March 14, 2016

The Death of Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle Hive
Photo taken last spring.
Oh my, this is sad news to report. Since my "Preparing for Bee Day" post, I've discovered that Honeysuckle Hive didn't make it. Our winter has bounced from cold to mild temperatures, so sometimes I've seen the bees out, as I reported on February 7th. Bees are inactive until perhaps the mid- to upper-50s F (lower- to mid-teens C), so when we recently got a few days around 70°F (21°C) I started looking for activity. Except for a random bee, not much was happening.

That concerned me so I had to investigate further. The first thing I did was to pull out the bottom board that came with my screen bottom. I found about half a dozen dead Small Hive Beetles on it. I was not happy to see that. Next, I removed the cover to the observation window in the bottom hive box.

Shot through the window so not a good photo.

Dead bees - definitely not a good sign. I went inside, suited up, and lit my smoker in hopes I'd need it. When I removed the roof and quilt, one lone bee flew up and out the top. Was there life in there? I looked down inside, but except for a few dead bees on the combs, the hive was vacant. Everybody was gone. I disassembled the hive.

Top box on the right. The comb on the right broke when I removed the box.

I found comb in the top two boxes, the bottom two were empty. The comb was perfectly aligned with the top bars, and only one was attached to the bars below.

Broken by yours truly when I removed it from the box.

There was some capped honey, and while the box was full of comb, quite a bit of it was empty. In the bottom box there was one small patch of capped honey. I found pollen cells, but no brood (which I wouldn't have found in the winter anyway(?)), also two or three more dead Small Hive Beetles.

Here are more photos for clues as to what happened.


Dead bees with their heads stuck in empty cells is said to be an indication
 of starvation. Of the dozen or so bees, I found only a few like that.

This was the only capped comb in the bottom hive box.


 I found evidence of wax moths in about half a dozen
places, although most of the comb was untouched.

Now I wonder if the bees I saw out last month weren't foraging because they were getting ready to move, even though I never saw them swarm. If they did, it certainly wasn't because they were overcrowded. Was it the wax moths? The Small Hive Beetles? Varroa? And what does all that darkened comb mean? Since I'm still very much a novice beekeeper and this is my first hive, I can only make observations and turn to research and the experience of others to try to make sense of the clues.

As an aside, this comb interested me...



The larger cells would be drone cells, built for hatching drone, which are larger than worker bees. I found them only on this one comb in the lower box. The smaller cells are of particular interest to me, because my bees were raised on standard foundation comb, which is imprinted with the larger cell size. Without that larger cell pattern to follow, they naturally made smaller cells. There is a lot of controversy over cell size because of the claim that smaller cells are not attractive to varroa mites. I am not inclined to be drawn into that conversation, but if you're interested, you'll find it all and then-some at ResistantBees.com.

So, in the time-honored tradition of silver linings and counting my blessings, I can at least be thankful that we will get a little bit of honey to enjoy. I have to say though, that looking out my kitchen and dining room windows and seeing no Honeysuckle Hive makes me very sad indeed.

New bees arrive next Saturday, so at least there is that.


78 comments:

  1. Very sad mystery...I hope experienced beekeepers will help you figure out more about what happened. Very sorry, Leigh.

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    1. I hope someone can interpret the clues, or at least give it a more educated shot than I can. Oftentimes it simply remains a mystery.

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  2. Ah, so sorry to hear of your hie. Looks like you also name "things" It helps to name things, don't you think - makes it much easier for me to separate / identify when talking to RMan ;)

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    1. Dani, it's funny, but I rarely name things. The beehives were an exception and the first name just came to me. We keep talking about naming all of our gates, but we keep drawing blanks when it comes to inspiration!

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  3. you are the 4th bee keeper over the pond who has found there bees have departed, this is so sad I checked my three hives that I went into winter with the other day and there is activity, today I am suiting up opening the hives up I always dread this first inspection of the year.

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    1. For some reason I can't comment, but I can reply to a comment, odd. I lost my hive as well, to starvation. Like you pointed out, I found about 75 bee butts sticking out of cells, inches away from sealed honey. The warm days, then single digit nights in WNY were not good to hives in the area. New bees end of April.

