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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Hello all. This last season was my first attempt at keeping bees. I built two Langstroth hives to match one that was given to me, each with a different entrance. One hive had a hole in the front of each of the boxes with fitted corks that could be added as boxes were added, one hive had a shimmed entrance board that was above the brood nest, and the third was a top entrance. All hives had screened bottom boards and screened inner covers. The third hive was the only one that used the screened inner cover as a top entrance. All three had entrance reducers on the bottom boards(with a 3/8" space to allow them to clean out the bottom). All hives were made of all medium boxes. They all were foundationless framed with a comb guide installed in the top groove. I installed the three packages in my three hives. I started them off by feeding them with full frames of honey and some fresh pollen I made into patties. As the season progressed, they drew out a few boxes of comb. The first boxes added were 3-4 weeks after installation, and the next set were 5-6 weeks later, and the last were 7-8 after that. I think all three hives might have swarmed at the same time (mid summer) but I can't verify all three for sure. They all seemed to swarm on the same day...All hives seemed to be less busy/populated after that, so I assumed that they had all swarmed. After that it seemed that comb production became very slow. I tried to not move stuff around much, but did remove the top cover to check the activity weekly/bi-weekly. I never got to harvest any honey, which I had kind of planned for the first year, but after the first soft frost I checked and they had not set any stores. Not one hive had any frames with honey. I got nervous and looked through all 4 of the boxes that each hive had made. No capped honey anywhere. I removed the fourth super and the frames from the third from all the hives, and put newspaper and sugar in the empty box. They all started eating the sugar and were pretty active for a few weeks, but after a few hard freezes I went out to find them all head first in the combs. Not clustered, and not moving at all. There was still plenty of sugar, at least 2 pounds in each hive. The screened bottom board was covered with dead bees. I thought they were all dead, and after a day or two I went out and cleaned out the hives. During this cleaning some comb broke, so I put it in a bag to use for crafts. Some of the bees were still headfirst in the comb. I brought it inside and a few days later, they were buzzing in the bag. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Why did they not set any stores for winter? Why did they stop eating the sugar and not cluster? I think we had a good year for honey production in my area, but all three of my hives didn't produce any stores. I am in northern Illinois if it helps. I am pretty discouraged that I murdered three hives worth of bees, and am VERY reluctant to relive the same agony next year.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    bees small.jpg
    My hives in mid-season.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Location
    Little Rock, AR
    Posts
    108

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    By some of the comments you've made, I'm thinking you haven't joined your local bee club? I suggest doing so would provide you some needed bee education. It is very disheartening to lose a hive, much less 3. If it were me, I think I'd call your club and see if they have any mentors available. Shadow them for a season and get some good hands on experience and start anew next spring.

    Ps - this is NOT an equipment failure.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Rockford, MI
    Posts
    2,460

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    First off, you didn't "murder" any bees.
    Secondly, it could have been the packaged bees that you ordered. Some strains of bees are just swarmier than others.
    Thirdly, the only thing that perplexes me is that none of the hives had sufficient stores. I've never seen where ALL the hives had that happen. That sounds like feral bees robbed them out when thier numbers were low.
    Last, but not least, dust yourself off, pull up your bootstrings and order some more bees quickly.
    Before the bees arrive in the Spring, research EVERYTHING you can get your hands on about beekeeping.
    Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Location
    Washington County, Maine
    Posts
    2,678

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Sorry to read of your losses - 3 colonies is tough!

    I think VitaminBee is on the right track regarding joining a local club and bee education.

    I am writing from Maine and there are differences in beekeeping between Maine and northern Illinois.

    Here for example, it is rare to expect to harvest surplus honey from a first year colony. Does it ever happen? Sure - but what we teach up here is that is a happy occasion not one that should have been counted on.

    You may or may not know it but you have chosen a tough way to raise bees - foundationless frames can be difficult to work with and may be beyond the skill of a new beekeeper to work with. Screened Bottom Boards are not always a good thing - as an example I am located near the coast and find the SBB allow too much fog into my hives.

    In my area it is rare for a colony to more than draw out two deeps in its first year. I am surprised that you were able to get four boxes of comb drawn for each hive and wonder if each frame was fully drawn out before the next box was added. Adding boxes (in the first year especially) is something that needs to be done after observing utilization of the existing boxes and not by the calendar.

