Diagnosing a failed hive
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
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    Default Diagnosing a failed hive

    Hi all, I learned a ton in my first year with two hives... unfortunately I know failure is a big part of that curve. One hive was robbed out at the very end of the season; by the time I realized it, it was too late to stop and pretty much everyone was killed. I was encouraged that my second hive seemed to be overwintering well, right up through a couple weeks ago... then I checked in today, and they've also shuffled off to the great cloverfield in the sky.

    There are lots of dead bees in between the frames, mostly in the bottom brood box but some in the top. A few have their heads buried deep in a cell like they're going for honey, but most don't and there is TONS of capped and uncapped honey all over both boxes. Many of the frames felt a bit damp and there was definite dampness and mold on the dead bees at the bottom, so I suspect it was a moisture issue. I made a moisture quilt for the top but I guess that wasn't sufficient. Per suggestions from Michael Bush and some others, since I wasn't sure how much food they'd need for a first winter, I topped the frames with a piece of newspaper and a pile of dry sugar. Probably half of the sugar had been eaten, but that piece of paper had also clearly been quite wet. I'm absolutely getting two new colonies in the spring and trying again. My specific questions are...



    1. Where did I go wrong? My setup was solid bottom - two brood boxes - newspaper with dry sugar - inner cover - moisture quilt box - telescoping outer cover. Looking at the photo, is there enough ventilation in and out of the quilt box? Its underside is braced window screen. Maybe not enough moisture could get out through the opening of the inner cover - should I go without it, just put the quilt box directly above the brood box? What else am I missing?

    2. I also have screened bottom boards instead for this year, will that help through the winter?

    3. Considering the amount of uncapped honey/syrup, is that a sign that I overfed in the fall? That could also have contributed to moisture in the hive.

    4. Once cleaned up (these ladies liked to propolize the crap out of everything), can I use these existing drawn frames as-is for my new colonies? It seems like that will give the new ones quite a head start, and these two apparently did really well for themselves in their first year. I'm not positive that's mold on some of the capped honey, but if so should I remove it?

    5. Can I also leave the uncapped syrup for the new bees? Will it keep as-is or should I put it, say, in the freezer until then? It's not watery enough to shake out easily.

    6. If I reuse the drawn comb frames, is it worth leaving all the capped honey too (there's quite a bit), or since that's the ultimate point should I just extract it and eat it? Because I'll eat it.




    Bottom board with many dead bees and mold.
    5 - Bottom b.jpg5 - Bottom b.jpg

    Frame with uncapped and capped (moldy?) honey cells, some dead bees protruding from cells at the top.
    1 - Butts.jpg

    Close-up of capped (moldy?) cells.
    2 - Mold.jpg

    Frame of mostly uncapped syrup.
    6 - uncapped.jpg

    Moisture quilt.
    7 - Quilt.jpg




    Thanks in advance. I'm pretty bummed out, but I just have to move on and do it better next time...

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    Rader, Greene County, Tennessee, USA
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    10,864

    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Welcome to Beesource, Bork77!

    >> I also have screened bottom boards instead for this year, will that help through the winter?

    Unlikely this will help - if you open mean screened bottom boards. 'Open' screened bottoms just make it more difficult for the colony to manage their own 'micro-climate' in the hive - no matter what the season.

    I'm not in your winter climate, but I would encourage you to review posts by enjambres, who is in your climate and does a good job of explaining what she does and how it relates to her success.

    .
    Last edited by Rader Sidetrack; 03-20-2018 at 09:17 PM. Reason: typo
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Location
    DuPage County Illinois
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    179

    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    I would say you fed too late. They didn't have time to dry it down.

  5. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Suffolk Co, NY, USA
    Posts
    3,663

    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Borkk>>
    What do you suppose all of those little white specks are in the empty brood cells of photo 4?
    I think they may indicate a past problem and possibly the reason for the dead out.
    They tried (in the sugar up high where it's warm) but could not sustain a critical mass, maybe from
    being weakened and dwindling over the winter months. I'll bet there was no new brood in there either
    and there should have been at least a patch this late.

