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Weak colonies- is this normal?


This year I caught a lot of swarms. The ones I caught early in the season were very strong- a bit later in spring I caught some smaller swarms and these have proved to be very weak and slow growing. It reminds me of that old saying,
“a swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly” - though the months don’t apply to this hemisphere- I have a feeling the sentiment still does.

Also one of my best hives issued a huge swarm early in spring- then went queenless for an extended period- and I had some issues getting the bees to finally create a queen- it took three goes giving them brood. That colony is also now relatively weak though it has more stores than the swarms. I had to remove the flow super after it swarmed. When I inspected today I saw eggs, larvae and capped brood on some frames- no queen to see- and other frames ignored by the queen and broodless. Not one gorgeous fully capped frame to be seen

So currently I have 3 weak colonies- and on inspection I see scattered patches of brood,and very low stores of pollen and nectar. It’s been ages since I have seen a lovely fully capped perfect frame. It seems In all these hives there are small patches of capped brood, no drones. The two weakest I just successfully combined into one (one was queenless).

I am hoping that over time the colonies will build up - but am worried some of the queens may be duds? How long does one give a weak colony to build back up before deciding something is really wrong? I understand that queens lay according to the ability of the hives to care for young- so it may be these colonies are OK- but there has been a bit of a summer dearth- and it’s just taking some time for the bees to get sufficient resources together to make the next leap in terms of population?

I have fed a few of these hives sugar syrup - but only a few times and only a few 100 mls each. Should I feed them up more?

I am wondering if anyone with experience of SA summers/autumns (or similar climate) can say much about the usual nectar flow times in SA? One beek told me early srping is really the main flow in Adelaide and that after that things can be very patchy. I am wondering if there are often late summer/autumn secondary flows? Last year we did harvest throughout Autumn and summer.


Jack, I never let a colony remain weak for long. I’ll always give it a boost with a frame containing lots of sealed & emerging brood. It is amazing the difference that just one frame full of brood can do to a weak colony. Then another one later on.

The swarm that’s not worth a fly will soon be worth a load of hay.


Yes…it alludes to the fact that an early swarm should give you honey and later one won’t.
A cast…or an afterswarm isn’t worth anything at all unless added to other bees or propped up with more brood as @JeffH says


If they dont have stores and are not bringing in much it is probably the reason you arent seeing much brood. A bit hard for them to raise brood without anything to feed them.
A few 100mls of feed probably isnt going to achieve much apart from making you feel good. I have heard it said it takes a frame of honey to raise a frame of bees, how accurate that statement is Im not sure but sugar is cheap compared to bees and honey.


Jack, I think I am in the same boat as you. I sold a nice strong colony and kept one that was the remnant of my very first colony that swarmed a couple of times and went queenless and took a while to requeen. It just has not built up the way I had expected. Two of the foundationless frames were only 2/3rds drawn weeks ago and they have not built them out any more. I am going to take a frame of brood from another busy hive tomorrow for them and hopefully that will boost their numbers. There was one good frame of capped brood but the rest were meh…although to be fair there could have been eggs which I am useless at seeing! good to hear @JeffH say they can be strengthened.


I don’t have a huge number of spare brood frames. I only have two other hives nearby - and they are my productive ones. I’ve already raided them several times plus spring splits.


Let’s put it this way. Say you picked up a swarm that’s worth a load of hay. Then you pick up a swarm that’s not worth a fly. You could reduce the load of hay swarm to a silver spoon swarm, while boosting the not worth a fly swarm to a silver spoon swarm.

I guess it all depends on your circumstances & how many colonies you want. Me: I view a small colony as an opportunity to gain another saleable colony.


I understand. Hopefully now that the long hot spell has passed they will build up a bit by themselves. If they can come out of winter as strong nucs I’ll be happy. Maybe I’ll feed them a little again.


Pollen. They need pollen for brood.


I noticed that my latest splits (just before Xmas) didn’t grow as expected, after I had a few bumper splits early spring.
They looked skinny and no fresh pollen. Still have a full frame of honey, but no pollen. I fed the nucs 1;1 sugar water, but they don’t take it fast. Takes them a week to go through a 500g baggie.

However, just inspected 3 of my best production hives and noticed all queens only lay at about 20% rate. If you would see that in your one hive, you would think the queen has gone bad. But seeing it across 10 hives you look for other influences.
My conclusion is, we up Byron mountains, we are in a pollen dearth out bush.
I’m just amazed how my colonies are coping. Each in their own way.

What an awesome hobby we have.


Forager numbers make a HUGE difference. Just don’t transfer any eggs and young larvae on the brood frame, coz the the weak hive won’t cope, unless you send along an army of nurse bees.
One of my nucs even had a bout of chalkbrood. But by now they bred enough foragers to bring in some goodies and they totally recovered.

