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First Winter Loss and Deadout!

It had to happen one of these days, but I must say that it gives me little comfort in knowing that…

The weathermen claimed it would rise into the lower 70’s this weekend, so I used it as the ideal chance to check Winter stores in half of my hives. On Saturday, I focused on the Charles City hives (32 out there) and plan to tackle the Varina/Eastern Henrico hives today. I do not think it rose above 60 yesterday, so we’ll see how it goes today.

What is a ‘hive check’ in January? I suppose it means different things to different folks. For me, it primarily means that I approach the hive and lift it (tilt it) from both the front and back, to get a feel for the weight. This initial check is very valuable – some hives are obviously still chock full of honey (quick checks) and others simply require a visual inpsection (it’s hard to gauge some, so you have to go deeper in.)

The ‘quick check’ is simply taking off the inner cover and looking at the frames of the upper super to be sure you still see capped honey. In my yards, a heavy hive rarely has many bees up in the upper super and it is all capped. In those cases, I will break the upper super off of the top super and tilt  it up, to make sure I see a bunch of bees doing their stuff (I know, I know, the nervous nellies will begin to run around screaming about breaking up the cluster – I don’t think it hurts them any when you have warm days.) The ‘deeper check’ involves actually pulling frames, sometimes on both the upper and lower supers.

I mostly only did quick checks yesterday, although I did run into a few that were questionable and one that was a goner (a first for me.) I dropped a super of honey (from last Fall) on 3 of the ‘iffy’ ones and broke down the ‘deadout’. I gave the questionable ones honey so that I would not have to mess with them again until late February or early March. The ‘deadout’ was a new experience. It was my second strongest hive this past year (honey-wise). I lost my strongest from Westover Plantation in July, so now I lost my second strongest too! Amazing.

The ‘deadout’ was very interesting, once I got over the sadness of losing her. To begin with, there were probably 20 or so bees in the hive. I am fairly certain these were the first of the robbers. I really must have just caught it, as the hive was still chock full of honey with very little evidence of robbing (torn cappings.) Maybe 15 bees were on the bottom board, dead – another 10 were dead, face down in the cells. As with all bee analysis, there are a wide array of possibilities, but I have learned to focus on the most likely. The most likely scenario (based on my hive journal) is that my monkeying with the hive in November either killed the queen or they swarmed really late and the virgin queen never made it back. The bees slowly died out and finally were two few to keep a decent cluster (to keep warm) and just died.

What about laying drones? That’s a pretty good question – if the queen really did fail/die, why didn’t I find a lot of drone cells or dead drones. My hypothesis is that it was so late in the season that the bees did not kick into that mode. Until I actually see drone layers in the Winter, I am sticking with this synopsis. The queen died or was a virgin and died on her mating flight (or didn’t get mated.) Some might say this looks like ‘absconding’. I personally do not think ‘absconding’ holds much water in the Richmond, Va area, so I have crossed that off the list.

At any rate, the next question is ‘what will I do with the current frames of honey and drawn wax’? I will let my wintering Nuc yard eat out the deep and, sometime later this week, freeze the frames on the Medium and put them aside for possible use in the Nuc’s or what-have-you.

Another 30 or so hives to check today – hopefully no deadout’s, but it’s part of the hobby. We’ll see.

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