The winter of 2013 seems to be going on forever, and even as I write this on April 3rd the temperature seems barely able to crawl above zero, with warnings of more cold days still to come. The weather report on the radio is calling for potential flurries later today, and at the very least we are told to expect freezing rain.
This time last year the sun was shining, and our girls had been out weeks earlier, busily gathering pollen and doing very well. The same the year before — in fact, in the seven years we’ve been keeping bees, winter ended and spring arrived on exactly on schedule, sometimes earlier. This year, as the snow slowly recedes, a proper spring still feels so far away. A week ago we had a brief warm snap and I was able to take a quick look into each of our current hives (we had 5 strong and healthy hives at the end of fall.) As I approached each hive, the same thing greeted me: silence at each of the hive entrances, and not in a good way. No movement. No bees taking a tentative flight or poking their heads out of the entrance to catch the warmth of the sun. Silence.
I popped the lid of each hive, and sure enough, dead bees. Despite all the work last season to make sure the hives had enough food for the winter months, each hive I opened was visibly emptied of all honey stores, meaning at some point, quite possibly only a few weeks earlier, the bees had starved and died.
It’s a heartbreaking thing to experience, and I expect we’re not the only beekeepers coming out of this harsh Southern Ontario winter to be greeted by a series cold and lifeless hives. I can’t help but wonder what else we could have done to have changed this situation — could we have fed more in the fall, should I have tried to get sugar into the hives sometime in January, or Febuary, or even March despite the harsh weather and fear of exposing the hive to the elements. I feel like this winter took me by surprise by lasting as long as it did, and then I wonder if I’m trying to shift the blame for the dead bees onto the weather instead of taking responsibility for killing them by not doing enough. We’ve had other winter losses in previous years — every beekeeper except the very luckiest has — but we’ve never lost every hive in one fell swoop.
At this point, it looks like the only thing we can do is clean house, pick up some spring nucs from a local supplier, and start again.