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Did I give this newbee valid advice?

I got a phone call from a desperate, first-year beekeeper. He installed a new package on new equipment this spring, added a super sometime in late May. His last inspection last week showed the queen quit laying and any honey the bees stored was gone. All the drawn comb was "dry."

Precluding any robbing from feral swarms, my phone analysis was the conclusion that the bees used up a lot of honey/energy to draw out the combs, then ate up what they stored, and with packages, getting a great start is hard, especially in a dry year like he's been having.

My advice was to buy sugar, mix up the syrup and feed. His objection was the cost of sugar.

I suggested a couple of bags of sugar now are cheaper than another new package next spring. Further, if the bees all die, then he has to protect the comb from wax moths.

He asked what ratio of sugar and I suggested the heavier 2:1 sugar:water. His objection was that he couldn't afford to feed 2:1 that he was thinking about 1:1 because it was cheaper.

I responded by saying neither is more expensive because he's feeding sugar, and whether that sugar is dissolved in various ratios, it's the sugar he is feeding and not to worry about the cheaper cost of a more dilute syrup. The more dilute/cheaper syrup contains less sugar, but the actual cost of the actual sugar remains the same.

He sighed deeply in resignation and lamented that no one told him keeping bees was going to be so expensive. He called it a "rich man's" hobby.

This was a quick phone call. He's a little too far away to simply drive over and take a look, but if any of you have any other/better ideas, I'll give him another call.

Can we assume the queen will lay more eggs or has this hive basically given up and no human effort/intervention can stem their decline?

Comments, please.

Jackson, MO

104 Posts

Based upon a similar experience, I'd say your advice was "spot on." Action, as you recommended, resolved that particular problem.

In spite of the perceived "cost" of the remedy, your advisee ought to look at it as a protection of the investment he has already made and as a further investment in the colony's potential production. It would be unwise to have it all go "down the tubes" for the want of a few dollars of sugar.

My experience was with a 3# package with an Italian queen. They had built up to the point of drawing out and covering the frames fully in two deeps. Here, we have long nectar dearth in the summer. In the space between hive inspections--a period of twelve days--the colony had consumed ALL its stores and had cannibalized virtually all its brood. The population had dropped by 80%; there was a mound of dead bees in front of the entrance.

My examination and assessment discounted pesticide poisoning, robbing or disease as the cause. It was clearly a matter of starvation. The experience was one of the many lessons of my first year in beekeeping.

Fortunately, the queen survived, and with feeding, like you suggested, the colony rebuilt and produced a surplus of 25# in its first year.
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