Very small cluster hanging by a thread
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  1. #1
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    Default Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    I overwintered two colonies of carniolan bees installed Easter 2017. Hives (langstroth 10 frame) are located in southern New Hampshire. One of the colonies is reduced to a cluster about the size of a fist - maybe even smaller. The queen is alive. She looks healthy. Examination of the adjacent frames show attempts to lay eggs during the winter. There are eggs and emerging brood that appears to have froze to death. Now this small cluster is presently to the far left of the upper deep brood box and the situation looks tough for successful brood rearing. There is plenty of honey, and over the weekend I placed a pollen patty next to the small cluster. Ventilation is good. The weather in southern New Hampshire is getting better but March always presents challenges.

    Any suggestions on how to increase odds of survival?

    (1) Is there an advantage if I placed the cluster in a nuc?

    (2) If so, would it be a terrible idea to close up the nuc and place it in my basement where it is warmer appx. 40 deg. On warmer days, I could return the nuc to the original location (my backyard). Might this allow the brood a fighting chance with such a small cluster?

    (3) Or do I just hope for warmer weather and see what nature selects?

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quite a bit of skill is needed to properly save such a colony. You gotta ask why the brood was frozen to death, my thoughts are there could be more problems than being frozen, if they died while emerging as you say, that sounds more like death by varroa mites.

    There is no point giving this hive a big comb of brood, as they do not have enough bees to be able to cover it and keep it warm. As a first step, they should be given a comb with a small patch of brood, small enough for the bees to cover and keep warm. A comb with some honey should be put next to it so the bees can keep energy levels up, and a strip of Apivar should be put in to kill any varroa mites. The Apivar is important and should be given same time as the brood. If Apivar is not given, everything else you do will probably fail.

    If there are not enough bees to even keep any small patch of brood warm, swap the hive with the other hive so it will collect some returning feild bees. And then of course both hives should be treated for mites.

    If this works out, about a week later get a pic of the colony and post it here, so we know where it's at and you can be advised what to do next.
    "Every viewpoint, is a view from a point." - Solomon Parker

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    You could also install foam insulation panels inside the hive to reduce the cavity space, even to just three frames (you could even make a nuc box smaller). It's best to have wooden follower boards covering the inner faces of the foam, but other temporary things might be used. if you want info on how, just post back and I will explain the details.

    Moving them indoors (as long as you can easily carry them back out to the same spot on warm days) might also work.

    it is gratifying to coax a tiny colony back to life, but sometimes there are other issues which can't be addressed. Either way, you will learn some additional beekeeping skills.

    Nancy

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    If you have the resources like old timer said put some brood in, if you have any this time of year. mine are just starting to brood up. You could shake some nurse bees off in front of the hive on a warmer day and let them walk in there should be no fighting that way and any foragers will fly back to their own hive. As it stands now there are not enough bees to keep brood warm so it will be real hard for the queen to lay a lot off eggs and get up to speed. I would also reduce them to a nuc if you have one.

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Oldtimer View Post
    Quite a bit of skill is needed to properly save such a colony. You gotta ask why the brood was frozen to death, my thoughts are there could be more problems than being frozen, if they died while emerging as you say, that sounds more like death by varroa mites.
    Maybe Varroa. I thought it might be moisture. I used a quilt box filled with wood shavings, but my mistake was not having enough venting to evaporate the moisture collecting in the quilt box. This weekend, the hive looked very damp with standing water on the top of the frames. As to varroa, going into the winter, I did not see any signs. Even the dead bees removed outside the hive looked normal. No deformed wings and no varroa on the bees. However, this weekend I did find a varroa mite on one of the bees in the small cluster. So maybe you are correct. As to the emerging brood, there was only one and it had just started to eat the cell cap. In any event, I will definitely apply the strips to both hives.

    When I referenced the nuc, I only meant a nuc-sized hive box - not a nuc with brood and honey. My thought was to remove the cluster and place it in a smaller hive box with some honey from the original hive. I thought maybe a smaller space might make heat conservation easier. In any event, I suspect the colony is not going to make it. I've ordered a new package of bees. I'd like to see if I can order a queen from Mike Palmer as Vermont is a neighbor.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    The size of fist is real small. I think below threshold to sustain itself. If it was warmer you could try pulling the queen and making a split with another hive. Give the queen to them. Queen is suspect though.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Curious to know why you are suspect of the queen. She did a nice job in 2017. And I found a number of eggs across multiple frames that appear to have died but for the lack of a cluster. These eggs were not capped. I even found eggs and uncapped larva on the opposite side of the frame presently occupied by the cluster. My thought is that the moisture overwhelmed the colony. There was quite the pile of bees on the hive floor.

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    You could also install foam insulation panels inside the hive to reduce the cavity space, even to just three frames (you could even make a nuc box smaller). It's best to have wooden follower boards covering the inner faces of the foam, but other temporary things might be used. if you want info on how, just post back and I will explain the details.


    Nancy
    Hi Nancy - Thank you. I am interested in the details. I do not understand "follower boards."

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quote Originally Posted by keithdiaz View Post
    Curious to know why you are suspect of the queen.
    Anytime a hive is not doing well the queen is suspect. Poor genetics, poor performance etc. Only you can make that diagnosis. Sounds like shes "okay", make a split with her or just call it quits. A fist of bees is not sustainable in winter let alone in spring.

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quote Originally Posted by burns375 View Post
    Anytime a hive is not doing well the queen is suspect. Poor genetics, poor performance etc. Only you can make that diagnosis. Sounds like shes "okay", make a split with her or just call it quits. A fist of bees is not sustainable in winter let alone in spring.
    I appreciate the advice. Thank you for the input.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Quote Originally Posted by burns375 View Post
    Anytime a hive is not doing well the queen is suspect. Poor genetics, poor performance etc. Only you can make that diagnosis. Sounds like shes "okay", make a split with her or just call it quits. A fist of bees is not sustainable in winter let alone in spring.
    I appreciate the advice. Thank you for the input.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Since Nancy hasn't responded yet, a follower board is a piece of plywood or masonite cut to fit the hive body from top of the box to the floor of the bottom board. It hangs on the frame rests and is used to seal off a portion of the hive. If you make two, they go on either side of the remaining brood frames. The other frames get removed and the void area is filled with pieces of foam board. Hope this helps.
    Thankfully, the bees are smarter than I am. They are doing well, in spite of my efforts to help them.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    A few years back something similar happened at my workplace. Had a colony that came out of winter with handful of bees and a queen. So we transferred the colony into a 5 frame nuc and took a frame of capped brood from a strong overwintered colony and, after shaking most of the bees from the frame, placed it into the nuc. Then we shook nurse bees from an open frame of brood into the nuc. Next week we did the same, but used brood and bees from another colony. The colony responded favorably and went on to become a honey producer. We did this in the 1st-2nd week of March, but the winter was much easier than the one we're having this year, and the weather was much more favorable for those manipulations.

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    JWP has described exactly what I was thinking of. Follower boards are usually made of wood, but in a pinch you could use heavy corrugated cardboard. Say you want to make the "nuc" from just three frames: honey, brood, honey. Put them in the center of their regular box. Then place "follower boards" on either side. Fill the space between the FB and the walls of the box with layers of 1" foam cut to fit. It's OK to have some extra space between the frames and the FB.

    The one thing I'll add is that the top and bottom edges of the insulation panels should be covered with shiny aluminum HVAC tape (Which is not the same thing as "duct tape" even though the shiny tape is what you would actually use on ducts - go, figure. You'll find the tape I recommend in the HVAC aisle at big box stores, like Lowes or HD.) This is needed to prevent the bees from chewing on the foam. In a pinch you could also try heavy duty aluminum foil wrapped over the edges of the foam.

    Since this colony doesn't need a whole lot of space, I am assuming this would a one-box high stack, for now. You can keep the regular base and top assembly, including the quilt box. That's advantage of this system: you don't need any special equipment. When your colony recovers its strength, you can just gradually pull out a couple of 1" layers and add in one frame at a time until they are back to a full-width box. Meanwhile they will benefit from having very well-insulated sidewalls.

    I have great confidence in this as a method for matching cavity size to the needs of a specific colony as I often reduce the width of my boxes for winter in this way, even when they are several boxes high. This winter I have 4, 5, 6, and 7-frame wide stacks, all in my 10-frame width equipment. If you have multi-box high stacks, you just have to have the same (reduced) number of frames in each box. If it works out that you have one extra frame, then put it in the uppermost box.

    Both Betterbee and MannLake sell wood follower boards. If you have Betterbee's 7/8ths thick boxes, you'll need their FB. MannLake's fit is more universal. FB cost about $5 each.

    Nancy

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Update. I opened the hive yesterday. It died overnight. While I noticed the queen a day earlier, I was unable to find her yesterday. Examination of the entire hive brought about the following material observations:

    1. A fair amount of white, bluish mold on the frames.
    2. Puddling moisture.
    3. Comb that looked like it had been chewed up. I doubt the bees could have done this.
    4. Brown bee poop scattered about on the upper brood box but only on the last few frames where the cluster died.
    5. Very few varroa mite bodies- but intend to examine some of the closed brood cells to see if there are mites on the bodies.
    6. Most of the honey in the bottom brood box was eaten but not so in the upper brood box.
    7. The bottom board was disgusting. Very matted, moldy likely due to moisture. See attached photo.

    Tough to say what happened. If there was more evidence of mite bodies, I'd be inclined to go that route. Did the moisture come first or was the moisture the result of a dwindling colony? Maybe bad genetics? The brown poop raised concern of nosema but it was limited to the last days of the colony, and I've read it can be confirmed through lab work only.

    I'm a beginner beekeeper. Two mistakes I will not make again. 1. need more winter ventilation; and 2. fall pest protection re: mice, voles, moles and/or mites or nosema. Should take prophylactic measures.

    The good news: the hive next to it is very dry and strong. I used the same bee quilt and ventilation but the hive had no standing moisture. It has always been an aggressive colony. I usually get stung when working with these bees. Currently, the cluster covers about 4-5 frames in the upper brood box. The colony also has a 9 frame medium super of honey and there appears to be another cluster in it taking the honey. I did notice one varroa mite and promptly inserted two apivar strips - placed one strip in the upper brood box and the other in the path the bees take to the bottom entrance. Taking the advice of OT, I immediately ordered apivar which was shipped overnight. I want the varroa dead for the reasons given below.

    Reflecting on OT's comment re: bad queen, he maybe correct: she passed on genes to the workers which did not winter well.

    Near final assessment: the dead hive had the same ventilation, same location, same bee quilt design as the strong hive. The dead colony ate all of the honey in the bottom brood box and was halfway through the top brood box. I noticed the colony had clustered across about 2-3 frames of the center-top brood box by mid January. It is likely that the dead colony, as it became smaller and smaller, was unable to handle the moisture. Why did the colony become smaller as the winter progressed? Likely bad genetics given the lack of varroa to suggest otherwise. Couldn't handle the winter. A bee package from California. Queen origin is unknown.

    My plan: I am going to make about 4-5 nuc hives - five frame nucs using plywood. In late April or early May, depending on the amount of brood available, I hope to make at least two nucs from the existing hive. I'll incorporate a queen raised in New England. Hopefully Mr. Palmer is selling queens. As he suggests, sacrifice the production ability of the existing hive to enlarge the genetic viability of the apiary in subsequent years. Use a variety of nucs to "feed" the genetic makeup of the production hives. It's worth a go. -Keith

    ps - anyone know how to contact Mr. Palmer of French Hill Apiary?

    IMG_6264.jpg
    Last edited by keithdiaz; 03-01-2018 at 10:15 AM. Reason: Added Photo

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Very small cluster hanging by a thread

    Nancy - Very good explanation. Had the colony survived, I would have incorporated the follower board. I will use the method in the future when introducing a nuc to a production hive. -Keith

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