Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hive Autopsy : 2015-04-12

When the weather finally started turning to above freezing temps back in mid-March, I started to get really excited thinking my bees had made it through the winter.  Sadly, about the same time I stopped noticing any audible response from the hive when I would knock on it.  The day the temp hit 60 degrees I couldn't wait any longer and I popped open the lid to take a look.  A few dead stray bees were in the top box but none of the honey had been touched.  This was not too surprising since the hive was four deep boxes tall.  The next box was also full of honey and no bees.  In the next box down I found the dead cluster on about 5 frames.  Dang.  This past weekend I finally had a chance to bring the hive into the pole barn and take it apart to do an autopsy.

This was a very depressing task but if I am making mistakes I want to learn from them!  Usually a hive dies because either they starved to death, they froze to death (these two are often connected), or they had some sort of disease or queenless problem.  Here is what I found:

First off, I noticed that the dead bees on the bottom board were mostly on the left hand side.

Dead bees on the bottom board

Usually they cluster in the middle of the box but for whatever reason they favored the left hand side.  The top of the picture shown here is facing the North, so bees started on the West (left) side of the box (frame 1).  I'm not really sure if that evidence is of any note.  The lack of dead bees on the bottom of this picture is because that is where the hive entrance was located and I had been cleaning the dead bees out of the entrance every week.

After looking over a few of the frames I could see they were mostly devoid of honey.

There was a tiny bit of honey on the top of the first frame, but the rest were empty.

The size of the cluster looked pretty large to me so I think they had plenty of bees to generate enough heat to stay alive.

On the fourth frame I noticed a small patch of brood.

You can see about eight capped brood cells amongst the dead and moldy bees with their heads down in the cells.

The other side of of this frame had even more capped brood cells.

Not a drop of honey on these frames until frame 8, 9 and 10.

These frames were solid honey.

With no honey left on the frames that the cluster was on and also that there were brood on those frames, I would say that the cluster was unable to move to the honey next to them.  Essentially they starved/froze to death.  In a sad twist, I'm wondering if there weren't TOO MANY bees in the hive! 


Well, on a more positive note, I had ordered two more packages of bees that are scheduled to arrive on April 26.  Also, the Siberian Squill that I planted in the Fall for the bees is up!

I have also been working on my solar powered Arduino hive monitor and I have it working.  I need to build a stand of some sort for the solar panel and set it up out in the bee yard. 

Another one of my goals this year is to introduce some Michigan survivor stock genetics into my apiary.  I've been in contact with Northern Bee Network and I plan to order some queens once my new bees are established.

Thank goodness for the renewal of Spring!!  As always, thanks for reading.


  1. Bummer! It's especially disheartening when they almost made it through. That cold snap we had in February was so badly timed - and when you had such a large cluster, too. Dang.

    When are you getting the new bees?

    1. Yeah, it is a bummer Robin. New bees are currently scheduled to arrive on April 26. Only 10 more days!

  2. Mine are coming on the 25th. I'm so excited! I think I'm switching to solid bottom boards this year to see if that helps with the over wintering.