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Dead colony over winter, Chicago Illinois USA


My first year didn’t produce the result wanted. Opened the hive to find many dead bees. Some of the mistakes I might have made. My hive swarmed very late in the summer; treated for varroa mites very late - November, did not feed sugar through the whole summer. Found many dead bees in the hive - most of them in the cells and on the bottom brood box. I found many honey filled frames on the top box. My question is: should I have put som of the frames with honey from the top box into the bottom as going in the winter I let the hive the way my beees had it organized - mostly pollen and 1 to 2 frames of honey on the bottom box. I have no clue what I did wrong. So sad


Hi Vlad, so sorry for your loss. :cry:

You have made a good start by analyzing your mistakes, but it would help us to help you if you can take some photos.

Yes, in your region, take off the honey supers, then treat in mid-August. Don’t leave it any later than that.

It wouldn’t help if Varroa killed them, which is the most common cause of overwinter loss. The only thing you probably did “wrong” which 95% of new beekeepers do too, is be a little too relaxed about Varroa. Photos would give more of a clue about the likely cause of your loss.

I am not criticizing you at all, you are being honest and looking to learn. I admire that. I have kept bees on 2 continents for around 30 years, and I still make mistakes. Last year, I lost a hive to Argentine ants. I had never encountered them before, and I underestimated them. This year, my hives are all doing fine. The important thing is not the mistake, but what can you learn from it, and how do you change what you are doing?

You can do this, I strongly encourage you to try again. :blush:


Thank you Dawn! I appreciate your kind words. I am already planning to try
with two new hives this spring ! I keep reading and reading !


Did any of the frames look like these?

Honey bees head down in cells have starved. Amidst plenty of stores they were too small a colony to move there and were desperately trying to keep warm. The likely cause is varroa. Have a look at this link

It will show you how to monitor for varroa which you should do at least twice but preferably thrice a year.
After supers come off and before autumn treatment
A month after treatment
In spring before supers go on.
Knowing your enemy you can do something about it
Good luck


This is commonly believed, but it simply isn’t true. Honey bees head down in cells have died. It’s how bees cluster. They MIGHT have starved. They might have died from other causes. When they die in a cluster they are head down in the cells.


Honey bees dead head down amidst stores were trying to keep warm
Honey bees dead head down away from stores have starved
Indeed there are many reasons they might have died


Are beekeepers insulating their hives sufficiently in harsh winter climates? I’m just wondering if folks are insulating the roof & sides & ignoring the floor.

Also I see hives with protruding landing boards covered in snow. I think that a downward facing entrance would be an improvement.

I’m aware that bees can eat honey, then vibrate their bodies to generate heat. It puzzled me that a colony can die from cold while there is still honey present.

Maybe the cold is too much for the bees to cope with, I wonder if they wear themselves out with all of this vibrating. Even though there is still plenty of honey in the hive, the bees probably just vibrate themselves to death.

I can’t help but wonder if the better insulated a hive is, the better chance the colony has of surviving a harsh winter.


You’ve hit the nail on the head…Beekeepers in Finland, for example, use poly hives
The floor is not that important as long as the underneath is baffled against wind. In fact a mesh floor cancels out most. A super of empty frames or even a slatted rack would be good.
You need to make sure that the sides are slightly less insulated than the top so that any excess moisture condenses on the sides and off you go

I’ve heard people say ad nauseam that the bees heat the cluster not the hive. Yes but they outside of the cluster loses heat to it’s surroundings.


We’re told that cold does not kill bees: Cold and wet kills bees: If cold killed bees, all bees would die each winter in the northern climates, especially in places like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota, where sub zero temps are the normal daytime highs.


Hi Dee, sorry, I find it hard to agree that the floor is not that important. I spent most of my working life keeping cold in so I could get my fresh fish to market in premium condition. In building my own ice boxes, I strived to make them as efficient as I could at keeping the cold in & the heat out. The seal on my lids had to be perfect, otherwise hot air would enter & melt the ice on top.

If you think of the term “snug as a bug in a rug”, a bug wouldn’t be snug in a rug if the rug was left partly open & exposed to cold air.


Is this because evaporation is a cooling process?


I don’t have first hand experience with real cold. However starvation can be a factor if the bees cannot forage.
My hive looses vigour when there are many continuous days of rain wind and cold preventing the bees from leaving the hive.
I do not wish to diminish the tragedy of loosing a colony, any colony.


I think Dee uses poly hives (perhaps like the Paradise hives)? I saw some in a shop last year and was surprised to find (from memory) the bottoms of the hives were mesh and basically open to the elements. I don’t get the open bottom thing. I know warmer air rises, but what about the cold wind whipping up underneath and into the hive replacing the warmed air?


Yes exactly Dan, that is how I see it. I think that the best place for a hive or two in a harsh environment would be inside the house with a pipe going outside. That might be a bit extreme, but I like the idea of a German honey house or something similar.


Easy to keep bees dry. Keep them warm.

I think it depends on the rest of the box. If the top and sides are really well insulated and there is a mesh floor to cancel eddies very little heat escapes downwards. Cold air is displaced by warm and actually helps to “ventilate” the hive. Bees however seem to do well in both.

It simply doesn’t unless it’s blowing straight up.
No wind does that and anyway you put your hive on a stand with a largely solid bottom


Also, easy to keep bees warm. Make sure they have healthy numbers, enough food, and keep them dry (and out of cold winds blowing into the entrance). :blush:


Yes good point. Air blowing in the entrance could suck more cold air up through the bottom.
Winter time I close my entrance to 50mm (2") I do open it a bit more for periods when the weather is good and there is a lot of bees in/out.


Yes, take strong colonies into winter. If you have a small colony you want to keep it does better in a poly nuc box. My entrances are all about 5 cm x .7 cm most of the year.


So I might hav not insulated well then ! I used roofing paper and wrapped the five as I stapled it to the sides of the hive. I switched my regular slanted roof with flat telescoping cover and used manns lake insulating material that came in a plastic bag Andy said to keep it in the bag which I put on the top of the inner cover. Maybe next year I should do more heavy duty insulation. I feel I failed in this regard as well


So sorry about your colony @vladimir :slightly_frowning_face: It’s hard to see all those dead bees…I’ve now lost each of my three colonies in my two seasons of beekeeping, and it’s no picnic.

Your insulation sounds pretty decent, as was mine both years. I would say that you probably lost your bees to varroa, rather than directly due to cold. We have an uphill battle with varroa here in the US, and in northern states the cold only ices the cake :fearful:

Knowledge, vigilance and swift action are key for ensuring your bees have the best chances of surviving the ills of varroa - but I’m starting to realize that my vision of having just two or three hives might never be sustainable, even if I get better with the above. Still, I’m going for it again and will buy two more nucs this spring. I’m going to switch my brood boxes to poly so I can quit fussing so much with insulation & invest my energies fully into getting my varroa management strategy down.