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Question: Why are my bees not building new comb? Any ideas what might be happening or how to resolve?

For 2 years now, I've lost all my bees. When I've added new frames with foundation, whether in the brood or honey supers, they are not beeing filled out. They also don't seem to build off of frames where i've removed drawn comb. The bees seem to work the frames with drawn comb and they don't create more burr comb than i've seen in the past. I lost 3 hives 2 years ago and installed 1 new package last season to restart. Those bees died out by August. When reviewing the brood box, the frames look clean and the frames with just foundation were either left blank or only had about a 1/4in comb built in the center of the frame tapering out to nothing after about a 3 in radius.
 

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Do you feed sugar syrup at all? Do they bring in pollen and nectar? Do they have a source of water? How many frames are filled and with what? Have you checked for brood? When was the last time you saw your queen?

If all those answers are good, then look to other conditions. What are your mite counts, for instance? Any signs of AFB or EFB? Nosema?

Next look for signs of robbing. Could neighborhood bees be stealing them blind? Robbing is very demoralizing to a hive.

If none of this shows you any rays of light, I'd go looking for a local beek who has plenty of experience and who might be willing to come take a look.

Hope something in here sparks a hint of a clue for you.

Good luck and let us know what you finally figure out.


Rusty
 

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Bees draw comb when all three of these conditions are met:

1) there is a source of nectar/syrup coming in.
2) there is no where to store the nectar/syrup.
3) there is enough heat to draw wax.

My guess is you are lacking all three right now...
 

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Bees draw comb when all three of these conditions are met:

1) there is a source of nectar/syrup coming in.
2) there is no where to store the nectar/syrup.
3) there is enough heat to draw wax.

My guess is you are lacking all three right now...
Forgot number four.

4) There is a fresh supply of young bees and/or they have just swarmed.

Only young bees make wax. Only exception is if the bees have swarmed, then the older bees can make enough wax to set the hive up long enough to raise some young bees. If you're pulling frames before the first wave of brood hatches out, there will be no bees capable of drawing comb. If there's been a break in the brood cycle due to requeening, for example, there may not be any bees of the correct age to draw comb.

If there are no young bees and the hive has already been filled out with a few frames of comb, then you're not going to get much if any new comb drawn no matter what you do.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Do you feed sugar syrup at all? Do they bring in pollen and nectar? Do they have a source of water? How many frames are filled and with what? Have you checked for brood? When was the last time you saw your queen?

If all those answers are good, then look to other conditions. What are your mite counts, for instance? Any signs of AFB or EFB? Nosema?

Next look for signs of robbing. Could neighborhood bees be stealing them blind? Robbing is very demoralizing to a hive.

If none of this shows you any rays of light, I'd go looking for a local beek who has plenty of experience and who might be willing to come take a look.

Hope something in here sparks a hint of a clue for you.

Good luck and let us know what you finally figure out.


Rusty
For the bee package I installed last season (last sat of April), I fed them a 2-1 sugar/water syrup for the first month (May). The initial brood box had frames with stored pollen and i could see them flying in with pollen. They seemed to have a good build up of brood and I placed the 3rd box/honey super mid-late June. When I checked them a month later, they hadn't moved up into the super. They seemed to be packed in the brood box. I checked a few frames and the frames placed with no drawn come remained relatively untouched. But, they were working the pre-drawn frames. By the end of September, I believe my colony was gone and the bees in the box were likely robbers. None of the left over frames have any capped brood. The brood box frames look like a frame that has been spun for extraction and then cleaned by bees.

As for water, I live in a well established suburb with most lots at a .25 acre or smaller. But, there's no open source of water like streams, rivers, lakes; just sprinklers. I left a tray of water with a sponge, but they didn't seem to frequent it.

For nozema, I didn't see any excrimant streaking on the box or in the hive which is what i've been told to look for. For EFB or AFB, i didn't notice any malformed bees and the box looks clean, but I don't have any other things to look for since the colony is long gone and no capped brood left.

At times during the summer, i'd see large clouds of bees. I assumed they were just cooling from the heat, but there could've been robbers.
 

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1:1 sugar syrup is for drawing wax, 2:1 sugar syrup is for building stores. The most common cause of lack of wax drawing is lack of nectar flow. You also need the bees to be crowded enough to need to draw wax in order to store incoming nectar. You do also need warm temps and a good population of younger house bees. From all you've stated so far, I'd say primary cause is lack of nectar flows in your area. That's just a guess as I can't see your conditions in the hives and the environment from here. Also, have you checked for varroa mite populations in the hives? Starting in July, and increasing into and throughout the fall, varroa mite populations tend to increase as a percentage to the bee populations. Varroa mites will cause the bees to slow and dwindle late summer into fall, and could be part of your problem.
 

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>4) There is a fresh supply of young bees and/or they have just swarmed.
>Only young bees make wax

Old bees can make wax. They are just not very effecient at it. If you have a hive with only older workers, with no where to store nectar, nectar coming in and enough heat to draw wax, they will make wax.

https://www.beesfordevelopment.org/uploads/Scan106-practical.pdf‎
"Older worker bees can recover their ability to produce wax if the colony requires it ."

