This next hive that I will perform an autopsy on, is one of two Nuc hives that I purchased in the spring of 2015, from a local beekeeper. I went local since the queen would be from local stock and not brought in from down south or from CA. I was hoping that a local queen would result in a hardier colony.
During the summer, this hive had some problems with the queen and superseded her, but by fall, the colony was full of bees. At the start of winter, I was sure that out of all my hives this one would make it through the winter.
So let’s begin and start with the bottom box:
After looking at these pictures above I thought for sure I had the frames out of order. The far left frame in the box is the frame at the top of the 1st picture, while the far right frame in the box is the frame at the bottom of the 2nd picture. Looking back at my notes, when I added the second box I had moved up a few center frames to the 2nd deep to encourage the bees to start building out the 2nd box. Looks like they didn’t ever focus 100% back on the empty frames in the bottom box.
A few of the frames are packed with bee bread (frame 1 on the left side and frame 9 on the right side), but most are empty of their honey stores. The whitish sections are the only capped honey left in this 1st deep box.
The 2nd deep box:
Here it is evident that the bees did move up into the 2nd deep, but they didn’t venture much further than the gap between the 5-6th, 6-7th and 7-8th frame. All other frames were full of capped honey.
This colony was quite large, you can see their size from the “outline” they left on the 6th, 7th and 8th frames. So we must now look further up in the hive to see if they started to eat the sugar block provided them in March/Feb timeframe.
There is evidence that the cluster moved up to the sugar block and started to eat it.
We can also see from the bottom board below that this hive was very large, but not so large that they had eaten all of the food stores in the box.
So why didn’t they survive? They were a large colony with a lot of honey around them, with sugar above and more to come if they had just lasted longer. Also from the bottom board we can see that there is no mouse infestation and with the screen bottom board no excessive moisture in the hive.
Perhaps it was due to diseases?
We can see in the above picture that they looked healthy when they died, no deformed wing or K-wing virus. We can also see from the picture below that there is no evidence of dysentery on the inside of the boxes.
What I don’t have a picture of, is the number of dead varroa mites that I saw on the bottom board in January. I saw evidence of the bees alive at the end of February and then we went through a week of very cold temperatures, after that the colony was still. I thought they were managing the varroa mites, and it looks like the size of the colony was doing ok, so what could have happened?
After I looked a little closer to the frames, here is what I saw:
Queen cells, telling me that the queen was not well or was not alive and they attempted to supersede her.
- Size of the cluster when it died – Large
- Evidence of moisture in the hive – None
- Evidence of Varroa mites – Dead ones on the bottom board corrugated plastic
- Evidence of Varroa feces in the cells – None
- Evidence of Dysentery – None
- Evidence of deformed wing virus – None
- The amount of honey stores remaining – Lots of food stores remaining in the 2nd deep and sugar block.
- Evidence of pests living in the hive – None
- Evidence of queen problem – many queen cells
Conclusion and other observations:
- They ate all the honey in the 1st deep and then worked their way up to the top of the 2nd deep, eating the sugar block that they were provided.
- Large amount of bees on the bottom of the hive.
- The outline of bees left on the frames of the 2nd box, indicate that this was a big colony.
- Multiple queen cells, which tells me the queen had either died or was doing poorly. With it being winter, the colony was doomed.
A few things to do/changes to consider in preparing for next winter:
- Not much I could have done about the bad queen. Last summer was wet and most of the queens that were hatched and mated failed.
- Puling a few frames from the bottom box to the top box is still a good idea. I now have a lot of drawn comb and never plan to use empty plasticell when performing this operation.
- Save a medium or deep full of honey for placing onto my large hives for the winter. (I know some of you would prefer the honey, but I would prefer to have my bees overwinter each year. I’m good with this plan, since I only need a couple of gallons of honey for eating, gifts and mead making.)
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