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    2. Dawn, it does seem to be all too common, doesn't it? I suspect the answer is much more complex than we can easily pinpoint. My bee pests were problems, but they didn't seem to be on a large enough scale to be the actual cause.

      3 Roosters and a Chick, the commenting problem you mention seems to be fairly common, and I can't find an answer to it! I'm glad you figured out to reply to another comment.

      The starvation thing with available honey always seems puzzling. Is it a bee intelligence thing? Seems like it would be related to being too cold to move. Our temps down here, though, bounce around a lot and we have a lot of mild days sprinkled throughout winter. I don't know. I guess Honeysuckle wasn't survivor bee material.

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  4. such a shaem to lose such a beautiful hive. I hope someone knowledgeable on the subject can shed some light on it for you

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  5. leigh,
    do you read 'the small hold will not go down without a fight' by pioneer preppy? he is an experienced beekeeper and may have some insight.
    his email is on the left side of the site.

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    1. Deborah, thank you for that. Yes, PP and I read each other's blogs on a fairly regular basis and he's given me lots of good advice as I've ventured into beekeeping. :)

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  6. Sorry to hear this news. Seems it was timely to order those new bees.

    You only found a few bodies, as the picture indicates, or did you find more? I'm assuming without all bodies present, they flew the coop at some point?

    Do you think the queen died? Did you find the queen's body? If no queen, then perhaps a swarm? The only other thing I can think of is if hornets attacked. Although their tends to be decapitated heads.

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    1. I didn't find many more dead bees than pictured; no sign of a dead queen. No sign of hornet attack, nor deformed wings that can happen with varroa transmitted diseases. It seems odd, though, that they would swarm during winter, when temperature are not conducive for survival. It's a mystery!

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  7. So sorry Leigh, but can it also bee a silver lining that they swarmed and found a new home instead of perishing in the hive?

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    1. I'd like to think they are alive and well somewhere, except I doubt they would leave when temperatures are so cold. But who knows?

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  8. A bee ball will not move down to get to honey stores but will move up. However if you only found a few bees head first in the comb it's a pretty good indication the hive dwindled to nothing before starvation set in. Just from what you have said I would say the queen failed at some point and the hive has been dwindling for some time without new larva.

    Two bottom boxes without comb was too much empty space that the bees had to heat and could have caused some issues as well.

    A few hive beetles are nothign to worry about, you are going to get them no matter what and wax moth damage is common in any comb that has gone undefended for very long.

    I see more Winter dead outs from package bees than anything else around here which is one reason I avoid them and try to focus on swarms for hive growth. Swarms just naturally seem to built and made specifically for survival packaged bees are generally just a scoop full of bees and a new queen thrown together.

    Honestly I think you tried to make your hive grow too fast. Now I know nothing about bee keeping in your specific location which is why I didn't say anything over the Summer but it seemed to me you were adding boxes waaaaay too fast. If you had two empty boxes then that is a problem as bees will tend to over build comb and it takes a lot of resources to do it that would have been better spent to storing honey their first year. Personally I never let a hive build up more than one brrod chamber and one medium surplus super the first year myself unless they get honey bound then I may add another medium of already drawn comb... maybe.

    On the bright side you now have two fully drawn boxes to give the next package a big jump start and the boxes are the real work. I would try building a swarm trap or two and catch some swarms this Spring if I was you.

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    1. I started with the two boxes in April and added the others last June, when I saw they were building comb in the bottom box. This is standard Warre practice, the idea being to add more room before they completely fill the hive (and then get the idea they need to swarm). I'm thinking if it took them two months to fill one and a half boxes, then between June and October, they should have done more than only complete the other half of the bottom box. At the original rate they should have continued into the new boxes unless the queen failed, just like you said. That seems to make the most sense.

      Adding one box would have been better, but I had Dan's back to think about in hoisting boxes when it came time to add more. :) Some Warre beeks only add one at a time to offset top-heaviness, others add the full compliment at the beginning of the season.

      Your comment about the package bees caught my attention, because Anna from WaldenEffect.org told me she's had less problems with chemical-free bee packages. I'm committed to two more packages coming Saturday, but I think I'll set Honeysuckle up as swarm bait and see what happens.

