We had snow on January 23. Not much of a snow, but it did actually fall white out of the sky and accumulated barely on our yards before it melted by midday or early afternoon. In the morning I looked out of my window and noticed that snow was melting on top of my hives.
OK, I thought, if a hive has melted snow on the top, the bees are generating enough heat to melt it...that would be an indication that the hive is alive. If the snow is totally unmelted, the hive must be dead. Sounds reasonable, right?
So here's the tour:
Nuc number one: made from the tall hive to the left in late July:
Nice hot little melted circle and I have the warm confident feeling that this hive is alive.
Nuc Number two: also made from the tall hive to the left in late July:
This nuc is in a deep with one medium super above it. The snow is unmoved by bee heat, so I assume this nuc is dead. After all, it seemed light and had not taken the honey I had fed them.
Hive Three: Survivor swarm from my neighborhood. This is its second winter. These bees refused to use the entrance once I put a Billy Davis robber screen on and found their way out through a crack in a board on the side.
Again the snow and ice have melted - in a funny slanted pattern, but melted, nonetheless. So I assumed these bees were alive.
Next hive: A Jarrett Apiaries package that I did not harvest from because I wanted them to have enough food to go through winter
Snow covered with no signs of melting. These bees must be dead.
This is a hive that was in a nuc through last winter that I kept in a nuc most of bee season. In July I moved it into a normal hive to overwinter. See the round pattern of melted ice and snow? These bees are going to make it through their second winter.
And finally my "mother" hive who has birthed most of these babies. She began as a split from a survivor hive that I got from Bill Owens. This hive is a swarm from the Bill Owens hive in Tom Phillips' yard. And look at the powerful circle of heat it has generated. This is this hive's third winter.
So, as Paul Harvey used to say, here is the "Rest of the Story." That was the title of his radio show.
So all the hives that I thought were alive are indeed alive. Following Walt Wright's checkerboarding plan, I have been into the top of all of the hives in the last two weeks and attempted checkerboarding. I say attempted because I don't have lots of drawn comb and because some of the honey domes in my hives included honey joined to honey in the next frame so lifting one of those frames would cause a mess of dripping honey in the hive and I didn't want that. So in the eight frames, I moved at least three in each hive to an upper box and moved in drawn comb.
However, all the hives I thought were dead were not. The nuc in the deep is so concentrated in the deep and have not used the box above it at all. I had an inner cover on it with a surround nuc box and an interior Boardman feeder of honey in the top box with the top cover on that. I assume that the heat generated by the hive was dissipated by the time it made its way through the empty second box and the inner cover.
The hive totally covered with snow was indeed dead. I opened it and it was full of honey that had not been slimed by the SHB. This means they went into winter with honey, but had died for another reason. The bottom of the hive was full of dead bees. I did not see deformed wing, but I'm sure the hive died by something vectored by the varroa mite. I did not use the honey left in the hive to feed any other hives because I did not want to transmit disease and all of the other hives had plenty of honey.
The one hive short on supplies (or at least I thought so because they had no honey in the second box) was the deep nuc covered with snow. I filled a feeder jar with honey and put it in the surround nuc box and by the next day the bees had moved all of the honey into the nuc box below.
So while looking at melted snow does tell part of the story, it doesn't necessarily tell the whole story.