    The bees had a hard fall, too warm for far too long. Was hard to get them into a healthy winter condition
    with all the late flying days, no forage and robbing going on.
    Healthy hives are feeling pressure this spring- like now. Many colonies will miss the soft maple bloom
    altogether due to the weather, some will not make it if left unchecked.

    It seems your bees had plenty of time to cure the syrup (you say it's not easily shook out of the comb) but not the
    temperatures to cap it. Not uncommon to have some open cured syrup going into winter here.

    The moisture issue does not look severe to me.
    From what I can see in your photos, I'd reuse that equipment as is after cleaning off the bottom board.
    Give the new bees a open frame or so in the enter of the brood box surrounded with those honey frames.
    A pollen patty would help as I don't see any pollen in your photos.

  6. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Although some people do it successfully up here, I don't like the idea of just screened bottom boards during the winter. I have both solid and screened boards on each colony year-round. (Solid under screen.) This gives me the best of both worlds. I honestly wouldn't have been able to sleep in the first weeks of this past January when we had that terrible prolonged cold period if I had known my bees were not buttoned up on the bottom. So that's one thing I 'd suggest changing this year. Just get some solid boards installed under the screened boards. Best of both worlds.

    Next, I run quilt boxes too (fabric floored, pine shavings-filled shallow boxes with a vent hole in a shim above the QB), but I would never have an inner cover between the bees and the QB, since that might still function as a cold condensation plane which could rain moisture down on the bees below. If you want an upper entrance (and I always do), use an Imrie shim, or an eke, or just a regular shim with a 1" diameter hole in it. (I buy mine from Betterbee.) This allows ample space for sugar on newspaper, a sugar brick or winter patty if you feel your bees need some extra margin. I also have 1.5" of insulation foam tucked up into my telecovers (permanently - it works in hot weather, too.)

    Your quilt box also seems a bit over-vented, and under-filled. My shallow boxes are filled to the rim with shavings and I only have a single 1" hole venting the moisture out. Next year I would plug up most of the holes and fill the box up completely.

    But worries about the inner cover dripping water down on the bees, negating the effect of the QB, aside, often when a colony has died the pile of dead bees seem wet and the frames moldy, but this is after death when there is no heat from the bees to dry things out. So just 'cause they are wet, now, that may not have been what killed them.

    You've already had good advice about the sequence of getting them fed and squared away for winter earlier. And I hesitate to ask about the mites (though mite-killed hives often succumb earlier, rather than later, in the winter.)

    So the only other suggestion I have is to consider adding some insulation to the outsides of your boxes next year. My bees winter with 3 inches of foam (total of R-15) around them. Wanna see a picture of the un-lovely, (my husband refers to it as my vagrant's camp for bees) but effective, winter dress on my hives? This picture was taken last Saturday afternoon, temps in the low 30s. It's not that we don't still have a ton of snow left from the nor'easters, but my husband plows it away in front of the hives.nancy's pics 050.jpg

    Good luck tomorrow in the next storm. Luckily for us up here, north of Albany it will probably miss us, but for you, it appears to be a fourth major storm in less than three weeks. You really deserve a break!

    Nancy

  7. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
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    Bloomfield, CT
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    7

    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Quote Originally Posted by clyderoad View Post
    Borkk>>
    What do you suppose all of those little white specks are in the empty brood cells of photo 4?
    I think they may indicate a past problem and possibly the reason for the dead out.
    Thanks for the info, this is all really informative.

    If I follow what you mean, those are actually uncapped syrup cells, the little white speck in the center of each is actually just the reflection from my camera flash. I just took a closer look and there's no weird debris or anything in any of them, aside from a few wax flakes.

    Do you mean a pest problem? I was dealing with some hive beetles, but not too bad, and actually never got any signs of varroa or wax moths.

    So it sounds like it may have just been a confluence of bad seasonal conditions more than anything else? Good tip about the open frames and pollen - there is some stored here and there but I will definitely supplement.

