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Lots of brown chaff on bottom board – normal debris or sign of SHB?

Hi there - new beekeeper here in my first year heading into my first Winter, so please go easy! Based in Sydney (Hills District).

I’m wondering if anyone knows what might be causing a lot of fine brown wood chaff to build up on the bottom board? I’m quite sure it’s wood – not usual wax shavings or pollen. There is pollen on top of the chaff in the photo, and that’s cinnamon on the right. This was taken after about 1 week. I noticed small amounts before, but I’d never seen this much in such a short space of time.

I thought the bees might have run out of space and started chewing through the inner cover to get into the roof, but I checked recently, and they haven’t touched it. I noticed about 6 SHB scurrying across the inside of the inner cover when I opened it, so I’m wondering if they could be causing it… but I thought they only chewed through comb, not wood. I read on a forum that the larvae produce brown chaff and the bees will rip into the comb to get to them. Didn’t see a picture so I couldn’t compare it. There were no larvae in the chaff, but I’ve noticed SHB since I first got my hive in September and it seems it’s impossible to eradicate them completely. I just have 1 Apithor trap on the bottom board which I replace every couple of months. I will try adding some DE to the bottom board and try chux on top of the super. The colony seems strong and healthy otherwise, and we’ve come this far without any slime outs or major infestations. So I didn’t think it was a major problem. However, I’ve noticed the colony population is smaller now than it was in the hotter months. I thought this was a natural reaction to the cold as the colony prepares for Winter. I wonder if the reduced population size could be making it harder for them to control the SHB. Maybe I need to take the super off.

Any ideas what could be causing the chaff? I’ve read a lot about SHB and this doesn’t seem to be a common sign. Could it be normal hive debris, or should I be worried? I’ve never noticed this much before so I fear it could be a bigger problem. I know I should do a proper inspection and check the frames for SHB, but I’m reluctant to open the hive now because I can’t lift the super without taking about half the honey out first and I’m worried they won’t get through Winter if I harvest that much now. But I’m also worried if I don’t do a full inspection now/soon to determine the cause, the problem could worsen heading into Winter. I was planning to leave the super on for them over Winter, but if there’s an infestation I might have to take it off.

Can anyone in Sydney offer any advice? If I take about half the honey out of the super now, will they be able to replenish their stores before Winter? I’ve read that we get strong honey flows in Sydney into late Autumn, so I’m thinking it’s worth the risk.

The bees seem strong otherwise - lots of activity at the entrance, bees constantly coming and going. Seeing daily orientation flights, which suggests the Queen is healthy and laying, and new bees are being raised successfully.

That is an incredible amount of buildup on the bottom tray after just one week. I would rule wood chaff out. What you think is wood chaff is most likely brood cappings that fall to the bottom as bees are emerging. The bees must be bringing in lots of pollen, going by how much has fallen to the bottom tray during just one week.

Thanks for the feedback Jeff! I thought it was pretty remarkable too, hence the panic. There hasn’t been as much in the past couple of weeks. It seemed finer and darker than the wax cappings I’d noticed before, but you’re probably right. I took this picture over a week ago on 6 April, a couple of weeks after the torrential rain that caused flooding in March. We’ve had pretty fine weather since the rain and a lot of Murraya and other flowers in bloom. Guess they were busy making up for the spell of bad weather!

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You’re welcome Sash, you’re doing the right thing by monitoring the tray. I suggest that they should be checked on a regular basis. Some people don’t & finish up with a tray half full of wax moth cocoons, that’s if hive beetles don’t get to it first.

hello there,
leaving the flow super on over winter may shorten the life of the frames. You may need to do that this year as the bees need the honey for winter- but you might want to consider adding an ideal super next spring and letting the bees fill that with honey. That way at the end of next season you can remove your flow frames over winter. This is my recommendation after using flow frames for 6 years. Over winter the frames become darkened with mold, and the bees tend to put a lot of propolis on them. After 3 years or so the frames start to look very tired. Cleaning them is not easy at all.

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