Dealing with the Dead……
Colonies that is. Everybody has a dead one sometime
when over wintering bees and it is a time for a quick diagnosis
as to how well we prepared our bees for over wintering. Many questions
come to mind. Did my mite treatment not work, treat too late or
did they starve?
First of all, I believe in removing dead colonies
from the apiary when I find them. Leaving them there and allowing
them to be robbed out by other bees or allowing field mice to
make a “pediatrics ward” out of the dead colony really
isn’t the best answer. Beekeepers owe it to themselves to
find out what AFB (American Foulbrood) looks like. The unmistakable
smell, the telltale “scale” in the bottom of the cell
and the use of a toothpick in stretching out the contents of the
infected cell are part of the procedure in determining AFB. Look
in a good bee book and it will explain the procedure very well.
Once an AFB colony is found, the frames of honey, bees and brood
all need to be burned and contents buried in the ground, and the
boxes, bottom board, inner cover and inside of lid need to be
scorched with heat. A butane torch works good for this.
Upon examination this hive did not have
foulbrood. This particular frame of honey and other frames can
be used again.
Honey and brood comb containing AFB spores are the
primary way AFB gets into other hives. Robbing bees can carry
the honey to other hives, so destroying the honey and comb is
the answer. You reduce the chance of spread to other colonies.
I mentioned field mice earlier. Their presence inside
a hive can weaken a hive and destruction of combs hurts the beekeepers
pocketbook. Replacement of damaged combs is necessary. Using the
damaged combs is not a good idea and bees may have a tendency
to make drone comb where holes were. Mice are filthy, and we need
to remember we produce human food in our hives. Field mice can
carry the Hanna virus, so using rubber gloves when handling combs
and the old nest can be good safety equipment.
Hives that die from varroa mites generally still
have honey left in them. Bees will attempt to rob from them and
leave the combs in a rough appearance. Hives usually die from
the lack of adequate amount of healthy brood and the combs can
be safely reused. Using a bee brush removes a large amount of
the dead adult bees found between frames. Hives that have an inadequate
amount of brood will not live through winter. Bees will clean
dead larva out and readily reuse the comb. You may see dead mites
on the bottom board and in severe cases almost like a drift. If
conditions show that, one probably treated too late.
Starvation is a serious issue because potential
for making increase and a future potential honey crop is lost.
In many cases hives are lost very close to spring time and could
have been saved by a gallon of syrup. On the other hand if it
is the type of winter (severe cold) without a break in the weather
and bees can’t move to honey-filled comb, they will starve
with honey less than inches away. Bees that starve will be found
to have died head-first inside a cell. Combs will contain little
if any honey and masses of dead bees will be found between combs.
Combs that are solid packed dead bees will be damp and many times
mold covered. Some beekeepers will clean up the combs using tweezers
getting many of the bees out of the combs. In some cases replacing
the comb with foundation may be the easiest way to deal with dead
bees which are damp, packed head first and smell terribly.
Too small a winter cluster will not sustain
itself. When examining the hive only 4 frames of bees were present.
In this case, putting 2 hives of bees together did not work out.
Bees do die from a disease called nosema. Colonies
whereby bees have defecated inside the hive and the whole front
is dirty brown may have died from nosema. Other particular symptoms
include a distended abdomen, disjointed wings and a white ventriculus.
Microscopic examination confirms the disease. I haven’t
seen dirty hives this year. I have had years where that is very
apparent, but my honey was unusually dry in 2003. I think many
beekeepers choose to ignore nosema. But it is treatable with a
product called Fumidil B in syrup.
Bees that have died and came from starved hives,
die from nosema or where mite infestation was a problem, can be
used as fertilizer in a garden. Work them into the ground right
away so they can break down and benefit the soil.
One of Tim Laughlin’s over wintered
hives on March 10th, 2004. The Apistan strips are in and the bees
are waiting for spring. The bees are lead by an Italian queen.
In dealing with the dead, we may discover we have
made mistakes as we all do… Let us learn from them. I lost
nearly 20 colonies from starvation last year and paid dearly to
replace that potential production. Not repeating the mistake makes
beekeeping more enjoyable and allows us to make a profit.
Submitted by Tim Laughlin