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  1. #1
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    Default Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Hi all...I've posted a couple of times in the Beekeeping 101 forum but I have some TBH-specific questions, and I really hope to get some advice or help! We installed a 3# package of bees in our new TBH at the end of April. Things seemed to be going okay...we were feeding them and trying to leave them alone, and we were all excited when we started to see comb appear.

    However, it's now over a month later and the bees have produced almost no comb. I mean, they have maybe five combs that aren't even the full width of the TBH. They're bringing in pollen and the hive seems active, but the number of bees seems to be dwindling and I don't know why. I haven't seen any signs of parasites or disease. I don't know how to tell if the queen is alive. I've seen some capped cells but I haven't seen the center region of the inner combs so I don't know if it's primarily worker or drone. I'm about to go take out a comb and have a look, but I'm worried about stressing them out if they're already under stress.

    Any idea of what could be wrong? I wish I could put a nuc in there with some brood to give them a kickstart, but I've looked everywhere for TBH nuc frames and I can't find anyone who carries it! Do you think the queen is dead? Should I try putting in a new queen cage and see what happens?

    Any help would be much appreciated!

  2. #2

    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Have you not checked in on them since you hived the package? It's hard to believe they would stick around of they had lost their queen and at least aren't trying to raise another one.
    It sounds like you really need to open it up and see what you have inside. Just be ready for some irritable bees if they are queenless. Is the comb still white, or is it turning yellow. I've noticed mine turn noticeably yellow after just one round of brood hatched out. Maybe you just have a weak queen. If she is not laying a lot, then perhaps the little bit of comb you have is enough to support them. But it won't be enough to make them successful. I'd definitely look for the queen. If she is there, I'd consider requeening, as it does not sound like she is very strong. If the hive numbers are too low already you may want to combine them to make a stronger hive and then requeen the new hive. I guess that assumes you have more than one hive. If you don't have any more hives to combine with, you may just have to get a new queen and cross your fingers....
    Note my signature, I have been vey lucky with my first hive so I tend to take things for granted.
    Good luck!

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Hi Tom! Thanks for the reply!

    I have checked on them before, but mostly through the observation window. I wasn't sure if I should wait for them to get some good comb established before trying to pull any out. I have opened it up and taken out some combs now, and I think I spotted the queen (I took my camera and photographed each comb, front and back, so I could study them later). I'm going to link to the picture, and maybe you can let me know if you think I'm right?

    Here's what else I've spotted: capped honey at the top of the combs, larvae in the cells, some capped worker cells and some capped drone cells. I checked last week and it was just a quick peek, and I was kind of concerned because the hive numbers seemed really low. Then I looked in through the window the other day and was astonished at how many bees seemed to be there. Today when I opened it, the comb was no longer pure white, so I'm guessing maybe they hatched out a brood?

    Maybe they just had a hard time when they first got hived, and their numbers dropped, and so they've only built as much comb as they could handle? Might that explain the slow progress?

    Queen bee?

    I put a green dot on her back digitally so you can see which one I mean. She looks totally different than all the other bees! (Plus you can see a little larva right under her leg! Aw!

    Here's the link to my whole bee album: Bee album Sorry some of the pics are a little blurry...

    Thanks again for your reply and your help!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    that does NOT look like a queen to me, the abdomen is not long enough, at least from the picture you have shown us. Nonetheless, if you have larvae, you have a queen!

  5. #5

    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    That does appear to be your queen, although the perspective is hard to tell for sure. When you see the queen from the top (looking down on her as a bird would) her abdomen is distinctively longer. I like the digital dot! I was concerned at first because it is the wrong color. This year is yellow. I was going to inquire if it was digital since it looked so crisp. One trick to looking for you queen, is to look for bees in a rosette pattern. The worker bees will all be facing the queen. You don't always see this, but if you do, it is again, a very easy way to find her. These are all things that you will gain an eye for over time. I still struggle to find my queen, and she has a bright yellow dot on her back!

