2013-2014 was a rough winter on our honeybees. December was decent but January through March was brutal on the girls. Despite our best efforts to prep the hives for winter and leave them to over winter with 50 to 80 lbs of honey, my beekeeping friends (Ron, Glen and Paul) and I lost 50 to 100 percent of our hives. What surprised me most was my strongest and healthiest hives died.
I always try to figure out what happened by doing a through inspection and consulting my honeybee books. In this case, Ron and I both lost hives in Byron, MI. All of my hives died and most of Ron’s hives died also. The good news was they did not die of Nosema Apis, the usual suspect. Over time, the hives get parasites like the Varroa Destructor mite. Mites weaken the hive and make them susceptible to single cell pathogens like Nosema. Moisture can be another common issue but wasn’t in any of my hives.
Lots of hive debris like wax, bee parts, pollen but NO VARROA DESTRUCTOR. Unfortunately, it appears the honeybees starved. It is really sad to see so many dead bees and no honey in the hive in the spring.
So how did they die? I believe they went into winter with too many honeybees and since our winter was so long and cold, they ate their way through all their winter honey reserves by early March. My hives in Davisburg were weaker due to Varroa Mites and went into winter with the same amount of honey but less honeybees and yet ALL hives survived!
With beekeeping, it is always something. It is amazing what we don’t know and how much of this effort is totally out of our control. That is what keeps it so interesting.