  8. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    Although some people do it successfully up here, I don't like the idea of just screened bottom boards during the winter. I have both solid and screened boards on each colony year-round. (Solid under screen.) This gives me the best of both worlds. I honestly wouldn't have been able to sleep in the first weeks of this past January when we had that terrible prolonged cold period if I had known my bees were not buttoned up on the bottom. So that's one thing I 'd suggest changing this year. Just get some solid boards installed under the screened boards. Best of both worlds.

    Next, I run quilt boxes too (fabric floored, pine shavings-filled shallow boxes with a vent hole in a shim above the QB), but I would never have an inner cover between the bees and the QB, since that might still function as a cold condensation plane which could rain moisture down on the bees below. If you want an upper entrance (and I always do), use an Imrie shim, or an eke, or just a regular shim with a 1" diameter hole in it. (I buy mine from Betterbee.) This allows ample space for sugar on newspaper, a sugar brick or winter patty if you feel your bees need some extra margin. I also have 1.5" of insulation foam tucked up into my telecovers (permanently - it works in hot weather, too.)

    Your quilt box also seems a bit over-vented, and under-filled. My shallow boxes are filled to the rim with shavings and I only have a single 1" hole venting the moisture out. Next year I would plug up most of the holes and fill the box up completely.

    But worries about the inner cover dripping water down on the bees, negating the effect of the QB, aside, often when a colony has died the pile of dead bees seem wet and the frames moldy, but this is after death when there is no heat from the bees to dry things out. So just 'cause they are wet, now, that may not have been what killed them.

    You've already had good advice about the sequence of getting them fed and squared away for winter earlier. And I hesitate to ask about the mites (though mite-killed hives often succumb earlier, rather than later, in the winter.)

    So the only other suggestion I have is to consider adding some insulation to the outsides of your boxes next year. My bees winter with 3 inches of foam (total of R-15) around them. Wanna see a picture of the un-lovely, (my husband refers to it as my vagrant's camp for bees) but effective, winter dress on my hives? This picture was taken last Saturday afternoon, temps in the low 30s. It's not that we don't still have a ton of snow left from the nor'easters, but my husband plows it away in front of the hives.nancy's pics 050.jpg

    Good luck tomorrow in the next storm. Luckily for us up here, north of Albany it will probably miss us, but for you, it appears to be a fourth major storm in less than three weeks. You really deserve a break!

    Nancy
    Thanks Nancy, this is all really really useful.

    I forgot to mention, but yes I did use a small shim above the brood box to give some space for the sugar, but I agree the inner cover seems a likely culprit, so I know to leave that out next year. I'll modify the quilt boxes too... they've got a good 3-4" of shavings, but I've got plenty more.

    As far as the bottoms, I used solid boards all this year and just got screenend ones for the upcoming season. I know people are mixed on them, but I figure they're worth a try to help with beetle control if nothing else. I agree that in our area I will still close them up for the winter though.


    And yes, I am definitely done with clearing snow out of our monster of a driveway this year. At least this late in the season I'm not worried about clearing every last flake down to the blacktop, since it'll all melt in a day or two anyway. But still, enough is enough.

  9. #8

    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    On pict 3 you see the bees isolated from food. They will not go down to food or go horizontal if the cluster canīt break in low temps or if it is too small or if it sits on a small brood patch.

    A bigger cluster produces more heat and some bees are always able to move to honey stores after heating up their bodies.

    You have to feed before the bees reduce broodnest and start to breed winter bees. This is in late summer in my climate, august. When feeding too late the bees cannot dry the syrup or are short lived.

    I little open nectar is no issue but more than 2 frames is.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Actually I think screened bottom boards increase the risk of beetle problems since they can easily get into the hive through the screening. And it certainly increases the likelihood that their larvae will fall to the ground,
    pupate and emerge as adults, to re-enter the hive.

