This is a tricky time of year here with the tug of war between winter storms and spring flowers. On the one hand the blooming flowers tell the bees to ramp up and on the other hand there are still storms that force the bees back into cluster. With winter losses the cluster has gotten smaller and there is a need to build back up as soon as possible. This is where the observant beekeeper will keep a watchful eye on the cluster to make sure they have food close to the brood nest. When storms arrive they will cluster around their brood which can unfortunately trap them a few frames or even inches away from food.
There are many reasons a hive might not make it to spring and you might be wondering what you should have done differently and what to do with the hive. It's never easy to loose a hive especially since they are like pets to many beekeepers and we either can look at it as a learning experience or get discouraged and decide to get a new hobby. Take heart that not every hive survives and winter losses happen even if you did everything right. Part of this is mother nature selecting for the best genetics for our area and the strong hives that do survive will spread their genetics in spring to replace losses.
You should try to inspect your hives on the first nice day of the season which is usually any dry day above 55F. However if the bees are actively flying at slightly lower temps you can take a very quick peak under the cover or behind the follower to make sure they still have food within reach. If you find that the hive has died it's important to try and understand what might had killed them by looking at the remains of the cluster on the frames and at the bottom board (take pictures of bees, cells and bottom board if unsure). Unless the issue was American Foulbrood or rodents it should be safe to clean up the frames and give them to your surviving hives.
To clean up the hive brush off the frames and bottom board and remove any damaged or rodent eaten equipment. Mold and bees in the cells are fine to leave behind as they will be quickly cleaned up by the new residents. Any honey frames can be put on another hive or stored in a secure cool place until they are ready to feed back to the bees. The hive with brood combs can be left out to attract spring swarms or you can put new bees into it via a nuc, package or a split from a surviving hive later in spring.
Hive checks (2/16/2013)
With sad news I have some winter hive losses to report for Plum Creek, Gluttons and the Architects. My review of Plum Creek and Glutton hives indicates a failure to properly cluster and it looks like they might have tried to raise brood too soon or late into the season. The Architects show signs that they succumbed to the brood diseases that killed the other hives last fall. I did see signs of DWV in this hive late last fall as well as the Sand hive (not yet inspected).
The Icon Daughter nuc, Rebels and Geeks appear to be healthy and have good activity. There is still food in these hives near the cluster as well. The Geeks and Icon Daughter Nuc have good morning activity and the Rebels become more active in the afternoon when the other two hives have almost finished for the day. These hives still need to make it through March before I can consider them in the clear for winter losses.
Perhaps mother nature will give the bees a break this year and bring us some nice weather and an early spring (as the ground hog predicted).
Back to the bees.