Earlier this week, I experienced my saddest day as a beekeeper. About, ninety percent of my Verbena colony died. I found myself suddenly scrambling to keep the remaining bees alive! It was not a happy way to end my first year as a beekeeper 😦
Heading into winter, I thought Verbena would be my “strong” colony. I got this colony in April of last year, you can read more about their first day on the homestead here.
Before leaving for Germany for thymus and stem cell therapy, I left both colonies with enough food to last two weeks. When I got home in mid-October, they had eaten it all up, so I fed them more!
At the November bee guild meeting, the mentors suggested it was time to stop feeding so the colonies could reduce in size, just like they do nature. I was a bit nervous about doing this but figured the mentors knew more than a “new-bee” like me did.
The bee guild members, and several books I’ve read said that starvation, or mites are usually the cause of a new colony dying off during the winter. Another concern can be moisture inside the boxes, this can happen during our rainy, wet winters.
To help counteract moister entering the hive, they recommend slightly tilting the boxes of the colony forward so any water that entered would easily run out the front entrance. They also recommended building an “awning” to keep the colony dry.
My awesome husband got busy building a very sturdy, “awning” for each colony, and we had them on before any major rain hit our area. Here’s a picture of the colonies with their “awnings” on top of the boxes. The bricks on top help keep it from being blown off during windy weather.
Mid-November through mid-December proved to be extremely rainy, so I was really happy the “awnings” were helping protect both colonies. The rain finally let up in the week of December 15th so I decided it would be a good idea to take a quick peek at each colony. At that time, I was a little concerned about Verbena colony because they had been much less active than Cosmo colony during the recent non-rainy days.
I opened Cosmo first, and their boxes were dry. From what I could tell by the weight of the colony, and by taking a quick peek inside the top box, they appeared to have plenty of honey stored for the winter.
I moved onto Verbena, hoping I would find the same thing. Unfortunately, things were much different.
Upon opening the top cover, I noticed a tiny bit of mildew inside. I removed the inner cover, and immediately noticed the top of some of the frames seemed damp. The top boxes appeared to be full of bees but from what I could tell, the bottom box seemed empty.
My gut instinct at that moment was to reduce this colony to one box. Instead, I decided to close up the colony, and email the bee guild for advice before doing anything. I didn’t want to make the situation worse.
I now believe not reducing down to one box that day contributed to a large amount of the colony dying. Since that day, we’ve had unseasonably cold weather, especially at night. Our nighttime temperatures have been between 30 – 35 degrees.
When there is too much space in a colony, the bees aren’t able to stay warm enough. I think the extra space did not allow the bees in Verbena colony to keep themselves warm enough, allowing the cold to kill a majority of them.
I think the other big issue was starvation. When I opened the colony this past Monday to transfer the frames with the remaining bees, I was shocked to see how much honey they’d already eaten. This colony had 16 deep frames, and at least half of the frames were completely empty. Since this was a first year colony, I now believe I should’ve kept feeding them until they stopped eating instead of stopping when the bee guild mentors recommended.
I also think moisture was a factor, and I can’t figure out why moisture occurred in their colony, and not the other. My only guess is that the placement of this colony doesn’t allow them to get quite as much sun in the winter as Cosmo colony. If they survive the next couple months, I might consider moving the location of their hive in the spring.
Thankfully, when I transferred the living bees to their new “nuc” box, I was able to see that the queen, Lorde was still alive! The worker bees had done their job, and kept their queen alive under extreme circumstances.
I’m too sad to share how many bees I think died, and I feel horrible for not doing something sooner. I think they are now a smaller colony than when I picked them up back in April. My goal is to do whatever I can to keep them warm, dry, and fed for the rest of the winter.
Thankfully, things are warming up and I should be able to feed them for next couple weeks. Here’s a picture of Verbena in their temporary tiny, new, “home.”
I’m hoping I can keep these sweet bees alive until spring!!