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Measuring the bone pile: death in the hive

Yesterday I pulled the screened bottom board out of my top bar hive and dumped it. What seemed like an incredible number of moldy bees mixed with pollen and comb dropped heavily to the ground. It made a wet thud, like a saturated mop hitting the deck.

Cleaning the unappetizing stew of deadlings off the bottom board is a rite of spring. Although it can be disconcerting to a new beekeeper, it is nothing to be alarmed over. Here’s why:

An average colony going into winter may contain 50,000 bees. An average overwintered colony stirring in spring may contain 20,000 bees. So where are the other 30,000? Well, a goodly number of them are in that pile; others were carted out of the hive by ambitious house bees during the winter months. You saw those on the landing board and in front of the hive in the snow.

If the hive appears healthy and active then the pile of dead bees is just—well—a pile of dead bees. Clean it up, put the hive back together, and forget about it. Everything is going according to plan.

Rusty

Comments

Phillip
Reply

Yup. I cleaned out a few dead bees today. They were so thick, my dead-bee-scooping stick got stuck a few times. I suppose it’s normal, but that don’t make it pretty. Mine may be especially gross because we don’t have screen bottom boards on our hives. No wonder the bees are clustered at the top of the hive with half the colony in a pile of dead bodies below.

jess
Reply

I know you posted this so that I wouldn’t email you about it when I freak out about it this weekend.

Rusty
Reply

You got it. Thinking of you in advance!

jess
Reply

Don’t worry, I have plenty of other things to harass you about that not even you could predict.

Rusty
Reply

That sounds scary.

jess
Reply

I just don’t want you to get bored.

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