    I should have stated the slump in bee numbers in my first response. This is very normal, and nothing to worry about. You have to understand that in the time that it takes the first brood to hatch out, a lot of bees will die of old age. So you will see a slump, and then a boom. The yellowed comb is a sign that bees have hatched out. You will note a consistent darkening of the comb over time. Each time a larva pupates, it spins a very thin cocoon inside the cell. Over time these will build up, until such a time where the comb is dark brown to black. It is good practice to periodically remove and dispose of this older comb. If nothing else it just serves as a house cleaning, as the old comb may harbor disease. It would be like burning lice infected clothing (gross analogy, but I think effective).

    The capped honey at the top of each bar is perfectly normal. Ideally the bees will fill the top of the comb in an arch shape with stores. Just below the honey will be a thin band of pollen, and the rest will be brood. Again, this is ideal. I note the honey to be pretty regular in my hive, but the pollen seems to get tossed around wherever it will fit. You want to at least look for a good tight brood pattern on the comb. If you notice spotty brood, like a shotgun pattern, then you have issues. Possibly just a disorganized queen, but it can be indicative of bigger problems looming. It's perfectly normal to see some drone comb (notable by it's high dome capping) but mostly what you should see is the less domed worker brood. The bees will naturally raise as few drones as possible. But if your hive is very strong, and carries good genetics, you may notice more drones. That's good in that you are helping the local bee populations by mating good drones with other queens. However, if you notice excessive drone comb, then you have either an unfertilized queen, or laying workers (infertile eggs). Laying workers are a very serious and difficult to combat problem. The bright side is, your queen can't become unfertilized. Unless she lives so long that she literally runs out of sperm from her initial mating flight. I don't know if queens will make a new mating flight, but I don't believe so. In a feral hive, as a queen becomes weak and slows down her laying ability, the hive will supersede here and raise a new young vibrant queen. Most commercial beekeepers will systematically re-queen their hives once a year (I believe in the fall) to prevent any issues of the queen getting old and lazy on them.

    As for drone brood, I have noticed my queen seems to put it out in batches, which I see to be a decision that she makes, and I see it as a smart, orderly queen. At first I saw very little drone brood, and then all of sudden there was a patch of drone brood about 2" in diameter smack in the middle of one comb. I thought about cutting it out for IPM, but I have a varroa resistant queen and have not seen enough signs (any for that matter) of varroa to see the need. Obviously the queen was proud enough of her hive that she felt comfortable putting out some drones instead of workers. Once all those drones hatched out, that same comb was re-laid with worker brood. To me that was an astonishing sign of what bees will do when given the natural option to do what they choose is best.

    In other news, I harvested one bar of comb this past weekend, 3.25 lbs, and sold out in my first day back at work! People love the stuff. And everyone has questions, which is great since I love to talk about the girls!
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  6. #6

    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Quote Originally Posted by llgoddj View Post
    that does NOT look like a queen to me, the abdomen is not long enough, at least from the picture you have shown us. Nonetheless, if you have larvae, you have a queen!
    Like I said, hard to tell from that perspective. But llgoddj drives home the point. You don't need to worry as much about finding the queen, as long as you see signs that she is still in the hive. As long as you see eggs in the cells (a single egg per cell that is) then you know that you at least had a queen as late as three days prior. If you stop noting eggs altogether then you have reason to be concerned.
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    What you have marked is a drone and the drone brood is from a laying worker.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Agreed. I notice the larger eyes now. The spotty drone brood can be indicative of a laying worker. Better start looking for a replacement queen, but even so, you will have to get rid of the laying worker problem. There are other threads on the topic. Several ideas are floating around. I personally have not had to deal with (fingers crossed) so I cannot speak on it. Good luck.
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Tom, thank you so much for the wonderful reply! And thanks to all of you who have replied.

    As for that bee being a drone, are you sure? Because she/it looked almost identical to this: Adult_queen_bee.jpg with the unstriped abdomen and longer red legs. I thought that the black was just the back of her head, not her eyes. All my drones have big fat black abdomens. They look so striking that when I first saw them I thought they were intruders from somewhere else!

