Sadly, sometimes a hive of bees simply does not survive. It can be due to a number of reasons, from weather conditions to mites, but it is still a sad occurrence. So, if you’re wondering what to do with a dead beehive you are in the right place.
That is a great question- and it truly depends on what caused the hive to decline and die in the first place. In some instances, the hive can be cleaned and effectively reused. It is also plausible for a beekeeper to not notice that the hive has died right away.
In this article, we will explore the reasons for dead beehives, as well as the options you have if you encounter one.
Some reasons why a dead hive may get past a beekeeper include:
- You are not completing routine hive inspections.
- Winter has taken its toll on the colony.
- You see bees, but they are not residents of the hive.
While tragic, you still may be able to harvest the honey and comb from a dead hive, depending on the circumstances surrounding the situation. Also, you may be able to clean and reuse the hive for future bees.
What do you do with a dead beehive? Here are some tips:
Find Out Why
The important thing to do when you find that a hive has died is to try and figure out why. The cause of why the hive died is essential in preventing it from occurring again with a new colony of bees.
When you find a hive of dead bees, find out why. It could be due to the following reasons:
Hives that do not survive winter likely succumb to starvation. If there is not enough food stored, honey, in the hive, the bees will starve during cold months when they cannot forage.
Industry experts report that you can be pretty sure bees died from lack of food when you see bees stuck in the waxy cells, head-first. This demonstrates that the bees were trying to elicit every last drop of honey- and died trying. Although this can also be the case in extreme cold as well, it is a good indication.
Ethical beekeepers stop harvesting honey before Fall sets in, so that the honey made by the bees can sustain them all winter.
Sadly, novice keepers often take too much honey, too late in the season, or they take honey too soon from a not-yet established hive. You need to leave honey stores for the bees, especially during the first year.
New colonies have a lot of work to do between building comb and raising brood- help them out and make the hive stronger by leaving the honey alone. In fact, provide a bit of sugar syrup someplace close for extra nourishment when the bees are out foraging.
Bees don’t do well in extreme weather, and temperatures below 50-degrees Fahrenheit can be lethal.
New hives are most at-risk in the cold as they may not have the number of bees needed to create warmth inside the hive, which is how bees survive the winter. If you find a dead hive during or following a cold snap, this is likely the cause.
Bees and moisture don’t mix. That is, moisture can easily turn to mold in the hive. Damp climates may foster mildew and fungus- which can be lethal for bees living there. Some suggest using moisture-absorbent quilt boxes for your apiary.
A dead hive could be the result of mites, probably most likely Varroa mites. These typically attack hives in the late summer or autumn.
You can tell mites are an issue when you observe deformed, often wingless bees. Varroa mites disfigure and weaken the bees to the point of death. If left untreated, the colony is at-risk of demise.
Industry enthusiasts suggest controlling mites by exposing the bees to mineral oil. This is done by vaporizing, fogging, or dripping mineral oil near, in, and around the hive- but make sure that it is food grade, and safe for consumption.
Pesticides, herbicides, and chemical applications used or sprayed near a beehive can have disastrous and devastating consequences.
These toxins quickly spread throughout the colony, even killing off the young brood. You can tell toxins are the reason for a dead hive when you spot lots of dead bees laying near or beneath the hive.
Remember that the way that you control pests like hive beetles is impactful when you have hives. When you use pesticides to control beetles and the pupates, they can spread to the hives and kill bees. As for the honey and comb, you should consider that contaminated, as well.
Disease could also wipe out and kill a beehive. Common bee diseases are chalkbrood, foulbrood, and nosema- all infectious and easily transmitted from one hive to another.
If one hive is infected, take care to treat all of the hives including getting rid of contaminated frames inside the hives. But make sure to burn them or you risk further transmission and infection.
Hive beetles are another possible reason for the demise of a hive. These pests are destructive and when they attack, bees abscond. The beetle larvae destroy the honeycomb, too. If you suspect hive beetles are near, you must be proactive and control them before they wreak havoc and cause irreparable damage to your apiary.
Dealing with a Dead Hive
Is there honey in the dead hive? Depending on how long the hive has been dead, you may be able to salvage the honey and comb.
If the honey has fermented, you will not be able to eat it. Also, if you have any suspicion that the hive died due to exposure to toxins- like pesticides or herbicides- you cannot harvest the honey or comb. Furthermore, if the hive has been treated chemically for mites, do not try to salvage it.
If the hive is found promptly and barring any issue with the honeycomb, you may be able to freeze the frames and provide them as the foundation for a new colony of bees.
If there is visible damage from pests or other elements, you want to scrape down the old comb and start fresh. Clean the hive using a diluted bleach and water solution but avoid any other cleaning solutions. Make sure that if you use bleach, you allow the hive to dry thoroughly in the sun prior to use.
Reusing an Old Hive
Thinking of reusing the old hive? It must be thoroughly cleaned and devoid of any potential toxins or chemicals that could harm bees – you should also read our guide on reusing beehive frames to aid in the process.
If you want to repopulate the hive, you may choose to purchase bees or you may try to attract a swarm of bees to your hive. Make sure to maintain, inspect, and check the hive routinely to prevent similar problems in the future.
Be careful and cautious when reusing an old hive- first, make sure to determine what caused the bees to die, if possible.
Check the hive regularly for problems, like diseases or mites, that could jeopardize the wellbeing of your colony. Do not harvest honey for the first year that your hive is established, to ensure the bees have enough fuel to complete their important and necessary work.