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Western PA Spring Absconding

Hello fellow beekeepers! So I had a recent sad outcome with a nuc that I obtained April 2018. THEY ARE ALL GONE!

So, the girls did GREAT with the install, reproducing, maintaining health. They overwintered PERFECTLY! At the end of March/beginning of April of 2019, they began to emerge and forage again, the hive was booming. I observed them on a multitude of days, bringing in nectar and pollen, they were docile and healthy. On April 5th, the hive was full and active. I returned after a weekend away on April 8th and they were GONE, ALL OF THEM, GONE!!!

I waited a few days, then went in for a brief look. The hive was LOADED with amazing, dark beautiful honey, at least 6 frames full. There was still some capped brood which was also healthy looking. I left the empty hive there a few more days and had scout bees (or so I think) checking out the entire hive (front, back, sides, edges). They were going in and out (no pollen pants) and fighting with one another outside the hive.

Yesterday was a very cold day, NO BEES were scouting it out, so I did a full inspection. There were no empty queen cells or supercedure cells. No evidence of moths, mites, hive beetles. It smelled incredible. I harvested 2 frames of honey. I got rid of the screened bottom and replaced it with a solid bottom and did an autopsy of the 50-75 dead bees on the screen and the debris on the white board underneath - they looked perfect, but some did have their tongues out. FYI: I only have one hive.

My guess: they absconded. Maybe found a larger home, as there was very LITTLE open space left in there. Only other thought is that the hive location is a little damp and cool as it is at the bottom of our meadow.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Will my bees come back?
  2. Do I leave my hive up with hopes of my girls returning, or a scout bee loving my hive and leading her swarm to it?
    2 1/2. If I leave it up, what do I leave inside, how many empty frames/honey frames/brood frames?
  3. Do I take the whole hive down and harvest that amazing honey and start again next year at top of the sunny meadow?
  4. What is everyone’s guess, what happened to my bees!?!?!??!

Thank you all for being a supportive wealth of support and knowledge!

Hiya ladibug, sorry to hear about your bees, never nice losing something.
In answer to you questions, keeping in mind I’m from the other side of the world,
1 No they won’t, when they’ve gone they’ve gone.
2 Although your bees won’t come back, more on that later, you may catch a swarm as the scouts seem to like used boxes.
3 Harvest the honey, leaving it there will be a waste of your old bees time.
4 So what did happen to your bees? Well I guess the first question would be did you treat for mites? If not then perhaps an excessive mite load may have caused the bees to abscond. Then there’s the bees with their tongues out which is a symptom of poisoning. Are you near farming areas?
I’m sure others will chime in but I hope this helps.

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Thanks for the reply!

I already took some honey off. If leaving the rest in he hive will not make it more marketable to a swarm, I will do some more harvesting!!!

I did not treat for mites. I have not seen any signs of mites on the bees or the bottom board. I am not near farming areas, but I am sure there are neighbors that use some sort of weed control, because compared to my neighbors, my yard has tons of dandelions!

Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond.

To answer your questions in order.

  1. Very unlikely, as @skeggley said
  2. You could leave it as a swarm trap. It may or may not work. It would probably work better if there is only one box on the hive. However, you may be better off buying a nucleus or a package. A young colony would love those hive resources, and would get off to a tremendous start. If you don’t have a local source, this is worth a look, but you should probably order today, as they are shipping to your area on Saturday:
    https://www.mannlakeltd.com/shop-all-categories/bees/delivery/nationwide-delivery/package-bees-with-queen-italian-shipped
  3. Up to you. You could also take some, and leave some for a new colony, if you are going to start it soon. If you don’t chances are that it will be robbed and the hive may also get attacked by wax moth if there are no bees in it.
  4. Varroa is my prime suspect. I know you said the hive looked busy from the outside, but unless you went through the brood box, it is very hard to tell. I have a hive at the moment which killed a queen I introduced around a month ago. They are queenless and dwindling in numbers - probably only about 3-4,000 bees in the hive at the most. However, the hive entrance looks very busy for much of the day. You just can’t tell from outside the hive.

That is a very inaccurate way of assessing mite burden, I am afraid. You really need to learn how to do a sugar roll or alcohol wash count. Lots of advice from the UMN on those if you Google “sugar roll varroa” etc. @skeggley is absolutely right, the most common cause of late winter loss in the US, Canada and Europe is Varroa. There is a very nice article on what a Varroa-killed hive looks like here:
https://beeinformed.org/2016/03/08/why-did-my-honey-bees-die/

Sorry for your loss, hope you try again. :blush:

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Oh my, my!!! THANK YOU! So, that link was one of the best sources of post empty hive assessment I have seen. In hindsight and with this new information, I think you are both correct: MITES! I did see some of those crystals in the cells around the brood…mite urine! :grimacing:

I plan to take a year off, regroup, and be more diligent in my mite approach. It is sad that these bees are so susceptible to mites and their natural defenses (even when bred for varroa-resistance) are clearly not enough.

Thank you for your honest feedback.

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Thank you for the way you responded. You took the information very positively, and when you set up your next hive, you will have a lot more experience. We are always happy to help again whenever you would like it. :wink:

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Mites suck. Harvest your honey and leave your brood box out with some drawn frames in it, freeze and store the rest of the frames, who knows, maybe you will score a swarm of free bees. :wink:

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