So I opened the hive. Normally, you can't open the hive during winter, because the cold air will kill them quickly. However, if you think that the bees are in trouble or already dead, it's okay to open it.
There were hardly any bees inside the hive. There were full frames of honey, frames of pollen that had been eaten by a mouse, and capped brood. But I could only see five dead adult bees, instead of a buzzing cluster of bees that would normally be there.
They were gone. I was hit with colony collapse disorder.
When I realized what happened, I didn't know how to feel. I was definitely sad, although it seems silly to be so attached to a bunch of six legged winged creatures. But this feeling of love and amazement towards the bees is something that I've heard from every beekeeper. I built them a home. I went out of my way to put them in that home, and I checked on them every other week. I spent hours watching them, making sure that everything was going well in the hive for them, that they had enough food as it fall progressed, that the hive was warm enough in the winter.
Through almost no fault of my own, my bees died. From what? People have speculated that colony collapse disorder is because of diseases or parasites, because of cell phones, because of the mismanagement of hives. And I think those things contribute to the problem, for sure. But, I also think it has to do with pesticides: systemic pesticides, neonicotinides. Neonicotinides are a type of pesticides that target the central nervous systems of insects. Certain kinds have been banned in France for a few years because of their link to colony collapse disorder. According to places like the EPA, the causes of CCD are still unknown. However, the scientific literature I've seen, as well as the documentary Vanishing of the Bees has convinced me that systemic pesticides are a huge factor.
So what do I do? Keep learning about bees, and work hard to gather support to stop agri-business from using such harmful pesticides to bees (and eventually, hopefully, synthetic pesticides in general). I'll start all over again this spring. 1/3 of our diet pollinated is by bees. Maybe next winter, beekeepers won't have to worry about losing our hives because of chemicals.