Temperal and spatial patterns of wax secretion and related behavoir in the division of labour of the honeybee.
This study took bees of known age and counted the percent with wax scales. The results by age and if they were festooned were:
Code:
days  festoon  non-festoon
3       22.2%   36.7%
6       60.3%   42.5%
9       71%      56.4%
12     52.5%    40.5%
15     54.9%    28.9%
18     39.2%    23.9%
21     28.2%    13.7%
Even young bees aren't that good at it until they get into the swing of things:
From Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, Coggshall and Morse pg 35
"Their degree of efficiency in wax production, that is how many pounds of honey or sugar syrup are required to produce one pound of wax, is not clear. It is difficult to demonstrate this experimentally because so many variables exist. The experiment most frequently cited is that by Whitcomb (1946). He fed four colonies a thin, dark, strong honey that he called unmarketable. The only fault that might be found with the test was that the bees had free flight, which was probably necessary so they could void fecal matter; it was stated that no honey flow was in progress. The production of a pound of beeswax required a mean of 8.4 pounds of honey (range 6.66 to 8.80). Whitcomb found a tendency for wax production to become more efficient as time progressed. This also emphasizes that a project intended to determine the ratio of sugar to wax, or one designed to produce wax from a cheap source of sugar, requires time for wax glands to develop and perhaps for bees to fall into the routine of both wax secretion and comb production."
 

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>4) There is a fresh supply of young bees and/or they have just swarmed.
>Only young bees make wax

Old bees can make wax. They are just not very effecient at it. If you have a hive with only older workers, with no where to store nectar, nectar coming in and enough heat to draw wax, they will make wax.
In my (albeit limited) experience, they don't make enough of it to be effective.

When I installed my first package last year, they immediately drew up 3 frames of comb, excellent start. Then they requeened immediately after the package queen laid half a frame of brood, so there were next to no young bees for a good 2 solid months. Despite the fact I kept a full feeder on them at all times, they drew out less than half of two more frames (as in did not fully draw out the inside half of the frame on either side of the initial 3) before winter.

Only conclusion I could make was that they had no young bees to make wax during the peak months, and then not enough of a steady flow after they finally settled down and got to business to promote drawing, even with constant feeding.

Old bees may be capable of making wax, but for me at least they don't make enough of it to make much if any difference.
 

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>When I installed my first package last year, they immediately drew up 3 frames of comb, excellent start. Then they requeened immediately after the package queen laid half a frame of brood, so there were next to no young bees for a good 2 solid months

There is also the issue that once there is some comb and some brood the bees are occupied with feeding brood and gathering pollen and gathering water. At first those things are not necessary because there is no brood to feed yet. Bees shift goals as needs change. At first they have no comb. Then they have some comb but now they need nurse bees. Then they have nurse bees but now they need pollen. Then they have pollen but now they need water. Then they have enough water and pollen but they need more comb...
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
You ever inspect ur hives during the season to check on stores and general health?
I do minimally...will pull a frame or 2 to see how it looks. But, i don't always know what to look for outside of brood pattern and queen cells. I haven't spotted mites before, but that could just be my lack of an eye for it.

But, i've been baffled as to why the bees hadn't been building out new comb on the frames. Just seems strange that this has been the case for 2 years now with different colonies. This year will probably be my last ditch effort to make it work and i'm trying to figure out if it sounded like a possible disease as i don't want to put a new bee package in contaminated boxes. The only real signs i can identify are lack of new comb on empty frames and die off by late summer. For 2 of my colonies, they became queenless before they died off.
 

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if i were in your shoes i'd try to find some one selling a 5 frame nuc near by. you'd get 5 frames of comb and bees that are already well established. it would let you know how they should look. if thats not available i'd buy 2 3# packages and one queen, put them all in one hive and keep the feed to them. i'd also be opening them up twice a week just to become more familiar with them.
 

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I do minimally...will pull a frame or 2 to see how it looks. But, i don't always know what to look for outside of brood pattern and queen cells.
The only way to develop an eye for what's going on inside your hives is by looking every week and taking notes or pix. It's a learning process and takes a long time. I'm still learning and I've kept bees for more than 20 years!

I haven't spotted mites before, but that could just be my lack of an eye for it.
The easiest way to see mites is to do a sugar shake and dump the remaining sugar on a nice white plate. The mites stand out.

But, i've been baffled as to why the bees hadn't been building out new comb on the frames. Just seems strange that this has been the case for 2 years now with different colonies. This year will probably be my last ditch effort to make it work and i'm trying to figure out if it sounded like a possible disease as i don't want to put a new bee package in contaminated boxes. The only real signs i can identify are lack of new comb on empty frames and die off by late summer. For 2 of my colonies, they became queenless before they died off.
I still keep wondering if you have enough good forage available to you or if the foragers are getting killed off by pesticides. City gardeners do tend to use a lot of pesticides on those pretty ornamentals. Be worth casually asking your neighbors about what they spray with. That would explain the dwindling numbers, too.

Just a thought.

Rusty
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
The easiest way to see mites is to do a sugar shake and dump the remaining sugar on a nice white plate. The mites stand out.
Hi Rusty,

Sugar Shake? Did a quick search in the forums and didn't see anything. What does that entail?

As for the pesticide use, far too many neighbors to be able to figure that one out. I guess that's a pitfall for being a backyard keeper. Thanks for the suggestions.
 

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All other factors being optimum, they need to have a good queen, to build comb. If they have a poor queen, or no queen, no matter what else is going on, they won't build much comb, though they will build some, if everything else is good.
 
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