Another casualty of 2016: my remaining two hives. I went out to check on them last week, and both were dead.
The Vulcan hive was completely empty of bees. My first thought was colony collapse or that they’d absconded, but I don’t think that was it. Doing some reading, this description at HoneyBeeSuite sounds right on target: It was probably varroa mites. This was a really strong colony going into winter, and they had plenty of food. I still have to go back out and check for the signs Rusty mentions at the end of his post, but I’m willing to bet that’s what it was. Depressing, because it probably could have been prevented if I’d treated in the fall (though not necessarily).
I’m at a loss for what happened to the Tellar Prime hive. They weren’t as strong going into the winter, but they didn’t seem that weak. But in that hive there’s a small cluster of dead bees. My only thought is that maybe they were indeed too weak, and the remaining cluster was too small to keep warm. It hasn’t been that cold yet this year, and colonies normally can handle the cold anyway. A big ball of bees keeps itself warm by “shivering” to generate heat. But if there aren’t enough bees, they can’t generate enough heat to stay warm. That’s the only explanation I can come up with there, because they also had plenty of food, ventilation, etc. I don’t know what else it could have been. But I’ll do a more thorough inspection there, too.
This was an especially frustrating loss because I’d been planning to buy enough bees in the spring to add two hives and expand to four. But now I have to start over with two again. Bees seem to be particularly expensive this year for some reason, so I can’t buy four hives’ worth.
I guess this is incentive for me to learn how to make and overwinter my own nucleus colonies so I have bees in reserve for times like this.