The Dead Beehive Experience – It Happens
In today’s beekeeping world, things are not easy. The honey bees have so many problems to deal with including pests and environmental issues. The truth is – no matter how skilled one is with beehive management, every beekeeper will experience a dead beehive.
Not much is more exciting for a beekeeper than having the opportunity to install a new package of bee in a hive.
But then, it is very saddening to later lose that hive which was so full of promise. Unfortunately, it is common to lose hives occasionally in any apiary.
Once a hive is dead, we call it a “deadout”. Every responsible beekeeper feels bad about losing bees.
Often our first response (or at least second – if you are a crier – like me) is , to question why this happened. We yearn for an explanation.
Could this have been prevented? Is it my fault the bees died? We do not always find all of the answers we are seeking.
But, it is a good idea to learn what we can from the experience.
Routine Beehive Inspections are Key
How does a beekeeper know that they have a dead beehive? Good hive management requires routine hive inspections.
Of course, we don’t open hives during Winter or cold temperatures. But during the warm season, you should inspect your colonies – at least monthly.
Examining the entrance may alert the beekeeper to a possible problem. A bee colony that has previously had a lot of flight may show greatly reduced activity.
If this happens during the warm season, your hive might be suffering from a population drop. Perhaps, this colony is growing weaker or maybe it has swarmed.
Either way, these conditions require a check inside the hive to determine the cause.
Taking the time to quietly walk by the hives can tell the beekeeper a lot about colony conditions. But to really know – yes you have to look inside.
When was the last time you inspected the hive that is dead? What were hive conditions? Check your beekeeping journal or notebook if needed.
Small Hive May Fail from Robbing Activity
Honey bees are industrious little rascals and they are “all about” their hive. Strong hives will rob food from smaller, weaker hives.
You may notice a frenzy of activity at the hive entrance (that goes on for more than 15 minutes) this could be robbing bees.
Putting on your veil for a closer look, may reveal wrestling bees at the front of the hive. Robbing can result in dead hives.
It is time for the beekeeper to intervene. Here are some techniques you can try to prevent or slow down honey bee robbing.
Any colony that has been attacked by robbers should be rechecked at a later date. Sometimes the queen bee is killed during the attack.
If the colony is not successful in replacing her, the bees will continue to weaken and the hive will die.
Finding an Empty Hive
One of the saddest things in beekeeping is to open the box and find it empty. I have had this happen often enough over the years – to understand your pain.
It’s a feeling of disappointment, sadness and even a little guilt. Did I do or not do something that would have made a difference to this bee colony?
Sometimes, you will find dead bees inside the hive. Other-times, the box will be completely empty. This does not necessarily mean that the bees have left or absconded.
In the warm season, yellow jackets and other wasps will clean the dead bees out of a hive.
Wax Moths Do Not Cause Dead Hives
I often hear beekeepers say that wax moths killed their bees. No, they really did not.
Wax moths fly into weak or dead beehives and lay eggs on the comb. Normal colonies evict the eggs or larva.
Weak colonies or dead hives with no protectors become a breeding ground for moths. The moth larva tunnel through the comb and leave behind webbing and feces (called frass).
The wax moths did not cause your dead beehive. But why was the hive weak or empty to begin with?
Are Deadouts Preventable?
Yes, sometimes deadouts are preventable if you find problems in the early stages. Routine hive inspections keep the beekeeper informed about the condition of the bees .
Every colony needs a sustainable population of bees? You need enough worker bees to patrol the space inside the hive. The more boxes you have on your hive, the more bees you need.
Always check your queen status. Is the queen present and laying? You need to see the queen or at least see baby bees developing. Do you have a good brood pattern?
Has your colony swarmed? If so, you will see flight and activity until it rebuilds.
Usually, a queen cell is left behind to become the new queen. Always recheck swarm colonies for a laying queen in a couple of weeks.
Boosting Weak Colonies
Sometimes, deadouts can be prevented by helping weak colonies to thrive. Taking a couple of frames of bees and brood from a strong colony and giving it to a weaker one may save the hive.
You may hear beekeepers say to let weak colonies die and only keep the strongest.
While this is good advice from a genetic point of view, it is hard to do. And the bees are not always to blame.
Weather conditions can have negative effects on honey bee colonies. The best genetics in the world wont help much if the bees are starving.
Preventing Dead Hives with Beekeeper Intervention
When a honey bee colony has a failing queen – it is often able to produce a new queen bee. This is nature’s plan and it works an amazingly significant amount of the time.
However, if the worker population has dropped to a low level or weather conditions do not favor mating, the beekeeper may need to help.
Requeening the hive with a new mated queen may prevent a dead beehive experience.
It is important to understand that beekeeping involves colonies failing. And that is true today more than ever.
Disease & Mites in Bees
Though most don’t, beehives can die from disease. The most serious disease is American Foul Brood.
If you suspect that your colony could have AFB, consult your state extension service for help.
Varroa Mites Kill Bee Colonies
If you have been involved in beekeeping for any amount of time you are familiar with varroa mites. These external mites are the #1 killer of honey bee colonies worldwide.
Not only do they weaken bees by feeding on their blood, they also spread disease. Most untreated colonies infected with varroa die within 2 years.
If your goal is keeping healthy bees, spend some time choosing a mite management plan.
Many different mite treatments are available. Find one that fits your beekeeping style.
The important thing to remember is that none of the treatments work 100% of the time.
No mater which option you use for treatment, you must recheck the mite levels of your colony to verify success.
Life & Deadout Hives are Inevitable
I love my honey bees and I take my stewardship of them seriously. However, they are not my total life.
And, I suspect you could say the same thing. Like many of you, I have work, home, family obligations etc to consider.
When you find a dead hive, move quickly to protect any comb you may have inside the hive. Wax Moths and other pests will destroy it.
Freeze frames of honey to use for future hives, or give them to other hives if you have some in need.
Frames of comb should be stored properly to keep them in good shape until needed.
My Recent Dead Out
Late one evening, I noticed what might be robbing going on outside one of my hives. I did an inspection to find the colony dead.
Why did these bees die? Well, here is the truth. This hive died because I didn’t do what I should have done, when I should have done it. It’s my fault.
I am the beekeeper. I am the steward of the bees. And, many times it is our fault because beekeeping isn’t easy. No one is perfect.
Learn from mistakes and grow in your beekeeping knowledge. I say to you that if you keep bees for any amount of time, you will have a few dead beehives.