Given the morbid nature of this post, (none of the bees that you are about to see are alive), it seemed fitting to also include this recent sculpture.
I have known since January that the Woods Hive was dead, and went up this past weekend to take it apart. This first photo shows the location and size of the cluster, much smaller than the standard size of a soccer ball, more like a softball I would say.
Bees head first in cells (as seen here) are a sure sign of starvation. Even though the girls had capped honey directly above them, they were unable to access it. Given that this hive never got very large, I think they were not able to form a cluster large enough to keep themselves warm. I have heard that this was a common occurrence this winter, given the lousy season that the girls had last year.
This frame shows the dead cluster, and also shows (to the left of the dead group of bees) an area of about 25 cells that show signs of American Foul Brood. This is a nasty, very contagious disease that occurs in old comb. The frame that it is on is black with age, and is a frame that came with the nuc last spring. I am so upset to have found this, but I am hopeful that by tossing out all of the old frames, and cleaning all of my boxes with a propane torch I will prevent its spread.
After removing the frames from the boxes, I went in search of the queen. Not spotting her, I resorted to brushing all of the bees off of the frames into the box and sifting through them, handful by handful. Mysteriously, I still could not find a queen in this hive. My question is this; Will a hive that is getting ready to go into the winter, but has no queen, form a cluster? My instinct tells me no, as she is the one that they are surrounding and keeping warm. I have yet to send out an email to various groups to find out the answer. (I will be sure to post the answer ASAP, as I know that many of you will be up nights pondering it.)
After searching in vain for the queen, I decided to figure out how many bees were in this hive. I figured out how many bees equal one ounce (about 350) and then weighed all of the dead bees. 10.5 ounces minus the weight of the plastic bowl gave me only about 3,000 bees, thousands fewer than should be in a winter hive.
And now it is spring. The House Hive is pulling in pollen (mostly from the willow trees) and seems to be quite active. I am painting new boxes and planning for my first attempt at a split. Season 4 is about to begin!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The bees are sitting tight these days, waiting for the snow to melt and the willows to offer up some early pollen. Up in our mountainside eco-system, we still have about 6 inches of snow on the ground, although nothing like what you see in this photo taken during the massive week of snow at the end of February.
Most starvations happen during March and April, and I am apprehensive as I know that the girls are now in the upper super of honey. I have confirmed that the woods hive is dead and will take it apart soon. From what I have read recently, this winter was a really bad one for the bees, and losses were incredibly high.
So... go plant some bee friendly flowers and wish the girls good luck.