It is happening all over the state this year. I am getting many reports of dead colonies and it is a very sad loss. The owner of this hive was understandably upset.
With the poorest season and the most chaotic flowering for a decade, bees are dying. Some people are reporting losses of 4 to 5 hives from a 10 hive apiary, others 1 in 3. Many beekeepers are combining hives in an effort to strengthen hives for winter.
There is a natural process that happens in colonies where food sources are poor. The bees sacrifice themselves for the survival of the colony. Given poor sources of food in Autumn and Winter, this is a naturally occurring process. It is less noticeable in urban areas due to the wide variety of food and is why urban beekeeping is an important part of sustaining bees into the future.
This year there is more that just natural attrition. We are seeing whole colonies wiped out and nearly always from lack of food. In a diminishing colony, there may even be honey frames in the hive they have not used for food. We usually think of honey as the food source but pollen is even more important. If pollen is poor or non existent it has a major impact and a colony can die quickly. When pollen is scarce, the queen may stop laying, nurse bees are converted to foragers sooner (once this happens their life span is short), winter bees are not produced, brood cannot be fed and become diseased or die.
Checking on hives is not just about seeing how much honey they have produced but also ensuring they are collecting enough pollen, have healthy brood and have a hive size they can look after. During drought conditions, smaller hives are beneficial to bees in fact, most times smaller hives are better for bees.
Bees can also die from many other causes like disease, beekeepers, pesticides, fungicides, spray drift and poisons left out to kill ants and wasps even kilometers away. Where bees have been dying, ensure they are not blocking the front entrance as this will quickly kill the remaining bees.
Take the time to watch your bees at the front entrance each day and check on your bees during difficult times like these.