A couple showed up late with frames from their dead hive. They were first-year beekeepers, starting the 2014 season with two nucs from a highly reputable, local beekeeper. They did feed sugar syrup early to help draw out the combs, and later in the summer, harvested eight gallons of honey from the two hives…not too bad for their first year!
The first hive died at the onset of cool weather; the second hive just died in early January. It had a very small cluster. Both hives were fed 2:1 sugar syrup following the harvest. No one in our group mentioned any possible link to feeding supplemental syrup; no mention of GMO sugar beets versus pure cane sugar. This group does not believe these are issues that affect bees.
First thought: not enough bees to stay warm. But this begs the next question: why the small cluster? These were Italians, known for large clusters, even carrying brood through the winter, even through a nectar dearth or low stores.
Next thought: bad queen. We didn’t feel the queen was the problem if she could raise an army of foragers to gather a harvestable crop of honey.
Was CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder a possibility? Absolutely not. Wrong symptoms, and CCD is not a catch-all diagnosis for, “Beats the heck out of me.”
When asked about treatments for mites, they used ApiVar strips, per instructions, applied after the honey harvest in late September. Next thought: mite treatments too late. Maybe a good possibility.
The frames were nicely drawn out, filled with no visible eggs or larvae, so we ruled out any brood disease like AFB. The frames smelled normal, but did contain about a dozen, scattered, capped brood. Many cells contained ample pollen, but no honey stores.
About 100 yards away, a feral hive lives in an old wild cherry tree. One of the problems, we guessed, was the feral colony robbing out the hive, depleting the honey stores. But this might have happened as the hive dwindled in the last throes of death, and we would still expect to see more capped pupae.
With a toothpick from the church kitchen, I lifted the caps covering the pupae and carefully extracted several normally looking, fully developed worker bees. They were wet, so it was hard to discern anything, except to guess that humidity may have been a contributing factor.
But when I held the frame by the ears of the top bar and rapped the bottom of the frame on the table with the face of comb facing the table top, mites peppered the table top. We counted a dozen mites before giving up.
Now we had a better guess and it was mites. Lots of Randy Oliver’s work encourages a mite treatment before the population reaches critical and harmful levels. Something has to be done earlier, but with honey supers on the colony, options are few. Late treatments must be strong enough to drive down the population, but harsh chemicals also inflict collateral damage.
Our next best guess was perhaps the mites vectored a virus, which maybe the little nudge to push the hive over the cliff.
I share this sliver of our meeting because I’m hearing of losses, especially with small clusters, even nice sized clusters freezing to death just inches from frames of capped honey.
We continue to face losses, which is no longer fresh news. But we also continue to look for answers such that we can keep on keeping bees, and find sustainable measures which encourage new beekeepers to keep their hives healthy and productive.
A possible resource to enliven your day and shed a little insights, especially if you’re feeling discouraged, is one of my recent publications: Sustainable Beekeeping: Surviving in an Age of CCD. It can be found at: https://www.createspace.com/4542110