of honey in the frames I can use to feed the bees I am going to replace in here. And wax moths didn't take over the hive. That means it's like a fully furnished apartment with a full fridge - waiting for new tenants.

It's too late to order a package of bees for this hive. So I plan on making a "split" from the other hive (which is yet to be created) about a month after the other hive is started. Then I can build up this hive over the summer and fall. Because the owner is more interested in the bees for pollination rather than the honey, this will work.


  1. Been a bad winter. I am in Sutton as well and lost 3 out of 10 hives. Very much the same as what you describe. In six years of beekeeping this was by far the worst.

  2. I feel like a bad beekeeper, too sometimes. I wish I had a crystal ball that would allow me to see what the bees wanted and then let me tell them what I wanted and then help negotiate all that to everyone's satisfaction. Also an alarm would be nice. I lost one of our two over the winter and the deadout looked a lot like what you showed here. Our winters are crazy variable and unpredictable.


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