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    2. I haven't had trouble with adding the extra boxes warre style in spring or summer, but I always take them off come fall if they're not in use. (I'll even take off boxes with drawn comb if there's no or little honey in it.) It's very true that heating that extra space is hard on the bees. Of course, whether that's enough to make a hive fail is something I don't know yet.... It does tend to prompt mice to move in in our area. :-)

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    3. It isn't so much a matter of how fast they can build the comb it's a matter of making them stop building comb and focus on filling what they got. Sometimes a hive will just keep building comb and not actually use it and they end up having too much space and not enough stores.

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    4. Anna, one thing I did do right was put on a mouse guard! We have trouble with mice in the attic every winter and there's no way I wanted them to move into the hive.

      PP, I didn't know that but it's good to know. I'm re-reading all of my bee books to see what I can glean after this year's experience. Hopefully next year will be better.

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  9. OH ya I would also check and see if you have a replacement or emergency queen cell somewhere in there. If the queen failed they more than likely tried to make a new one. If you see a lot of queen cups ont he bottom of the comb then they swarmed and the new queen may have had an accident.

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    1. Yes, I did think to look for that, but didn't see anything that looked like a queen cell. If the original queen failed, I would think I'd see queen cells. Another mystery.

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    2. Oh and the dark comb is just stained from brood being in there or pollen etc. Brood comb will always turn dark and eventually black. At some point it's a good idea to remove the old black comb as it can also contain pesticides and other bad stuff the bees have brought in.

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    3. That's what I was hoping. There will be a few bars that I can reuse, maybe in my bait hive.

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  10. Leigh, I'm so sorry. I am going to ask my Bee Guy to look at your post. He may have some ideas for you. The hive he keeps at my house was so angry when he came to check them it took the third visit with a smoker before he could get the box open. He is concerned about their anger but he found the first brood of the year in there, so that is good. Our wacky weather has brought them out long before the flowers. My trees are about to break bud, so there will be food for them soon.

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    1. I was just reading about bees and temperament. Your's must have felt defensive about their honey stores! Glad to hear the hive is doing well.

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  11. Hi Leigh, I have nothing to offer bee-wise as we only ever had visiting hives and the owner looked after them. However I am sorry for the loss of the hive. It's hard to lose any animals, bees included. I hope that this year is better for you and I know that the experience won't be wasted.

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  12. Leigh, are those water marks coming down the wall of the box in the window picture?

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    1. It's dripping of some sort. They originate from where I put the nails to hold the top bars. I notice the nails have rusted and the drip lines are rusty color too. Leaking? All seams and top bars were well propolized and there is no sign of water collected at the bottom anywhere. That's the only wall in the hive that shows that. Condensation? I noticed patches of mildew in the hive too, for which my uneducated guess is all the rain we've been having and no bees to ventilate the hive.

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  13. I'm so sorry for your loss! Best wishes for this year!

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  14. I feel your pain! One of my hives died out this winter, but fortunately, the new hive is thriving.

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    1. Glad to hear about the new hive success. It's tough losing them, isn't it?

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  15. I'm so sorry to hear this. I hope you get some good info and are back in buzzzness soon.

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  16. I'm so sorry your hive is gone. If days with high temps are common in winter in your area you might want to think about planting winter food for bees. Bees go out to forage and spend a lot of energy doing that and if they don't find food that's so much more honey they need to eat. Not all flowers have the same food quality for bees, though, so you'll need to do some research. Here in Spain people plant almond trees and rosmary, although some beekeepers say almond trees have no good food quality. They do flower in February in my area. Rosmary can be in flower all winter in protected areas and it's extremely good for bees. Beekeepers around here say the earliest quality flowers are dandelion, so maybe planting dandelion in protected areas/microclimates can help. Some people also keep a jar of honey to feed in reserve to feed their bees at the end of the winter. Good luck finding out what happened and with the new bees!
    Cheers,
    Lucía

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    1. Lucia, yes, winter forage is important for those of us who have mild spells in the winter. We've had dandelions, chickweed, strawberries, and periwinkle blooming most of the winter, although I'm not sure which of those besides dandelions are good for bees. Interesting about the almond. Mine is in full bloom now and I'm lamenting no bees. I'll have to go back through my lists of bee plants. My next two coming on Saturday should mean plenty of good foraging, especially now that the peaches are starting to bloom

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  17. Leigh,

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. It can be disappointing and frustrating, but you seem to have the right attitude of using it as a learning experience for future hives.

