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Poor Brood Pattern

The brood pattern in my flow hive is extremely small and patchy.

I have a single flow hive, since November 2018.
The hive established quickly and produced maybe 30 kgs of honey in the first Summer season.

Capped brood has been declining for six months, I belatedly realise now.
As a new beekeeper, I thought that this may have been seasonal over Winter, and waited for the brood numbers to increase in Spring, but this has not eventuated.

I have inspected for possible AFB, however the patchy brood pattern is the only symptom I can observe.
Caps are not chewed, sunken or greasy. No scale, no ropiness with a matchstick test (only whole healthy pupae under the caps).

I have seen the Queen recently, and there are eggs, small and larger larvae.
No queen cups or supercedure cells at all.
Forager numbers have also declined (no doubt due to poor number of brood cells hatching).

Should I buy a new queen?
Is it an option to simply kill the existing queen and let the hive raise their own?




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I think it could be time to buy a new queen in preference to letting the bees raise a new one. Mainly because you don’t have a backup hive. By the time the colony makes a new queen, the population would have dwindled considerably. I don’t see any issues with the brood, except for, as you say it’s patchy.

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A great looking queen in the last photo but I fear she is becoming tired so I agree with Jeff in advising a new bought queen is your best option. The pattern is really poor but I’m not seeing and honey stores on the outside either. If there is not much nectar I would requeen and do a bit of internal feeding of 50/50 sugar water if the hive is light on for honey stores.
Welcome to the forum, lots of great folk here to give you good advice and tips, you only need to ask. when you say you are 'mid north coast, I’m assuming Australia, maybe Kempsey to Grafton region.
Cheers

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Thanks for the feedback, guys. Yes, I’m inland from Taree. They do have some honey stores in the outer brood frames, but not surrounding the brood on these frames. I also noticed very little pollen stores on last inspection.
Can anyone advise a reputable queen seller in the vicinity?

Hi, you might want to try Greg and Bonnie Mulder in Dorrigo near Coffs Harbour, they to have a very good reputation as queen bee breeders (www.mulderapiaries.com.au)
Cheers

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I would never kill the queen until I have a new one installed and laying. Even if you buy one. If you remove the queen to a nuc with a frame of brood and a frame of honey you can let them raise a new one and AFTER the new queen is laying, you can drop the old one in a jar of alcohol to make swarm lure. Queen juice (the alcohol from retired queens) can be used with lemongrass essential oil to lure swarms out of trees and settle a cut out in the new box. My biggest problem with letting them raise a new one is that they lack the sense that the old queen was failing and that is not a trait I want. But hopefully she will mate with local wild bees that are STRONGLY selected for this trait.

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Thanks for your instructive reply, Michael.
Unfortunately, I have only one hive that is not strong enough to donate frames of brood or honey, nor a nuc box to put them in along with the current queen, so I couldn’t take advantage of this technique until later in my beekeeping journey.
I will go ahead though, and buy a new queen as suggested. Sad as I am to be killing the queen bee (for the first time), perhaps I can think of turning her into “queen juice” as further service to her colony. I hadn’t heard of queen juice before, so thank you.
I agree that it is not desirable to continue the trait of not recognising a failing queen. I must confess to feeling a little guilty, since I shared that trait myself! :wink:
I did wonder about why the bees hadn’t begun supercedure, and indeed whether recognising a failing queen was a selectable trait.
One other point: when I obtain a queen, has she not already been mated?

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Hiya Charanos, yes the purchased queen should be mated otherwise you may as well raise your own queen. :wink:
I’m not looking forward to retiring a queen either and thought I’d need to do that this season to a colony that didn’t really get going last season and the advice was to requeeen this season.
Kinda surprised when I checked on it coming out of winter and it still had all its winter stores and was adding to them. Now it’s turned into my best producer.
:wink:

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Yes, you want a mated queen. Generally they are unless otherwise specified. But I would not kill the queen until you have a laying one. No matter what. I would put a frame of brood with the current queen and a frame of honey in another box until you have the new queen laying. Then you can euthanize the queen and put the brood and honey back in the original colony. It’s too big of a risk. The queen you buy may fail. Then what can you do? You have no resources to work with, so you can’t afford to destroy a resource.

