I'm so bummed.
I did a post mortem to find out what the problem was. There was almost a gallon of sugar and honeyballs on the tops of the frames when I opened it up, so that wasn't the problem. I took all the sugar off and am saving it for this summer in the freezer.
When I looked at the cluster in the frames, this is what I saw. [top pic]. That is the cluster. The entire cluster. Fist sized. There just weren't enough bees to keep the cluster warm at sub zero temps.
In November I went to a bee conference and attended a Q&A where I described my colonies and asked the advice of the state bee experts on whether I should combine the hives or winter them separately. I had already decided that I needed to combine. The experts said that they'd winter them separately, as nucs. I figured they knew way more than I did, so I didn't combine. That is the last time I follow the advice from the state experts instead of following my gut. I lost both hives. The only fix for small colonies in the fall is to combine them. If they get huge in the spring, you can always split them.
I took the bottom boards out to see what was what. You can see on this board right where the cluster was. Those three gold streaks are where the bees were hanging out and getting into their stores.
I looked carefully at the debris to see if anything popped out at me.
I did a 24 hour mite board check in the fall and both hives had mite counts well below problem levels. I'm not sure where all these mites came from - though this is 3 months worth of mites.
I've noted where some of the varroa are. There are many more varroa in the pic that I didn't indicate. Can you see them? If you blow the pic up, you can see many more.
Cause of loss: Small colony size aggravated by mite load.
- Combine small hives in fall. Period.
- Don't believe everything the 'experts' tell you.
I have two 3# packages coming in April from Kelley Bee in Kentucky. I got their Russians. I've heard they do well here. In addition, I met a guy who is going to have nucs this year. He said I could get one. If I go into winter 2015-16 with 4 hives, maybe I can get some to make it until spring.
Goals for 2015. Get the blasted bees through the winter! Get a decent honey harvest.