    While I believe my hive loss was mainly caused by hive beetles, I also believe it was brought on my expanding too quickly and bad hive location. The bees could not defend the extra space from the every expanding beetle population. Which doesn't appear to have happened to your hive. In my old hive location there was not enough sun to warm the hive early in the day. I will correct both of these problems for the coming year and see what happens. I mention this second item because in the pictures your hive is against a fence and I was interested in the direction you faced the hive, i.e. did it get winter sun to help the bees during cold spells?

    Hopefully your new packages will have a better year and using this hive as a swarm trap to capture locally hardy bees will be successful for you!

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    1. Thanks Perry. I was just thinking about what you're saying, about sunlight and air circulation. I put it by the fence because the fence blocks our terrible winter winds, which was a huge concern of mine. They are also out of the way of critters, human traffic, and visibility of street traffic. The entrances face northeast, so they get the morning sun.

      Last weekend Dan cleared out along the fence to make places for the new bees. That should help summer air circulation. I did check the cedar chips in the quilt periodically and never had a lot of moisture trapped there, but now I don't know if that's good or bad.

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  18. I know nothing about bees so I can't contribute, just to say I'm so sorry that you lost your hive.

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  19. I will preface my comments in that I was raised by beekeepers who used langstroth hives. When we prepared bees for winter, we kept only their brooding boxes and enough honey to over winter them. All empty boxes were removed and then we wrapped the hives in black tar paper to help the bees heat the available space. With too much space to heat, they may have taken off in search of a smaller hive.

    Saying that, bees are finicky and even the most experienced beekeepers loose hives to swarms now and then. However, when you only have one hive, loosing the occasional one is a little more devastating. Like PP said above, you now have a jump start on your next colony when you get the bees put in.

    I was never exposed to Warre hives so it has been interesting following your learning process on them and learning some things myself.

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    1. Hey Ed, thanks for joining in the conversation.

      Theoretically, assuming the colony had thrived and the bees kept building at the same rate they started at, those two boxes should have been filled and I would have added a fifth (or rather harvested the top box and added another on the bottom.) That wasn't the case, however.

      Being in a mild climate, I guess one question I have is when do they stop building comb for the winter? That would have been the time to remove the empty boxes. We had a few bitter spells and snow twice, but mostly it was a fairly mild winter with dandelions and strawberries blooming continuously. I couldn't begin to guess when the end of their season is.

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  20. perhaps they found a smaller place nearby and might return later?

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  21. From the evidence in the hive (no mass of dead bees on the bottomboard), it sounds like they absconded, which is a little different from swarming. (In a swarm, they raise up a new queen to take their place --- it's a colony reproductive move. In an absconscion, they're unhappy and they all leave together.)

    I had a package abscond soon after putting them in a hive once. That was pretty clear-cut --- they didn't like their new digs and left to find better.

    I had another hive disappear without a trace one fall in what could have been colony collapse disorder or could have been absconsion. If the latter, it was likely because I treated them for varroa mites using powdered sugar and the intrusion was too much. That hive left a lot of honey behind.

    So, I guess one question would be --- was there too much human/animal/?? activity around the hive that might have made them leave?

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    1. I did not realize absconding could happen after they've settled in; I thought it was just a rejection of a new home. But it does sound like absconsion, especially since there was no attempt to raise up a new queen.

      As far as I know there wasn't much to bother them, although at night we have occasional critters passing through. The area is not a thoroughfare because of fences, so that keeps traffic down. Except for me coming to admire them when they were out, there hasn't been much human activity there either.

      Puzzling, isn't it?

