Monday, March 19, 2012

A Weak Hive

Winter was incredibly mild and we seemed to have missed spring and gone straight into summer with temps around 22 degrees C. So, off with the winter wraps.

In the fall I had six hives, five strong and one that had been battling heavy mite loads all summer.

On approaching the bee yard it was immediately evident that five of the hives were doing very well. And one was not.

Hundreds of bees were flying in front of the first five hives but Hive #1 only had about three lonely bees on the stoop. I was saddened but not surprised. The hive had problems last summer when it went queenless, with no brood or eggs. I gave them a queen cell from another hive and they mostly recovered but their numbers didn't get up to where they should have been.

The hive had been plagued with heavy mite loads. I treated in spring and fall with formic acid but still there were still far too many mites. I knew this would dangerously weaken the hive.

In the fall many baby bees had deformed wings so the new workers born couldn't be productive.

Last fall I also noticed tiny moisture droplets inside the hive and I kept blaming my hive top feeder thinking it was leaking. I tested the feeder at home and it didn't leak. It was a mystery. The moisture was like a fine mist. We'd had a lot of rain in fall so I was left confused where it came from. Was it condensation? There was a top vent open to release moisture.

Yesterday I took the hive apart. The deep was empty with a few bees standing on the combs--dead. There were many bees in capped cells, partly exposed but not hatched--and dead.

The bottom board was covered with bee parts. A sad scene.

The top exit/ventilation hole had about 2 handfuls of bees pooled where the wrap was snug against the hive, just under the vent--all dead.

There were live bees on three frames in the medium super and they were clustered over cells of eggs. I didn't see any larvae or a queen. There was one egg in each cell at the bottom--so it may take a few days to determine if they really do have a queen or if it's a drone layer.

The super was heavy with capped honey but the surface of the cappings had a fine layer of a blue coloured mold. This I'm presuming is because of the mist/moisture from the fall.

I took away the deep, leaving them in a super with a few frames.  I gave them a new bottom board, a pollen patty and some sugar water and repositioned the hive so it had more of a slant for water drainage. Their entrance reducer is set to the smallest setting.

Later this week I'll give them a frame of brood from one of my strong hives. I want to see if I can bring these bees back.

In hindsight maybe the hive was sealed up too much for the mild winter we had.  With bees too weak to deal with the moisture they couldn't maintain their combs.  Then mold got a chance to set in.

Kudos to the determined little workers who are hanging on. I'll do what I can to help them.


Sweet Acres said...

I had a hive in a similar situation last spring. It came through the winter with only a few bees and I thought it was queenless. I was late reclaiming the equipment and when I went back, it was building up nicely.

It never got to the point of being a great hive, but it did make it through the winter again. So, don't give up hope!

One word of caution about adding brood. Make sure you have enough bees to case for it and keep it from getting chilled

Beekeeper Barbara said...

Sweet Acres: Thanks for your comments. I did think about if they could cover a frame well enough. One beek friend suggested leaving the bees on the frame and putting it in. But, good news, they DO have a queen. So for a bit I'll watch and see how they do.

Anonymous said...

Something I have done in the Fall, with excellent success, is to stack a weak hive on top of a stronger hive.

I simply put an inner cover on the lower hive, then a 2" spacer with a 3/4" exit hole drilled in it, which also has screen door material stapled to one side (the bottom side). This spacer becomes the entrance to the upper hive and I'm trying to create a chimney so I don't want a big entrance for the upper hive. Then I stack the weak hive on top (which for me is no more than two mediums - I don't run deeps). Throw another spacer on top with a candy board, an inner cover and lid - put a large strap around the whole thing to keep it from blowing apart in the winter wind.

It has worked for me every time. The weak hive gets the extra heat coming up to their smaller cluster, but the lower hive doesn't lose anymore heat than they normally would.

Anyways, something to try next time. Seems I always have one or two hives at the end of the year that have had the exact same problems yours did, but are big enough I hate to just combine them with another hive.

Beekeeper Barbara said...

Thanks for your comments Anonymous. I did that last year with a small hive and then combined.

When you do this is the purpose to help warm the smaller hive or is the end goal to combine? Just curious.

Also, I've been thinking about running with mediums but I'm not sure how that'd go in the Great White North. Are you in Canada or a warmer climate?