Colony Gone - Not sure what happened
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  1. #1
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    Default Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    I started beekeeping this year, and bought a package of Italian bees mid April. Everything was going great, extremely full hive, queen was laying like a champ, and I was even able to take (1) super off for myself. Then came end of August/September, and things started going down hill. I am not sure what happened, but I will try to remember every detail in hopes someone can lend me their opinion.

    End of August -
    - I took (1) super off, but left (2) for them. I wanted to me make sure they had enough for winter (I calculated 50 pounds at that time)

    Early September
    - During a routine check, I had a bunch of bees but smelled a sweet scented funk that is hard to explain. Being my first year, i figured it was brood related and normal.
    - Another odd thing, i noticed bees pulling white partially developed bees out of their cells and carried them off to the wood. I looked this up and figured the cells were not perfect so the bees were doing their thing.

    Mid September
    - During an inspection, I noticed 7-9 swarm caps on a single frame, but outside of that only a couple. No eggs in the cells, but eggs everywhere else so I was not worried
    - Because of the swarm cells, I left the (2) supers on the hive because now I was really worried about overcrowded (Still had a ton of bees). So my hive consisted of 2 deeps, excluder, and 2 supers.
    - I did notice a handful of bees looked disoriented, and dusted white. They were stumbling around in the hive, bit only a handful so i moved on.

    End of September
    - The hive still had the swarm cups, but no eggs in the cups.
    - At this point, i have not seen the queen for a month or so due to the massive number of bees I had. I just could not spot her on the frames but saw all stages of larva so no worries.
    - Some bees were still "dusted white" and stumbling, but not extravagant. Swarm cups still their but no eggs in cells.
    - Wife mentioned the smell too, she said it was gross but cant explain it in words.
    - We fed the bees (2) gallons of 2:1 syrup to get ready for winter (following beekeeping for dummies). This was a top feeder
    - I did notice quite a hive beatles, but only at the 2 outer frames. Maybe 5-9 on each frame.
    - I took 1 super off and stored it in my basement. I think this was when the queen holds back on egg laying, so the population was getting a bit smaller.

    October 1st
    - I went to see how bees were doing and noticed a pretty bad robbing situation.
    - I immediately covered the hive with a sheet and went back at night to see if the situation calmed down
    - Almost all my bees were gone. Maybe a few hundred dead bees on the ground, and a bunch of other bees (yellow jackets, different species of honey bees) were in the hove having a feast.


    So what do you think happened?

    - They all left and bees came in afterwards to clean up the left overs?
    - Swarm, leaving a weaker hive that got killed by robbers?
    - Something else?

    And do you think I can use the wax for the new package next year, or start all over?

    Thanks for any help you can give! Its been a bad day....

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    forgot to mention, my hive is located in the woods at my moms house. The ground is always wet, but It is elevated from the ground.

    The hive is not in the sun, its well shaded due to many many trees.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    welcome to beesource chris.

    by 'end of september', do mean last weekend? is that when you added the feeder and did you put anything scented in the syrup?

    are there still frames of brood in the hive?

    sick brood can smell 'gross'.

    varroa mites can cause sick brood, and if it gets nasty enough the colony will abscond the hive.

    it's most likely a collapse from mites, but do you know an experienced beekeeper that can come over and look things over with you?

    if there was brood left behind, consider sending a sample to the beltsville bee lab (google search it) for a free test, primarily to rule out american foul brood. it's rare, but this is what you need to find out with respect to using your equipment next year.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Hi Chris, I'm in Cleveland Heights. My bees are usually here but right now I have them out in Perry at a friends farm. Anyways, the first question is had you been monitoring for mites?

    I have lost hives in the late fall because of them.

