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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Rare 60° here today and I took a peek in my two hives. One is booming with ten full frames of bees. The other one has just a handful, including the queen, sandwiched between two frames. Anything I can do to rescue the one that is almost gone? They have plenty of honey. Can I move a full frame of bees from the strong hive to the weak one? Would they accept the queen? Not sure how winter behavior is different from the rest of the year.
 

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My personal opinion is to let them go. You might add a frame of capped brood but they may not be able to keep it at incubation temperature. Second….why are they failing? Adding a frame of brood doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying problem. And lastly, I hate to take resources from a vigorous colony and see it go to waste on one that is collapsing.
Others will have different opinions. This is just mine.
 

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I will second Dan's opinion. Let it play out and if they die, use the resources to make a new nuc in a month or so. Wasting a frame of brood that could have been used for a nuc is not an effective use of the bees. That hive is weak for a reason. Sorry, but that is the way it is.
 

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This is February in PA and generally cold.
Small cluster.
No need to talk of brood moves (even if have it - a bad move as they are ALL doomed for sure then).

Take a frame of bees (the most external one) from the strong hive.
Combine using paper (the queen-less bees should join in; mb even slice the recipients with the incoming frame - so to create a bigger cluster on the spot).
Using insulated follower boards - condense the entire cluster to three frames (if no follower boards - quickly make them using just frames; just improvise).
Move any unoccupied frames away.
Put some sugar on the top above cluster.
Insulate with blankets so they cover the top and overhang on the sides.
The final product should resemble a 3-frame nuc created inside a bigger hive body.
Cross the fingers.

If you loose them - you loose a frame from the strong hive - a minimal loss for a ten-frame cluster.
 

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Until you have an answer to "why is that hive failing", I would not move frames around. Are there signs of high mite loads? Is the queen laying? If so, are there all stages of brood from eggs to capped cells in the proper ratio?

Hives failing to take off in the spring can be one of the signs of European Foulbrood. It was the first sign (which I missed) when I had that problem.
 

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My personal opinion is to let them go. You might add a frame of capped brood but they may not be able to keep it at incubation temperature. Second….why are they failing? Adding a frame of brood doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying problem. And lastly, I hate to take resources from a vigorous colony and see it go to waste on one that is collapsing.
Others will have different opinions. This is just mine.
All good points. If this situation was presented on March 15 instead of now, some of the answers might be different.
 

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Good suggestions to just let it play out. As beekeepers we feel it's our duty to "help" the bees out. Most of the year we can, but right now almost anything you try to do would probably be a wasted effort, or possibly even a negative.

We still have a good month left of pretty cold weather and your strong hive will need every winter bee they have during that period for brooding up. Any bees you pull from the hive now will just chip away at the winter cluster and reduce the amount of brood they can cover, slowing brood expansion.

There is obviously something wrong in your other hive. Hopefully it's just queen failure, that happens. But find out what happened before moving any of those frames into another hive.
 

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If the queen is just a plain Jane package or nuc queen, I'd let it go. However, if she is something "special", I have devised a way to keep the smaller colonies in my house in a butterfly enclosure for up to 8 weeks. We have mild winters here in coastal VA so I attempt to overwinter smaller than normal nucs with summer/fall raised local queens. I really have to stay on top of the food supply and sometimes, it just doesn't work out.

This particular queen is a Buckfast and I'm trying to preserve her genetics for queen rearing this spring. She was changed out from her big hive (to let her F2 daughter take over) in the fall to a smaller nuc. They have been in my house for 4 weeks now. If the number of workers dwindle too low, I go steal some from the outside hives. Foragers are easier to get, but they don't make good nurse bees to attend the queen. Best ones are the bees on the brood comb, but I need a warm day to get them from a hive that is actively brood rearing (not all of mine are doing that yet, just the Italian strains). I keep those queenless bees in a jar inside the habitat for 24 hrs to let their old queen smell dissipate and then I release them into the habitat with the other bees.
IMG_6365.jpg
 

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Put a queen excluder on your strongest colony, a medium super and another queen excluder and the cripple on top. The heat from the basement will do wonders and if the queen above is worth saving, nurse bees will start wandering up to that good smelling queen who will now be able to lay enough eggs to build up. When I do it, I wrap to keep all that heat in. BTU's make bees!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for all your good comments. I did not get back in the hive yesterday so that brief window of opportunity is gone, as are likely that handful of bees. There was no larvae/brood with that small cluster, so could mean queen failure. Mite count was low following fall treatment. The least I coulda-shoulda done yesterday was move them to a nuc or reduce and add follower boards which I have in my basement. :-( Ruthiesbees, your indoor butterfly enclosure sounds interesting, even though this queen is nothing special. Of course I wouldn't want her to hear that!
 

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If this hive perishes, then I would urge you to look carefully at the combs for mite frass. That's half-mm white spots on the ROOF of the brood cell, left behind when the mite reproduced (see http://scientificbeekeeping.com/scibeeimages/DWV-collapse.jpg and https://honeybeesuite.com/what-is-guanine/ ). And I check the dead bees (in a deadout only) for their mite count. Mite treatments can be surprisingly ineffective, and the only way to prevent that in the future is to check for mites in a deadout.

Or if the number of mites in the dead bees is low in a deadout, then it is feedback that the mite treatment worked...

A super-small colony this time of year can be from at least two causes. One is if the colony had a late swarm or a long brood break and did not have much brood emerge to be winter bees. Then a "transfusion" will help. The other is if there is a high mite level, and that could be a wasted donation of bees into that doomed colony. It is possible to just get an alcohol wash (or pwd sugar shake) on bees in winter if you get a 50 degree day... or I just OAV the colony and look at the mite drop to understand the mite population numbers.

I would recommend getting a pollen patty for that hive, and putting it by the cluster - so if the cluster is at the top of the top box, put the pollen patty there. If it is in the box below, put the pollen patty between the two boxes.
 
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