    Here's one of my drones: Drone

    Here's a closer shot of the mystery bee: Mystery bee

    To me it looks like the black part is just the back of her head. And her abdomen is kind of curved, too. Also, you can see capped worker brood right under that bee's foot, below the cell that contains the white larva. That cap has just the slightest dome, compared to the big pencil eraser caps on some of the other cells. Is that correct or am I not viewing it properly? (Still a total newbie!) So even if the mystery bee is not the queen (and I just got excited and thought she was because she was so darn different!), the presence of worker brood suggests she's in there somewhere, I would think, right? And if a brood already hatched out once, she had been laying...and if she died with worker brood already laid, I imagine I should be seeing some queen cups...

    Anyway, thanks again for the awesome replies, and I'd love to hear if you have any further thoughts on the matter!

    [Edit: Also, since there are so many uncapped cells but it looks like a brood hatched out once already, and because I just noticed an increase in the bee population, is it possible that the hatch just happened and the drones are still incubating but *almost* ready to come out, since they usually take a few more days to hatch than worker bees?]
    Last edited by Lucretia; 06-13-2012 at 10:07 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I think that is definetly a drone. Just because one drone is a particular color doesnt mean the others will be the same. Look at the eyes on the mystery bee, they are huge, which is indicative of a drone. Just my opinion. Good pictures though.
    Last edited by BGBEES; 06-14-2012 at 12:03 AM.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    That is a drone. Drones move from hive to hive, so won't all be the same color. I've read there can be a high percentage of drones from other hives.

    In terms of the growth, that is quite normal. They need time to get established and only build as much comb as they can look after. Then they need to build up their population, this takes time. Meanwhile the older bees are dying off and population decreases for a while. They will pick up, but once the main flow has finished they may not seem to change much. Just need to watch in late summer and early autumn(fall) that they have enough honey and nectar, otherwise you may need to feed.

    Matthew Davey

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    No doubt that is a drone. There is one just to the right of it as well. Look for the queen or signs of the queen. ONE egg per cell or maybe even a queen cell. A laying worker will produce larvae, it will be all drone's though when they emerge. Pick a nice day to open the TBH and look. They will get used to it. It is not as evasive as you may think to the bees. Within minutes, the hive will act like they were never bothered.
    A queenless hive will dwindle quickly.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Well I can't change my mind twice, so I just won't say. I can't decide if it's a queen or a drone. I still think the abdomen looks a little short for a queen. Seems to me my queen is about half abdomen of her total body. She kind of looks like a school bus moving around among a bunch of sedans on the comb. Perhaps a bad analogy, but the way her abdomen swings around behind her reminds me of how the back end of a school bus appears to swing out when the bus turns.

    As is, I'd just keep watching for signs of a queen. As long as you have worker brood getting capped, you must have a fertile queen somewhere in there. I suppose one trick would be segregate the bee that you think is the queen on some open comb, and check back after a day or so for the egg pattern. I'd hope if you are making all this effort to find a queen that once you find her you will mark her (with more than a digital dot ). It's great to see the queen just for some sense of security, but if you don't it's not the end of the world. Just keep looking for signs that she is around.

    Speaking of queens, I made a cut-back split on Sunday. Looking in my TBH last night, I counted at least 7 queen cell cups on the ends of comb just on the window side of the hive. No telling how many may be around back, on the bottom, or in the middle of frame. I wish there was a better way of just keeping a bunch of queens in a hive together...why can't they all just get along?
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Your "mystery" bee is DEFINITELY not a queen. The abdomen is not nearly long enough past the wings to be a queen. Sorry to break the news, but that does NOT mean she isn't present some where in the hive. Either keep looking for her, or try to find eggs or larvae that have been produced recently by a queen, and not by a worker.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I've just relaised there are nearly 30 other photos and looking at the capped brood it is almost all capped Drone brood. I didn't see the queen in any of the photos.