    Second Question, did you start with bare foundation or drawn comb. I have lost hives that were started on drawn comb to non stop swarming because they built up so well and I was reluctant to split them .
    Definitely plan on using the drawn comb to start new packages. You won't believe how much faster they build up.
    Just be careful if you are feeding as the bees may backfill the comb faster than the queen can start laying

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Also, if there is a lot of goldenrod around you that can cause an "off" smell in the hive

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Quote Originally Posted by squarepeg View Post
    welcome to beesource chris.

    by 'end of september', do mean last weekend? is that when you added the feeder and did you put anything scented in the syrup?

    are there still frames of brood in the hive?

    sick brood can smell 'gross'.

    varroa mites can cause sick brood, and if it gets nasty enough the colony will abscond the hive.

    it's most likely a collapse from mites, but do you know an experienced beekeeper that can come over and look things over with you?

    if there was brood left behind, consider sending a sample to the beltsville bee lab (google search it) for a free test, primarily to rule out american foul brood. it's rare, but this is what you need to find out with respect to using your equipment next year.
    End of September was really the 23rd ish, so 2 weeks prior to the empty hive. I added honey b healthy only.
    You think mites? I never noticed any on them, but never did a powdered sugar test. To be honest I was going to my first one in the next 2 weeks.

    The frames are NOT full of brood, larva, nothing. Just a few scattered capped brood and a few with heads poking out, probably dead.

    Since there are still some capped cells, I may send them to get tested. Thanks for that suggestion. Its just weird that 2 weeks ago I had a bunch of larva, and now nothing. All gone.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Quote Originally Posted by colby View Post
    Hi Chris, I'm in Cleveland Heights. My bees are usually here but right now I have them out in Perry at a friends farm. Anyways, the first question is had you been monitoring for mites?

    I have lost hives in the late fall because of them.

    Second Question, did you start with bare foundation or drawn comb. I have lost hives that were started on drawn comb to non stop swarming because they built up so well and I was reluctant to split them .
    Definitely plan on using the drawn comb to start new packages. You won't believe how much faster they build up.
    Just be careful if you are feeding as the bees may backfill the comb faster than the queen can start laying
    I did not monitor for mites. I expected that I would see the mites but I never did. I should have done powder sugar tests or something. I did everything else by the book, but did kind of forget about mite checks. I kept hearing that a strong hive is the best defense, so that was my main goal.

    I started with my grandpas old hive. I would say for every 4 frames of new foundation there was one drawn out one from his hive.

    Thats interesting. So its beneficial to always have them work on new foundation to keep them busy? So if I ever get the hive to last more than a year i should replace 1/2 the frames so they draw it out themselves?

    And the bees are in columbia station, were goldenrod is everywhere. Thats what I told the wife since I remembered David Burns talking about goldenrod smells in an old podcast.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    By the way, I really appreciate the feedback. Bees are very complex, and no matter how much I read about them I end up knowing very little. This year I have learned soooo much about them, and cant wait until my next package comes in April.

    Thanks, your help makes me less frustrated and eager to try again..

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Stronger hives are a good deterrent for small hive beetles and wax moths.
    Stronger hives are an attractant for varroa mites. Varroa mites like strong brooding hives because they reproduce in the sealed larva stage of bee brood. Stronger hives are often the ones that crash from varroa infestation, especially in the fall and very early winter as the bee brooding slows and stops. It happens as you have described except for the white powder, which I am assuming was pollen dusting on the bees, but I could very well be wrong. Oh, if you saw the white powder dusting on the bottoms of empty brood cells in the brood nest, that is most usually mite fras (mite poo droppings). If you see varroa on bees during inspection, then you more than likely have a heavy infestation because the mites usually hide on the underside of the bees. When looking for varroa mites, find bees on open larva, young small fuzzy bees, those are the youngest, and grab them by the wings and flip them over to look at the undersides and inspect closely to find varroa mites.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Quote Originally Posted by RayMarler View Post
    Stronger hives are a good deterrent for small hive beetles and wax moths.
    Stronger hives are an attractant for varroa mites. Varroa mites like strong brooding hives because they reproduce in the sealed larva stage of bee brood. Stronger hives are often the ones that crash from varroa infestation, especially in the fall and very early winter as the bee brooding slows and stops. It happens as you have described except for the white powder, which I am assuming was pollen dusting on the bees, but I could very well be wrong. Oh, if you saw the white powder dusting on the bottoms of empty brood cells in the brood nest, that is most usually mite fras (mite poo droppings). If you see varroa on bees during inspection, then you more than likely have a heavy infestation because the mites usually hide on the underside of the bees. When looking for varroa mites, find bees on open larva, young small fuzzy bees, those are the youngest, and grab them by the wings and flip them over to look at the undersides and inspect closely to find varroa mites.
    I didn't do any of this. I was figuring the the opposite.