    There is an old beekeeping maxim that you may not have heard - that is - take your losses in the fall. In your case what that means is that when you observed after your first soft frost that the bees had not put by adequate stores for winter, you would have had a choice - either provide colonies with sufficient feed then (generally 1:1 syrup) - or combine colonies so that the colony you were creating had adequate stores.

    Also. it is unclear from your writing if you took the honey supers off of each colony at the end of the summer. That is something that should have happened.

    I write not to criticize your first year efforts but instead to encourage you to try again but with the benefit of additional resources - human guidance and learning. For a free web resource that will serve you well look at http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Durango, Colorado
    Posts
    161

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    VitaminBee is right - you should look into a local Bee Club. Ours has a mentoring program where you can be matched with a mentor to help guide you. In my first year (years ago), I relied heavily on my mentor - she even came out and performed inspections with me.

    Since then, I have read everything about beekeeping, asked several experienced beekeepers questions, joined the local bee club, joined this website group, attended State Beekeeper meetings, looked for and attended several training sessions/ learning opportunities, essentially immersing myself into the Beekeeping culture. As a result, I have been in a position to help mentor others and have developed more confidence in working my bees. My bees are doing better now as a result.

    Maybe it would serve you to consider these ideas? Beekeeping is so much more than getting a few packages and harvesting honey. As previously mentioned, beekeeping is regional - meaning different things work well in different regions. Seek and receive local advice from experienced beekeepers.

    One more thing: There are so many opinions out there - time and experience is the greatest teacher in this art.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Morgan ,Kentucky, USA
    Posts
    166

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    You have all that pulled comb and equipment ready to go. I'd at least pick up a couple nucs or packages. Do you know of any bee clubs of beekeeps in your area? Good to have someone to compare conditions to and ask questions to put your mind at ease.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Thank you all for the quick responses.

    To start, and I know it is not a good excuse, I tried to join the local beekeeping club. I tried several times to email different board members to find out where to send my payment for membership. I never got any response. I also attended a few beginning beekeeping classes that were run by one of the board members. In the classes we were given a questionnaire to fill out that asked different questions, including if we would like to be contacted by a possible mentor. I replied yes, and also talked to the board member after the class and re-emphasized that I would like advice/assistance in at least my first year. Turns out the speaker lives less than 10 miles from me, so I thought for sure I would be hearing from him. No luck, I got no response. By this time, I was pretty discouraged with the lack of follow-through from the local group so I gave up on trying. If they wouldn't even reply to let me know how to send them money to join and support their group, how could they be relied on to help with my little apiary. That was the winter/spring that I started the packages. During that time, I read and reread Mr. Bush's Practical beekeeper 1-3, Beekeeping for Dummies, Idiots Guide to beekeeping, ABC & XYZ off Bee Culture, Langstroths Hive and the Honey Bee, and The Beekeepers Bible. I thought that this information should be enough to get me through my first year, and to be safe, I joined Bee Source to ask questions if I got in a pinch. Throughout the year, and after the swarming, I didn't know what questions I needed to ask. The things I was seeing seemed moderately normal and with nothing to compare too, I figured to let them do what they felt they needed to do and observe. When they all swarmed on the same day, I figured there was no way to get them back, so continue to let them do what they feel they need to do and observe. I know this logic didn't work, but also don't know how anything would have been different as I always saw problems in hind sight.

    Some particulars about my progress throughout the season-

    I am calling my supers and brood boxes "boxes" since they are all mediums and I don't know how many would be dedicated to just brood. That said, I did not add boxes in a given time-frame, but I roughly noted the time it took for them to draw out the existing frames before I added the next box. What I had read said to add a box when they have filled out 8+ out of 10 frames of the existing box. So I waited until they had drawn out all but the two outer frames before adding the next box.

    One problem I encountered with the foundationless frames was that the girls didn't start drawing in the new box right away. I had to pull drawn frames from the previous box and switch them out with empty frames in the new box to get them started. I think this is one of the reasons why they swarmed, I would add the box and wait a week or two to see if they started drawing comb. When they hadn't, THEN I would pull drawn frames and switch them with empty ones. I did this for each box I added instead of immediately switching frames. I think I waited too long at one point and that is when they swarmed, I think.

