I’m new to beekeeping and would love some advice.
We are on a rural property in south west Queensland and experience temperature ranges between -5 and 40+ degrees. We bought our FlowHive2 and bees in spring last year and it has been a really great experience.
So far this winter I’ve left our queen excluder in place. Our nights are cold but our days are warm (27degrees now). I see worker bees taking pollen into the hive pretty much every day. Yesterday we opened up the hive and I was really surprised (and a little alarmed) by how few bees there were (possibly only a few hundred). Maybe a lot of the worker bees were out foraging? The queen was there and there were lots of pollen cells and a fair amount of capped brood (very dark in colour) along with some capped drone cells too. There’s also heaps of capped honey left in the flow super.
I suppose what I’m asking is, am I doing the right thing in leaving the queen excluder on? I was working on the premise that the queen is getting fresh pollen every day… And should I be worried about the lack of numbers?
Welcome to the forum, you have found the right place to get good advice from friendly folk happy to help.
I am guessing to some extent about your climate but I’m also guessing that like most bee keepers that start out that you put the super on way to early which actually sets the hive backwards. So the hive didn’t build up as it might have. Bees love to live in a tight packed community in human terms.
During a warmish dry day as you should be having now the bulk of your bees are out foraging but to be down to a few hundred in the hive is a worry.
What I would do is to remove the super ASAP so that the bees have less space to keep warm and they are feeling more compacted. When all the frames in the brood are 80% covered with bees and 75% of the brood cells are in use for brood and stores is the time to fit a super on the hive. The cold nights are more concern than the warm days at this time of year.
That should help the hive to recover but watch out for SHB or any other issues.
Please keep us updated and do your regular inspections but only on warm days, It is amazing how the temperature in the brood area drops suddenly even if you just remove the roof for a quick look.
About the QX, leave it on, it is there so that the queen can’t lay eggs in the Flow Hive Super and you never want that to happen.
I’m with Peter on this one but I would go a step further and put them in a nuc if you can. Get them crowded so they can maintain the hive temperature at night. At present the super is a load to them because they are trying to heat all that dead space and it would be stressing them and they would be using lots of honey to get the energy. It may be worth feeding them for a while too if they are that weakened, just some 2:1 white sugar syrup in a baggie feeder would do the trick but put a bit of food colouring in it so you can tell syrup from nectar.
As for the excluder, you NEVER take it off when you have a Flow super on. If the queen lays in it you have the mess of all messes to clean up because the cocoons will stick up the splitting action when you try to harvest.
Good advice by the guys above. A few hundred bees would not even cover one side of one frame so I’m wondering how accurate your guess is? If you have photo(s) to share of the bees/frames as well that would be helpful. A well lit, top down shot of the brood box would help gauge numbers and maybe a second shot of that capped brood you mentioned.
Thanks very much Peter, Rob and BayoNat
This afternoon we took the super box off, put some insulation in the roof cavity and covered the hive with a blanket. There still weren’t many bees. I’m not particularly confident with my estimating (my husband guessed 400-500) but I do know that in April/May there were thousands of beautiful healthy bees and now there’s nothing like that number. We’ve had some pretty cold weather (and nasty winds) over the past few weeks and after reading your comments, I’m guessing it is what has really knocked them around.
Do you mind if I ask a few more questions?
- If I was to try and put them back in a nuc, do I leave the nuc on a bench or something similar next to the hive?
- Now that the super has been removed, should I harvest some of what is left in it (there’s heaps) and put some in the hive or nuc? Or do I just do the sugar syrup?
- Is it possible I have chilled brood and is there anything more I should (or can) do if that is the case?
I’ll attach a few photos. Sorry my shot looking down into the brood box is not very well lit The cluster you can see at the top was the biggest group there.
Hey Judi, we are here to answer any question you have so don’t hold back, even if you think they are silly they are still questions that you don’t have the answers for or at least need others input to your issues.
- For that small a colony they would be better off in a nuc placed in the same spot as the hive. Make positive you have moved the queen into the nuc and any frames of brood then place the hive next to the the nuc, the bees should from the hive should take the nuc as being home and transfer over.
