Well, I went into the winter with five colonies, I'm down to three.
I lost an external hive that I had placed in a hive box limb and all. This happened about a month ago. It consisted of four combs that were average dinner plate size and completely covered with bees. I fed this colony regularly but when I found it "gone" the syrup jar had probably been empty a couple of days. There was one (1) dead bee head-in in a cell...maybe a couple of dead bees on the bottom board. The comb looked pristine. I had had a running battle with small black ants and I'm not sure if the ants forced the colony out and to their death or not. Me being a newbee I figured I starved them to death by letting the syrup run dry...but where were all the starved bees?
A colony beside this one ended up being a deadout, also. This one was a swarm from last season that never did seem to get going good. The deadout was found during the same inspection as the one above. This one was a small two medium hive with plenty of honey/syrup from the summer/fall. There were a couple of handfuls of bees in this one but I think they were remnants of a robbing party being as the honey combs were chewed ragged and lots of chewed wax on the bottom board. Again...only a few dead bees on the bottom board. This one, too, had been beleaguered by small black (sugar) ants.
I'm really wondering if the ants did not force the bees out. They have been extremely bad this winter and my three remaining (stronger) hives are still "under the gun". A friend of mine who's been beekeeping for over 75 years (yeah, that's right :)) told me he'll never poison a fire-ant mound again. He cleared his yard of fire-ants only to have these small sugar ants invade in force. He feels that the fire-ants kept these ants in check. :?
The bad thing is that I know that I contributed to attracting the ants. :( Last winter I wrapped the cement blocks on my single over-wintered hive with roofing felt, figuring it would block the wind off of the screened bottom boards. It worked well, no problems. I did the same this year but what I found when I got to looking was those
ants had build little nests at the bottom edge of the felt. I'll never wrap the blocks again, if anything I'll just slip a sheet of plywood or something under the bottom boards as a baffle.
Currently I have boric acid baits under each hive (been there 4-5 days now). I had some 8oz Glad food containers on hand so I cut several inch long slits in them just under the upper lip where the lid attaches. I made little flaps out of the slits by cutting upward at the end of the slits and bending the flap upwards and out (helps shed rain water). Plastic drink bottles would work but I kinda like the rain shedding feature of the lids and flaps. The openings are very narrow...ants can get in, bees can't. I've baited this using 1:1 sugar syrup with a couple of tablespoons of sugar dumped in for good measure...added to this is a big, heaping table spoon of boric acid per cup of syrup. The ants have been working it hard and I *think* I'm seeing fewer ants crawling up the sides and on the inner covers. I've also tested using some fat (protein) and boric acid but have not seen much activity with that, yet. I didn't have much fat to work with but the wife cooked some hamburgers the other night and I saved the grease from that and will be making up some more bait traps or adding to the couple I've already put out. Hopefully these will work on the ant colonies and won't affect the bees.
I'm feeling like a bad beekeeper right now, but hopefully I'm learning where some of the potholes are on this rocky road.