La Niña Beekeeping & Starving Bees

I was chatting to a Flow reseller in Melbourne yesterday and we talked about the terrible season for beekeeping, particularly the beginners, Victoria has had (plus lots of other parts in Aus) due to La Niña.

There was a high rate of lost colonies with members at his local club last winter and the general belief was that beginners were not wintering their hives appropriately and so chilled to death.

However, Mike argued otherwise. He said that due to La Niña i.e. huge amounts of rain, gumtrees (eucalyptus), which are estimated to make up 80% of bee forage in Victoria, are triggered to focus their energy on growing rather than producing buds/flowers. Apparently stress caused by drought, for example, is what causes them to bud. This meant that mass species of gumtrees skipped a year of flowering and forage was super low for the honey bees (and other pollinators). The beginner beekeeper colonies were more likely dying from starvation and they were perhaps not experienced enough to identify this when looking inside the hive.

For the beginners, what does a colony that has starved to death look like?

I would say:

  • no sign of food (pollen. nectar, capped honey)
  • no brood (I believe the workers canibalise their brood when starving to death)
  • heads down, bums up in the cell

Bit of a sad story. Can anyone relate to this or have information to support/contest?


Hi Bianca, sadly it’s an uphill climb for beginners during this wet period we’re having. We came out of a wet period 2 days ago. It was bad enough to flood some people for the third time this year.

I try to get people with Flow hives to join this forum to seek help, however my suggestions fall on deaf ears.

The trouble with a lot of new beekeepers is that they put a colony into a Flow hive, thinking that all they have to do is turn a key to harvest honey. A lot of times their question is “how long before we can harvest honey”…

There’s a lot to be said for joining a bee club & finding a mentor.

Having said that, a bloke with a Flow hive told me yesterday that he has a mentor from the local bee club, however he (the mentor, to be clear) doesn’t know very much :slight_smile: I told him to Join this forum. He said that he will. We’ll see what happens.

I think for someone to be successful with bees, they need to develop a love for the bees, which develops with time the more we learn about them. A person needs to have a hunger to learn more about the bees he/she is keeping. Once that happens, at some point the person will learn about the need to feed, if/when necessary.


As a keen arboriculturist, this is a topic dear to my heart. I would argue that trees, where possible, will direct all their resources to growth and reproduction in relative balance. Resources are diverted from these in times of stress, whether it be from drought, flood, pathogen, competition, or damage. Note, in urban areas the biggest drain on trees is human disturbance whether it be root damage from trenches, excavation or paving etc, or lopping (as opposed to pruning). You’d be surprised how much tree energy is diverted trying to repair (seal off) a lopped limb - but I digress.
Good rains will always bring growth in trees. Seasonal extension growth can be measured to gauge this and gives an insight to other impacts on trees as listed above. I would expect strong flowering as well (depending on the flowering time of year) as optimum growing conditions are likely to favour both.
I would not necessarily expect one over the other (growth over flowering) unless something else is at play, such as low temperatures or fertiliser application (leading to a growth spurt).
Here in Western Victoria, the cool wet spring ultimately translated to excellent growth and flowering (although the flowering was delayed by the cooler weather (in eucalypts) and it was the heaviest (eucalypt) flowering I’ve seen in my 6 years here by a long way. The end result was a delayed but bumper crop of honey. I even had several species of eucalypt flower twice (Lemon scented, red gum and yellow gum)
The issues (here) were in spring as the wet weather messed with the bees plans. The foraging was limited and the resources dwindled for starters. I think this may have wiped out a few colonies in these parts. I noticed most of the feral colonies didn’t survive here. My mentor (unbeknownst to him) even commented that the queens in Spring might not be that great as they had very limited opportunities to mate.
The extremely mild Autumn has prolonged this bountiful harvest and whilst I’m hopeful, I may not see one quite so good for some time, but I’ve loved it.


I fed my bees just because it was so wet they couldn’t get out much. I started with 2:1 until I thought it was getting too cold. I have a candy board on 2 hives and made a candy frame for my long lang.

I am hoping they will do ok as this is my first year going in to winter and the weather is all over the place. The start of this week was low 20’s and now is 10 - 12 degrees C.(daytime temperatures)

1 Like

sadly, I lost my colony after being advised by my mentor that the hive was strong enough going into spring (after feeding over winter). Devastating sight. I’ve recently re-colonised and all’s good but I need to clean some dead bees out of the stored flow frames. can anyone advise? I won’t be putting them on over winter but want them to be ready to go when needed.

Hi Fiona, at what point did the colony die out? Can you rule out disease as to the cause of the colony’s demise?

Your mentor was probably correct in saying that the colony was strong enough to survive the winter. A lot can depend on the beekeeper as to whether a colony survives the winter or not.

Then on the other hand, if a colony succumbs to a disease without the beekeeper doing regular checks, the colony will likely die out.

Any time you feed the bees, the flow super should not be on the hive. If you need more than the brood box over winter, put an ideal on it. Did you have the queen excluder on the hive? The bees will move up into the flow frames and leave the queen to die below the QX. Having said that, you don’t want your queen in the flow frames over winter because she will start laying eggs in there and that is a different headache you don’t want.


Hi Jeff - thanks for your response. The colony died out into Spring - it’s been a fairly common happening according to our bee shop plus our local club. There wasn’t any disease - tested for that when we opened up for Spring inspection. I fed through winter as I’m in a cold climate. I removed the flow frame over winter. As the frames were full, we put it back on going into Spring. There aren’t many dead bees in the flow frames but I don’t know how to get them out. My mentor is not a Flow Frame person.

Hi Karby - thanks for your response. The flow super wasn’t on the hive over winter - we just put it back on going into Spring (under instruction from my mentor) when we opened for the Spring Inspection and found it all good and strong. They just starved over the next few
weeks. There aren’t many dead bees in the flow frames - I just don’t know how to get them out.

Sorry about your colony loss.

You can just brush off as many of the dead bees as you can then use a hose or sharp stream of water to rinse them. If any bees or debris are still in the frames, the colony will clean them out before refilling the cells.

From my internet search, you live in a subtropical climate, not exactly cold.

I’m not sure what kind of forage is available in the winter or other times of the year for that matter but feeding just because it is cold does not make sense. If your colony is prepared for upcoming dearths, you shouldn’t need to feed except in emergencies. Feeding protein/pollen during those times also encourages brood and consumption of stores and enlargement of the colony when they really should be hunkering down for the off season.

1 Like

Hi Fiona, I’m not a Flow hive user either, however I (and others) can help you to deal with any issues you encounter.

In relation to the “aren’t many dead bees in the Flow frames”, can you dig them out with a meat skewer?

Be careful because dead bees can attract hive beetles to them. Plus dead bees can get very smelly, which can put bees off & possibly cause a colony to abscond if the smell is bad enough.

Your colony must have been fairly strong coming into spring, otherwise you wouldn’t have added the Flow super. Your colony could have swarmed during the early spring, which will result in a weakened colony. Then there is always a chance that the new queen fails, which will lead to a dead hive, without intervention by us.

1 Like

hi Fifi this is Jeffs wife Wilma. Jeff just showed me this comment and said what would you do. I said I would just go inside and get a pair of tweezers and remove the bees from the cells, to easy.

1 Like

I’m thinking maybe you put the super on too early. Spring is mostly for brood increase and swarming. They may have had enough feed over winter but with spring comes inconsistent weather and could go through their stores pretty quick.

1 Like

thanks - that sounds just too easy. very helpful… thanks - will do.