Starving in a Houseful of Food

Spring-like weather in late January is both the perfect opportunity to traipse about outside reveling in the coming season and the ideal time to check on how your beehive is faring. After all, bees are more likely to starve in the final throes of winter before the early spring flowers begin to blossom. As I wrote earlier, we have been expecting my bees to die this winter. Through some valiant last-minute purchases of multiple 25-pound bags of sugar, we had hoped to perhaps keep them alive through the winter, but today’s lovely conditions aside, the winter is far from over.

We have not had the chance to glimpse into the hive since the mad dash to try to feed the hive as much sugar syrup as they would take. The look was a depressing one, though not one wholly without hope. The bees had managed to pack away significant amounts of the sugar syrup in capped and uncapped honey, but it was also overwhelming how many dead bees there were. Worse, it was clear that many of them had starved. When a cold snap in winter hits, the cluster of bees cannot safely move themselves to another section where their food stores are, so they starve in place despite being surrounded by food. We found several bees with their heads buried into an empty comb and their sad little bee butts sticking up in the air, which is evidence of starvation.

The sheer quantity of dead bees is discouraging, and I’m further worried about the ratio of bees to varroa mites. I should have treated the bees for varroa mites last fall, but I honestly did not expect them to survive this long. Although their future is far from secure and I cannot imagine that the quantity of bees lost is in any way a normal reduction in population for the winter, it was a relief to head out to the hive and for there still to be enough of a hive intact whose sensibilities I could offend by dismantling their home.

Capped and uncapped honey
Dead bees littered the hive; here they piled up on the queen excluder.
The mound of dead bees after we emptied the hive of them, brushing off the comb and dumping out the bottom board. We really did have some still alive. For now.

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