It was early February and a slightly warm day was upon me – 50 degrees. I had been keeping my eye on the weather all winter long, eager for a day to crack open my hives, assess if they were alive, and treat for varroa mites using oxalic acid. Finally a day warm enough was here! HOORAY! I prefer to treat with oxalic acid in December or January, but this year was not an option with sub freezing temperatures during almost every day of those two months. I quickly mixed up a batch of oxalic acid treatment and went out to my hives.


In my last blog, I discussed what a beekeeper should do to get their hives successfully through winter.

  1. Ensure their mite counts are low.
  2. Leave them plenty of honey.

My first hive was in great condition going into winter. Their mite count was super low (less than 1% when I checked in October) with lots of honey remaining above the brood cluster. The second hive was more concerning. It had lots of honey left, but the mite count was very high (about 9% in October!). This is usually deadly, so I did a late fall mite treatment using Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS). I crossed my fingers and prayed they would survive winter, knowing the odds were against them.

This warm February day comes around and I was eager to open them, expecting to find my first hive alive and well, and prepared to find the second dead. As I have mentioned before, there are no rules in beekeeping. I open my hives to treat with oxalic acid and find the first one (with the low fall mite count) dead and gone, and the second hive (with the high mite count, which I treated for) alive and well. What in the holy heck?!


My brain starts running a hundred miles an hour, what happened? How did this strong hive die and the questionable one survive? The honest truth is, I may never know. But here is my assessment:

The hive that died:

  • Was it starvation? It was evident they did not die from starvation because there were 2+ honey supers (boxes with honey frames) remaining.
  • Did it freeze? Not likely – if it had, I would have seen dead bees frozen in place on the frames and in the hexagon cells, but they weren’t. Most were dead on the bottom board or out the front entrance.
  • Was it a queen issue? This is a high possibility. I had a queen in this hive that was in her second year (I knew better than to keep an old queen. They just don’t perform as well). So, she could have failed over winter, leaving the hive no way to reproduce and stay alive.
  • Was it mites? It could have been – this strong hive could have been stealing honey (robbing) other hives with lots of mites, even after my last mite count. And, my weaker hive had a lot of mites, so that could have been the culprit!

The hive that lived:

  • It’s pretty obvious that my last minute effort to treat for mites using MAQS worked well enough to get them through the hardest part of winter! Now, I need to keep my eye on them, give them more honey if needed, and ensure they can hold on a little longer.

Beekeeping can be frustrating y’all! Right when you think you have it all figured out, just the opposite of what you predict happens. I guess if it was easy, we would all get bored.

Keep your bees buzzin’ y’all!

  1. geoff fernow says:

    Ah. I learned from sorry experience that one must remove the queen excluder or the girls won’t leave Mom to go 1/4″ up to Their own abundant store of honey. So, when the brood box was empty of honey, the whole hive starved. I read as many different chapters and articles as I could find on how to prep them for winter, apparently this mistake isn’t common enough to be written about. Bozo Beekeeper here, my next lesson forthcoming when I get new nucs this spring.

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