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    2. I would guess a skunk has been visiting you. They scratch at the door of the hive and eat the guards as they come out. They leave VERY LITTLE evidence. They don't scratch to the point of doing any damage. They just create a disturbance at the hive entrance and snack. I had entrance reducers pulled out of the door of one of my hives a few years ago and the hive just wasn't thriving. I figured it out when the culprit visited after a heavy rain and left his muddy paw prints on the landing board of the hive. Now, I keep a Have-A-Heart in front of my hives and I am heartless about disposing of skunks when I catch them. You don't even have to bait the trap. The hive is the bait and they generally stumble into the trap trying to get at the hives. An unwelcome mat in front of the hive may be an alternative, but there are plenty of skunks in the world that I doubt they are going extinct any time soon. Generally, the skunks don't kill off the hive outright, but it gets so weak that it can't survive and there are only a few bees left like what you are seeing in your hive.

      I am very sad for your loss. You'll just have to pick yourself up and try again. At least you have some really great comb for bait hives and maybe you want to render the crappiest ones. I'd go ahead and set up Honeysuckle as one or two bait hives on your property. Two Warre boxes should be plenty for each swarm trap. You only want to put one comb per bait hive as the bees fly around the inside of the bait hive to measure it up and the right amount of open space is desirable to them.

      I'd second the idea of trying to catch local swarms. An excellent resource is here:

      http://www.horizontalhive.com/honeybee-swarm-trap/bait-hive-how-to-catch.shtml

      The hive I started last year from a package also died. I have no intention of buying package bees again. I am going to try my luck with swarm traps this summer. The downside of local swarms is that they may be ornery bees and you may want to check out the Layens hive in the plans section of the above link in order to be able to deal with them.

      RonC

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    3. Here is a fascinating link on how to find feral bees:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAt0pkag9YY

      And then a guide on setting up bait hives. A 5 frame nuc is a bit small though but it can work:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99A5reksPts

      Oh, and about the dark comb, that is what comb looks like when bees have pupated in the cells. The cocoon skin stays behind and sticks to the cell walls. It is harmless except that the queen prefers to lay in freshly made comb. It is excellent for swarm hives. Tom Seeley uses a chunk of it in his video also.

      RonC

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    4. Thanks Ron. Your experience adds to the list of those who haven't done will with package bees.

      We have had a few skunks around in the past, so that's on the list of possibilities. I assume for every one we don't smell, there are others around somewhere.

      That's a lot of excellent information about about catching swarms, although I don't see me climbing up a tree and tying any sort of hive up there, LOL. Good to know about the comb too. There are a few in fair shape that I can certainly use in a bait hive.



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  22. OH dang it, I just saw this post. As you know we had two and lost one late last Fall. I don't have a clue on ours. Two hives, next to each other, one is thriving the other completely collapsed. Most bees just gone, a few dead ones left behind. Very odd.

    We've had a very mild Winter, thankfully, and Ariadne (our surviving hive) is buzzing with activity. I have the boxes from the collapsed hive cleaned and ordered new frames. The package of bees I pick up in April.

    We have to move onward. I hope the best for you! I'm sending good bee vibes your direction!!

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    1. Thanks, 1st Man. At least one of yours made it! Here's hoping for a better bee year for us all.

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  23. My dad kept Langstroth style bees. Home grown honey is the best! It's good at least you got a taste from your poor hive. My first thought was skunk, I see someone already mentioned that possibility. Dad would set his hives on a platform of plywood (overhanging) on top of dry stacked cinderblocks (sideways so you see the holes and no one nests in there) to keep the hives up out of reach.
    My second thought was that's a lot of empty comb = lot of empty space to heat, were they not warm enough and moved somewhere smaller? Which I see has also been mentioned. Before I realized I cannot keep bees in my neighborhood (stupid zoning!) I looked at Warre and decided that although I liked the smaller size boxes, I think I would go fusion-style and use the Warre size & foundationless frames but like it was a Langstroth with regular intrusions like taking off boxes of extra empty comb, and meddling with them regularly to make sure they're not in trouble...
    Because Packaged Bees.
    Which is my third thought as to what might have happened to your bees. Some packaged bees just aren't equipped to deal, for whatever reason.

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    1. It's a guessing game, isn't it? And a puzzling one at that. My honey tastes just like the local raw wildflower honey I get locally, but that shouldn't be a surprise!