    If beetles couldn't fit through the screening, I'd never find them fallen down through the screened floor on to my sticky boards - sometimes by the dozens. But screen boards on top of solid boards allow you to run a sticky board to monitor both varroa, and to some extent at least observe the SHB level within the hive. So I find them very useful. And you can remove a fair number of SHB and wax moth larvae when you pull out the sticky boards each week during your 72-hour varroa counting period, if nothing else. (Do not dump those larvae on the ground - put them in a closed garbage can to interrupt their development cycle.)

    You just need to add some wind-proof, beetle-proof and bee-proof covers on the openings between the boards if you run with two of them stacked. Blue painters' tape works in the short (and medium, if you are a procrastinator like I am) term.

    But you mentioned above that there were no signs of varroa ... does that mean you didn't monitor for them or treat them, but were expecting to be forewarned just by seeing them on the bees? Because despite the pictures you have no doubt seen of an adult bee with nasty reddish bug clamped on her back, it is very rare to see that, even in hives with significant, urgent, varroa problems. And it is almost certain that your hive had varroa in it, and most likely a lot of them. Having SBB will allow you to check on the mites, right from the start. And doing sugar rolls all season will increase the information you have about their population dynamics and know when you need to treat.

    Your first hive died in exactly the time frame when varroa, and the problems they bring on, can overwhlem a spring-started colony. The robbers were probably were just the coup de grace. A hive that is strong and healthy is not a victim of robbing. (They may be perpetrators of robbing, instead.) The robbers may have been from your other hive and they returned home not only with honey but with the mites and any diseases they were carrying.

    And this may have impaired the health and longevity of your remaining hive's winter bees enough that they just couldn't hang on long enough to get the colony started up again. Even in a strong, healthy colony it's essentially a race against time as the winter bees reach the end of their unusually long - for a honeybee - lives just as the first small amount of new brood started up in late January or early February starts to mature. Anything that caused the 2017 bees to die earlier than expected can take a hive down late in the winter.

    Maybe I am missing something and you were monitoring and treating as indicated, but if not, this is the most important thing you can do this year to avoid seeing the same results with your new bees. Fortunately this is one area that you can easily manage, because it is entirely under your control (unlike the weather, or drought). If I can help you learn how to, and set up a mite monitoring program, I would be happy to help. It is easy to do and a very satisfying thing to have in place.

    Nancy

  11. #10
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    Feb 2017
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    Bloomfield, CT
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Quote Originally Posted by SiWolKe View Post
    On pict 3 you see the bees isolated from food. They will not go down to food or go horizontal if the cluster canīt break in low temps or if it is too small or if it sits on a small brood patch.
    That was only the case for this and one other small patch of bees. The vast majority of the dead cluster (and it was substantial) was sitting right on or next to capped honey.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    Quote Originally Posted by enjambres View Post
    Actually I think screened bottom boards increase the risk of beetle problems since they can easily get into the hive through the screening. And it certainly increases the likelihood that their larvae will fall to the ground,
    pupate and emerge as adults, to re-enter the hive.

    If beetles couldn't fit through the screening, I'd never find them fallen down through the screened floor on to my sticky boards - sometimes by the dozens. But screen boards on top of solid boards allow you to run a sticky board to monitor both varroa, and to some extent at least observe the SHB level within the hive. So I find them very useful. And you can remove a fair number of SHB and wax moth larvae when you pull out the sticky boards each week during your 72-hour varroa counting period, if nothing else. (Do not dump those larvae on the ground - put them in a closed garbage can to interrupt their development cycle.)

    You just need to add some wind-proof, beetle-proof and bee-proof covers on the openings between the boards if you run with two of them stacked. Blue painters' tape works in the short (and medium, if you are a procrastinator like I am) term.

    But you mentioned above that there were no signs of varroa ... does that mean you didn't monitor for them or treat them, but were expecting to be forewarned just by seeing them on the bees? Because despite the pictures you have no doubt seen of an adult bee with nasty reddish bug clamped on her back, it is very rare to see that, even in hives with significant, urgent, varroa problems. And it is almost certain that your hive had varroa in it, and most likely a lot of them. Having SBB will allow you to check on the mites, right from the start. And doing sugar rolls all season will increase the information you have about their population dynamics and know when you need to treat.

