I’ve been getting reports on the loss of many “hives” (Colonies) this fall in Colorado. It is somewhat discouraging to hear this…
Late October/early November can be a very pivotal point in your Honey Bee Colonies’ ability to get through Winter. I have seen colonies appear large and “healthy” in late September only to collapse in the initial cold spells in October and November.
Winter bees are usually produced in late August to mid/late Sept here in Colorado and they may make the colony appear to be larger than it actually is. This is because the summer bees will soon be dying off. If you have properly monitored and controlled mites in July & August your number of healthy winter bees will normally be sufficient to keep your colony warm and alive in the initial and following cold spells.
Some beekeepers mention that they recently used mite treatments and were concerned that the treatments “killed their hives”. Although some treatments can be harsh on the bees, the treatment itself may not have been the problem but perhaps it was the timing. If it was too late in the season, the bees’ health may have already been so compromised by mites that the winter bees could not survive.
Smoke from wildfires was also brought up in some of the questions I’ve had. I personally don’t think that the smoke had any effect on most hives this year but the drought and high heat were problematic. Without moisture and with the extreme heat, flowers weren’t producing nectar which in turn meant that the bees did not have natural nutrition. I fed many of my colonies well into July, especially my splits as they weren’t building up as normal. Suffice to say, I did not get much excess honey from those hives this year.
In examining some of the colony deaths I’ve been asked about, I was told that the beekeepers and their neighbors had large gardens and that should have helped their bees survive. One thing to remember is that Honey Bees usually forage over an area of about 2 1/2 miles (or 12,566 acres) but will forage further if need be. The “small” patches of backyard gardens that beekeepers and their neighbors have are helpful but the bees need to literally visit millions of flowers just to produce a pound of honey. So even though the bees are visiting nearby garden plots, they need vast amounts of blossoms and vegetation to survive and if they aren’t available due to weather conditions, this also could have contributed to Fall losses.
The bottom line is that it probably wasn’t any one factor in colony deaths this fall but rather a “perfect storm” of factors coming together to cause the demise of some of our local beekeepers’ colonies.
All I can say is please don’t be discouraged. As is said in many endeavors, “There’s always next year”. Take the winter to do some additional study, perhaps take a “refresher” Beekeeping Course (see “Classes” under “Education” on our “Shop” page). Get your equipment ready, order a Package or “Nuc” and and prepare for the Spring by reading some of the Average Joe Hints and Tips on this site.
Next year, 1.) ensure that you are inspecting your hives regularly (every 7 – 10 days if possible even when “life gets in the way”), 2.) monitor mites on a monthly basis and control them as needed plus 3.) feed your bees early and often. Nothing is guaranteed but if you follow those suggestions your colonies may fare better. Remember, sometimes no matter what we do, Mother Nature has different plans for our colonies.
For those who have lost colonies already, I hope that helps…