TedsWoodworking Plans and Projects

Dealing With a Dead Hive

It’s spring time again! Which means flowers, pollen, drones, honey, firing up the smoker, and cleaning up dead outs. Hives die over the winter for various reasons, the most common being starvation. The weather gets so cold that they cannot leave their warm cluster to get food or they die trying. When this happens you will usually see dead bee bodies sometimes “frozen” in the cluster, or piled up on the bottom board, and other bees that died with their heads in the cells. If the hive has been dead for sometime other bugs may move in, such as wax moths and wasps. Other common causes of a dead hive are dysentery and nosema, and excess moisture in the hive. Identifying the cause to the best of your ability will help you determine the best and most efficient way to clean up while minimizing the risk of infection or infestation to other hives.

If you suspect that your hive was diseased then you will need to disinfect the wooden ware and wax. This can be done by placing the frames in the freezer for 24-48 hours. Putting frames in the freezer will kill wax moth eggs and some bacteria. The wooden ware can be soaked or washed in a bleach and water solution of 1 cup bleach to 5 gallons of water. Then you can store the frames in the boxes with Paradichlorobenzene (PDB) crystals, to deter wax moths, or leave the frames in a freezer. Just remember to let them thaw before putting them back in a hive. There are also spray-on-the-comb treatments you can purchase, such Bacillus Thuringiensis (Certan) designed to kill the larvae when it tries to eat the wax. These will help protect stored comb from wax moths as well. If you can stack the boxes in such a way that light penetrates the inside of them and covers the frames then you may not have to worry about using anything to keep the moths at bay. However, if you have a hive that died of any kind of foul brood then it is necessary to take whatever actions required by law.

If you are certain that your hive was healthy before it’s death then clean up is a little more simple. You should still do something with the wax in the frames as a preventative measure. Wax moth eggs can be very hard to see and an infestation of these pests is quite a nightmare. Another hive could also catch a disease that the dead out might have been carrying. Better safe than sorry, right? Freezing the comb works wonderfully as I said in the above paragraph. The wooden ware simply needs to be brushed off and stored.

If your hive had capped honey on it you can still extract the honey for your own use. Unless you had performed a chemical treatment that would make your honey unsafe. In that case you will need to read about the treatment and see if it makes the honey unsafe for bees, too. If so, then you can’t really do anything with it. If it is still bee safe you can store it in a freezer for feeding bees later and save a little money on feed costs.

Losing a hive is a part of beekeeping, just like getting stung. The important thing to do is just clean up and keep on beekeeping!


  1. Bees died due to starvation. Clues are no honey left in the frames and bees are in the cells with their heads down and buts sticking out. The cluster died slow with the bees on the outside of the cluster falling down to the bottom board and the last bees trying to get anything they can out of the dry cells.

    • Good observations K Beeman. Another thing you might notice about that video is the beekeeper split up the frames of brood rather than keeping them together. There didn’t appear to be enough bee’s to cover both frames of brood so this hive was doomed from the start…

    • I’ve just lost a hive to starvation from being robbed out. 2 frames have a number of dead bees in the cells still and several cells of capped brood that is all dead as well. I put them in the freezer for 24 hours and now am wondering what to do with them. I tried pulling them out with tweezers but some were just goo. Can I put these frames into a sting hive in hopes they will clean it up?

      • If your positive the hive died due to starvation and not disease then you will be fine to put those frames in. The bees are excellent housekeepers and will clean them right up.

  2. My bees died over the winter. I suspect it was disease as the hive is still pretty full of honey. I guess my main question is, is it safe to eat the honey or do I need to throw it all out?

    • HI Chris, if your absolutely sure that the bees didn’t die from insecticides then the honey should be fine. You mentioned that they may have died of disease, did you treat the hive with anything? The reason I ask is if you treated the hive chemically then this would also taint the honey.

  3. Doug and Mila Taylor says

    I wintered 2 hives in my basement. One survived well, the other completely dead. Dead bees all over the room and some in the hive. I may have lost the queen last fall. Would that cause the hive to die?

    • Depending on when you lost the queen, it’s very possible that the lack of new brood at the end of summer sent that hive into winter with mostly “older” drones which died off.

  4. Hi;
    I lost my first hive late in the summer. I am pretty sure it was varroa. I used Hopguard, and it was effective, killing a lot of mites (bottom board check), but I think I caught it too late. The queen was left with very few bees. They died off and robbing ensued. I would like to know what to do with the frames. I have scraped off wax from the frames with larvae and where the comb was dark brown and left the comb where honey and sugar water was stored. Can I use these frames for the new hives in the spring or should I start with new frames?
    Thank you!

  5. Katherine Monroe says

    We had two hives. Both hives seemed healthy and had plenty of honey going into the winter. One hive was especially strong. We treated for verroa in August. We checked the hives in February we had no bees. Most of the honey was still there. In one hive there were no bees dead or alive. In the other hive there were a few bees that appeared to have died of starvation. What do you think happened>

  6. Checked my hive today, 3/9/15 50 degrees after a very cold winter. very few bees & they were all dead. Some moisture & mold inside. Lower deep had some frames w/ honey others empty. Upper deep full frames of honey. Any idea as to cause of loss

  7. 04/08/15 I had 3 hives lost 2. We have had record cold for 2 months near Buffalo, N.Y. The one hive looks like it starved there is no honey left. The other hive I thought froze, but upon opening I had a large smell of defacation. I have 7 full frames of honey left from this hive. If it is Nozema can I use this honey for human, swarm box or nuc use? Also, I see putting the frames in a freezer will kill the nozema. Is having 2 months of zero weather the same as freezing.
    Your help appreciated,

  8. Robert Butler says

    Have two hives, side by side. They were overloaded with honey when I set them for the winter. One hive is still alive-haven’t opened it to inspect yet; bees as still coming and going as before it seems. The other is DEAD; only a dozen dead bees around. Honey is gone completely. What happened?

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