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Winter in MI, Bees dying...Help!

Well, this is the end of my first season in Michigan. I started with a Nuc and added a brood box after about seven weeks. The bees did very nicely…there were thousands of them…every frame utilized. I added my flow super and they were up there for weeks, but no honey?!?
As the cooler months approached, I reached out to Flow Forums and local keepers and they suggested it was just due to the first year and most bees energy spent filling frames with comb. I get that. I removed the super and stored it.
Since then we have had weeks with cold temps and rain. I started seeing dead bees outside the have (under the landing pad). I added beetle traps and treated for varoa. Local keepers said it was just the hive paring down for winter…the hive was too vibrant and could not last all winter at that size.
Weeks passed and many more dead bees. I began feeding them sugar water and added a patty of Brood Builder. If figured that would do it. I also inspected the top brood box and it looked about 1/2 full . I figured the bottom was the same and started buttoning up for winter.
Well, today I did a full inspection (1) the bottom frames are completely empty. Some are damaged and look like someone ran a hive tool through them (see photo)?!? No one has been in there but me. No sign of moths. Any ideas?!? (2) the bottom tray was covered with an inch or so of dead bees?!? I scooped them out and collapsed the hive to just one brood box so it is easier for bees to manage over the winter. I am pretty devastated. It looks like there are only a several hundred bees left. Will they grow in numbers over the winter if I continue to feed them?
My questions are:
(1) any thoughts on what is damaging the empty comb?
(2) how do I store the empty frames (and brood box) for winter to protect from moths and mice?
(3) what could have killed all my bees? All I can think of is the weeks of cold rainy weather but they had lots of honey?!?
(4) they still have a few frames of honey, Brood Builder patties, and a jar of sugar water. I will keep feeding over the winter. Will they eat? Will the hive grow?
(5) is there anything I can do to grow the hive and keep them alive over the next few months of freezing temps and snow? Can the small amount left even form a ball to keep warm?

Usually it is, a few dead bees is a sign the colony is still alive. You may have seen more dead drones in particular.

A layer of bees and torn up comb makes me wonder if they were robbed out. But if there’s still some honey there, then that’s probably less likely. The way that comb is so focally damaged makes me wonder if it was something other than insects.

If you only have a couple hundred bees in there then they aren’t going to make it through the winter. Not enough bee power to store away the sugar and stay warm enough for themselves or raise babies.

Freeze the frames and store them in a pest-proof container.

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What treatment did you use? What was your mite count before and after treatment?

Not the best time of year for that. That formulation is best used in early spring, not fall. Stimulating brood after the main nectar flow is over can result in a more bees to feed, and not enough stores to do that.

Could be a rodent. Do you have a mouse guard on the hive?

Not at this time of year. Looks like you are using an entrance feeder too. Those are very good at inducing robbing, especially after the summer nectar flow has finished. I would take it off. It is likely too cold for them to use it anyway.

If your local beekeepers use moisture quilts and insulation, then you should too. I don’t see anything like that on your hive. However, that advice is probably best for next year now. If you truly only have a few hundred bees left, it is very unlikely that they will make it through the winter. Otherwise I agree with @chau06 on storing the frames - freeze for 48 hours, then store somewhere cool and dry, protected from wax moths and rodents.

Sorry for your loss :cry:

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Thanks for the answers so far. I did have a mouse guard on until a few days ago. That is when a local bee keeper came to visit. We just opened the top cover, bees swarmed out. He closed it quickly and said “this is a really strong hive…it won’t make it through the winter if you don’t feed them…” He told me to replace the entrance feeder that I had removed in early summer. I am thinking a mouse got in there and robbed. Tomorrow I’ll ditch the entrance feeder (they are not using it for two days). I will also reinstall the mouse guard and inspect all the frames that are left. The remaining brood box was still really heavy so I am guessing I have two+ frames of capped honey. I’ll get a better estimate of number of bees left.

Hey Tom, so sorry to hear all this. Bees flying up at you when you lift the top cover is defensive behavior, which can just be their genetics but is pretty typical in late fall or other times of dearth. I guess the local beek was not aware that entrance feeders are very risky at this time of year. A robbing frenzy by other bees would be a reason you saw dead bees, although I would tend to also suspect a die-off from mite infestation.

That long gouge on the brood frame certainly does look like rodent damage. But a mouse can’t get in and do that unless the colony is already very small and weak, or while it’s clustered further up in a hive during colder periods.

Losing your first colony is a hard lump to take, as I also know! But it really is a very good opportunity to deepen your understanding about bees’ natural rhythms so you can work with them better.


Hopefully, you give it a go again next season. Consider having at least two colonies next year, even if one remains a nuc or a small resource colony that you don’t intend to overwinter.


Just to clarify, the photo above doesn’t only show a few dead bees on the brick under the hive. That pile too to the left of the brick is all dead bees :-(. It was a pile as large as a soft ball or grapefruit before I scattered it a bit across the ground. I am heading out to see how many are left in the remaining brood box. There were two brood boxes overflowing with bees just a month ago, so I am holding out hope there is still a vibrant, but smaller, amount of bees left.