I very rarely see pollen on the bees recently.
So, what do you all do in a pollen dearth?


I have two colonys here that are poor performers, one was a swarm from a tree on the block and the other was a cutout I did also from a tree on the block. I’m thinking that the local mutts aren’t great performers but good survivors and am reluctant to requeen as they are locals like me. They are darker coloured and a bit meaner than the other two performing colonys which supply us more than enough to share so don’t really care if the others aren’t productive. Fortunately inspections aren’t so necessary as we don’t have the pests, so they don’t take up so much of my time. I have added brood frames but they seem to cap their numbers. Maybe next year they might be my bestest performers. :slight_smile:


It depends on which part of the season and what I am expecting. If the hive is not very strong, but I am expecting the main flow within a month, I feed pollen substitute so that there will be enough foragers when the flow starts. One of my hives is in that situation right now. It got a late start (late April) last year, as it was a replacement for a nasty africanized nucleus. They have 2 spotty frames of brood, some honey and almost no pollen. My other 2 hives are packed with honey and brood. One will be ready for supering soon. So the low population hive will get some pollen substitute.

If there are plenty of bees, but not much pollen, I usually just wait. The exception to this is the end of summer. In my region, it is recommended to go into winter with around 1.5 to 2 frames of pollen. If they have less than this, I consider feeding with substitute so that they have enough for winter bees and early spring buildup. The balance is tough though - you don’t want them to start making a ton of hungry babies which you are going to have to feed over winter! :blush:

When I finally retire, I might get a pollen trap, so that I can feed them the real stuff. For now, that is too much of an extra workload, and my husband already thinks that our freezers are filled with enough “bee stuff” - Flow frames, honey, wax, pollen sub patties, etc. :wink:


One of my splits that was making a new queen swarmed last week. The swarm must have issued with the first virgin queen. Lucky I caught it. That was a bonus, anyway now I have 2 weaker colonies, hopefully with a new mated queen in each, to be confirmed in the coming days.

Last night I checked on my observation hive which I weakened out by removing 2 of the 3 frames containing brood about a month ago. It needs weakening out again. It needs 2 more frames removed, otherwise it will swarm.

What I intend to do, when it cools down this afternoon is place one brood frame in each of the weak splits.

Hows that Jack? using a 3 frame colony as a donor hive.


Just a quick question Jeff since we are both in the middle of intense heat. My bees are bearding thickly every afternoon. Is there any issue opening the brood box while they are doing that?


Hi Cathie, your bees will be ok. It’s just uncomfortable for us in a bee suit. I’m waiting until late this afternoon to do a little job on the bees.

10 minutes later: I’m back from taking a look. I see no bearding here. The swarm I spoke about is in the sun. The rest are in the shade now. The swarm hive is painted white, roof included. The roof is comfortable to touch. I think that is important in this heat, to make sure that the hive body & roof doesn’t get very hot in the sun.

I see lots of fanning at the entrance, that would continue right throughout the hive.


I bet it is. I never fed pollen sub, don’t even know where to get it.
Saw irradiated pollen advertised, but - , maybe the bees are better off delaying their breeding. They are all holding their own atm.

Finally got the Arnia installed on 2 hives, pretty straightforward process.
Got graphs for the last 2 days. First day the bees gained just over a kg on a 40C day, second day no weight gain or loss.

This morning before work I saw the bees bring in pollen, lots of them. First time in weeks.
We do expect a good autumn nectar flow around here. Never heard about anybody here feeding pollen sub, but then the question never came up.
Splendid idea to trap some excess pollen for the meagre times.

If one would not like to feed irradiated pollen, I wonder if there is a recipe for pollen sub with just ingredients from my pantry?


I don’t think Mann Lake is in Australia, but I use their products, as they have been tested by Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping, and Rusty Burlew of www.honeybeesuite.com

These are the ones:

I wouldn’t make my own dry protein for bee food in the US. You could, I guess, with the right products, but I just worry about what else went into the stuff, even for human consumption.


Agree 100% with you Dawn. That’s why I will keep trying without pollen subs. We are lucky here that we have forage all year, more or less.
If the hive mind decides on a brood break or reduction, who am I to argue.
Seems just natural.
Who knows what else it’s good for.
As a hobby beekeeper one can let nature take its course a lot more than beekeepers needing production and income.

Heard brood breaks are good to reduce varroa.


Mann Lake doesn’t state what’s in their sub products. Unless I missed it.
How does one know it’s ok and not GM, preferably organic?

I can imagine commercial beeks to sub through the summer dearth to be as strong as possible

What about pollen and pollen sub feeding when the super is on?
I’ve seen pollen loaded bees running around between the flow frames and even deposit a pollen ball. You wouldn’t want sub in your honey.