    Another problem that I didn't see until late in the season, maybe late August or early September is that they never drew the empty frames I had switched out when adding boxes. So in preparing for the coming winter, I found that each box had 2-4 empty frames. At that point I panicked and went through the whole hive and replaced all the empty frames with drawn frames. This left me with the top(fourth) box with frames that were either un-touched or had a very small section of comb in it. As I went through all the boxes at this point, I thought it was a bit odd that there was no capped honey, but figured that with a 20-40% empty frame/box ratio they didn't have enough room to keep honey. I didn't even think about the fact that there was so much drawn comb that was sitting there empty. If I did, I guess I figured they were drawing it out to fill for winter but hadn't gotten around to filling it yet.

    So, this brings us to the first frost where I found that none of the hives had ANY capped stores and so I added the newspaper and sugar. To address the robbing by feral bees, I can't refute the possibility, but didn't see anything that I could identify as robbing behavior. All three hives had guard bees that were not reacting to bees moving through the entrance, and the mood of the hives never seemed to be one of defense or aggression. I do recall that the entrances got to be extremely busy at different times of the day and never all three at the same time, but again the guard bees didn't seem to be reacting to anything. I would sit 8 feet from the hives for an hour or so a few times a week and just watch the coming and going of the bees and try to notice any odd behaviors. I realize that this doesn't really mean anything since I am so new to beekeeping and may have been seeing robbing and not recognized it, so it is not very definitive.

    I guess I will try to contact the local bee group again and try to connect with someone, although there is still a bad taste in my mouth from my last experience. If I remember correctly, the meetings don't start for another few months, just like last year. That is why I never just showed up at a meeting, by the time there were meetings to attend, I was already tending to my bees and things didn't seem to be going too terribly bad. It wasn't until the beekeeping season and meeting season was over that everything was so apparently disastrous.

    I apologize for dumping all this information and emotion into one or two posts, but I am just now being able to talk about it after all the disappointment and anxiety I felt from my failure. I would have been posting sooner, but I felt so bad and didn't want to relive that pain so soon. Thank you all for listening and any advice/help you can provide.

    P.S. At the end of the season, when I had noticed that one hive was dead and the other two were lacking in numbers, I combined the two remaining hives. I stacked the boxes from one hive on the other hive with a sheet of newspaper between them and made a small tear in the newspaper at the front of the hive to facilitate the combining. Our winter seemed to set in fast and I had read that you shouldn't feed syrup below a certain temperature. That is why I used the sugar and not the syrup, we went from 40 degree nights to 10 degree nights in a matter of a week, it seems. I noticed the lack of food when it was about 20 degrees at night and added the sugar to all the hives. They were all active during the 10 degree nights, but when it warmed to 30+degree nights and 45+degree days I found them unresponsive and not feeding on the sugar. That is when I lost the one hive and combined the other two. Within a week or two of combining the hives was when I found the girls head first in the comb and not clustered, they still had a few pounds of sugar but no bees were feeding on it. There was no activity in the hive, nothing moved anywhere. This is why I thought they were dead, and when I cleaned out the hive of bees still nothing moved. The whole hive was on the ground, motionless and silent. It wasn't until the bag of broken comb was inside my house for a few days that the ones in the bag woke and made me realize that the hive may not have been dead, just in a hibernation of sorts. I had potentially dumped a few thousand living bees on the cold ground, incorrectly assuming they were dead.

    P.P.S. One of the concerns I have about a mentor and the local beekeeping group is that not only am I trying to do foundationless, I also want to go treatment free, and not feed them if possible. I think that most people will find something to disagree with in this pursuit, and collectively I will have three strikes against me and be dropped/shunned as a no-win case. Really, I am not against feeding them in a pinch, but I want to refrain from feeding sugar or other processed foods. At the end of the season, if I had had the time, I would have purchased frames of drawn and capped honey to feed them with. I used the sugar because I didn't feel I had the time, and figured most people don't want to part with capped honey until their bees have made it through the winter.
    Last edited by MidwestPrimitive; 01-10-2014 at 02:13 PM. Reason: readibility and added information

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Durango, Colorado
    Posts
    161

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Welcome to the world of beekeeping! Nothing is immediately intuitive and practices are regional.

