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Bees probably swarmed multiple times - how does the timeframe fit?


#1

Hi all. We are in full spring here & we just did our 2nd inspection of the year which gave confusing results. Two of the hives look awesome and one is even starting to fill & cap the flow frames. But one has swarmed, likely multiple times :(.

When we checked 3 weeks ago there was wall to wall capped brood (mostly worker) in the brood box, some drone & Larvae. We had left this hive all winter with a queen excluder on so we’re concerned the queen may have frozen but took the great laying pattern as a sign all was well. The super was full of capped brood also, so we moved up one brood frame and put in an undrawn frame into the brood box to give the bees something to do. We did not see and swarm cells (though I now think I probably missed them).

Today, around 80% of the bees were gone - so we immediately knew something was very wrong. Weirdly, the super was still full of capped honey & the frame we had moved up from the brood had an empty queen cell and about 7 unhatched capped brood cells (I guess they froze?).

The brood box had some nectar and pollen and the odd capped drone cell but absolutely no larvae, or eggs. They had drawn out the frame we put in fully, so have definitely been working in the last few weeks. There were probably another 4 uncapped (? Hatched) queen cells, one of which looked like it might have been torn down.

So my options are:

  1. Our queen did die during the winter and for some reason they only just tried to make a new one and the numbers dwindled
  • I think this is highly unlikely as there was a brood box full of capped workers, so I don’t think the numbers would be that low unless some swarmed or absconded.
  1. We killed the queen accidentally at last inspection.
  • I thought this originally, but again I don’t think bee numbers would be this low.
  1. The hive had already decided to swarm and built cells after we checked and they left a few days ago just befor the new queen hatched. This would mean we have a Virgin queen running around somewhere.
  • I’m not sure the timing adds up here as wouldn’t I expect more brood if they had just swarmed?
  1. We missed queen cells & the hive has swarmed multiple times hence the lack of any brood.
  • this is my favourite option, although I’m still a little confused as to why the super is still full of honey.
  1. The bees were poisoned so all died out in the field somewhere (it is weed spraying time up here).
  • this makes little sense as the other hives are near by and thriving and there were no dead bees in the hive.

Whatever has happened, we added a frame of eggs & capped worker brood from another hive as they can make emergency queen cells if they need to and if there is a Virgin running around we will brood their numbers with the hatching workers.

So I’m very interested in people’s opinions of what happened. I think the moral may be to check more carefully for queen cells, although we did check every frame & the ones there now are mostly on the bottom so I don’t get why we didn’t see them. We are going to check again in 3 weeks to see if they built QCs on the new frames, or if we now have a laying queen. I think in retrospect we should have packed them down into one box & taken most of the honey so they can’t take it if they swarm again they can’t take it with them.

Thanks for reading the rambling,

Julia


#2

4, the answer is 4.
The bees take some honey when they swarm but not a super full of it.

Leave them alone for a couple of weeks and re-check. No need to take the hive apart and risk a virgin queen returning from a mating or orientation flight to an unfamiliar landmark during inspection.


#3

I agree with @Red_Hot_Chilipepper. If the super is full of honey and is above a QX, I would suggest that the swarming bees just didn’t think to go up there (hard work to cross the QX, and they are in a rush to move out) to take it with them. Not sure why, but I have seen this once or twice. I am not advocating QX as a method of swarm prevention. It doesn’t work. But sometimes you get more reserves left behind than you expect. Please remember this is anecdotal, not generally accepted.


#4

…and I agree with Dawns agreement of me :rofl:


#5

Great that everyone agrees :slight_smile:

I was going to base my next year wintering plan on this hive surviving winter with the QX in place as they looked so good last inspection. This threw me quite a bit, as there is so much honey left, but the only sensible explanation is that they swarmed - I needed more expert opinions to trust myself :slight_smile:

I’ll leave them well alone now to sort out for themselves. The old queen was evil so hopefully the new one will be an improvement…


#6

I hope so but don’t bet on it
:disappointed_relieved:


#7

Hiya Jingles, I got caught out last year with a colony swarming on the first day of sunny weather in spring after all the rain we had. I have no idea how they knew that day was going to be fine and plan for it!!!
I’ve often read about colony explosions in spring and when I checked ours two weeks ago I was surprised at the low numbers. All the colonys survived which was good.
Plenty of flowering plants about, and I’m just starting to see some activity in the supers now after prematurely adding them a while back.
It is around spray time for the orchards up here in the hills and last year they struggled with the fruit fly with the banning of certain pesticide use.
Did your bees collect much honey over winter?


#8

We left our bees with a full super each of capped honey & two of them came through with the honey super still full, so I think they just maintained stores. Our bought Italian bees used up honey over winter as I think they kept laying, but now they have the largest numbers and are doing best of the lot, so I guess you can never tell.