      I understand those Warre's with frames work very well, especially in areas where mandatory state inspections are required. My bees did a good enough job with the comb that the bars could be removed individually, although they and to be detached from the sides of the box because they were anchored there by the bees. That isn't always the case though, so the foundationless frames are good for inspections, just like you say.

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  24. Awww that's so sad! I hate to think of the poor bees suffering! Hope you will have better luck with the next batch!

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    1. Hopefully they aren't suffering, but off somewhere to a happier life!

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  25. Just seen this post!
    As I have said before, put two beekeepers in a room and you already have at least three opinions on what is right or wrong!
    My two pennyworth for what its worth. Abandoned hive there, though that drawn comb will give you a good start with a new colony. If you are buying bees ensure that they come from as close to you as possible, local bees will cope with local weather systems, flora etc. While it seems good to have a warm winter, it often means that the bees will be flying when they should be resting. There are only so many flying miles to each bee! Too much winter activity can mean that fewer workers survive to do the spring work. Bees often starve a few inches from food if for whatever reason they can't leave the cluster.
    just realised that this could be a HUGE comment so will leave it there!
    Good luck with this years beekeeping (I hope you get a swarm)
    Gillx

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    1. Gill, that's okay, thoughts and opinions welcome! Abandonment does seem the most likely situation, but 'why' remains a puzzle. I've researched all the suggestions, but there isn't enough evidence of the signs and symptoms of those reasons to reach a conclusive answer. That makes it tough because I don't really have anything to work on for next time. We almost made it, too. I last saw bees coming and going in early February. A month later - gone.

      Thinking back over disassembling the hive, I did have one very aggressive bee in my face at the time. Now I'm wondering if it wasn't one of the original occupants, and that the random robber bees I'm seeing are my very own bees, coming back to rob their own hive! No clue as to where they've gone though.

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  26. There is some brood in those pictures.

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    1. Okay, thanks. I'll have to poke around and see what I find. Most of the first one's I looked at were just pollen.

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  27. It is often hard to tell what killed the hive. Sometimes, it seems the whole world is out to kill honeybees. I think most of the suggestions already posted are plausible. If there were a few starving bees with honey just above them, I would guess that their numbers had dwindled to the point that the remainder froze. It could be a failing queen, skunk predation or a combination. I too never had any luck with package bees. If you are in a mild enough climate, they may do OK, but I never had a single package survive a harsh NY winter. One option that you might want to consider is to get let your package get a good start and then requeen the hive with a local queen a month or two later. That is how the beekeepers around here keep them going. They let those prolific southern queens get the hive started and then give them a survivor queen to get them through the year.

    I am very sorry about your hive and I hope your next one does better. Try not to take it personally if they do fail, beekeeping is tough. I know all too well how heartbreaking it is. I did just break down and order two nucs from a local beekeeper. I am going to give it one more try. Here is wishing both of us better luck!

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    1. You're another on the list of package bee failures, which is making me wonder how this years bees will do. I have found someone locally who keeps Russians, and offers queens and nucs. I considered buying from him except that he uses Langstroth hives, so I'd have to figure out how to fit a Lang nuc to a Warre hive box. One option would be to see if he'd establish the nuc in a box I supplied. I'll have to think about that pending this year's outcome. It's a kicker cuz' they made it through the worst of winter (mild here) and failed just before spring.

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    2. Actually, fitting a nuc to a Warre box is pretty doable. If you are fitting a full size Langstroth box to a Warre hive, you just need a 20" by 20" sheet of 3/4" plywood with a square hole the outside dimension of your Warre Box in the center of it. Then, two pieces of wood screwed to the plywood on edge so that they rest on the Warre box handles. If you are working with a 5 frame nuc. you would just need to set the nuc on one side of Honeysuckle and then a board beside it and then some small boards to cover the ends of the nuc that overhang the Warre. You would let the nuc build down into the Warre. I would probably block off part of the Warre box that is covered with the board with a sheet of foam insulation so the bees are confined to 5 bars of the Warre box under the nuc. Bees don't like discontinuities in their hive space so blocking the box below the nuc would help them move into the Warre faster. This is an operation that may take a year to accomplish.

      I've seen people blog about this. Google is your friend.