    Of ALL my myriad of hobbies (Glassblowing, Farming/ Gardening, Pilot, Homebrewing, etc.), Beekeeping has been the most challenging but when you get it right, rewarding.

    Hang in there. You have to bleed for this hobby.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2009
    Location
    Morgan ,Kentucky, USA
    Posts
    166

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Jump back on that horse. Foundationless was a pretty big step, now that you have that comb it will be a breeze. I know what your saying about clubs and mentors, just keep that in mind when you are asked to help out someone when your successful this year.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Durango, Colorado
    Posts
    161

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dunkel View Post
    just keep that in mind when you are asked to help out someone when your successful this year.
    Good point!!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Nov 2012
    Location
    Haymarket, Virginia
    Posts
    196

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    If it makes you feel any better, I didn't fare much better with the help of a mentor and knowledgeable local beekeepers (my fault, not theirs). It's hard to know what questions to ask. There's so much to learn and observe it's impossible to see or know everything that's going wrong with your colonies. Hopefully, you will find someone who can help you analyze what's happened so you can move forward.

    As I keep saying to myself - at least there's plenty drawn comb!
    2013, 7 hives, T

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Location
    Leaf River, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    3

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Midwest. Go online and look up Stateline Beekeepers Association. I just emailed the Secretary and asked about joining a couple days ago. They emailed me back like the next day with info and app. . They meet in Freeport. It's only $10 for a year. I would try again.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Sacramento, CA, USA
    Posts
    2,701

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    I think approaching it as being 'hard' is the wrong way to do it. There's nothing hard about learning how to manage bees, there is a lot of information out there, the hard part is sorting through all the nonsense to find the basic fundamentals needed to manage hives. Another thing I see is failure to understand any basics of honey bee biology and people get hung up more on actual beekeeping terms like young brood, capped brood, purple eye stage etc... and really have no idea what any of that means biologically.

    As far as equipment goes, the size of the boxes does not matter, it's how you or the bees purpose them that defines how you refer to them. Any box can be a super or brood box, just depends what's in it or what you want to be in it but again, this misconception falls back onto being caught up on terminology and not understanding what it really means. Another thing to care for is deciding on a management style before trying out the basics first. I admire you want to be treatment free and foundationless but ignoring the fact that foundation can be a useful tool at times and treating may be required at times if you want your bees to survive makes things that more difficult and can actually impede your learning.

    For example, I see a lot of brand new beekeepers fall into the treatment free 'trap' so to say. The decision is made to be treatment free and a lot of new beeks seem to interpret that as an almost do nothing approach as far as monitoring pests and disease goes and that it's healthier for the bees and any bees can survive treatment free if you let them. On the flip side, those who think about treating tend to learn more on what to look for and when to treat, thus expanding their knowledge base that much faster and actually learn more in the process. Not to say this is true all the time, but it's what seems to trend with new beeks these days.

    Now onto your issues. Obviously, swarming is not ideal if you don't know what to do afterwards. Did your bees requeen, did you see queencells, how often do you inspect your hives frame by frame.... Did you feed the bees late in the season or do you know how to spot robbing? Do you know what a good brood pattern should look like and can you see eggs? What blooms in your area and when? Can you assess the amount of pollen in the hive during an inspection? Do you know when to feed 1:1 or 2:1 syrup or how to make it properly and why or when to feed pollen sub? Do you understand why I'm asking all these questions, and it's not to be mean in any way.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Evansville, IN
    Posts
    2,473

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Foundation was invented to make the beekeeper's life easier, the bees don't care. It will help quite a bit to get good, properly drawn worker sized comb in the correct places. Foundationless is much more difficult, and can give you fits. You were lucky, most bees won't draw it straight in a whole box with no comb. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Here is what I would do:

    Examine the comb and verify that you don't have american foul brood or European foul brood. This is critical, as either will probably kill off any bees you re-install, and can easily spread to other hives in the area, not a good thing. I don't expect that you will find either, but you must check. Call the state bee inspector if you find anything questionable and do what he or she requests you do.

