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Worried! First Spring Inspection

Hi Everyone

Following from the bees in my Flow Hive swarming on me only after 4 weeks of transferring them from a nuc into a full hive, I overwintered them over two brood boxes. This seems to have worked fine - they survived the winter (although I haven’t inspected them yet this year), judging from the activity outside the hive and opening up to feed fondant.

On the other hand, my other Langstroth hive was overwintered in one brood box and a super with some stores. The hive has been showing little to no activity at the entrance. The fondant I placed in there has been untouched for over four weeks, which makes me think the numbers have drastically reduced. Very likely the queen didn’t make it.

Now, I am trying to plan my next steps and hoping to gain from your wisdom.

Option 1: If the queen in the Langstroth hive is still alive, I can perhaps transfer frames of brood and nurse bees from the Flow Hive. Do I cage the queen in the Langstroth hive for a few days to prevent losing the queen?

Option 2: If the queen did not make it, can I still transfer brood and bees from the Flow Hive? If so, how long can the bees be left together before making them queenright? Do I need a new queen in the Langstroth hive first, before transferring frames of brood and nurse bees from the Flow Hive?

Are there any other avenues to explore that I have not considered?

Many thanks

Hi Brian,
I think your first step would be to inspect your failing hive to try to work out why they are so poorly.
Best case scenario they have just struggled through the winter.
If this is the case and you are not dealing with anything more sinister I would definitely be adding brood and nurse bees to your failing hive. Make sure (especially if you think you have lost your queen) that the brood frames you add contain eggs. The bees will raise their own queen from these eggs if they need to.
Unfortunately there is a possibility that your hive may be too far gone to save due to disease, pests or even starvation. in which case you may be better off to close the chapter on this one and aim to take a split from your strong hive when they are nearing capacity.
From my experience I have never had an issue with adding nurse bees to a colony. They tend not to fight as they are focused on the brood. I wouldn’t be caging the queen.
To make sure I only have nurse bees I put the frames I want into a nuc box (any box would do) a little way from the donor hive and leave for 10min with the lid off to allow the workers to head home.
Hope this is of some help. I’m sure others will chime in if they think I’m way off track.

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I’d also encourage you to give the busy hive a good inspection too, Brian. Sometimes the activity seen at entrances turns out not to be the hive population, but robbers taking advantage of a weak or dead colony.

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Thank you both for your wisdom.

@Eva you were right, inspection today revealed that the hive was indeed dead. The few bees in there were taking advantage of the stores (lots of it). I found dead bees, mould in cells of the brood frames, a couple of frames of capped honey. Lots of ants on the outside of the hive.

The Flow Hive seemed great. Lots of bees, larvae, capped brood and stores. Found the queen! Did not spot eggs though but might just be me.

I split the hive following your suggestions but the frames back into the Lang. hive as I did not have a nuc. Basically, I reduced the Flow Hive down to one brood box (then added flow super on to provide more room), and moved brood plus nurse bees and some stores into the Lang. hive.

To be honest, I am not sure what I did was correct. Took me almost 3 hours :unamused:

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Sorry to hear it Brian, that’s not the kind of thing I enjoy being right about :confused:

Meanwhile, good for you getting through all of it - it’s a lot of work! But - I recommend you remove the Flow super for the time being to let your smaller and very disrupted colony build back up. Generally speaking, splits should be unsupered to avoid overwhelming the reduced work force and creating opportunities for pests to move into unmonitored hive space. It’s still very early in the season, and your peak nectar flow is probably a couple of weeks to a month away in your area. Therefore, if all goes well and your splits build to fill their boxes, you could potentially super one or both later.

Did you see any signs of swarm preparation, aside from the strong population?

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I appreciate the empathy there, @Eva. It sure wasn’t a pleasant site considering this is my second attempt at beekeeping.

No signs of swarm preparation, thankfully. Most of the capped brood was over the 2-3 middle frames on both brood boxes. Using the Flow Hive in a double brood arrangement seems like it worked well since they swarmed on me only four weeks after installing them from a nuc last year!

I brought the mouldy frames back home and intend to scrape them off to the foundation for reuse as spare(?) I didn’t want to leave out the honey on the frames for the bees in case it was off.

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Hey Brian,
Sounds to me like you have made the most out of your situation. Don’t beat yourself up about loosing the hive. It can happen to anyone even with the best practices and intentions.
I would agree with Eva that it is probably too early to add the super at this point unless it was already on and populated full of bees. With only 2-3 frames of brood their population won’t explode straight away. Assess again in 2-3weeks.
Well done mate. :+1:

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You’re most welcome, glad to help. If the honey on your frames is capped it will be fine for the bees. They don’t really seem to be bothered by mold and mildew in general anyway, but I can appreciate your wanting to be cautious.

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Cheers, @TimG. Thanks for the encouragement. I had almost quit in my head if beekeeping didn’t work out this year…again.

When the weather gets warmer again, I’ll remove the Flow super. We are about to dip to 9oC after two days of glorious sunshine 19-21oC.

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No worries mate.
View it all as learning. Seems that you have worked out the best way to over winter is with a double brood set up. As you gain experience it will all come more naturally.
With all things agricultural the biggest factor out of our control is seasons. Again the more season cycles you experience the better you will become at reading them.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
All the best.

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Hey guys

A bit of an update or a conundrum, really. The weather hasn’t been great in the UK for any inspection, so I do not know how the split is faring. They did have a lot of stores and fondant added during the split, so I am not too worried.

This week though, I had the opportunity to purchase, relatively cheaply, a full-sized colony (in a National hive) from an experienced beekeeper in my local bee club/association looking to downsize. Picking up tomorrow.

The confusion now is how I am going to unite the colonies. My intention is to unite the full-sized colony with the split by shaking the bees from the National hive into the split in a Langstroth hive, with the queen caged for a few days, before releasing her. I will lose brood from the National hive, which I am OK with. The split has some brood already and I am gaining a full-size colony. Have been doing some research around using a uniting board but I am not sure I want to use this method.

How would you go about uniting the split with a full-sized colony, if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts?

I’m not sure what the dimensions of the national hive are but maybe you could use some sort of a temporary board, or a inner cover with a hole, to connect them (with the queen in the langstroth box and a queen excluder a over her) and then once all the brood it emerged, get rid of the national box. You could then combine the split with the stronger full colony.

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