I guess next year I will check earlier & more thoroughly. I’m trying checkerboarding to discourage swarming, but clearly with this colony their mind was made up before we started the process.

I’m surprised your bees have low numbers as Kala has more flowering than us up here. I think when the bottle brush starts they will all explode so I’ll be on high alert for more bees.

Cheers,

Julia


#9

I thought I’d give an update on this hive.

Activity has been pretty low, unsurprisingly, but when we checked them today all was good :).

There was a couple of frames of capped brood and lots of small larvae :). The frame we added hatched, but no queen cells on it.

This means that the bees had already made a queen when we checked them last and she has since started laying very nicely.

They have probabaly eaten/uncapped about half of the honey they had in the super, but with so few field bees I guess they have been eating there stores, plus it has been a few weeks of grim weather here in Perth! Interestingly at least half the bees coming back to the hive are bringing pollen - more than our other hive, so I think they are prioritising this.

I’ll be interested to see if this setback reduces honey production from this hive this year or not as they still have lots of time to build up before the trees bloom.

Cheers,

Julia


#10

Well done Julia. I’m looking forward to some of that grim weather over here for a few days.

I have a tip if you want the smiley face to appear. Remove the full stop after the bracket :slight_smile: See, with no full stop :). with full stop. I’m sharing my latest discovery :wink:


#11

You lot are so lucky with your nectar flows. One swarm and a couple of casts would completely put paid to my crop for the year.


#12

Magic :wink: - thanks for that tip!
May your :honeybee: be happy :blush: And make lots of :honey_pot:


#13

So the answer was 4?


#14

So the saga of this dodgy hive continues :frowning:

We did an inspection today and I think the queen has failed and the bees are superceding her:

Sorry about the slight blurring, but the bees were, as usual, very aggressive and attacking the phone! There were probably around 4 sealed queen cells throughout the hive, no eggs/larvae and very scatted worker and drone brood.

Anyway, I just thought i’d double check with my online mentors that my diagnosis is correct. The two alternatives are that:

the hive swarmed yet again, although we saw no queen cells at last inspection (3 weeks), so I don’t think that fits.

The hive has laying workers, though I am pretty sure that most of the very scattered brood is worker and I don’t know it they would attempt to make queens from drones.

I have added a frame of brood from my good hive and taken away some honey frames in case they are going to jump ship again. I will check again in 2-3 weeks and if all is not good I am going to remove all their brood frames and give them some frames of brood and eggs from my good hives to ensure that I get rid of these very dodgy genetics once and for all.

On the plus side one of our other hives is starting to cap some flow frames - a great effort from the girls conaidering we have had no flowering trees yet this season :grinning:

Cheers,

Julia


#15

Hi Julia, it looks like the majority of the comb on that frame is drone comb. Anyway, in my view you did the right thing by adding that fresh frame of brood. I would give it one every week, just to boost their numbers. But I would make sure that the brood I add is predominantly worker brood.

Bees still build queen cells even when there is a laying worker. For what reason? I don’t know. It can be very confusing.

The colony that I spoke about earlier where I persevered with it for 4 months before it came good had a laying worker. They kept building queen cells. I kept breaking them down, damaging all of the capped & uncapped drone brood before adding them to strong colonies to get cleaned up. I would replace them with fresh brood in all stages. Eventually a queen appeared, however not a good one, she only laid drones. That was the turning point, I was happy then because I was able to squash her & introduce a fresh frame of brood from which they immediately made emergency queens.

Don’t be confused by all of this, if in doubt, just add a frame of brood.


#16

Thanks Jeff,

My motto is absolutely - if in doubt add a frame of brood, thanks to your teachings😃

I added a very nice frame of emerging workers and eggs - my other hives have pretty much completely stopped making drones now. It would have been an excellent idea to destroy those queen cells to force them to use my new frame, and I will do that if in doubt in the future.

I’ll take this as another great learning opportunity. The last time we checked I saw lots of larvae, so assumed the queen was good. However, I didn’t keep checking to see how it looked when capped. I think the next time I split/ or they swarm I will do very regular checks until I see what the brood pattern is like.

Thanks again,

Julia


#17

Yes. In a desperate attempt to survive they do.
They are called King Cells.


#18

Fascinating. Hopefully they’ll now make real queen cells from the frame I’ve given them, if not i’ll Destroy all those (probable) king cells next week and give them another frame.

Cheers,

Julia


#19

A good idea. If you have brood to spare giving them an emerging frame every week till they make proper queen cells will get them right on track again.


#20

Hi & you are most welcome Julia, it’s always best to see how the brood is capped before making your mind up.

@Dee, Hi, I think they could be “king cells” in size also. They seem to be longer than queen cells.