By , on February 25th, 2014

Winter mortality at one MSU yard

Zachary Huang, Michigan State University

Last Saturday the high was about 35F (2C). I thought I would check my bees at one yard. By the time I went there it was 5:48 pm and about 34F.  The snow was near the bee hives were still more than 1 ft deep and the snow got into my short boots, making me felt quite cold.

1. The road leading to the apiary was quite icy! I doubt that these ice will melt in 2-3 days by then we will have a cold spell again. Try to step on the brakes here and you will have a skiing car.

2. Hives in the snow…

3. Snow around the hives.

I had a total of 10 colonies here. The first 8 were all dead! Then the last one had a handful of bees near the top, so I was trying to take a top super from one hive to put on top of this one and then the one I thought was dead had bees below the top super! Quite strong and about 50 bees dropped to the snow due to my breaking of their cluster….I am hoping this one would survive for another month… I had to steal a different super to put on top of the weak one, which I do not think will make it through.

so in total, I have 1.5 alive out of 10. I have 2 smaller apiaries to check and I assume they would be similar or worse.

I hope your bees are doing better!

I ordered 20 packages this year, the most I have bought over the last 15 years.

6 comments to Winter mortality at one MSU yard

  • Jeff Cooper

    I moved my modest 3 hives into a darkened porch adjacent to my house. The summer screens have been plugged with 2″ foam. Of the 3 hives that were, I thought, relatively strong, I have one remaining. It’s not the cost that bothers me so much… it’s just that I can’t keep them alive through the winter. Last year I lost all (10) of my hives.

    …heavy sigh!

  • Coleene Davidson

    I am waiting to get to mine this year. Though there have been a couple sightings-one or two bees from my backyard hive, I don’t have a lot of confidence that there are still live bees there or in the other two I can get to due to the long frigid spells we have been experiencing. I left lots of honey but that is no guarantee either.

    I have packages ordered for April just in case.

  • Ted Nelson

    All four of my hives were deadouts. Capped honey available in deeps. had black tar paper around them, straw underneath and in between them, and quilt covers on top.

  • Does anyone think there is a correlation to Northern climate bee deaths to the fact that bees are sourced NON-locally from WARM climate areas that have been subject to pesticides and travel trauma? Does anyone know of any MIDWEST breedign apiaries to purchase bees from?

  • Stephen Tilmann

    In fact there is a fairly active discussion among beekeepers that part of the issues we are dealing with arises from queens bred and raised outside of the northern climes. Almost all of the commercially raised queens and packages come from the southeast (eg., Georgia) or the west (eg., California). These queens have never seen a snow flake in their life.

    There have been a number of efforts to foster a northern honey bee stock (for example, see Many beekeepers are not aware of the fact that commercial queen rearing actually got started in the northern states (to be precise, in Michigan) and, for various reasons, eventually located in the south and west. During these early times, fall requeening was the norm and it is only relatively recently that the practice has shifted to spring requeening. With the arrival of the varroa mite, fall requeening is again being considered because of the many benefits that a late summer brood break bestows.

    All bees are subject to pesticide exposure; the bees sourced from the warm climates certainly do not have a corner on that market. In fact, the most prevalent use of neonicotinoids is in the upper midwest and corresponds roughly to the corn belt.

    There are few (actually, none to this writer’s knowledge) large-scale queen producers in the northern states. These would be outfits that crank out thousands of queens. However, there are quite a few smaller scale operations that do produce locally bred queens. The best place to locate these folks is probably your local and state bee clubs and associations.

    All of this is not to say that southern and western queen breeders are doing a bad job or don’t care. They are and they do. But there is always that issue of geography, which no amount of careful breeding can overcome.

    This winter (the winter of 2013/2014) is seeing a massive die off of managed colonies. The numbers are not in yet, but things don’t look good as of now (mid March 2014). We recently wrote a post on the MBA web site that discussed this die off and what opportunities are being presented. The basic thrust is that any honey bees that survive this winter have some (genetic) advantage and we should be focusing our attention on these survivors for splits and breeding stock. Nature is offering us northern beekeepers and opportunity and we should recognize it for what it is.
    Steve Tilmann, Treasurer
    Michigan Beekeepers’ Association

  • david durga

    I bought my first package of bees last spring. I had a swam last August, was not prepared for that. Managed to get them into another hive but robbing I suspect led to the death of the queen. By late September I put the remaining bees back into the original hive.I did not treat for mites(bees mites both insects) I have learned things that other bee keepers are not doing. For instance placing a feeder on the new colony only led to robbing. I decided to place a feeder in the middle of my yard not on my two bee hives. That stopped the robbing. Last January when it warmed up enough for the bees to come out I had large numbers of dead bees all over my yard. It was just too cold for them to make it back into the hive. I put screens over their holes. I took an inner cover installed four corner post and stapled 3 foot wide screen to it. For the rest of winter when temps were forecast into the 30’s with sunshine,in the morning would place the confinement screen over the bee’s inner cover and place the outer cover on top. The bees would fly around inside and do their pooping and go back into the hive.I noticed in January that the hive was very light. I ordered pollen patties from Better Bee. Before the end of January I was feeding pollen patties. I use a shim with a 1 inch hole on top of the 2 deeps, I cover my hives on 3 sides with a couple bed comforters. I looked into the hive in early March(hive is on the south side of my house,warmer there) and I saw capped brood(small amount). I’m planning to do multiple splits in a couple weeks. What amazes me all these people that have had bees for many years still don’t seem to have better luck than me, if that’s what I’ve been having just luck or is more common sense than most bee keepers. Everyday I put my ear to the hive and I know my girl’s are ok. If bees are so hard to raise maybe putting them in a far off field and checking every other month is not a good idea!

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