And when I opened it up, I found very very few bees in the box. The top box was practically empty. The honey in the feeder was about half gone, and while there were a few bees up there, there weren't that many. It was a shock given how many bees there were earlier this month.
Nearly all the bees in the bottom box were between three frames on the southwest side of the bottom brood box. There weren't that many of them, but they all looked healthy, and while some had mites on them, there weren't any of the crippled wingless ones. There were bees going in and coming out of the hive, at a pretty good rate, which is partially why I was so surprised to find so few bees in the box.
When I removed the sticky board on the bottom, there was a lot of wax flakes, a lot of bee heads, and a couple of hive beetles (sighs). That isn't good, either. I suspect that the really strong wasp and hornet nests nearby took their toll on the girls, as the wasps pretty much bite their heads off.
I'd been seeing some sign of pesticide die off, as nearly every morning there were a handful of the girls on their backs, feebly waving their legs in the air on the entrance board. On cold mornings there were a lot more dead than on relatively warm mornings. I wonder if they'd brought back some poisoned pollen? I don't know.
The boxes were also pretty heavy, still, so there was honey in the frames the bees had. A number of the local keepers have experienced starving because August and September were far colder and rainier than the local flora is used to having, so they haven't been producing as much nectar. So they've been feeding at a pretty good clip. So they weren't dying off simply because I wasn't good about feeding them... there's just something else going on, and I'm kind of sad to see it.
I left the open mesh bottom board on because of the mites, to get rid of them, but maybe the ventilation is too much and it was too cold for them? Anyway, there seem to be a myriad of possible reasons, and no real way of sorting them all out. So I just put the strips on for the ladies that were left, and if I get their mite problem taken care of, and reduce them to a single, well-honeyed brood box, it might give them a little more of a chance. But this winter really looks like it's going to be a harsh one, so I don't give them much of a chance with such small numbers before even getting into winter.
It's kind of a shock, but it's also kind of to be expected, as the local keepers have been writing, lately on our email list, about what a horrible end to the season it's been. The losses are huge already, and the mite loads have been crazy. Plus, the feeding/lack of flow problem, and a lot of keepers are already losing a lot of colonies. One lady even found an abandoned apiary that she was asking for help to clean out... so it's kind of sad all around.