    That's a shame. Such a strong colony too. I was very pleased and proud of my first hive. Pretty disappointing if varroa, one of the most talked about pests, did me in...

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Until I got to your second comment which mentioned using your Grandpas equipment I would have guessed it was mites. But used stuff in hives that go down hill always raises a red flag. What happened to your Grandpa's old bees? Did they die? And how long ago?

    There is a brood disease called American Foul Brood which can leave lethal, disease-causing spores on old combs and boxes that are known to last for more 75 years in the infectious stage. This is why new beekeepers are often advised to not use any second-hand equipment or combs. AFB is a fatal disease, that in most states it requires the euthanization-in-place and burning of the affected hives.

    Affected equipment should never be reused.

    I'm sure there is info in the Beekeeping for Dummies book. You may need to call your state bee inspector if the symptoms you saw are consistent with the description. It has a bad smell. But so does goldenrod honey while it is being ripened by the bees, so a generic "bad smell" isn't cause for alarm all by itself. AFB produces a distinctive odor, but the field tests are better diagnostic tools. You can try the rope test, the Holt's Milk Test, one of the newer Vita AFB test kits, or send samples of the brood comb to the Beltsville Bee Lab for confirmation. (Your state bee inspector may get faster turn-around than you. Either way the lab test is free.)


    If you wait to see mites on the bodies of adult bees, you will probably wait past the point of no return on mites. It's a pity that some bee books/websites leave new beekeepers with the false impression that they needn't worry about mites early on. Your bees likely came with mites, at one level or another. And you need to monitor regularly so you can make sure you are not having a problem in the first summer, and forever afterwards.

    AFB is relatively uncommon these days, while parasitic mite syndrome is common as dirt in untreated hives. So it's far more likely you just had a bad case of mites that overwhelmed your colony, perhaps with secondary pests coming in at the end to clear out the stores left behind. Neither of the last two are contagious after the fact, nor do they contaminate the combs or equipment.

    I am sorry you had such a sad end to your first year. I think it would be wise to get some experienced eyes on your hives, even at this stage, just to figure exactly what caused the problem. That way you will know if it is OK to reuse your equipment.

    Enj.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    The hive dwindle away because they are queen less about 2 months ago.
    When the hive is weak the robbers will come.
    The recommendation is to get 2 hives to start with. When 1 is in trouble you
    still have another one. The package bees might not have the mite resistant build into
    them. So consider giving them a mite resistant queen.
    Don't mix foreign bees into a virgin hive. She might get balled 100% of the time! When will you ever learn, huh?

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    This is a shame and a big fear of mine. As enj. stated it's unfortunate beginning bee books say you really don't need to worry about mites your first year. I wasn't going to until I heard so much about them on this forum. I did a sugar roll and discovered I had more mites than I realized. I did a couple of 21 day treatments and plan on doing another later in the year.

    Good luck next year. My advice is to stay on this forum and learn as much as you can. A lot of great first hand advice.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Quote Originally Posted by Aroc View Post
    This is a shame and a big fear of mine. As enj. stated it's unfortunate beginning bee books say you really don't need to worry about mites your first year. I wasn't going to until I heard so much about them on this forum. I did a sugar roll and discovered I had more mites than I realized. I did a couple of 21 day treatments and plan on doing another later in the year.

    Good luck next year. My advice is to stay on this forum and learn as much as you can. A lot of great first hand advice.
    will do, thanks

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    Until I got to your second comment which mentioned using your Grandpas equipment I would have guessed it was mites. But used stuff in hives that go down hill always raises a red flag. What happened to your Grandpa's old bees? Did they die? And how long ago?

