Seasonal beekeeping

March, 2019 Timely Tips for Beekeepers - Spring Startup

As we welcome the onset of warm days, you are likely to see your bees once more making an appearance outside the hive. But some hives may show no signs of life.

  • Surviving and/or thriving colonies – do what you can to keep them that way!
    • You may want to start to supplement with sugar syrup (when it warms up – sugar blocks before that) and/or pollen patties until nature begins to provide an ample supply of nectar and pollen.
    • Clear out the dead bees in the bottom of the hive with a stick or your hive tool if you haven't already done so. (remember to replace the entrance reducer) This frees up the entrance for ventilation and giving the bees ready egress from the hive. The bees often cluster near the top of the hive, so you may continue to see more activity by the upper entrance.
    • Don’t be too eager to remove any wrappings/quilt boards/styrofoam roof liners you put on the hive – We will still see freezing temperatures and maybe more snow for a while.
  • What to do with a dead-out?
    • Conduct an autopsy (technically a necroscopy) of your hive. Not all hive losses are preventable, but knowing what caused your colony to die may provide you with the tools to minimize future losses.
Resources for dealing with winter colony loss:
  • This article on dealing with deadouts in the Feb 2015 issue of American Bee Journal was written by  Southwest Michigan Lower Beekeeper Don Snoeyink. (permission for access to this article was provided by American Bee journal)
  • Analyses of possible causes of winter colony loss with photos from the folks at the Bee Informed Partnership
  • This analysis demonstrates the thinking that goes in in the postmortem. Part of the beauty of the analysis is the lack of a definitive conclusion despite a wealth of data. Just like real life.
  • This is a simple to follow chart with symptoms, diagnoses and some suggestions as to how to handle the hive parts to prevent transmitting disease.
  • This article concludes that the cause of the hive's demise was queen death, but again is a good example of steps taken to figure out what happened.
  • Can I re-use the equipment from the lost colony?

    • Usually the answer is yes. But if your bees died from an infectious pathogen, you need to consider the risks of reusing infected equipment. A hive infected with Nosema (usually Nosema Apis in winter death) contains spores of the fungus, which survive over long periods of time. An article posted in Honey Bee Suite reviews the infection and the difficulties of killing off the spores, particularly on frames and comb. See

  • Most of the literature patiently explains that winter prep (beginning in July) is the best course of action in preventing winter hive losses. A few things to keep in mind:

    • Check for varroa levels early in the summer and treat early if needed. Discovering high levels in August or September decreases your likelihood of getting the varroa to acceptable levels before the cold weather sets in.

    • Make sure your hives are strong and healthy going into the winter. If one or more hives are weak, your best course of action will likely involve combining healthy but weaker hives with stronger, healthier hives, destroying the weaker queen.

    • Eliminate entry of rodents or other pests into your hives. If you hives get sufficient sun, they are less likely to be weakened by hive beetles going into winter.

Follow-up on WINTERIZING your hives (September, 2018 meeting panel discussion)

Folks have requested Heather's sugar block recipe. You can access it at

We also provided a number of resources for winterization in the last newsletter: