Well, unfortunately my suspicions were confirmed. Someone was indeed meddling with at least one of the hives that recently died. How do I know, you may ask? Well, I broke down the hives in order to do a post-mortem and to see if I could determine the cause of their demise. As I was taking down one of the hives at the park, I quickly noticed that one frame was missing from one of the boxes - hmmm, I thought, it is unlikely that I neglected to replace a frame during my inspections, but hey, anything is possible. When I got everything home and took a closer look, I saw that it was actually two frames that were missing. Now, I might be forgetful sometimes, but there is no way that I put a hive back together with two whole frames missing. Then, as I continue to examine the hive, I see this -
The honeycomb from this frame was cut out - look closely and you can see the thin vertical wire from the foundation in the middle of the frame. Someone just went and cut out the comb - amazing!
When I saw the frame with the comb cut out of it, I was kind of in shock. It took me a few seconds to figure out what I was looking at, because I never expected to see something like this. So, this confirmed it beyond the shadow of a doubt. There's a honey thief in my 'hood!! More important than the pilfered honey is that I will never know how often this person was messing with the hives and I'll never know how much of a role that played in the death of these hives. So I don't stand to learn much about beekeeping from this, except that I need to be much more careful about hive placement in the future. Here is a picture of part of the tiny cluster that I found in the robbed-out hive, there were so few bees in there it was sad -
The other hive had quite a bit more bees in it (though not a ton) and no obvious signs of tampering, so who knows what killed them. There was still a lot of honey and pollen left in both hives, so the thieves did not take it all. The drawn comb and all of that surplus honey (about 3 medium supers full) will give my new bees a great head start in the spring. And if necessary, I can feed this honey to my other existing hives if they are running low.
Just another day in the wacky world of beekeeping in the city, I am undeterred...