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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
New beekeeper here. I got two miserable little hives off Craigslist last year. Few bees and zero resources. Fed them like crazy, and got them through the winter, and now I have four hives, two big ones, and two small ones. I lost four big swarms unfortunately, hence the two smaller hives. All seem to be prospering, despite my inexperience.

I keep hearing about the summer dearth coming. How do we know when it starts in our area? There was little pollen coming in 2 weeks ago, but then we got several rains and now the bees seem to be bringing in a good amount of pollen. Yesterday, I counted, and 7 out of 10 bees came back with full baskets in one hive, and 6/10 in the big hive.

But is pollen the same as nectar? How do I know if they have enough carbohydrate?

Should I feed, just in case? I hesitate, because that's how I caused all those swarms.

I'm all ears... Thanks.
 

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When new your best source to figure out flow is a local, or state bee club, nectar is very much different from pollen. Flow will vary from region to region and year to year so it’s not set in stone. You need to learn what blooms in your area and the time frame. The bees temperament, robbing activity, willingness to take syrup etc, can all be signs. Talking to other bee keepers in your area is going to the best way to learn.
 

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so when I go for a drive I actively look for Blooms.
coming home tonight, I seen several , with White clover on full bloom, few weeks ago yellow clover was blooming.
So here in Mich we are not in a dearth.
So you need to become a flower detective, and use what you see blooming to help determine what is happening.

so observe the blooms, bees feed on flowers, no flowers little or no feed.

In the hive during inspection, there "should" be a good amount of open nectar, in/neer the brood nest, Dry comb can indicate a dearth as well.

robbing is more intense during a dearth.

Dearth is more intense during drought,, very dry is not the best for having copious nectar in the blooms.

now just add these all together..

GG
 

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Agree with GFWEST about bee behavior.
Look for what I call " fruitless foraging",bees flying somewhat randomly in places that they don't usually go.Used equipment,storage buildings,the back of your truck,trash cans,the back of other hives,etc.
These are scout bees,searching ,searching ,searching. When bees are on a flow,they are on a mission,zooming out of the hive and zooming back.You don't see many bees scouting.

Try this: Put out a plate,away from your hives,with a 1 in circle of honey.
In a flow,that honey won't be discovered for a while.
In a dearth,come back in 10 min and it's gone.

A little late now but using a hive scale to track weight gains and loses over a season can give you a good idea on what's going on.
 

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so when I go for a drive I actively look for Blooms.
Just like me, GG!
I am always on the lookout.

Basically, you should know a)what local plants carry your flow, b)what is local status of those plants now, and c)what are the local weather conditions overall.
If you don't know your ABCs, better find out what they are.

And watch the bees, of course.
 

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I am in the GFWest and JackGrimshaw camp. I have learned, at least in my area, that blooms can be deceiving. Some years we can have fields of goldenrod that produce no nectar, yet during wet years, they are huge nectar sources. Crepe myrtles are also a good example of something that can put on a flowery show, but produce little or no nectar. Cotton (the BT variety planted in my area) produce fields of blooms, but I never find bees working them.

I know from the behavior of my hives when the nectar flow has shut down. One day I can get away with opening hives with no smoke. The next day I am being attacked when I get out of the truck. Usually happens around the same time every year. Idle probiscises make the devil's workshop.

Additionally, when you see bees buzzing around or crawling around the joints or seems of your woodenware (where two hive bodies meet), that is a very good indication that your bees are not finding nectar sources and have now turned on their neighbors' stash.
 

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I have learned, at least in my area, that blooms can be deceiving.
That's why you observe the ABCs.
Does not matter much if the Goldenrod blooms all over - but you are drought (C).
Does not matter if Dark Eyed Susan are in bloom all over - they don't produce much of anything for the bees. (A)
Does not matter if the Sweet Clover is everywhere in your area - but it is done blooming for the season (B).
 

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I was thinking that I was in a dearth in my area. Tallow is over and the local beeks are all saying our next strong flow will be goldenrod around late September and October. Now I'm thinking my bees are still working something pretty hard, maybe pepper vine or blue vervain. Why do I think this? I extracted last night and this morning I pushed my extractor sled out of the garage into a sunny spot in my driveway for the bees to clean. It has been sitting there for almost six hours now and not a single bee has found it yet. I have eight strong hives about 500 feet away in the back of my lot. The bees are very active zooming in and out of the hives. Two weeks ago I put a couple of five gallon buckets with some burr comb full of honey and some honey covered hive tools and such in the same spot. The bees showed up within a half hour and worked it constantly for several hours until it was all dry and clean.
 

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I was thinking that I was in a dearth in my area. Tallow is over and the local beeks are all saying our next strong flow will be goldenrod around late September and October. Now I'm thinking my bees are still working something pretty hard, maybe pepper vine or blue vervain. Why do I think this? I extracted last night and this morning I pushed my extractor sled out of the garage into a sunny spot in my driveway for the bees to clean. It has been sitting there for almost six hours now and not a single bee has found it yet. I have eight strong hives about 500 feet away in the back of my lot. The bees are very active zooming in and out of the hives. Two weeks ago I put a couple of five gallon buckets with some burr comb full of honey and some honey covered hive tools and such in the same spot. The bees showed up within a half hour and worked it constantly for several hours until it was all dry and clean.
ignoring cappings is another good sign of something has thier attention.