      The other option is to get the beekeeper to do a shook swarm into your Warre...Kind of how they make packages of bees but skipping the package step and transferring directly into your hive. An old comb would help anchor the bees.

      I wouldn't ask a fellow beekeeper to establish a nuc in your Warre hive. They'll just have to deal with adapting their equipment to your equipment at their end.

      I think if you protect from Skunks and maybe only feed the bees sugar for the first month you'll do fine this time around. I'm sure bees are like all other critters in that if you make their life too easy, they just get fat and stop working. Nectar and pollen is a better food for them anyway.

      RonC

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    3. Okay, okay, that makes sense and sounds doable. When would I start to expand the space in the Warre? Anyway, I'll research it. And if Honeysuckle is still empty next spring I'll try a nuc. (Or if one of the other hives doesn't make it, but hopefully they will. I came so close with Honeysuckle.) sigh

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    4. I would let them build into two if not three narrowed Warre Boxes. Bees build in walls all the time and this is what your hive will look like to them. The nuc box would have to be full of honey before you could remove it. Once the nuc box is off, I would pull the insulation blocks the next available Spring when you would be expanding normally. At best, if you started with a nuc now, you might be able to get at least two narrowed boxes and the nuc full of honey this season and the third box started for them to hang out in. Next Winter, the bees are going to eat up through their stores. If they don't reach the nuc box by the time things start blooming there, then pull the nuc box and the insulation the following Spring. I am speculating a bit about what is possible as I don't know your area and I've never done this procedure. Only going on what I've read and what I know about bees. When I transferred my bees to my Warre hives, I did what is called a cutout...That is, I cut the patches of brood out of the Langstroth frames and wired it to the top bars of the Warre. This is NOT for the faint of heart.

      Now, the honey in the nuc box is probably going to be built on old black combs. Go ahead and cut the comb out of the frame and mash up the honey. Let it drip into a bucket below and let it settle a day and skim the black specks off as best you can. It may look unappealing, but it is all edible and it is the GOOD STUFF as far as medicinal properties are concerned.

      I believe you expanded correctly this season. Empty space UNDER a colony is of no consequence It doesn't have to be heated. Heat rises. Just as long as there is plenty of honey above the bees, they will be fine.

      I would have knocked off with the sugar earlier. The bees can feed themselves just fine once they are established. I still firmly believe you are dealing with a skunk. I had a hive die out just like you did. The hive had plenty of honey in it...Just no bees. The next Spring I had a package dwindle. I got lucky though in that the skunk visited after a massive overnight thunderstorm and left his/her muddy paw prints on the landing board. Contrary to what everyone writes about skunks and bees, you will be lucky if you see any evidence that you've been visited.

      RonC

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    5. "Only going on what I've read" has been me all the way this past year. Only I don't have much experiential knowledge to pair that up with. Really, Ron, you ought to write a book. :) I do appreciate the feedback, because every decision I've made in terms of management has been accompanied with a huge question mark in my mind, as to whether I did it "right."

      We can have some pretty mild winters here, so that Northerners laugh when I complain that 20°F is cold. Of course, offset that with 100°F summers, and then I'm the one laughing when folks are complaining that 80°F is too hot. Anyway, I guess what I'm getting to is that we often have things blooming all winter, with spring blooming starting in February. Theoretically, I should get a good honey harvest most years.

      The nuc definitely sounds like a good possibility for me, especially managing it that way. I read in David Heaf's book about that cutaway method you mention, but it seemed too messy!

      I plan to work on skunk guards this morning. We had skunk problems last year, so it's something I do need to protect against.

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    6. I doubt I have enough beekeeping experience yet to bother with a book. I still think the best beekeeping book has already been written. It is Fedor Lazutin's "Keeping Bees With a Smile."

      I have been tempted to start blogging, but I really struggle with finding enough time. The wife and I bought a 10 acre farm site about 4 years ago now. Paid a price comparable for what bare land was selling for at the time. It has been like skiing in front of an avalanche since then. The house appears salvageable and just needs sheet rock and paint to make the top floor livable. The main floor is gutted to the studs and I have one circuit for lights and an outlet wired. Once the main floor is wired, new windowed and insulated, the next step would be to dig a new basement to the east and move the house onto it.

