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Summer Dearth beware


Ok so I’ve seen enough winter dead outs so I thought I’d share what I came home to this arvo.

First a quick briefing. Here in the lovely Perth Hills there is plenty of parkland and trees galore, good ol’ Aussie bush, what more could a nectar loving insect want?

As it turns out nectar is not only what they want but what they need… By all reports its been a really poor season in fact the worst in a decade. I’ve heard of commercial guys having turned up to their out apiaries finding dead outs.
A couple of weeks ago I moved a hive and was surprised at the weight or lack of I should say so once moved I started to feed. Unfortunately I neglected the colony beside this one, it was after all on the cusp of a proliferation of a eucalyptus flow, buds on all the trees, only a short time before they bloom.
Mistake… Assumption.
Three days of poor weather, rain and wind. Although a pleasant change from the hot weather in the high 30’s to low 40’s. But it seems there were no stores in this other hive and they ran out not being able to go out and forage.
Essentially this is a warning to others to beware of dearths, they can sneak up on you and bite you on the ass.
Don’t be complacent like me.
I’m now feeding and hopefully the colony will pull through, time will tell.



That’s a real bugger. Hope they pull through
Here in the uk we are used to checking our colonies weekly in the spring and summer and one of the things I teach beginners is to make sure the bees have enough stores to last till the next inspection.
We usually expect a dearth in June but the last few years it hasn’t happened. When it does bees at least have their stores on their regular supers.
I suppose leaving harvest till August and then doing it all at once rather than draining frames piecemeal at least gives the bees the opportunity to use supers on top. But this is just a description of what happens here


Wow, that is just terrible!!!

I noticed the first flowers last Sunday here & by mid week there was a strong smell of honey from all hives, so I think they managed to gather some stores just in time for the rain to hit. This afternoon when the rain finally stopped there were hundreds of bees from each hive doing orientation flights, so I think they all made it through ok. It could nave been a very different story though as I know they were super light before the buds broke.

This summer has been a real wake up call for us of the dangers of living in the bush with bees and when autumn comes we are going on a major planting mission to try and stop these awful nectar gaps from happening again.

Hopefully your girls will bounce back to strength with some feeding until those trees flower - must be any day now, I’m hoping that there is a lot of time left in the season to get reasonable stores gathered for winter.

I have my fingers crossed for you,




Oh wow, that’s good advice based on personal experience. A lesson well learnt there


Wow, That’s awful. Thanks for sharing your experience. I read about nectar dearths, but never expected it here, East Coast. Something to watch out for, even in the bush. I thought I would never feed and to let the bees get on with it in summer. Best to keep checking, and never take all their honey.
Did the bees still fly in and out and brought in pollen I wonder?
Suppose you can see when they come back with pollen, but how do you see them bringing nectar unless you check inside?
Hope your hives pull through and recover well.


Last Saturday they were bringing in pollen as they always have and it would seem they were living on a knife edge nectar wise.
Last time I opened up the hive was two weeks ago when I added feed to its neibour and all looked good from the top so I didn’t see the need to remove frames and set them back…
When I checked after work yesterday and saw the entrance fairly blocked with bees I thought water ingress, then poison but when I lifted the box to clear the bottom board I was taken back with the sheer number of dead bees and the hive weight.

We’re over Kala way @Jingles and as I drive home I see all the flowering gums in the foothills and then they practically vanish as I hit the hill replaced with a splattering! You’re right the buds are there and just about to open and if this yucky but needed weather hadn’t hit they’d have been fine I reckon.

It was too cold to pull the frames yesterday but I did lift the mat and peek inside and there still seemed to be a good covering of bees which makes me wonder who these bees were that they sacrificed for the good of the colony? Would they have been newborns and would the queen have suffered?


Maybe they sacrificed drones? Wouldn’t that be their first response? But then, I thought they carry them out? Or they already lacked strength.
I would be interested in your hives’ altitude.
I noticed a delay of 2 - 3 weeks in flowering here (330m) compared to the valley (20/30m).


No drones in this colony and what the photo doesn’t show are the piles of bees on the ground both dead or crawling. When I cleared the bottom board and replaced the lid with a top jar feeder no bees buzzed me at all, I still wore my jacket and gloves because I thought they’d be cranky, as they usually are, but that was not the case.
Suns out today so if things don’t go pear shaped at work I’ll have a closer look.


I learned a valuable lesson myself last night. I locked a hive up last night to move first thing this morning. I got it half right, I put a vented lid on for ventilation, the half I got wrong was I forgot to check that the vents were not propolised over. As it turned out every hole was propolized, consequently most of a good strong colony suffocated. It’s heartbreaking to see a 2 inch thick mat of dead bees on the floor. The worse part about it is that it could have been avoided if I didn’t let my guard down & follow my own advice to the letter.


Nothing is more admirable than honesty in all here. None of us is perfect, we all make mistakes. I love it that we can learn from each other, that way we can try not to repeat the avoidable mistakes. So a huge thank you to all who have bared their beekeeping souls.


Thank you Dawn, I didn’t even feel like having breakfast. It was a beautiful queen out of a swarm. Good calm bees.
I added the brood to other hives except for one frame I put in a nuc box on the original site. I’ll let the live ones regroup into the nuc box & see how many survive. The other colonies will clean out any dead brood out of the brood frames. This afternoon I’ll get rid of the dead bees & see how that one brood frame is, I’ll swap it for a good one if I think it needs it.