    Your first hive died in exactly the time frame when varroa, and the problems they bring on, can overwhlem a spring-started colony. The robbers were probably were just the coup de grace. A hive that is strong and healthy is not a victim of robbing. (They may be perpetrators of robbing, instead.) The robbers may have been from your other hive and they returned home not only with honey but with the mites and any diseases they were carrying.

    And this may have impaired the health and longevity of your remaining hive's winter bees enough that they just couldn't hang on long enough to get the colony started up again. Even in a strong, healthy colony it's essentially a race against time as the winter bees reach the end of their unusually long - for a honeybee - lives just as the first small amount of new brood started up in late January or early February starts to mature. Anything that caused the 2017 bees to die earlier than expected can take a hive down late in the winter.

    Maybe I am missing something and you were monitoring and treating as indicated, but if not, this is the most important thing you can do this year to avoid seeing the same results with your new bees. Fortunately this is one area that you can easily manage, because it is entirely under your control (unlike the weather, or drought). If I can help you learn how to, and set up a mite monitoring program, I would be happy to help. It is easy to do and a very satisfying thing to have in place.

    Nancy


    Man, there is so much conflicting information on screened vs. solid bottoms. I had solid bottoms all last year, but was going to switch to just screens (closed up for the winter) this year. Now you have me rethinking that, maybe I'll do both - use the screens just for pest monitoring but keep the solids under that all year. The premade equipment I got from Western Bee are made stackable but don't provide a way to insert a sticky board when you do that... I'll find a way to modify something.

    I did monitor for varoa (sticky board under a temporary jerry-rigged screen, but honestly not as rigorously as I should have. Though both times (July and September if I recall) I got pretty much zero signs of mites. I don't doubt that they will become a problem though, if they had not already without my realizing. There is a ton of info out there on mites too... if you have the time to walk me through a basic program for our region, that would be tremendous.

    Finally, it wasn't this hive that did the robbing... my hives are very close, and as the robbers emerged, they took off into the hills. The neighboring bees were just dilligently guarding their own hive. The robbed colony re-queened pretty late in the season and I don't think they ever fully recovered from that setback.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Diagnosing a failed hive

    I am organizing a post on how to do sticky boards and sugar rolls.

    Meanwhile you could do a search for some of my recent posts in other threads over the last two weeks where some of the info is available.

    And you could look at this link, which is the method I teach: https://pollinators.msu.edu/resource...e-monitoring1/

    I have some equipment and process improvements that make it easier to do.

    I run 72-hour sticky boards in every colony every week of the year. Yup, all winter long, I am heading out to pull boards in a few minutes.

    I do monthly sugar rolls on every colony from April through October; I rotate among the hives and some each week so I always have a rough notion of what the mite levels are in the yard. With two colonies you could alternate between them, doing one roll every two weeks. There is certain skill ramp-up on doing rolls, which will improve their accuracy the more often you do them.

    It is only in the last year when I developed a more significant problem with SHB that I figured out that if I was seeing SHB under the boards (having fallen down through the screen) that they very well could get up into a have through the screen, as well. One of the strategies for combating beetles is tighter control on entrances, so I now close the slots more conscientiously, with blue painters' tape. (I once watched a guard bee repeatedy fly at a SHB that was trying to fly towards an upper entrance - every time the beetle approached the guard flew at it, to knock it off course.)

    Having SBB (if well closed off from beetle access, which is easy to) will give you the easiest to do way of monitoring mites if you run regular 72-hour tests. But it doesn't give you the fullest picture of the developing situation, that you can only get by adding in sugar rolls. Adding these two things to your regular bee-work will not significantly complicate bee work. And in return you will get a very satisfying feeling that you have a good, current idea about what's going on with the mites in your hives, and the opportunity to deal with them before a crisis erupts, and before you have to clean up a dead out.

    Nancy

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