- If we are talking about a 5 frame nuc then I would make sure there is one frame of honey for them as stores next to the brood area that will be in the middle of the nuc. Freeze any other frames, capped or un-capped, and feed it back to them if they run out of stores. Sugar syrup is a last resort and feed them honey while you have it, ok.
- I’m not seeing ‘chilled brood’, what I’m seeing is a lack of brood and too few bees. But that said if the colony is ‘knocked about’ trying to beep the brood warm so less bee out foraging then you can get to the position of the hive in crisis. Like a dog chasing it tail.
I fear that is where your at. I also guess you are a bit remote to get a frame or two of brood to boost the hive from a local beekeeper which is really what you need.
I’m not going to ‘fluff it up’ but I think this issue you have now began when you put the super on too early and the colony was not needing it. It is like you, your husband and kids having the run of a 5 story apartment block, you would be in shock and not able to use the space effectively.
Hi Judi, thank you for the photos, they are very helpful. I have a couple of major concerns, and I hope that I am wrong.
- That brood pattern is very patchy. I would replace a queen if she was laying like that.
- Many of the brood caps are sunken and perforated. Have you done a rope test with a cocktail stick for AFB?
Is there any way you could get an experienced beekeeper from a local club to take a look with you? I am very concerned that with so few bees, your colony may not survive. If you definitely have AFB (I hope that you don’t!), you will have to do something more active about it. If not, you could add a frame of donated brood from another hive to boost your numbers. However, I would make sure that your hive doesn’t have AFB first.
Here is an Australian photo of AFB. Perhaps you can see why I am concerned.
Thanks for the photos Judianne,
I agree with Dawn, my first thought was AFB or EFB. Sunken and perforated caps are never a good sign. My guess is the hive will not smell like it should either. I’d do a rope test ASAP. AFB is also a notifiable disease to the DPI (I think within 24hrs). If confirmed as AFB you will need to sterilise the hive via radiation or fire.
The honey is OK to consume if it is AFB.
Sorry DPI in NSW that is, I’m not sure about Qld.
If there are nearby hives they will find the honey stores eventually and with the low numbers you have they will carry the disease back to their hive.
The same applies in Queensland as in NSW. AFB has also crossed my mind but I have not had a lot of experience with it so I would like to test it and smell the frames rather than go on the pics, but it is a possible that shouldn’t be discounted.
AFB is notifiable in all states in Australia. I really hope to be wrong, but if not, it is good to protect other hives by taking appropriate action.
Thanks for your advice everybody.
We did the rope test and it looks like it is AFB. I’m totally gutted.
I rang the Department of Agriculture here in Qld and they have given us advice on killing off the hive and burning the brood frames. We will also send a sample off to their lab just to be completely sure.
I am so sorry. I always hope to be wrong when things look this way, and many times I am wrong. I just wish I could have been wrong in your case. Please don’t give up. It could happen to any of us. Just ask any one of several Flow experts like @Freebee2, they may private message you about their knowledge.
You are a very honest and open beekeeper, and I really hope that you stay active on this forum. You will be a wonderful asset for bees in the future.
Thanks @Dawn_SD for flagging this.
@Judianne I am so sorry to see that your bee colony is not in a good way. I agree that it looks a lot like AFB (I have had a hive with AFB myself). The signs you can see here (mostly previously mentioned - roping, greasy and sunken looking cells, pin prick like holes in cells, scattered cells with poor coverage, bees generally not thriving, etc.) can be indicative of both EFB and AFB. Later on there can be an odour associated (hence the name) which I have heard described as fishy, or like dirty gym socks. (Mine didn’t get to this stage). As EFB is somewhat less serious than AFB (it can be managed), your decision to arrange a sample test by the Department of Primary Industries (or similar local body) before taking any drastic action seems a wise one.
Of course, it is imperative that you act on their advice in the sad event that it turns out to be AFB, to prevent spreading.
I have my fingers crossed for you - and please feel free to PM me if you need any support or assistance.
Judi, really feeling for you but at least you are getting advice and assistance.
I have been very blessed with my beekeeping and helped me keep some sanity in my life. So I figure it is my time give to another beekeeper with more than just advice.
So when you have the all clear for getting back into it please let me know. I would like to give you what you need to kick off again, including a hive of bees, and bring them out to you guys to help you install them there. Don’t feel isolated, your only a days drive away.