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O.K. that sounds like good advice. I have a spare full size box, and can put the old queen with brood and honey in there temporarily, till the new queen establishes.

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Once your new queen in laying and you terminate the old queen it is very easy to merge the old queens colony by the newspaper method to the new queens colony.
Cheers

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If it’s just two frames of bees I would just put them in the hive and smoke them to keep them from fighting. It’s usually not an issue with two frames. If you are combining 7 or 8 frames of bees with a full size hive, then newspaper is the safest and probably necessary.

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My daughter (my boss) doesn’t allow me to euthanize old queens and now they end up in 2 frame nuc boxes. It’s been my experience that over 50% of those queens are still OK…with many being exceptional. It seems that the process of simply placing an old queen in a confined space (2 frame nuc instead of a 10 frame Langstroth) with just enough bees will bring her back around.

Having said that, it appears that your queen has had some rough handling…missing a wing.

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You had me worried for a minute, but I think her wings are intact.!

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I spoke to the local beekeeper who supplied my queen and nuc only 11 months ago. I had noticed hardly any pollen in the frames, and now I observe very little pollen arriving on the bees “saddlebags” as they enter the hive.

My current thinking is that the extremely dry conditions have led to a dearth of pollen, and my queen may be adjusting by laying less brood. She is not very old, after all.

So I have started feeding them, and give the queen a further chance to recover. A DPI manual says that feeding in times of poor pollen availability may free up foragers from nectar collecting duties, so they can look for what pollen is available.

Meanwhile I have a new queen on backorder, in case things don’t recover.

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Hiya mate, unusual not to have pollen coming in! Usually it’s the nectar drying up. Perhaps the bees dont need pollen at this time? @Peter48 has used flour as a carb source for the bees, perhaps you could try some.

It has been really dry on the mid-north coast of NSW. Our rainwater tank is empty. So it’s probably affecting the flow of both nectar and pollen.

The following is from p.28 of “Fat Bees Skinny Bees” by Doug Somerville, DPI:

Pollen deficient honey flows present major management problems for beekeepers. Some classic floral species include yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora), mugga or red ironbark (Eucalyptus sideroxylon or Eucalyptus tricarpa), yellow gum (Eucalyptus leucoxylon), york gum (Eucalyptus loxophleba), and napunyah (Eucalyptus ochropholia).

These species contribute considerable amounts of honey to the national honey crop, yet the pollen produced by these plants is not collected in any significant quantities sufficient to maintain a healthy populous colony. Without pollens available from other species or the provision of a pollen supplement, honey bee colonies are seriously depleted in population and have been known to perish.

There have been examples of hives placed on mugga ironbark honey flows and the beekeeper returning some eight to ten weeks later to find two full boxes of honey and no bees. The colony had completely perished due to no brood rearing as a result of no pollen.

Food for thought?

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Fair enough, I’m guessing you’re rural then? More chance of mono cropping then.

Thanks for the heads up on the book, I’ll read through that tonight and here’s the link for others.
https://www.agrifutures.com.au/product/fat-bees-skinny-bees-a-manual-on-honey-bee-nutrition-for-beekeepers/

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Well worth watching if you think the bees are not finding enough pollen, this is the video that @Skeggley mentions above.
I used unbleached white flour I bought from Coles and Coles brand. I have done this a few times of a Spring if I am not seeing much pollen coming into the hives and sometimes the bees really go for it, but if there is good pollen in the bush the bees tend not to take it up, so my feelings is try it and let the bees decide. Some pollens are better than others for bees and I’m happy to let my bees decide if they want it - or not.
Your down in the Taree area, a bit towards Gloucester I think. A great bee region in ‘normal’ conditions but this drought that is Australia wide is knocking bee hives about everywhere. This past 12 months I didn’t get the Summer wet season up here, Plenty of flowers in the bush but the flowers were dry so it all looked good but no nectar; so keep an eye on the nectar during a drought. If there is a dearth the honey stores can go quickly.
Cheers
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