I will have five-frame, medium nucs available for sale this year. Please see the attached pdf description: nucleus-honey-bee-hives-for-sale-2017
Many bee colonies die between January and late March. Usually this is due to mites or lack of stores (starvation).
Hopefully, your bees were checked for mites in early fall and treated if necessary. Here is a video illustrating using the sugar shake method of determining whether you need to treat for mites. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvWfGMvy_zs
There are many different ways to treat for mites. Here are three natural ways:
- Mite Away Quick Strips can be used anytime in spring or summer when the daily high temperatures exceed 50 degrees, but are less than 92 degrees. It can even be used when honey supers are on the hive. http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/MiteAway-Quick-Strip/productinfo/194/ http://scientificbeekeeping.com/an-early-summer-test-of-mite-away-quick-stripstm/
- Oxalic acid was approved, in the Spring of 2015, by the EPA for treatment of mites. I prefer the dribble method. It is easy to do and very inexpensive. http://www.dadant.com/news/epa-okays-oxalic-acid-for-varroa-mite-control http://scientificbeekeeping.com/oxalic-acid-questions-answers-and-more-questions-part-1-of-2-parts/ http://scientificbeekeeping.com/oxalic-acid-powerpoint-presentation/
- Apiguard, a thymol-based, product, can be used in late summer/early fall. http://www.dadant.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=101&products_id=815
All of these are considered natural miticides. Here’s a good article on miticides, including the natural miticides. http://scientificbeekeeping.com/miticides-2011/
If your hives are light on stores, there are several ways to feed them in the winter. Perhaps, the easiest is to use the Winter Patties sold by Dadant in quantities of 10 or 40 one lb. patties. This approach has the advantage of providing some protein in addition to carbohydrates. The disadvantage of patties is that small hive beetles (SHB) will lay their eggs in them. If you monitor the patties, you can control this problem of SHB. http://www.dadant.com/catalog/m0016040phw-ap23-winter-patties
I have not seen SHB larvae in dry sugar. To feed dry sugar, I use 1 1/2 inch high shims (boxes) made from 1 X 2 furring strips (https://www.lowes.com/pd/Furring-Strip-Common-1-in-x-2-in-x-8-ft-Actual-0-75-in-x-1-5-in-x-8-ft/1000039599) to make room for the sugar, rather than a super. It will hold at least 5 lbs. of regular, granulated, dry sugar. See the attached photo.
I also cover the bottom of the shim with 1/2 inch hardware cloth. This enables me to easily lift the sugar off anytime I need to inspect the hive. You can open the top of the hive to add dry sugar anytime the temperature is above 32 F as long as you do it quickly. Here is a video demonstrating the technique. Note that the presenter is replenishing the sugar after the bees have consumed most of the sugar placed on the hive earlier. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbAUt4_u6dg
In the past, I haved mixed regular dry granulated sugar with dry protein supplement (such as AP23 or MegaBee http://www.dadant.com/catalog/m0016005-ap23-pollen-substitute-5lb-bag). However, SHB will lay eggs in this mix. I believe it is better to use pure granulated sugar alone. A protein patty can be added by placing it near where the bees are consuming the sugar. It is easy to just lift the hive top and examine the patty for SHB larvae and remove the patty if it is infested.
Here are some links with more details about feeding bees in the winter: