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Bees left and I don't know why

Hi there, I was given a flowhive and nuc as a gift last November. After building the hive I moved the nuc and queen (checked to make sure I had her) into it as the frames were already full and overflowing with honey. The hive was stationed near the house so I could look at them coming and going every day to keep an eye on things.

All seemed ok initially- hive noisy and busy but gradually it did seem to become quieter and less busy from Feb/March on but bees were still coming and going so I thought it must have been because of the cooler weather. I didn’t open and check the hive because I was in a busy patch and could see from the side windows that the outside racks were not being filled. I regularly checked the bottom tray and it would always have pollen debri underneath the inner racks where they mush have been working, and occasional hive beetles.

At the end of April I began putting sugar water out in case the bees needed it during winter but they ignored it as they were still visiting flowers - flowering cruciate veges and camellias. Over this period they were still slowly getting quieter and not as busy. Again. I thought it must have been the colder weather.

Then, about 3 weeks ago, I saw about 50 - 100 of them flying in circles in the air over my neighbour’s property but this only lasted for one or two hours … and then hive become deathly quiet over the next few days.

On checking inside it was completely empty - no brood or capped honey - zilch - even though the bees had been all around the camellia bushes and had access to sugar water before this happened. There were a few hive beetles wandering around and about 10 bee bodies at the bottom of the hive but that was it.

I don’t know why this happened as I didn’t see an obvious swarm at any time and now, in retrospect, it does seem to have happened over a prolonged period of gradually reducing activity that I put down to the cooler weather.

Does anyone have any thoughts for a newbie on why this happened and what I should do to stop it happening again?

Many thanks.

Hi there Fran, sorry to welcome you in this unhappy situation, but welcome all the same!

If there were no bees to be seen in the hive after the dispersal you witnessed, perhaps they absconded. This means they left to escape a no-win situation like being overrun by a pest infestation or maybe a problem with their home’s structure.

What you described could perhaps have been the final swarm of a succession of them, if their population was getting too large for their space and there’s been abundant nectar. I’ve heard that without a beekeeper’s intervention to provide the needed space, a colony will ‘swarm themselves into non-existence’ - so I suppose this could have happened to yours, if you see no evidence of an overwhelming pest or structural problem.

If you could post some pictures of whatever is left, the many experienced beeks here might be able to help identify what went wrong more specifically.

I hope you try again, since you got a decent start with such a nice gift! Mishaps are quite common for newbeeks after all :wink::tulip::honeybee:

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looks lie I am headed the same way. Lost a hive last year. This time I miscalculated the numbers in the other hive and put a super on too soon. 8 days after I put the super on (3 May ) I thought I had somehow 'captured a new swarm which occupied my other empty hive. The empty hive had previously declined due to varroa (another lesson). Untortunately my new swarm built comb in the top cover because the box wasn’t full of frames. I ended up cutting the comb from the top cover and tried to reinstate it in some frames. The hive absconded three days later. I know suspect that the ‘swarm’ came from my first hive because the first hive has bees but the activity dropped. I think I had put the super on too soon!! today I inspected the hive and found only 3 frames of bees, some honey, and a lot of drone brood - a lot of larvae which is uncapped and the bees have been discarding larvae. It has been 50 days since the swarm so I think that this is the remnants of what was left over from that swarm. I removed the super and all I can do is hope that they made another queen after the first swarm. I do, however, think that the hive is queenless so I am back to the drawing board. I guess, that they should all perish soon because I cannot see the cycle lasting much longer than the 50 days. is it possible to still have a few thousand workers present if the queen left 50 days ago and no other queen superceded? I dont know - I will keep trying. I have read thousands of posts and watched hundreds of videos but clearly I still don’t know my @rse from my elbow!!

Hello and welcome to the Flow forum! :blush:

I am sorry for your loss. :cry:

Please don’t put feed outside the hive. It encourages robbing of your hive by painting a target on it by foragers from other hives. Can make life very difficult for a new hive, even if the intention is good. Instead, consider in-hive feeding. You can search for information about that using the search tool at the upper right. There are a lot of posts in the forum about it. :wink:

Cruciates should be reasonable forage, camellias are generally not. They may take some pollen from them, but not nectar.

Any queen cells? As @Eva says, photos would be very helpful.

We are all learning from bees all of the time. I have been involved in beekeeping for well over 35 years now, and I am still learning.

You have to try to think like a bee to become a better beekeeper. I think that @JeffH would suggest that you watch City of Bees on YouTube (but ignore the religious message, if it doesn’t resonate). The information in that program is very good, especially for beginners.

You need to inspect your hive regularly during nectar flows. At least every week or two if you want to prevent a swarm.