GG
 

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Easiest way to test - set out a little tray with some honey comb residue.
This method also works to determine if the bees are robbing or scouting/swarming/etc.
Set the tray next to the hive you are trying to figure out the traffic nature.
 

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Greg can you elaborate on how that would determin if they are swarming?
Sure.
This is NOT about swarming.
This is about robbing/not robbing - that's the test (and is relevant to the dearth determination).

Many times you read of a "cloud of bees" in front of the hive and they must be robbing.
Well, set a tray few feet away from the hive. Wait 10-15 minutes.
The true robbing bees will cover your tray and will go crazy about it.
The true swarming bees will ignore your tray.
The true working/scouting/orienting bees will ignore your tray.
*ignore == (mostly) ignore, of course; 2-3 bees will always check out the tray (but not 200-300 hundred).

I had bees scouting my backyard trap hive this season for about a month (on and off).
I was not sure anymore what was going on.
Well, the tray test confirmed - they were NOT robbing.
Of course I did score a mega-swarm in the end.
 

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Simple, put a small pan of sugar syrup out and watch what happens. The intensity of what happens will vividly show how severe the shut off in resources is. I found out yesterday when I had a jester nuc with some stray bees on the frames and I set it by a hive so these orphans would find a home. I forgot as I usually do now, and I found the frames robbed out today. The season is over in Montana, at least my part.
 

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Simple, put a small pan of sugar syrup out and watch what happens. The intensity of what happens will vividly show how severe the shut off in resources is. I found out yesterday when I had a jester nuc with some stray bees on the frames and I set it by a hive so these orphans would find a home. I forgot as I usually do now, and I found the frames robbed out today. The season is over in Montana, at least my part.
They figured they had more use of the resources than you did.😀
 

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What is the best method for determining dearth conditions?

Simply what happens when you leave a frame of honey out ? Do bees cover the frame like a thick blanket of chaos?

Or do they ignore that frame?

How long does it take for them to cover the above frame? Does it happen after an hour? Or if it happens within 10 or 20 minutes that's a pretty sure sign to me.

During a dearth I have to be very careful about quickly covering any exposed frames or it can get bad fast.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Guys, you have given a wealth of information! I'm just coming back to see the discussion, and WOW, the answers are right on point. Here is what has happened since last week:

We are in a mild drought, with a few rains here and there. While driving, I realized that there were almost no wildflowers around. That registered as unusual for this area.

I decided to put a quart of syrup on my smallest hive to give them a boost. Within minutes, it looked like they were getting robbed. Called a pro beekeeper 100 miles away, and he said they are deep in the dearth in his area. They get more rain than we do, so I decided to give all four hives syrup.

Bringing syrup to my biggest and most active hive, I took my first unprovoked sting right on the tip of the nose. Ouch. Until then, I've never needed my veil when feeding. This one hit me before I even got close. I put on my jacket, lit my smoker, and put syrup on all four. The next morning, all four jars were empty. I repeated, and this time, the bees weren't so angry, but I smoked and put on my jacket just in case. In four hours, the syrup was gone. I refilled, and called it a day.

Today, the bees were much calmer, and 2 were empty and 2 had a little bit left. I refilled them all. Will see how they are tomorrow. Ordered 100 lbs of sugar from Walmart for $44. Will pick up tomorrow.

I've made lots of mistakes, but am learning slowly. Hopefully, I can keep them going successfully, as I did last year.

Thank you again for the wealth of information!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Oh, and as you mentioned, Jack, bees are searching in strange places, like inside my shop, or when working on my truck. I guess they were trying to ask politely, but I didn't get the point.

We have two huge Rose of Sharon trees covered in blooms, with bumblebees and hummingbirds all over them. Why don't the bees notice them? If the hummingbirds are on them, they are surely full of nectar.
 

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the bees tongues (proboscis)are only so long maybe the nectar is too deep in the flower.

GG
 

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Oh, and as you mentioned, Jack, bees are searching in strange places, like inside my shop, or when working on my truck. I guess they were trying to ask politely, but I didn't get the point.

We have two huge Rose of Sharon trees covered in blooms, with bumblebees and hummingbirds all over them. Why don't the bees notice them? If the hummingbirds are on them, they are surely full of nectar.
Our honeybees are not native to North America and much of the flowering plants evolved without them and therefore much of our native plants are not great nectar sources for honeybees but are for the native bumbles, butterflies and humming birds. My understanding is that only a third of the plants in North America are suitable for honeybees looking for nectar. Part of this thing called beekeeping is being able to know what plants are nectar sources for honeybees and when their flow is. I guess there's quite a few of us here that when ever we get in the car, we're looking at the bushes rather than the road, at home, we're looking a long range weather, in the bee yard, we're staring at the landing boards. Amazing none of have driven into a tree.
 
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