    If there is no evidence of those diseases, check for tiny white specks in the brood nest on the sides and bottoms of the cells. Their presence indicates that your hives died from parasitic mite syndrome, basically a severer enough infestation of mites that the bees were too weak to store up for winter. If you find the specks, the comb is fine but you should consider some sort of active mite treatment next summer. Formic or oxalic acid treatments are non-residue causing and work well.

    If you had Italian queens and packages shipped to you from the deep south as is the usual case in package bees, you can have serious problems with failure to shut down brood production in dearths. This is why my neighbor no longer gets them, he buys local queens. We have a fairly regular dearth in August here, and I suspect Norther Indiana isn't that different. Raising brood in a dearth results in all the stores in the hive being consumed leaving nothing for winter. Lost my first hive this way. The cure, if you cannot obtain local queens, is to feed the hives up to weight in the fall. You should not be able to tilt the hive from the rear using the hand-hold and one hand, if you can you must feed 2:1 syrup until you cannot. You should also feed protien patties, maybe a pound over a month, for the same reason.

    It sounds as if you didn't inspect as often as you should have, or did not understand what you should be seeing -- this is the experience part of beekeeping and all the talking in the world won't substitute for eyeball practice. It's too bad you didn't get a mentor. you need to look into the hive often enough (weekly when first starting, I think) to get a good feel for what should be going on during the season. Once you have that experience, it's not necessary, but the only way to get it is to look. If you had been checking properly, you would have seen the lack of stores or excess brood in time to do a quick fix.

    Packages almost always have to be fed to thrive (unless you are in the middle of very heavy forage with no competition). This is the nature of packages, it's not "cheating" and since keeping bees in boxes in unnatural in the first place, as "natural" as anything beekeeping. Use hivetop feeders, you need them to be fat and happy to get a new hive built in the first year. It's going to take a lot of syrup to draw all that comb, and they cannot forage until they have the comb AND a good population. Feed 1:1 and protein until the have all three mediums drawn and in use -- empty comb does not count.

    I personally would ditch the tiny entrances unless you have serious robbing issues. Standard entrances are fine, the "conventional wisdom" in beekeeping is the distillation of 150 years of people trying things. I would ditch the screened inner covers too, standard inner covers with a small entrance will work fine. Too much ventilation isn't any better than not enough, and the bees are pretty good at it. I keep my screened bottoms boards mostly closed as well, the queen won't lay in the bottom box with the screen wide open.

    provided you don't have any disease issues, you are ready to re-use those boxes and combs with new packages or swarms.

    Peter

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    I will try the Stateline Beekeppers group again. It is the one I had difficulty contacting last year. Thank you.
    Last edited by MidwestPrimitive; 01-11-2014 at 07:48 PM.

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Someone wanted me to post some pictures of some comb from the hives under some sort of suspicion. Hope these help, they are each from different frames. The white specs are sugar crystals.Comb1.jpgComb2.jpgComb3.jpg

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Benton, KY
    Posts
    107

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    Well for what its worth I had issues also. In kkentucky all the rain washed all the nectar out of the flowers and even with feeding sugar syrup and sugar parties on top ive lost seven of eleven. I haven't went through the dead out to see exactlywhat they died from, but it has been single rivets twice and will also again this week. I feel that weather in July and August set up my situtstion. Its hard to look at a dead hive and seeing they clustered away from the food. That's also why you want strong hives and the knowledge that eventually all living things die. We just manage them for a while but judge ourselves ona fallacy that we are the cause of them living. We should just make sure we aren't the cause of their deaths

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Location
    Stephenson County, Illinois, USA
    Posts
    20

    Default Re: Bees didn't set any stores for winter and didn't cluster?

    So I have re-connected with a natural beekeeper about an hour or so from me. I am getting a few packages from him this spring that have overwintered here and are regressed to natural size. I will also be getting a frame or two of drawn and capped honey for each package to feed them when they are installed. Also contacted the local club again, but have heard no response, yet. Hard to not get over excited, but hope this year goes better. Thanks everybody for the advice, help, and support.

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