Bee Starvation – Mild Winter Takes Its Toll

by Wendy on February 28, 2012

in bees,Farm and Garden

We 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 in february

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.

dead bees

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.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia March 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Boy, I just learned that hard lesson too. After years of my bees surviving extremely harsh winters I thought this mild one would be an easy one for them. Not so. I just opened both my hives to find a lot of dead bodies and all the signs of starvation. had I realized I would have tried feeding them a lot sooner. Its just an unheard of early spring here. Tough lessons in beekeeping!

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james February 28, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Hello Wendy,

Thanks for sharing this, it came to me via a friend. I too am a beekeeper, and have been for more than 40 years. This has certainly been the hardest winter for the girls. One day upper 50′s the next dipping to below 30. The fluctuation in temps, too has caused undo stress in the hives this season.

I am sad for your loss, but keep that hive a ready, who knows if you might be lucky enough to catch a swarm or even leaving the hive together and adding a bit of Lemon Balm oil, may entice a new swarm to come and make a home on the farm. Believe me, Stranger things have happened!

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Wendy February 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm

James, thank you so much for the encouraging words and particularly the advice about Lemon Balm oil. We will certainly give that a try! Luck has a way of changing quickly on a farm, so you just never can tell. Thanks again!

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Wendy February 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Thanks Jenni, and please do feel free to share it with anyone you think may benefit!

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Jenni February 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm

So sad–bees are having a hard enough time as it is. Seems counter-intuitive that mild weather would be bad for them. My neighbor keeps bees (we’re outside of Raleigh in NC); I’ll share this with him. So sorry about your bees! :/

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