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Excessive bearding in one of my two hives

Hi, I’ve noticed a huge difference in bearding from one of my hives compared to the other. Both hives appear to be ‘healthy’ with a recent inspection showing nothing unusual. The hive on the right in the photo does appear to have a stronger population in relation to the one on the left. But I have never noticed this before.

The photo was taken at about 2.30pm and the temp is about 26 degree Celsius, about 75% humidity with no wind. We had showers earlier in the day. The hives face North and with little sun today I wouldn’t think the right hive is any ‘hotter’ than the left hive.

Shortly after the photo was taken I noticed increased activity around the hive. They we quite loud and circling around. They didn’t seem to take off and they did settle after about 30 minutes. I’ve never witnessed a hive swarming before so not sure if that is what happened. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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Gosh Brad, that is extreme bearding. I don’t know how long since you did your last inspection but I reckon I’d be going in to check if there are queen cells or if they are honey bound. I think you need to know how much space the queen has to lay or if the signs are there that show they are likely to swarm. You don’t want to lose half those bees and the honey they’ll take (or risk them moving into the neighbours’ wall).

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Hi Brad - that’s quite a pic! By your description I would say that you witnessed a practice swarm. That means the real thing is imminent. Do you have extra equipment to do a split, or set out a bait box?

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Thanks @Eva and @cathiemac for your responses.

My last inspection was a little over a week ago and due to the amount of full frames of honey my plan was to remove some of them and replace with some recently extracted empty frames. We’ve had a lot of rain and storms lately and I haven’t found a good opportunity to carry this out, also the fact that it’s the ‘silly season’ (Christmas in a week) and my workload has prevented me from doing so.

I have some used extracted frames and another box to put them in, to make a bait box. I’ve never done it before so I hope I get it right. The size of the box is full size as thats all I have on hand at the moment. I’m not sure how far away to put the bait box from the other hives - do I sit it within a few metres or is it better some distance away? Also by having say, 3 or 4 frames with foundation and a good amount of honey as a lure (these are the frames that have been extracted) should I mix this with a few of the full frames from inside the hive that appears to be about to swarm?

Alternatively could I simply removed 4 or 5 full frames from that hive and replace them with empty frames?

All this is assuming its due to being honey bound. Last inspection I saw no signs of queen cells, but I will be checking again today.

That is super excessive bearding.
The last time I got called out to a hive with severe bearding, the whole colony was getting ready to abscond on account of the hive was in the early stages of a hive beetle slime-out. I managed to rescue the colony, however the owner had a big cleanup job to do on the frames.

Another thing: do the bees have access to the roof? It’s a good idea if they do because it gives the bees room to build more comb to store honey in order to prevent the hive from getting honey bound. If it is open, for future reference, check it once a fortnight.

Is water entering the hive?

Double brood box = very strong colony if conditions are favourable…

Today I removed several full frames and replaced them to provide more space. I don’t feel they were honey bound but I changed the frames over anyway. What I did observe was a noticeable reduction of brood in the hive since my last inspection. There was very little brood with little to no eggs being laid (even though I did spot the queen.) The queen is approx 3 yrs old. I will be looking at purchasing a new queen in the next day or so, I hope it won’t be too late. I spoke with a local queen breeder today and I will be removing the old queen hopefully tomorrow - work and weather permitting.

I did notice evidence of SHB but it seemed no more or less than what my hives normally have, the bees seem to control them OK. I adopt various methods to help control SMB too. There is no evidence of water entering the hive.

So hopefully the bees stick around long enough for me to re queen. I didn’t see anything other than the reduction in brood that indicated an issue in the hive. (obviously this is a big enough issue by itself) Plenty of honey but not to the point where they had no more space to store.

Thanks for the suggestions, this situation is new to me and I am hoping for the best.

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What do you call “evidence of SHB”? Do you mean beetles themselves? or beetle larvae?

