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Hello from Surf Coast, Victoria

Hello All! Another newbee keeper.
I have loved every minute of beekeeping and glad I got involved - until today, that is!
I opened the hive today and the colony is shrinking.
So this is a plea for help with the story so far …
I got my flow hive in December after doing a Beekeeping Basics course in Geelong.
While it was late to be starting off, I was able to get a 4 frame nuc locally and install. It appeared to be a thriving robust colony of Carniolans and I was happy to go ahead as I just wanted to build the colony for Spring 2020.

I had help installing the nuc hive and left it for a few weeks to settle in.
The first inspection revealed a massive nest of jumping jack ants plus larvae in the roof cavity (those mean bastards with the nasty bite, also known as jack jumpers and I’m sure a whole lot of other names).
There was a whole lot of larvae which I assume was pinched from the frames below or was the ants’ - not sure.
I looked up online for how to deal with it and ended up brushing the ants out away from the hive and sprinkling cinnamon on top of the inner cover. There didn’t seem to be many ants in the hive, but the bees hadn’t made much progress since installation, other than drawing out a bit of comb in the adjacent frames (one side only). The ants were in the tray underneath as well so they were flicked out too.
I then checked the roof cavity and tray every couple of days (without disturbing inner hive) and brushed out any more ants. When the ants started to ignore the cinnamon, I sprinkled diatomaceous earth instead (roof cavity and tray) and this seemed to do the trick. The ant population pretty much halved each time until there was no more than a handful.

Since then I’ve inspected the hive every 2-3 weeks to see how the girls are going. We live on a well treed farm with no lack of flowering species. First it was Lemon-scented gum in December followed by Red Gum, then Messmate and now the Manna Gums have kicked off. There are also lots of flowering shrubs so no shortage on that front.

I noticed honey on the first inspection near the top of a frame but pretty much nothing since. There was plenty of brood but no drones. The hive appeared to be healthy with lots of baby bees but little progress expanding into the adjacent frames. The queen is marked and has been easy to find.
I inspected the hive again at lunchtime and to my dismay, the colony had reduced in size considerably. There was some brood but a fraction of what there used to be. Most of the comb is empty.
I’m thinking the colony’s failing? There were also more jumping jacks inside the hive (about 30) which I duly squashed - there hadn’t been any ants for over about 6 weeks.

After another frantic internet search I think I should start feeding what’s left of them (2:1 sugar water) and I’ll reduce the entrance again - already reduced by about 60%).

Can anybody give me some pointers? Much appreciated.
I’m hoping it’s not too late.

Thanks very much and I hope my next post is a bit more positive.

Hiya Outbeck welcome to the forum.
A few questions for info. Do you have the super on?
How many brood boxes do you have?
How many hives do you have?
Could your colony have swarmed?

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Hi @Outbeck. It would be good if you could post some photos, especially closeups of the brood.

Some local knowledge would be handy to find out if those ants do anything to set a colony back.

Hi Skeggley,
Thanks for your response.
I have a single brood box and no super. It’s the only hive but I have at least 2 feral hives within about 60-80 metres of the flow hive.
The queen’s still there so I assumed they hadn’t swarmed?
Cheers,
Outbeck

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Hi Jeff,
I took a photo of the ants on the cover but that was a while ago when there were not so many left. I’ll take some of the brood tomorrow as I don’t think I should bother them again today.
Not sure how to upload a pic but will give it a go.
Thanks,
Outbeck

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With the crown board on & center hole covered, did any ants get into the brood area? We might be able rule ants out as causing the problem.

I had the same issue with my flow hive at start up (ants that is). I set up the stand legs in oil and have had no issues for many years now.
From what you have said there might be a lack of food in the hive. Is there pollen store in cells, any honey?
Either way I’d probably feed them to try to give them some help.

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There were ants inside today. The first time I’ve seen them in there ie. more than 1 or 2. There were approx 30, mostly crawling around in the corners. I’ll check again tomorrow. The centre hole has always been covered too.

I did notice the bees were more agitated than usual today and there was more activity out the front. Now I’m wondering if it’s being robbed. If it is, opening it up today would not have helped at all.

I’ve now reduced the entrance to an inch and will see if what’s happening out the front tomorrow before I open it up to take photos.

Sheesh is this a learning curve!

Thanks again

Hi BayoNat,

Thanks for your response. The ants disappeared for about 6 weeks so I didn’t put the legs in oil tins - but did look into it at the time. I’ll do it now anyway, as they’ve reappeared, just to rule them out of the equation.

I’ll try and ascertain if they’re being robbed tomorrow or it’s something else, then add a jar to the centre hole.

If the hive is being robbed, is that a bad idea? I cant think of another way if they’re becoming weaker.

Thanks

I wouldn’t presume they are being robbed, it is normal for there to be a lot of activity out front at certain times of the day for orientation flights.
We really need to understand what is going on in the brood box. Look closely for eggs, larva and capped brood, with so many flowering trees about as you say, your haive should be absolutely booming along. As Jeff stated, get some good quality photos of the brood frames. Do you see any signs of any brood diseases? and can you tell or show us the bee population, amount of bees on each frame and the number of brood frames in your box will help.

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Hi Rod,
Thanks for your reply.
I’m ready to go in with the iphone camera. Just waiting for the temperature to warm up a bit. I haven’t noticed any disease but that’s not saying much. It doesn’t smell any different either.
Hopefully lots of pics to follow.

Here are some photos:

  1. Ants on the walls 2) Plenty of pollen going in 3) Upon opening the box, some bees on top of the frames today. Yesterday none and last inspection about 70% of frame tops covered.

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Next phot is the frame facing and adjacent to the outer installed nuc frame. It was pretty full on last inspection. The second photo is the outside of the nuc frame (closest to the first photo). On last inspection it was also choc-a-block with bees.

Close-ups. Definitely some larvae in some of the photos. Are they making another queen?:




More close-ups and the queen:

The centre two frames are still full of bees:

Great photos!
No stores there.
Get rid of those ants and feed, feed, feed.

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Welcome to the forum @Outbeck ,

The colony doesn’t seem to be thriving given the circumstances. You’re not queenless and she seems to be laying.

ditto!

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I can see one larvae in those photos and I’d suspect there are more but the photos don’t quite show it. They have a lot of space and not many numbers to cover it. Feeding will be best here imo or a frame of capped brood or both

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I can see a couple of sunken caps in the 5th photo down. It would be good to see the brood frames close up without any bees on them. The biggest problem if there is no obvious disease issues could be the lack of food. Definitely feed them. When I requested a closeup of the brood, I meant brood without bees so we can see the health of the brood.

Work towards feeding them & if you can acquire a frame full of sealed & emerging bees, as @BayoNat suggested (provided the colony is disease free), that would be fantastic & would give the colony a good boost.

The only way to tell if the colony is making a new queen would be to look inside that queen cell to see if there is any egg or grub in there.
cheers

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Thanks to all for your replies and feedback. It’s greatly appreciated!
I put a jar of sugar syrup in after the inspection, so that’s a start.
I should’ve done it sooner if, but whilst the bees hadn’t made much progress in the 10 weeks they’ve been here, it was only yesterday that they seemed to have shrunk since the last inspection.
I wonder why?
I’m sure there are a host of reasons such as installing a nuc so late and the cool summer we’re having, the ants, not recognising issues etc.
The ants are next on the hit list.
Thanks again.