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Bees left and I don't know why

Maybe something more up-to-date for pests and recommended treatments would be helpful though.

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What you’re referring to as ‘racks’ are called frames. It’s important to keep the lingo consistent so I wanted to be sure to help you clear that up.

About what you did with the 5 frames of your nuc - I believe this is where the trouble started. Separating brood frames in a weak or starter colony puts added strain on the workforce by making them have to spread out across a larger area. Bees need to keep the brood area consistently warm, so prefer to concentrate the brood area in a central location and will only expand it when they have enough workers and forage available to take care of it.

So the bees probably did their best to keep caring for this brood, or were forced to abandon it in favor of the majority down below the excluder where the queen was. Either way, the queen couldn’t get up there to lay, and there weren’t enough workers to deal with brood box and super production all at once.

Find a mentor who isn’t scared of Flow frames, or don’t bother mentioning them because they have nothing to do with the colony’s health, they can impact it with bad timing, but really are just a different (and amazing) way to harvest honey. Just say you need advice and hands-on guidance with starting a new colony and managing pests as you go. Good luck with your next try!


It’s all so relevant. Read until your brain hurts then read some more. Sponge it up, you’ll never run out of interesting material.


I’m still leaning towards disease being the cause of the die-back. I don’t even see any hive beetle damage, maybe because of the cold weather at the time when the population was so low.

I would strongly advise getting those former brood frames inspected by the DPI. They will be able to determine by closer examination if there was a disease that caused the population to dwindle like it did.

Hi Red,
There seems to be a big gap in the corner of your super (photo 2).
Bees would not like that if it was there when the hive was occupied.
Other than that, it’s a little hard to follow why you put standard frames in the super with a queen excluder.
Were the frames full when you added the second box?
Best of luck

Out of interest, if not SHB, what recent developments in treatment of pests you have in mind?

The distribution of SHB and Varroa have certainly increased since the 1950’s and sixties although they are not new to beekeeping. The treatment for SHB is mostly cultural but for varroa there has to be some attention paid to the miticide treatment resistance as well as the types and virulence of associated viruses.

Also, queen breeding for mite resistance and hygienity was not happening then…

Hi John, alternator problems prevented the trip from happening. It was a busy morning taking everything down to the boat, finding the problem, then bringing it all back home again.

@ABB that’s good advice about old combs, however I’d be more concerned about what could be lurking within those combs. I’ve recently changed my view on black combs, because of this forum & learning about small cell comb. Even if one can’t see light through dark comb, as long as the vast majority of the comb is still worker comb, I’ll keep using it.

The thing about small cell comb vs regular foundation comb is: It would take a lot of cocoon buildup in regular comb before the cells shrink to equal small cell comb. Then we have to bare in mind the fact that small cell comb gets even smaller in time.

Hi @Eva , you made some good points about not segregating the brood, however in this case I took into consideration the time of year the nuc was installed, plus the fact that the colony got off to a good start, as evidenced by the leftover cocoons in 2 of the foundationless frames. You can clearly see by the color that more than one generation of bees emerged from those combs.

Over the years, whenever I saw a colony drop in numbers, there was really only 2 things I looked for & it was usually one or the other. Either the colony swarmed, or it succumb to a disease. A third one would be queenless, which would normally happen after an inspection, or the result of a swarm where the new queen didn’t get mated.


Besides of hygienic confederations relevant to the old comb, there is another aspect. It increases a workload on the colony required to clean up cell for each next generation. Bees tolerate some decrease of cell size, but at some point they begin work more and more to remove cocoons. They cannot remove it completely but lesser the diameter of cell becomes - more effort they put to chew it out.

Here is some data obtained for Russian bee in Moscow region. Just for information, even the same race of bees left to its own devices builds different cell sizes in different regions. For example, Russian bees build increasingly larger cells from south to the north of the country. So, where are we? Ah… the data.
This is how comb changes with age (section) Gen. - generations of bees hatched from cell. Numbers on the left - wall thickness in mm.

As you can see bees work more thinning the middle of the wall and very little on the bottom.

Weight of cocoons left behind of each generation:

Generations Weight of cocoons in single cell, mg Weight of single cocoon, mg
1-2 22.1 13.8
2-3 22.5 9.0
4-5 25.1 5.4
6-7 29.9 3.9
8-9 32.0 3.8
9-10 34.0 3.6
12-14 35.6 2.7
20+ 59.2 2.9

After five generations bees remove about half of the last cocoon. After ten 75-80%.

Diameter starting from 5.42mm, freshly built cells:

Generations Cell diameter
1-2 5.38
2-5 5.26
6-10 5.24
12-20 5.21
Very old comb 5.00

Resistance to decreasing volume even more pronounced. Bees also increase length of cell walls to compensate for thickening bottom on decreasing diameter.

Volume of cells in cm³:

Generations Volume, cm³ Volume, %
0 0.282 100
5 0.269 95.4
10 0.255 90.4
15 0.249 88.3
20 0.248 87.9
25 0.247 87.6

Bees tolerate about 12% drop in volume but further they work more to slow down this drop. It takes 10-12 generations of bees to reach the “smallest normal” volume. How long does it take to have 10-12 generations hatched depends on race and local climate. But it is a rough guide for comb replacement before it becomes more “taxing” on a colony.

All data from Biology of bee colony, G.F. Taranov, 1961

I hope it was entertaining :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


It’s all very interesting ABB, however it doesn’t explain what happened to @RedRobin’s bees. I hope she takes my advice & gets those frames checked by the NSWDPI, just in case the colony did succumb to a disease. I’d hate to see her re-use that gear if it was a bad disease, only for the same thing to happen again, this time only quicker. After 3 weeks the only evidence of foul brood disease will be dried scales, which wouldn’t by picked up in the photos, however a DPI inspector will by closer examination.

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Thank you, Jeff :grinning:

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Hi ABB. In relation to old combs, try telling that to @Michael_Bush . He told me that he has kept the same brood comb in use for 26 years. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find it. At the time I was spruiking to change the comb once you can’t see light through it.

I found it.
“I never cut it out. I keep them until the wax moths eat them. I changed all my comb out to go to small cell but before that I had combs that were 26 years old I’m sure and until Varroa came along they were”

I had trouble blueing the third line to copy & paste.

Thanks so much for the info you have provided. Being new to the forum I was only permitted to add a set number of replies/images before I was restricted. I will add the remaining two as the image of the plastic tray (which will be the last image) may add insight.

This is the image of the debri tray. It has thread/worm like structures in it I haven’t seen before when emptying the tray.

I didn’t know that having the sugar water external to the hive could be a problem. Won’t do that in future, and I will watch the City of Bees - sounds fascinating - and inspect the next hive more often. I will also look for info/videos on how to tell if the hive is being robbed. Do you think the thread-like debri in the tray photo I just uploaded shows a disease problem? Thanks for help.

Thanks Jeff, I am doing the beekeeping course which was also gifted to me so hopefully I will learn about robber bees. I know there are other hives a few houses away from me so perhaps they could have come from there if that were the case. I guess I will never know. Will have to inspect more often next time.

Thanks ABB, books would be a good resource and I do have a birthday coming up. :gift:

Placing things too far apart could very well have been a problem. Seemed like a good idea at the time but now I am remembering that bees like it very warm, especially going into winter. I haven’t wanted to bother the friend who gave me the nuc as firstly, I lost it :grimacing: and second, he has had a death in the family and I don’t want to intrude with minor bee problems.

Hi JeffH, what is the DPI. I am in Australia. Is it an Australian body/organisation?

The gap is just because I was moving things. When the nuc was placed into the flowhive I put 3 brood frames in the bottom and added 5 empty frames, and then one brood frame in the super with 7 empty frames. Not completely sure why now but was hoping to change everything over to the plastic flow frames at a later date once all the brood was out of the super frame and the super was empty. Probably faulty logic on my part and not wishing to upset the person who had given me the nuc.