    So you either have no queen (maybe laying workers), but more likely a virgin queen that hasn't started laying. As it's not uncommon for a package to supersede the queen once they have finished getting established.

    Ideally as you said, you should be adding a frame of eggs or young larvae, just in case they are laying workers. But if you don't have access to this you may just have to check again in a week and see if there is any capped worker brood.

    If not, it may be getting too late to introduce a new queen, so I would merge them with another hive, but I don't suppose you have another hive.

    So check again in a week and let us know if there is any capped worker brood and go from there.

    Matthew Davey

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I agree with MattDavey. I see lot's of drone comb and capped drone cells and the "queen" looks to me to be a drone as well. You might have a virgin queen if they superceded her, but you should have seen queen cells. My 3# package installed at the end of March already superceded their queen, and as was stated...its not that uncommon with packages. There is a cell in this photo...lower left hand corner that looks like it could be an emergency queen cell. It isn't sealed yet, but looks a little larger than the other drone cells to me. It could just be the angle though. Good luck.

    Matt M.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I see a lot of capped honey, and some drone cells. Looks a lot like my colony last year that failed after they ended up hopelessly queenless. There was no laying worker, either. They were amazingly docile at that point, too, as if they had given up. They foraged and stored honey, even capping more, but as the numbers dwindled, the remaining bees consumed that and eventually, there were no bees at all.

    So (bear in mind that I have no idea what I'm talking about), if that was my hive, I would 1) try to add brood comb, and if that's not available, 2) try to introduce a new queen (recognizing low odds of success).

    Good luck,

    Bruce

    Bruce

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I had two hives going up until two weeks ago. I was worried about the one hive. It had a queen but no evidence that she laid a single egg and I didn't know if she had died or something. At inspection time I almost pulled a bar of brood from the good hive to put in but decided to give it a week. They didn't have a week, next inspection there was a sad huddle (about fist sized) of bees that were all that were left. Like Bruce described they had given up. Whatever you decide, don't wait or hesitate, they might not have the time.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    I really appreciate all your thoughts and insights. It's been so helpful! Okay, so likely that's a drone. I still thought her abdomen was way too pointed for a drone, but it's hard to see in that picture. Our queen was a Buckfast, and I still think the bee in the picture looked a lot like this (though, granted, a little hard to see at the weird angle as I was trying to take a picture around my helper's arm): Buckfast Queen. But it's kind of pointless to go back and forth about it over just one picture...really...I'll see if I can get a better shot tomorrow.

    Edit -- yes, I only have one hive. I've looked everywhere for a source of brood comb but no luck. I've also heard that adding brood comb to a small hive could overtax the workers, if there aren't enough nurse bees to look after them. I'm going to go back in tomorrow and check again, and see what's changed.

    Also, does anyone have any comment on my idea of what happened? I.e., I checked the hive like two or three days after the worker brood hatched (accounting for the huge increase in numbers in the hive over the last couple days prior to the check), but before the drones hatched? I read that workers take 21 days to hatch while drones take 24. The next batch of worker brood wouldn't be capped over yet, would it?

    Thanks again...I'll let you know what I find when I look tomorrow.
    Last edited by Lucretia; 06-15-2012 at 01:11 PM. Reason: Forgot to add something

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Nucs? Trouble with my new hive?

    Hi Lucretia, I'm new to beekeeping this year too. I read the same thing, workers 21 days, drones 24 but, other than a lul right when the first workers were hatching and a lot of the original package bees had reached their lifespan, my queen is laying everyday. There are eggs, larva, and capped brood in all stages in the broodnest, so new bees are hatching all the time. Maybe your hive is having a bit of a lul due to the same reason mine did? There were too few nurse bees to cover any more brood so she seemed to stop laying for a few days but then started up again when the hatchlings were ready to start working. I'm now starting to see orientation flights already. My hive got started May 16th.

    By the way, my hive that didn't make it had a Buckfast queen that for whatever reason didn't lay. The package she got stared with was more than half dead on arrival and had to be replaced so it may have played a role.

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