Bee Starvation - Lessons Learned the Hard Way

| 2/29/2012 10:15:19 AM

Tags: bees in winter, beekeeping, mild winter, bee starvation, Wendy Slatt,

Wendy Slatt head shotWe learned a hard lesson on the farm here last week, one I feel is worth sharing in the hopes that others might learn from it.  We lost our entire colony of bees due to starvation.

This year in South Carolina, we've had a very mild winter.  I'm hard-pressed to even call it winter, it's been so warm.  Several times, I've spent the day with the windows thrown wide open, and I know there was at least one time in January that the children and I were running around in shorts.  No matter how long I live here, I'll never get used to it.  In my mind, winter is supposed to be all about bundling up, scarves and mittens, sitting near the fire with a hot cuppa in your hands, and getting your outside chores done as quick as you can to get back inside.  But here we are building greenhouses, tilling gardens, repairing fences, starting seeds and being excited about the progress of our garlic bed.
 Garlic bed
But the blessing of warmer temperatures had a consequence we didn't anticipate.  Just a day or two before, we were both sure we'd seen bees coming in and out as usual, but on Thursday morning there was no activity to be seen and no buzzing to be heard.  We opened it up and found all the bees dead.
 Inside bee box
I'll confess that our first reaction was to immediately suspect a spray of some kind.  After the experience last year of having the local power company drive through our area unannounced spraying herbicide and killing not only the wild blackberries around our mailbox but every other piece of vegetation in sight, I don't think you can blame us.  But after a little research and a conversation online with a master beekeeper, the truth became clear.  With a milder winter, and the start of the spring brood, the bees expended a lot of energy looking for pollen that couldn't be found, which caused them to eat through their stores a lot faster than we anticipated.  Our strong, thriving colony had starved.

We're putting our beekeeping endeavors on hold for now.  Replacing the bees is not in our budget and most apiaries are sold out.  Perhaps next year we'll be in a position to give it another go, but for now we hope that others will benefit from our lesson.  If you keep bees and your temperatures are mild, don't assume that everything's fine.  Check with experienced beekeepers in your area, and don't be afraid to give your bees a little help by feeding them.  Hopefully, it'll only be a few more weeks before spring truly arrives and you can sit back and enjoy watching your bees do what bees do best.  
 Bees enjoying Anise Hysop flowers

12/21/2015 10:33:08 PM

Get a Nectar Detector Then you can weigh all your hives and track weights to predict starvation in time to feed and avoid starvation. With a few readings, the trendline function on excel can predict starvation based on actual resource consumption. Its also handy when feeding in fall.

cheryl aker
3/5/2012 9:44:53 PM

Sorry to hear about your bees. We are just getting started for the first time with bees next month. We know we have SO much to learn. I appreciate you sharing your experiences - even the hard ones - so that we can all learn as much as we can from each other.

christine byrne
3/2/2012 2:41:05 AM

I'm sorry you lost your bees. This farming business is a fickle thing. Those lessons learned can be tough to swallow, but will make you better stewards of the land in the long run.

wendy slatt
2/29/2012 11:14:15 PM

Thanks, Dave, I really appreciate that. We've had a few people that have been keeping bees a lot longer than us let us know that they lost hives this year too, it's just been that stressful of a season. Still, it's a lesson we learn and take with us as we move forward. I share your concern for the gardens coming up. I haven't forgotten last year's sweltering summer of drought; keeping my fingers crossed for something a little kinder and gentler this year. Wishing you the same.

nebraska dave
2/29/2012 10:43:22 PM

Wendy, I'm really sorry to hear about your bees. They are so beneficial to all plants in an area. I would imagine the bees had a tough time all across the country this winter as the temps were up every where. We here in Nebraska had the warmest winter that I can ever remember and that's a long time. We've really only have had two weeks of truly cold single digit temperatures with snow. The rest has been 40s and some times up to 60 with rain. Most people here have really liked the mild winter but I'm not so sure it's going to be good for the gardening season. I really don't know what to expect. I hope you can reestablish your bee colony soon. Have the best day that you can in the garden.

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