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My hives never last the fall/winter


I live in Oakland, CA and I have been trying to have bees for at least five years. Although they start out ok and seem to be going along well, at some point in the late fall or winter, they disappear or die out. One year I was told the location was probably too wet so I moved them to another protected area. After still losing them, I installed a camera and discovered a skunk was eating them. I built a platform the following year so the skunk could not get at them. Last year the bees were just gone without a trace of dead bodies. This year they were doing well, one better than the other, but when one looked like it was not doing well, I could not find any eggs or queen so I was able to install a new queen but after a few weeks they are now gone. I am willing to try this for one more year, but then I may give up. I cannot figure out what I am doing wrong. It is a mild climate here and I cannot find signs of disease in the hives. I also provide sugar water for supplementing their diet. Any suggestions would help.


Your hives are most likely (99.9%) dying from varroa mites. You really need to manage them hard. Try to find a local mentor or bee club to join. Go to the CA State Beekeepers website and they’ll have a listing of local clubs. Take a class, an all day one at the least, none of the popular 2-4 hour kind.
Don’t try to do anything like treatment free until you’ve been keeping bees (alive) for 5-10 years. Every time your hive dies, the neighborhood bees pick up all those, mites when they rob your hive.
Good luck.
Boulder, CO
30+ years with bes


As @Kristinahoney says, varroa is most likely, however, you are also in a prime Argentine ant region. We lost a hive to those ants this year. Already plotting our revenge for next year. :cry: You need ant moats and perhaps a better location. We only lost one hive, but there was a big problem with tiny ants around that hive.


I agree with both posts above. Varroa is the most likely cause. The viruses it transmits not only kill bees but cause whole colonies to abscond. Brood disease can wipe a whole colony out too.
Once you put bees in a hive you have a duty of care
Monitoring and treating for disease is imperative.
I’m not going to say “don’t beat yourself up” because in this instance I think you must. By the way you say you put in a new queen on one occasion. Did you make sure there wasn’t one? Not finding her is not making sure. A mentor is the way to go. Get one to one help and you’ll be up and running in no time. Good luck.


I hate blaming everything on Varroa, but the timing seems to point to that.

Usually when you think you’re queenless, you are not. Queens stop laying for a variety of reasons including the shorter days or a dearth.


I appreciate your comments and can add some information. Varoa mites are visible accordibg to evetything that I have read. Having inspected my bees numerous times over the last few years, there are no signs of them that I can detect. Similarly with the possibility of ants, but I have not studied Argentine ants. I cannot guarantee that there was not a queen in the hive when I added another, because I do not feel i am an expert at this. I could not find one. However, when I did introduce the new queen, the hive began to show what I would consider more normal behavior including egg cells and increased population. This persisted for a couple of weeks before everything fell apart. Regarding mentors, i have reached out to local contacts for someone to advise me, and I have even offered to pay someone to consult with me, to look at what I was doing, etc. Even offering a conslting fee has not helped. I did take one class in Palo Alto before starting out, and I have obviousky read several books as well as numerous on-line articles. The one place I have not managed to get to is the lab at UCDavis. My hives are located where I see them easily making daily monitoring of their out of hive behavior part of my day. This has given me some additional information in addition to the more invasive opening of the hives. Having a Ph.D. In psychology has provided me training in the observation of variant behaviors.


That is not really true. If you can see varroa mites actually on your adult bees, you have a HUGE varroa problem, and colony is probably about to demise. If you have examined drone larvae and found no mites, that is a bit more reassuring. However, unless you have done a powdered sugar shake or alcohol wash, you do not really have an accurate idea of your varroa situation.


…Preach it Sister!


Richard !

You came here looking for help ?! Or are you just blowing wind ! I lost two hives this autumn … Didn’t see the mites actually on my bees. But when i did a sugar roll test … Yip ! Wayyyyy to many … I had the facts but waited two extra weeks. Bad idea ! The treatment came too late. I was lucky as three hive counts were much lower n the treatment worked !! It’s been a full month since that treatment n saw bees actively flying midday ! They hopefully make our damp, gray, cool Puget Sound Wx. :dash::sweat_drops:. Not counting my bees before winter starts or ends !

Read your bottom line comment ! I’d forget that comment sir ! “Pride cometh before a fall.” If you really want helpful comments n more read n listen or move on n keep loosing more bees. Dawn, Dee n others are here to help !

Now that’s my 2cents !



Just for information for next season.
Dawn is right. Mites are largely invisible because they are either in the brood reproducing or hidden feeding on the bees where it is not easy to see them. They do not spend most of their time riding piggy back like you see in pictures.
You seem to have got away with your queen but the way to test is to put in a test frame from another colony. A frame with eggs and young brood with the bees shaken off. A colony with no queen will grasp the opportunity to make a new one and create queen cells, usually quite a few and if you are intending to let them do so you leave them all, close up and go away for three weeks. If you wish to re-queen then order your queen and break the queen cells down before introducing her.Remember, a colony that has had no queen for a while has no young bees to raise a good queen or even more seriously might have laying workers (Google that one).A colony with a queen will just raise and cap the brood.
If yours was my situation I would go back to classes. The way you get a mentor is to make friends first then any bee buddy will fall over to help you.


I will try the sugar test again to investigate if I see anything this time. If not, I feel encouraged to keep trying next year.


Hi Richard, it would be great if you could find a mentor who is successful with his/her own bees & also passionate enough to explain his/her strategy to you without wanting to get paid for it (the offer of payment or a gratuity would always be welcome). You could offer to help him/her for free in return for explaining things that he/she is doing.


They are not so small as to be invisible, but they are so small as to be overlooked unless you really are aware of what they look like. In other words they are NOT obvious.


I agree
They cling on to adult bees usually under the tergites where they are definitely not obvious. The ones Michael has in his picture are between feeding stations or waiting to jump into a brood cell



Thankz for those great examples. My eyes suck so I have a lot of difficulty seeing those little destructive critters. If lighting is good just maybe but I really don’t want the mites to the level I can easily start seeing them.

Glad there are folks around like you, Dee, Dawn n several others. I can always count on one or more enlightening us where we yet fail to have experience.


I was attending a locsl Winterizing class where I as helping. Here is an example of a mite on the queen had a mite on here. Wish I had used my good camera but no times at the moment we found her majesty :grinning:… She was not standing around for a portrait session.

Thankz again ! As you examples those tiny rust colored mites can be easily over looked.

Cheers n have a nice day.