The 2 reasons bees wont stick around is 1. They can swarm. In that case you lose half the bees. 2. The whole colony will abscond. In the first instance, you’ll see swarm preparations by way of swarm queen cells. In the second instance, you’ll see an obvious reason why the whole colony will abscond. One reason would be if the hive got excessive hive beetle slime, too much for the colony to overwhelm. You’ll recognize hive beetle slime be a wet appearance on the combs. Everything in the hive should have a dry appearance, unless you accidentally caused a slight honey spill yourself.

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When I say evidence, I meant beetles themselves.

An update for today. About 10am the bees swarmed. They moved to a nearby tree about 6 - 7 metres up. I called on help from another local beekeeper who is more experienced than myself. First thing we did was inspect the hive for signs of why they swarmed. There were no queen cells found, confirmation from yesterday’s inspection. We did notice some SHB larvae in some of the frames and I was surprised I didn’t notice this yesterday, because it was certainly visible today (could they have hatched in the last 24 hours??) Perhaps this was inexperience on my part but what I saw today was not what I saw yesterday. Anyway it was suggested I remove the frames and treat them by freezing them. (I am in the process of doing this now.) I made up a new box with recently extracted frames that I had available and gave the bottom board and bottom box a good clean before assembly. We needed to make do with what I had in order to have somewhere to put the bees that we caught.

I have a large commercial scaffold that enabled me to catch as many bees as possible (with the use of a pool net on an extension pole) and we returned as many bees as we could to the ‘new’ hive, hoping we caught the queen in the process. I gave them some liquid feed and hoped they stayed in the hive. Later this afternoon I noticed what seemed to be the excess bees in the tree that I couldn’t catch, they all flew off. I’m guessing the queen was not retrieved and she decided to fly off taken the bees with her.

This had been a very valuable lesson for me, to pay more attention when inspecting my hives. I need to learn more about what to look out for, see the signs and take necessary action to prevent this from happening again. I am in a local bee club and I do a lot of reading. Experience will come slowly I suspect.

Thanks for all your suggestion and for taking the time to reply to my post.

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Thanks for sharing some valuable insight. Goes to show how having 2 hives aids in determining hive health just by visually comparing. Live and learn as they say.

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I have one more question to wrap up this post. The frames that I removed for extraction BEFORE I realised I had a SHB beetle issue, are they ok to keep for honey? I extracted honey the day I took the frames out (two days ago) and I didn’t notice any beetle or beetle larvae but does that mean if beetle larvae was there and I didn’t see it should i dispose of the honey? Or can it be treated in such a way to be sure it will OK to consume?

Hi Brad, if you didn’t notice any wet stuff on the honey frames, my advice would be that the honey is ok. While hive beetles are laying eggs, they also immerse their bodies in honey before walking it all over the combs, which sends the honey rancid.

Coincidentally, a neighbor of mine experienced a slime-out which became evident yesterday before he came & saw me. I got him to act quickly. A few honey frames were still dry, so I advised him to use those frames for himself. The rest of the beautiful full frames of honey were all wet, so he didn’t take much convincing to discard that honey with all the rest of the nest.

In regards to your other question. I generally scrape the frames clean after cutting everything out of them. You can wash the honey & slime off after cutting the bulk out. Then after the frames dry, it’s easy to do the final scrape before fresh wire & foundation can be fitted.

It’s important to make sure that a minimal number of larvae make it to ground, where they’ll complete their life cycle.
cheers

PS, just an afterthought, you can fill the honey containers to the brim before sealing the lids airtight. It’s been my observation that beetle larvae don’t survive being locked up airtight.

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Just an update on my neighbor’s hive: He had a few bees left that he shook into a 5 frame brood box. I sold him 2 frames of brood, one with queen cells, plus I shook a heap of nurse bees in front of the hive on the ground. I told him to check on the 16th (today) for a new mated queen. He arrived at my door to tell me that the colony had recently absconded. He decided to give up on bees for a while.

I always look for reasons why bees do certain things. His brood box had a large screened area on the floor, which I tried to talk him out of using. I advised him to use a solid floor. I’m wondering if too much heat came up through the vented floor, making it difficult for a small colony to regulate the hive temp., so therefore before the queen started laying, they opted to abscond in search of a more suitable nesting site.

His reason for using the vented bottom board was because it took him a while to make it.

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