    There is a brood disease called American Foul Brood which can leave lethal, disease-causing spores on old combs and boxes that are known to last for more 75 years in the infectious stage. This is why new beekeepers are often advised to not use any second-hand equipment or combs. AFB is a fatal disease, that in most states it requires the euthanization-in-place and burning of the affected hives.

    Affected equipment should never be reused.

    I'm sure there is info in the Beekeeping for Dummies book. You may need to call your state bee inspector if the symptoms you saw are consistent with the description. It has a bad smell. But so does goldenrod honey while it is being ripened by the bees, so a generic "bad smell" isn't cause for alarm all by itself. AFB produces a distinctive odor, but the field tests are better diagnostic tools. You can try the rope test, the Holt's Milk Test, one of the newer Vita AFB test kits, or send samples of the brood comb to the Beltsville Bee Lab for confirmation. (Your state bee inspector may get faster turn-around than you. Either way the lab test is free.)


    If you wait to see mites on the bodies of adult bees, you will probably wait past the point of no return on mites. It's a pity that some bee books/websites leave new beekeepers with the false impression that they needn't worry about mites early on. Your bees likely came with mites, at one level or another. And you need to monitor regularly so you can make sure you are not having a problem in the first summer, and forever afterwards.

    AFB is relatively uncommon these days, while parasitic mite syndrome is common as dirt in untreated hives. So it's far more likely you just had a bad case of mites that overwhelmed your colony, perhaps with secondary pests coming in at the end to clear out the stores left behind. Neither of the last two are contagious after the fact, nor do they contaminate the combs or equipment.

    I am sorry you had such a sad end to your first year. I think it would be wise to get some experienced eyes on your hives, even at this stage, just to figure exactly what caused the problem. That way you will know if it is OK to reuse your equipment.

    Enj.
    I am pretty sure it was not AFB. I have poked around the brood since early on and it was not stringy or anything. My grampas bees did fine, until he turned 96 years old. He can not walk, hear, see or remember anymore which is why I am taking after his hobby.

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Chris -

    Then AFB is not a worry. I just thought the issue needed to be raised.

    Mites, the most common cause of hive decline these days, seem like the culprits. Which in a way is good news because since they are obligate parasites, once there are no more bees in your hive, then you really have no more mites. Until you put more bees in, of course.

    But with vigilance and a willingness to deal with the reality of mites, you should have much better luck next year.

    Enj.

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Then AFB is not a worry.
    unless your bees brought it home from another nearby hive...

    the ropy field test is not as definitive as the free lab test will be.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Squarepeg,

    You are correct, as usual, but I meant really in reference to having inadvertently infected the hive via used equipment.

    There is always the risk of brood disease, even with brand new bees on brand new equipment. I have a friend with EFB with exactly that scenario this summer.

    But in the comparative risk for loss of a hive without reported brood-disease symptoms, it's mites that are presently the #1 culprit.

    Enj.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Just a suggestion, but maybe look for some local bees from someone who does selection for mite resistance, TF or not. If you get the mite management wrong then the bees will back you up. Also consider starting a couple of nucs to overwinter. That way chances are you will have bees in the spring ready to go.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Colony Gone - Not sure what happened

    Thank you all again for the suggestions. I learned a lot from this post, reviewing other posts, and will definitely be a frequent visitor/poster. After looking at my old bee books, I was completely under the impression that strong colonies trump all and natural practices eliminate any need for treatments.

    My attitude has changed, now that my bees have left my hive/supervision. Things I will do next year just from a week of this site:

    - Robber screens. Never heard of them before reading other posts. Sounds like a great idea and will utilize them next year
    - Powder sugar dusting/checks - I knew about them, never did them because i had a screened bottom board and thought strong coloni...........
    - 7 day mite strips will be part of my treatments.
    Last edited by chriskoww; 10-04-2016 at 07:39 AM.

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