Last month, mid-March, on a warm and sunny day, only one of my hives showed any activity at all. Sadly accepting the fact that I had lost 3/4 of my hives over the winter, I began to breakdown the dead-outs.
Here are some photos from that day:
You can see the bottom board is completely full of dead bees aside from the small area where I had been attempting to clean them out all winter long. Two of my hives looked exactly like this with a medium-sized (a bit smaller than a volleyball) cluster in the top box as well. No signs of starvation (no bees head-first in cells, no tongues sticking out). They had been alive in February, or was the activity I saw that one nice day maybe robbing from my survivor hive? I suspected a possible ventilation issue since so many dead bees were blocking air flow from the bottom board, but was unsure of whether that could cause a hive to die like this.
The MSU Study hive (purple hive) had the smallest cluster of all (the size of a baseball) and hardly any bees on the bottom board. I believe this hive died back in November just as winter was beginning here in Michigan. At one point it had been my strongest colony, and one guess I had was that it swarmed late in the season causing the hive to split into two smaller colonies where the one left behind was too weak to make it through, or another guess I had was maybe this one died due to collecting too much pollen at a critical point at the end of the year for the over-wintering brood.
Luckily, I have a great bee mentor to help me determine the cause of deaths. Yesterday she came over, and while I always learn so much from her, this little tidbit blew my mind. There was a considerable amount of crystallized Varroa Mite pee in the brood cells of each of the dead-outs. Go ahead, click on the photos to expand them – check it out! It can look a little like crystallized honey or even little granules of the sugar that I used to overwinter each of my hives. I had seen this before, but never knew what it was.
Amazing that this is the evidence of just how bad of a Varroa Mite infestation I had in my hives last year. Speaking with Meghan Milbrath, she said last year was one of the worst she had seen for Varroa Mites. As she’s pointing out the little specs in my brood cells to me, I’m recalling all the deformed-wings on my bees last year that were getting kicked out of the colonies, as well as lots of the poor girls foraging with mites riding on their backs. Although I had treated all of the hives (except for the MSU hive, of course) with Mite-Away strips, the strips had been expired since I had purchased them back in the spring time. I wasn’t sure at the time if they would do much good, but I must admit that I thought they would help more than they evidently did.
So we’re back to one hive for the time-being. But not for long! While I’m extremely pleased to have a survivor this year, it’s a good idea to think ahead and have at least one more hive on hand to be able to help supplement each other as needed throughout bee season. And so I have purchased a package at the last minute from Keith Lazar. Bees are to arrive on May 2nd! I’ll tell you all about these girls once I get them. In addition, I’m on a waiting list for a special hybrid, mite-biting queen – she’ll bite the legs off of these darn Varroa Mites and raise daughters to do the same. I’m really excited for this little lady, she’ll be a great addition to our neighborhood and I’m interested in seeing how her genes affect mite population over time in our area (with any luck!).