      You've written about the topic of "Why live like this?" I think it is for the creative problem solving that you are forced to do when your resources are limited. Also, now that I raise our own chickens and garden there and am forced to deal with and pay attention to God's creation, the whole book of Genesis has become much clearer to me. That's a topic I could certainly write about. It would be a shame to get to the end of one's life and not have anything worth writing about.

      RonC

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    7. Ron, I can so relate to the overwhelmingness of what you and your wife are doing. House, land, critters, food, job, and trying to find a balance. The closer I live to the land, however, the more I feel a part of God's creation and less a part of the man-made system that is trying to replace it. It's a spiritual conviction more than anything, that this is the way we were created to live. Finding time to do anything else (like blogging) seems near impossible, yet I find myself doing it anyway.

      I have to say, though, that my blog is really more about journaling and record keeping than anything. It started when someone wanted to see pictures of our new place and I never dreamed anyone else would be interested in what we're doing. It's amazing to go back and look at what we were doing a year ago, or two or five years ago. When we are overwhelmed with what remains to be done, it's encouraging to look back and see what we've accomplished. It records our projects and accomplishments, also our mistakes, problems, and lessons learned. The bonus feedback from others is priceless (like losing my first bees).

      Every now and then I get to blog about what I really think is important - worldview. That our current bells and whistles, bigger is better, technology infatuated culture is way off track and truly living an illusion. That science, technology, and industrialization are not going to save the world.

      Anyway, if you feel you have something to say, it should be said. You never know whom you might impact.

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  28. Leigh, so very sorry to hear about your bees!"( Wishing you better luck with the next ones~
    Jackie ")

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  29. I'm also not terribly experienced as a beekeeper, but I have had to troubleshoot some lost hives. (Actually, ALL of my hives so far, so take my opinion with a grain of salt!)

    Because there's so much honey left, I'd be surprised if they absconded unless there was a lot of external stress on them...the hive beetles and wax moths don't seem like enough to do it. The combs don't look rough around the capped cells, so I don't suspect robbers or yellow jackets were involved, either. How were your mite counts?

    If it were skunks, I feel like you would have been smelling them more regularly. But one thing you can do to deter them is to attach a board to the front of the landing strip with sharp things poking through the top every 1/2" or so (I have nails in mine). When the skunks scratch at the entrance, their paws get poked and they usually give up before causing too much damage. (At least, that's what they told us in the beekeeping class I took!)

    It sounds most like a failed queen to me; maybe she died at some point during the winter after all the brood from last summer/fall had hatched, so the worker bees didn't have any eggs to turn into a new queen. If there were warm spells, the remaining bees would have have kept removing the dead bees from the bottom as the population dwindled, so that could also be why there weren't many dead bees around.

    But I also agree with the silver linings--you got to taste a bit of your own honey, you're well set up for whatever bees move in next, and you got to learn something!

    Hopefully this year will be even better!

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    1. *that should be rough around the UNcapped cells...

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    2. Thanks Jake! Your analysis is logical and makes sense. I agree there isn't enough strong evidence to conclude beetles, or moths, or even skunks. Mite counts were manageable.

      I ended up with 3 quarts of honey - post tomorrow on that.

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  30. My two cents is the frames look typical of a collapse from Varroa mites. Absconding is rare especially in winter, wax moths and hive beetles are scavengers that take over a weak hive (they don't cause a weak hive). The bees worked hard all winter to keep the dead cleaned out, but in the end there were not enough bees to do the work. Many of the bees may have drifted to other colonies, so do rigorous mite checking on the others. Just my opinion. See: http://honeybeesuite.com/did-they-abscond-or-die-from-varroa/

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    1. Rusty, hello and welcome. That could be, although my varroa counts were fairly low earlier. I freaked out at first about the beetles and moths, until I started looking around on the internet and saw the kind of damage they can really do. I don't think the colony was every very strong. It seems they should have filled more than two Warre boxes between April when I got them and February. Of absconding in winter, that's a question mark in my mind too, especially since we've been having daytime highs in the mid- to -upper 70s since February (which was the last time I saw them.) No other hives to check as that was my one and only. :( Thanks for the link - it looks very useful.

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