I’m in my 3 score & tenth year. It was probably a seniors moment. I’ll have to prepare myself for many more:)


Thats a crap experience JeffH but thanks for sharing as it reminds all of us to be careful.


Thank you Lindee, sometimes we take too much on & let our guards down. When we take too much on, some things suffer.


hello jeff- sorry to hear of your bee loss- did they suffocate because you use a small entrance and a solid bottom?

I have no ventilation in the tops of my hives- and am relying on bottom ventilation which is copious with screened bottoms. I think this is a good stategy with my type of hive- especially in winter- but I wonder if I should allow some upper ventilation in summer or not. So far the bees seem fine without it- and I don’t want to create a chimney affect either … I guess your climate is very different than down here so your methods may not apply. here and vice versa.


Hi Jack, thanks mate, I use all solid floors with wide entrances. I locked the bees in the night before I wanted to shift them. I swapped their lid for a lid with 4 regular ventilation holes. Foolishly I forgot to make sure the holes were free of propolis, which I normally do. Every hole was just chock-a-block & I didn’t have a vented entrance closer. It was only that I looked at the entrance for any bee leaks before tying my cargo net down & having a little listen for bee noise that I noticed the problem. I quickly grabbed another colony, but then my truck wouldn’t start. I put the second colony back & then proceeded to fix up the first colony.

The first colony is down to 2.5 frames of bees which I’ll quickly build up to a full box.

In regards to ventilation, your better off with a solid floor, a wide entrance & NO top ventilation. Keep your hive painted a color that will keep the hive cool. That’s the best thing you can do for your bees.


I find this interesting Jeff in that all migratory lids purchased over here in the west have the 4 vent holes. i have not seen any propolis in any of my lids yet.
Do telescoping covers have vents? Not that we get t/covers but I’m wondering where the vent holes have evolved from?
Do you only use vented lids for moving hives and have non vented year round in settled hives?


Fortunately the colony is still functional and are bringing in pollen. Phew. I fed half a litre of syrup and they have only had 3/4 of it to date.
Due to the small amount of foragers in and out the entrance I would assume the bulk of deaths were foragers although I am curious as to whether bees change roles when required.
I am yet to inspect and am hoping to do so today. I’m thinking of adding a frame of brood from another hive to boost the numbers in the dearth colony, as it shall be known, as the other three colonies seem to be doing well, still no honey in the supers but I’ve written off getting a honey crop this year and am planning to add a wsp box to each colony above the qx as @RBK has suggested for their own use for stores as insurance against future dearths. Keeping in mind we haven’t had any honey from any of the hives this is a tough call as it would be nice to get some return from the investment…
I wonder if it’s a matter of there being too many colonies in the area for the food source available and whether 4 colonies are sustainable?


There was a study performed that showed that bees change roles as/ when required (can’t remember the citation but I found it through google). They showed that when they removed all nurse bees from a hive the returning foragers took over that role - and (for any geeks out there) that corresponded with a change in methylation of their DNA - very interesting stuff!

We inspected our 3 hives yesterday and 2 weeks of blossoms has resulted in little change to our hives either unfortunately. One hive has 7 frames of wall to wall brood & 1 nectar, but are still not using their normal super. We have moved a couple of frames up to encourage them, so have high hopes they will fill their own super for winter stores.

Our other 2 hives have more bees, but still have a couple of frames to draw out and have made little progress in this respect. I am going to leave it another couple of weeks before I cry and put on WSPs, as I really ideally want to use all standard size boxes so I can move frames from the brood up when needed to make space, encourage bees is etc.

I’m not even sure how much honey they need for winter as our old bought hive essentially wintered as a Nuc and survived fine. My tentative plan is to use the strong hive to make as much honey as I can and distribute it between my 3 hives come winter. I think 4 frames each should be plenty (the equivalent of a whole WSP). I will then play with the flow frames on the hives when possible to try and get the bees to fill in the gaps/ get used to they before taking them off come winter.

We only have 3 hives here (as one absconded before the dearth), on 12 acres, but I am aware of at least 4 feral hives on our property too. They have survived for at least 7 year and look nice and strong now. I am beginning to think that as long as we get through to spring with a full box of bees, spring will be harvest time on our hill, and then maybe again in Autumn (I still have a tiny bit of hope for this year). Summer is just a tough time for everyone. That said, we have friends in the city that have taken 60kg of a hive they bought as a Nuc this year, so clearly if u live with planted out gardens galore, bee farming is easy!!

Fingers crossed the inspection @skeggley will show a healthy queen and lots more bees in the making!




That is fascinating. I was under the mistaken impression that DNA methylation happened mostly in the zygote/embryo. Had no idea that adults could do it on a large enough scale to recognize a pattern. :blush:

Most people say 40 - 80lb depending on climate and bee type. Italians eat more, Russians eat less. Long winter = more food needed. Each frame is 3-7lb of honey depending on box depth and how much the frame is drawn out, so you probably need about 2 deeps in total (mixed brood and food) for wintering if you have a real winter. If you are subtropical you may be fine with one, but be prepared to inspect and feed if they are getting light on stores.


Apparently the methylation of a worker bees DNA changes as they change roles - I found the paper :slight_smile: