Bees In Our Bonnets

The (mis)adventures of raising honey bees in Minnesota

This is perplexing

with 10 comments

We finally checked the bees today to see how they fared during this long cold winter.  We had a big surprise, and it wasn’t a good kind of surprise, either.  Currently we have 2 hives- #1, Famine, had a very rocky start last summer.  First, the queen left as we were hiving our first box of bees.  Then, we bought a new queen, which arrived just about the time the original queen made her way back home, so the hive turned on the new queen and killed her.  This hive produced very slowly and we harvested no honey from it.

Hive #2, War, was very active from day 1.  We got about 30 lbs. of honey our first year, a respectable harvest.  The bees had about 4 times that amount to make it through the winter.  We were sure that War would be fine during the cold months but were worried about poor Famine.

Today, the results are in: Famine is fine, thriving even.  A small amount of honey is left in the deeps but they should easily make it till nectar flow begins.  War is dead.  Completely, totally silent, nothing at all moving.  War also has 3 deeps full of honey, so this hive must have died very early on.

We have no idea of what might have caused this.  They had plenty to eat, they were wrapped for the winter and War had the healthiest queen.  We’ll be looking into this mystery and will post as soon as we have some idea of what happened.  In the mean time, it’s a pretty sad day around our house- we love our little bees!


Written by beesinourbonnet

17 March 2011 at 13:18

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses

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  1. You say the “Queen left” when you were hiving a box. Was she not in a little queen cage? Had she already been chewed free by the workers? And if that’s the case, wasn’t she probably just taking off on a mating flight? (I don’t use boxed bees, so I’m a little hazy on the mechanics of how they work…if I’m off, that’s why!)

    War is dead with no bees at all? Even if it has deeps full of honey, was it cold enough they couldn’t move to the honey stores and they starved? I haven’t seen a dead hive yet (knock on wood) so I’m just trying to picture it in my head. The pictures of starving hives I”ve seen had bees down in the honeycomb headfirst, licking up the last bits. So sad. 😦

    I’ll be watching to see what you conclude!


    17 March 2011 at 13:44

  2. Lisa, yes, the queen was in a little box. We learned in bee class that we were supposed to open her box after we got it way down deep inside the hive, but we accidentally opened it too close to the top, and she just flew away. She was already bred, so no mating flight- she just panicked. Luckily, she was able to find her hive again.

    And War has 3 deeps just filled with honey- honey on every level, so that makes me think they didn’t starve. We’re going to see if someone more experienced can come over and have a look, because this doesn’t look like CCD, foulbrood, starvation or any of the things one normally suspects. I’m just hoping it wasn’t anything we did wrong, poor little ones.


    17 March 2011 at 15:50

  3. I love that you name your hives for the four horsemen of the Apocalypse!

    Did War have a bee ball of dead bees?
    If so were there several inches of empty comb around the dead bee ball?


    17 March 2011 at 20:37

  4. Please don’t depend on the little honey left to sustain your hive till the honeyflow starts. As soon as the first little bit of pollen starts coming in (should be right about now there–maple starts producing VERY early) they will start raising brood and will suck up all the honey left very quickly. They could (and very well might) starve within a week or so of the honeyflow starting. They use no rationing system. They all have plenty till the last drop is gone and then they all starve together. That is why you can look at a seemingly health hive in the very early spring and a week later they can all be dead. HAVE you bee inspector check your dead hive quickly (they will respond to an emergency call quickly) and if it has no disease take that honey and feed it to your live hive. Otherwise start feeding sugar water (50/50 mix) immediately and keep feeding it to them as long as they are taking it. Good luck with the hive you have left and don’t get discouraged. Even professional beekeepers are losing lots of hives these days to mysterious and unexplained reasons.

    Gerald Murphy

    17 March 2011 at 21:13

  5. P.s. please let me know what is wrong with the old hive and how the good hive is doing. Your local county agent can put you in touch with the bee inspector for your area.

    Gerald Murphy

    17 March 2011 at 21:15

  6. P.S. #2 Better yet–start feeding them sugar water until you find out about your dead hive. Please don’t let you good hive starve–and it can happen before you even notice.

    Gerald Murphy

    17 March 2011 at 21:20

  7. War didn’t have a bee ball. I removed two of the three deeps and poked around; there were clumps of dead bees scattered throughout the hive top to bottom. The deeps were all heavy as heck, and the frames were absolutely dripping with honey; there appeared to be very little eaten. There were a large lump of dead bees outside the hive on the apron. I don’t think it was CCD, since there was a very large number of bees in the hive.

    We live in the Great Frozen North, so it is very doubtful that it was an insect infestation, and I saw no sign of that (no stretches of gnawed comb, no odd larvae, no foulbrood smell, nothing like that).

    Famine, our trouble hive, looked pretty good. There were few bees in the top deep, but there was a fair amount of activity in deeps 1 and 2 and there were a number of bees taking cleansing flights (it almost got to 60 today). There was a moderate amount of honey left in the top two deeps; I didn’t pry much into the frames in the bottom deep.

    We’re seeing our local bee supply guy/bee expert Saturday. At his suggestion I put a pollen patty down today, for Famine at least, and I will ask him if he has any ideas.


    17 March 2011 at 21:49

  8. Yes, please keep us posted! I’m feeling like hive survival is such a crap shot. Ours is still coming along yet I’m at a stand still as to whether I should feed or not. They don’t seem to be consuming some frames of honey. I’m worried. I didn’t treat for mites in the fall so I’m amazed they even made it this far. I’m sorry you lost one of your hives, I can imagine the disappointment as I know you really care about your bees. I’m happy to read that one of your hives came through and is doing well.


    18 March 2011 at 06:15

  9. Psst! Cindy, I think you’re the one who won my homesteading book giveaway. If so, please leave your email and mailing address in the comments. Comments are moderated and your info will not be published.

    Also, if you’re NOT that Cindy, please let me know that as well. I’ll need to draw another name if I don’t hear from the winner by this evening. Thanks!


    18 March 2011 at 07:59

  10. Kate, that’s me! I’m still looking for a place to post my email address, but if you see it here, I am:


    18 March 2011 at 08:10

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