Contributed by Charlie Shroeck, volunteer beekeeper
Our observational bee hive helps us see what the bees are doing each season. This winter has been difficult for our bees. Over the cold months the population dwindled down. Near the end of January, our beekeeper added a frame of capped honey to supply food to the remaining cluster of bees.
On February, 19 we observed a tiny cluster on the south side of the second frame. On February 23, there was no more activity. We don't why know this happened for sure, but there are some contributing factors.
First, they swarmed in early September. Bees swarm when the population gets too big and the population divides into a second colony. Swarming is essential to hive health to ensure adequate resources and the ideal time to swarm is in spring. The fall swarm was hurtful to the colony and occurred at a time when the all the bees needed to bring in honey for the winter.
Second, after the swarm, a new queen emerged and began laying eggs in October which was too late for a good population of worker bees build up. The worker bees are the heart of the hive. It is their role to seek out pollen and nectar, defend the nest, and tend to the queen bee among other tasks to ensure colony survival.
Third, it is possible that the hive was affected by bacterial or viral disease, but it not obvious to us if that is the case.
While it is normal to have some hives die out during the winter, this is the first winter in nineteen years that the bees in the observation hive are struggling.
Since the hive didn’t survive, we’ll prepare for a new colony. We’re in the process of cleaning the hive to make sure it's ready for use again in the spring.