My list of possible diagnoses (in no particular order) is:

  1. Swarmed (maybe repeatedly) in a surreptitious manner. It happens all the time, and if you don’t inspect, you will never know
  2. Robbed because of outside feeding, then absconded and the remaining hive was robbed
  3. Disease or pests, but I think you might have commented on something that would give a clue about that. Photos would help to rule that out, and to tell you whether you can re-use your equipment next season

It would be ideal to get a local mentor from a bee club to do a post mortem with you, but that may not be possible. If you can take photos and post them here, we will do our best to help and support you

:blush:

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Hi Fran, welcome to the forum also. After reading & re-reading, I don’t think your colony recently swarmed. This is based on your observations of the bottom tray inspections. I’m wondering if your colony succumb to a disease which gradually weakened the colony since Feb/March. When that happens, the colony gets too weak to be able to stop hive beetles taking over or robber bees stealing the hive’s honey. Hive beetle activity/slime will likely be the reason why that 50-100 bees finally left the hive.

Photos may help, however after 3 weeks it may be hard to tell from photos if AFB was the cause. It would take a physical inspection by an expert to tell. Don’t let that put you off posting some photos as we’d love to see them. Especially close-ups of the brood frames.

Going forward, you’d need to find a mentor, read & research everything you can about keeping bees. Keeping bees requires regular brood inspections, swarm prevention techniques & importantly being ready to inspect the brood as soon as you see a drop in numbers. That requires being able to “read the brood”, you may need your mentor to help with that.

cheers

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Hi John, it is possible to still have some worker bees alive after 50 days on account of all the brood that was still to emerge 50 days ago.

Is the drone brood in worker comb? If so, that will indicate a laying worker. If it’s in drone comb, that could indicate an unmated queen. That would be the best scenario because it’s easier to remedy than a laying worker, provided you can find the queen.

Some photos would also be handy.

As far as working out between your elbow & a***. Just start with the basics & work up from there.

cheers

Thanks Jeff. I believe, unfortunately, that i is option 1!!

Hi John, if you have access to a frame of brood in all stages, a laying worker can be fixed. I’m hopefully going to be away for a couple of days, however to can checkout the topic I created a couple of years ago Laying Worker Success
You might find some helpful information in that topic.

cheers

thanks Jeff. Safe travels

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Hi Eva (and everyone else - thoughts and suggestions have been amazingly helpful).

I’ll attach photos working my way down the hive as I have reopened it so you can see what it is like inside. I will attach them to separate posts as being new to the forum, it won’t let me attach multiples.

Initially I had placed the nuc and four racks in the brood box along with the flow racks I had built. I made sure to find the queen and keep her in the brood box under the queen excluder.

I placed the super on top with one of the brood racks and other empty racks supplied by the person who gave me the nuc (not the plastic Flow racks), reason being that he wasn’t familiar or trusting of this new-fangled Flowhive and I didn’t want to offend when he had been so generous and helpful.

My novice thinking was that I would allow the workers to raise the brood and empty out the super rack and once they had all moved down into the brood box, pull out the old-style frames and put in the plastic Flow frames.

Things got busy and I didn’t get to doing that but as the bees didn’t seem to be crowding out the super, I didn’t think it was a big issue at the time. I guess this is when I should have been watching more closely to see what was going on.

Any white powder on the wood in the photos is just a little cornflour I put on it to try and stop the boxes sticking to each other after being painted.

I would have last emptied the white plastic tray in the photo about 4 - 6 weeks prior to all bees disappearing.

Thanks once again for thoughts and comments.

Photo 1

Photo 2 - Super

Photo 3 - 1st Super Rack

Photo 4 - Closeup Empty Super Cells

Photo 5 - Empty Super Rack

Empty Rack|666x500](upload://jqwivuKqXns4kt7fr2SCCOrKN2H.jpeg)

Photo 6 - Queen Excluder

Photo 7 - Brood Box

Photo 8 - Comb on Brood Box Rack

Photo 9 - More Comb on Brood Box Rack

Photo 10 - Closeup of Comb on Brood Box Rack

Interesting :slightly_smiling_face:
Some advice for the next attempt:

  1. Don’t save on wax foundation.
  2. Stack frames tightly against each other every time. Keep them parallel to the box sides. Everything must neat and square like in army :slightly_smiling_face:
  3. No need to paint frames. They last 15-20 years bare.
  4. If you cannot see light trough the bottoms of the comb cells, it is time to get rid of it.
  5. Most important. Reading forums and watching videos on youtube is a good pass time, but learning fundamentals of beekeeping is more profitable. Read a book or three on the subject of bee biology. College level is usually sufficient for starters. A few books about beekeeping afterwards. Books don’t need to bee “the latest”. Everything interesting for a hobbyist happened roughly between 1860’s and 1960’s. The latest notable change in beekeeping theory happened in 1950’s. So, books published from 1960’s onward are still current. Problem with forums and youtube - you get a lot of information without any system. Advice given to someone not necessary applicable to your circumstances. In many cases it is hard to understand what that crazy fellow on screen is trying to achieve without base knowledge, etc.
  6. Good luck :slight_smile:
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