It is early January 2015 and Violet hive has died. It was not a surprise, expected really, as this hive, though strong and active all season, was discombobulated from the beginning. These two hives where like the tortoise and the hare. Yellow was sure and steady, nose to the grind stone and efficient. Violet did everything BIG! Lots of activity, lots of attitude (and stings), lots of brood, lots of drones, lots of pollen stores lots of mites and a flair for the artistic.
Violet may have been robbed, though I never witnessed it or saw any indications of a war having been fought. Going into summer we thought they had lots of honey stored. Maybe even enough to harvest a little. They had turned their top honey super into an artistic canvas of convuluted tunnels of cross comb. This super was VERY heavy. We had left it thinking we would be harvesting that box and leaving all of the rest of their stores for their winter larder. When harvest day came at the end of August there were lots of bees, a shiny fat mahogany colored queen, comb built out on all the frames, lots of pollen but only a minor amount of capped honey and multiple empty frames. Their larder was nearly bare. We did not harvest. The colony was still very busy so we left them to their work.
In early September we consolidated each hive, removing any empty frames and putting both hives into a winter configuration. Yellow hive looked really good, Violet was in trouble. We treated the colonies for Varroa mites with HopGuard II. There was a seasonal nectar dirth so we put feeder jars with 2:1 sugar syrup in the tops of both hives before replacing the roofs. The mites were dropping, the mite board was checked daily. Violet had many times more mites than Yellow. Yellow was eagerly taking the sugar syrup, Violet was only sipping. In October at the last hive check Yellow was packed with capped honey. Violet hadn’t really stored much more. It was time to take off the feeders before frost.
Not wanting to repeat last years hive dieing of starvation in February, we built several candy boards for our hives as an insurance policy in case their winter stores were running low. Emergency food to get them to the first nectar flow in Spring. Shortly after Christmas we slid a candy board onto each hive just above the top super. Both hives were alive at that time. Warm days saw activity at both entrances. But in early January Violet showed no activity, a knock on the boxes produced no roar of bees. Violet had succumbed.
Tearing Violet down, doing an autopsy, we found a hive that smelled good, a baseball sized cluster of dead bees in the top super with their heads buried in honey cells. The two hive bodies had nearly empty combs. There was a fair amount of pollen and small amounts of capped honey in the corners of frames. The screened bottom board was deep in dead bees. There was very little mold in the hive. The new hive stands Bob had built had definitely allowed for much better air circulation than the cinder blocks we had used for stands previously. There was no sign of disease. It appears that the colony died of starvation and cold. To small to keep warm and unable to move to more honey stores just inches away.
The cross combed honey super turned out to have quite a lot of honey left in it. As I was cleaning and preparing the hive for the next inhabitants, cutting the cross combs from the top super frames, capped honey appeared between the folds of comb. Violet has left us with a bowl filled with exquisitely beautiful swirls of honey comb dripping with nectar of the gods. Food for the remaining Yellow hive to get them to Spring. Violet also left a hive filled with frames of comb, a gift to a new package of bees to help them get started come April. As always with honey bees, I am left in awe.
-Thank You Violet for all your wonderful gifts.-
As an addendum- Yellow hive is doing well. Warm sunny afternoons are showing lots of activity, cleaning, flying and pollen gathering.