What do you do when your hive doesn't make it through winter?

What do you do when your hive doesn't make it through winter?

Despite our best efforts, losing a colony during the wintering months is unfortunate, yet not uncommon. Even though losing a colony may not be rare, it is always upsetting and very disappointing. The beautiful colony you tended to for months and months has somehow perished leading up to winter or during the long, cold, winter months. But why? Why did your colony die and why is it important to identify the reason for the loss?

A colony death is sometimes referred to as a ‘dead out.’ Although an accurate term, it can sound quite crass. ‘Dead outs’ can occur for a number of reasons: disease (Nosema or Varroa Mites are two very common reasons), starvation, moisture in the hive, failed queen and the list goes on. Before you reintroduce a colony into the equipment from your previous hive that did not survive winter, you should try and identify why they didn’t make it.

How can we figure out the reason for the hive loss? Discuss with your local beekeeping community. The experienced beekeepers in your neighbourhood may have some excellent ideas as to why your hive didn't make it through winter. Next, connect with your local apiary inspector. Your local apiary inspector is responsible for reducing the spread of disease and may have some guided questions to help identify the loss. To find an apiary inspector in your neighbourhood, click the link: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/animals-and-crops/animal-production/bees/apiculturist-inspectors. Lastly and most importantly (a step we always do at Home Grown Bee) is send your dead bee samples to the lab diagnostics in Abbotsford. This test is FREE! You send 50 dead bees to the lab diagnostics where they will look at your bees under the microscope to identify if you have any nosema spores or other important viruses. I cannot stress enough how important this step is prior to the introduction of a new spring colony into your equipment. Nosema spores are unidentifiable to the naked eye yet they persist in old equipment/comb. If your colony died from nosema, you can re-infect your new spring hive! For information on sending lab samples: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/animal-and-crops/animal-production/bee-assets/shipping_samples_for_id.pdf .

It is important to note that once you spot a dead out in your apiary, you should seal the entrances or remove the equipment from the yard. This prevents any neighbouring colonies from developing robbing behaviour (stealing food stores from nearby hives) and also prevents potential transfer of disease.

By learning from our winter losses, we can make an action plan. How can we better support our bees for the upcoming season and the following winter? Through addressing our concerns, we can then start our upcoming beekeeping season with a renewed sense of confidence with the ultimate goal of setting ourselves up for success. Although, beekeeping may not be for the faint of heart, it is important and nonetheless rewarding!