Managing a dead-out
Occasionally, a colony will succumb to the winter weather and be lost. The result is called a "dead out" and there are a few different options as far as how to handle it. First, let me say that hives that appear dead aren't always dead. If it's cold outside, just leave the hive alone and wait. If you bring cold boxes of "dead" bees into your home they could wake up by the thousands and start flying around and defecating on everything! Now, if it's been in the 60s for a day or two and there's been no activity or other signs of life (listen with ear to hive), then it's safe to assume you have a dead-out. The easiest thing to do with a dead out is to simply repopulate it with bees. This also gives a new bee package a huge advantage, since they'll already have a nest and (usually) some stores. To repopulate a hive, you simply need to clean out most of the dead bees and verify there's no obvious disease issues. Assuming the hive was healthy and appeared normal going into the winter, the only real concern will be evidence of severe dysentery or nosema (digestive disease). To clean out the hive, simply remove the roof and quilt and then separate the boxes from the floor and set them aside. Thoroughly clean all of the dead bees and hive trash from the floor. Use something long and narrow (like a paint stir-stick) and, working from the top of the upper hive body, gently push clusters of dead bees from between the combs, down and out onto the ground. There will likely be lots of dead bees inside cells of the combs, but you don't need to remove those. You simply want to clear out enough of the dead so that there will be room for your new colony to get in there and quickly clean up all the rest. Once you've done that, and as long as everything looks and smells decent, simply put the hive back together, close the entrance to keep out any would-be robbers, and then order a 3lb. package of bees.
If, while cleaning out your hive, you see that the inside is heavily spotted/streaked with black, brown, or mustard colored feces; then your bees died of dysentery or nosema and you'll need to remove everything from the hive and thoroughly clean all of the parts. The honey can be harvested in the usual way and kept for feeding your new colony. The wax can be kept also, for melting in a solar wax melter once the weather is warm enough. Once all of the parts are scraped clean, the best way to wash them is to spray them with a 1:1 bleach/water solution and then power wash them. You can take the parts to the quarter car wash if you don't own a power washer, or you can simply scrub them with a large stiff bristle brush and then rinse with a garden hose. Although thoroughly cleaning a dead-out before repopulating it is occasionally necessary, most of the time it isn't.