The last few weeks of winter seem to be the hardest on our bees. The crazy yo-yo temperatures, fluctuations in humidity, the wind, varmints looking for an easy meal, and queens who might just not have the right stuff anymore. We always seem to lose a hive or two (or three) and once or twice in our 6 years beekeeping, had them all muddle through.
Not so this winter, we lost our biggest hive.
Recently on a nice day I took a peek at the hives: bees going in and out of the two "smaller hives" but where I had seen lots of bee activity a couple weeks before at the large hive, all was quiet. I opened up the hive and found a mound of dead bees. Bees stuck in comb. Bees in piles. They had starved. The comb was stripped bare. Just heartbreaking.
Why one hive starved and two smaller ones do not makes me think the larger hive just had too many mouths to feed. Or too much varroa.. Or something... I had been putting sugar on damp newspaper (this winter's version of supplemental feeding) on all three and the two smaller hives were making use of it. Not so much with the bigger hive- made me think they thought they had plenty of honey.
Regardless, today it hit 78F. Such warm temperatures this time of year must not go to waste! I girded myself with the tools needed to make a proper spring inspection: a new box of foundation (not drawn out) for each hive, extra hive lid, smoker, hive tool, sugar syrup and plastic spray bottle. (Note: We have transitioned to using three "honey super" sized boxes for brood as well as for honey production/storage. No more deep brood boxes and frames and foundation in different sizes. Everything is the same size and interchangeable! The bees live in three boxes now, not two.)
The bees have had their basement cleaned, their house rearranged, new rooms added and two quarts of syrup. I will feed them syrup until they have drawn out the foundation of the newest box, and as I do routine inspections I will rotate out the last two boxes of traditional wood/wax foundation as we go to "all black plastic." They did fly around but were not "pissy" or give off the alert pheromone, raising the pitch of their buzzing to a high whine. Very well-behaved girls.
In a couple weeks the weather may be warm enough for me to give a quick "queen check." All I need to see are eggs or young larvae. I will also note the progress of the foundation drawing, refilling the syrup jars as needed. (If I do not see signs of a laying queen I will order one immediately.)
These hives are fairly small; I will not make splits from them unless the queens go crazy with laying, exploding the population to where three boxes will not be enough space. THEN I will worry about swarming, but that is for another day...