My bees died (again) this winter. They have died every winter now since the year after colony collapse disorder (CCD) first hit the news (2006). I remember that because I was real smug that first spring when everyone else was discovering missing bees and my colonies were just fine. I thought perhaps the plague would pass over my house. No, I got mine the next year.
Since we had some January days in the 50’s, I wondered if my bees might start venturing out of their box. I thought maybe I should tide them over with sugar rations until trees start blooming. I mixed up a big batch of sugar water, donned my gear and tromped out to the hive to install a feeder. I knocked on the box but failed to hear a growl. I opened the box and found they were dead. That is, the handful that was left was dead.
I suspect it was CCD because I found less than a hundred bees left in the box. They were within easy distance of honey, so they didn’t starve. I suspect their numbers dwindled until there weren’t enough to maintain a ball of warmth when that week of 20 degree weather hit in December.
I harvested honey the beginning of September and started fall medications (Fumagilin, Apiguard & Terramycin). I recognize that is a little late, but warm weather continued throughout the fall this year. And 100 acres of red clover next door continued to bloom into winter! When I came back to refill their sugar water a couple weeks later, they were acting like zombies (hey, zom-bees!), so I was pretty sure I had lost the queen. Two months later, when I returned to remove the feeder and medication trays, I expected to find them dead. But when I parted the boxes, they piled out, irascible as ever! I guess they minted a new queen. So, what happened in December and January is most likely CCD.
I had colonies die once or twice before this CCD existed and I found an enormous pile of dead bees in the box each time. First time I experienced CCD, I lost all three colonies over the winter. I took a look in the spring and the boxes were completely vacant of insects – like someone had vacuumed them clean. That was creepy. The thought of them leaving one by one and dying alone in the cold was really sad.
With the cost of mail-order bees reaching a new high of $100 this year, I think I’ll wait and see if I can catch a feral swarm this spring. If there is a silver lining on this black CCD cloud, it’s that it has raised awareness of honey bees and caused more people to take up the hobby of beekeeping. That, in turn, has increased the number of feral swarms each spring.by