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Young, adopted, colony perished, 6 weeks after flow frames arrived


#1

Hi, I think this is probably just a coincidence of timing, but I am sad to report that I discovered my colony’s demise this week, only 6 weeks after I added my modified super with 4 flow frames. I had adopted the hive in July from a couple who had felt they were in over their heads, in a more urban part of town, and it was a thriving colony up until maybe a couple weeks ago, as far as I could tell. I received the flow frames in mid-August, and modified a super and put it on top of the two 10-frame boxes already part of the hive. The bees were active in there and everyone seemed fine until . . .
I saw a couple dead bees a few weeks ago, and maybe a decrease in activity, but still saw bees working in the Flow super. Then, on Friday, I noticed ants going into the hive at the front entrance and through the Flow window on the top super. I saw one bee in the Flow window on Friday. On Saturday, I didn’t see any bees in the window, but saw a lot more ants, so I removed the Flow super and put tanglefoot around the base of the hive. When I removed the cover, I saw very few bees, and easily removed a frame full of honey from the middle super. (6 weeks ago when I added the super, those frames were covered in bees and it was exciting to remove one, during my first solo foray in there.) After harvesting the honey on Saturday, I put the sticky frame out by the hive. This morning, there was no bee activity at all around the hive, and some around the frame, and then by the afternoon there were bees all over the frame and the hive, but they turned out to be robbers. There was no brood on the frames, and I brought in the frames that had some honey left for harvesting. There was nothing in the flow frames except little connector strips of wax the bees had put between the parts of the flow frames, to secure them for future honey stores - that seems to have been the extent of work they had done in there in the 6 weeks I had them on top.
Any thoughts? My experienced beekeeper friend, who had helped me with the move, suspects mites, as he had lost two hives this summer to them, but I didn’t see any sign of mites or anything else going wrong. This is in the hills of Oakland, CA. It’s been relatively hot and seasonably dry, except for a few drops of rain last Wednesday. My friend has promised to help me get a swarm in the spring . . .


#2

Sounds like they may have swarmed and the new virgin was no viable. Also never put the sticky outside that is just asking for trouble from robbing - if the hive was weak from a split they would have had no chance.

Was the Queen marked? was there still a marked Queen in the box dead? Was there a dead Virgin - bit harder to spot.

Any of the dead bees (If any) have deformed wings etc?

Sorry for your loss


#3

You say there were no signs of mites but what were you looking for?
The signs you might have missed are bees with deformed wings and punctured cappings.
You say that you took the bees over from people who had felt it was too much for them. The first thing you should have done is a thorough inspection for queen, disease and stores. I would have put some MAQS on and monitored the drop.
The fact that the flow frames remained largely untouched indicates they must have had room in the top box for stores and that it wasn’t time to put those frames on yet.
How often have you been looking in the brood box?
You need to look for signs of swarm preparations every week during the swarming season.
They could have swarmed but my money is on varroa clobbering them and maybe even the rest of the bees absconding.
Sorry you’ve had such a bad start but it does seem like beekeeper error.
Get your friend to mentor you through next year, get it right and enjoy your bees.
Meanwhile get those frames and hive cleaned up and disinfected ready for you new colony.


#4

Valli could be spot on too. If you don’t keep an eye on swarming the old queen will go with half the bees. She will leave behind lots of queen cells. The first Virgin to emerge will go with half of what remains and this will be repeated usually till the bees reach a number they think can survive when the remaining virgins will be reduced to one to continue the colony. In the presence of disease these may not be viable and the colony will die.


#5

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#6

Hmm, these responses feel like they have made some pretty harsh assumptions. I’ll try to not be too defensive as I clarify some things.
First, I do have a mentor. He’s been keeping bees nearby for over a decade. I’m lucky I found him, because other mentors I have sought out have been reluctant to help. After we moved the hive here, we gave the hive a couple weeks to settle in, and then we inspected the hive, including brood, and added a third deep super. He did not specifically identify a queen, but he said it looked fine. There was no screened bottom board, which would have helped for monitoring mites. Maybe we should have added one right away. At the point we added the third deep super, the second super was about 80% full.
Just a few days later, my flow frames arrived. So, within 10 days of putting on the third super, I swapped it out with the flow super. That was 6 weeks ago. The bees had been working in the flow super that whole time, but never got very far in their activity.
The bees never appeared over-crowded or in danger of swarming. The hive is visible from my house and I work from home. The chances of a swarm happening without my noticing it seem small. My mentor does not think this looked like a swarm situation.
I removed a total of 3 honey frames from the hive on three separate occasions (including the removed frame after it was pretty clear the bees were gone), and each was from a super, not the brood box. Each time there was ample honey remaining in the hive, including this last one. I understand why removing a frame from an ailing hive would cause concern, but that wasn’t the problem in this situation, as it wasn’t ailing when I removed the first two, and it was already gone when I removed the last one. I wouldn’t have taken their last food stores.
I had not seen signs of deformed wings (which I did sometimes look for) or punctured cappings, unless the punctures are as big as each cell. We did not see signs of queen cells. The former owners indicated they had destroyed some swarm cells, which my mentor disagreed with but didn’t seem particularly concerned about. There were very few dead bees in or around the hive.
I feel bad/sad about it, but my mentor said he didn’t think I had done anything wrong or that was there anything I should have done differently. My only thought is to check more actively for mites and try to intercede in some way, if I’m able to detect them, and be a bit braver with seeking out the queen in an inspection of the brood box.


#7

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#8

Have you noticed any other pests in the area that could have caused them to want to abscond? It sounds like they may have just left rather then just swarming if you didn’t find many dead bees. Are there wasps in the area? Perhaps swapping out the boxes so quickly set them off? From what you have said it seems reasonable that whatever happened coincides with the swapping of that last super. Do you have an excluder on? Could you have removed/killed the queen with that removed super?

Also don’t take offense. Everyone here is trying to help, and whatever happened was either natural causes or a user error. If it was user error it’s not a personal attack, it’s just experienced beekeepers trying to give it to you straight so it hopefully won’t happen again.


#9

I think what felt harsh to me is that I provided what I thought was enough information (very few bees, full frame removed from middle super), and you read into it that I had taken what may have been the last frame of honey, apparently from the brood box, and implied that maybe we do it wrong in other countries. I understand your wanting to caution people against removing too much honey from a hive, but there are ways to do it without alienating the poster.
There are going to be a lot of newbies on this forum and it’s going to be hard to tell from posts what level of experience people have and what was done but not spelled out in the posts. I hope that the responders approach the posts with some gentleness or new beekeepers are only going to be more disheartened and to be supportive to those who have done a lot of studying and have tried to actively support their new colonies. There is so much that can go wrong in beekeeping - my mentor has lost two hives this season, so maybe that’s why he understood to be gentle on me - it’ll take a very supportive community to help newbies through it.


#10

Thank you for the reply, and your note about help is well taken.
I had been concerned with skunks, who are active in the area, but I didn’t see signs that they had been actually bothering the hive. The hive is elevated, but unevenly so, because it’s on a steep slope.
I did put an excluder on between the third super and the second super - both for the regular super and when I swapped it out with the flow super. So, I don’t think the queen could have gotten in the removed super.


#11

@lizgarf Liz I’m a newBee as well I have had my hives since June.

I still go back to what I said - swarm and no Virgin survived - That is no ones fault it is nature. If there was more than one virgin they may have killed each other - they are not as large as the mated Queens so can go unnoticed - I myself had an un-mated Queen in my walk away split - the hive did not survive as there was insufficient drones due to local lack of forage - my own hives had tipped the drones out, and the rest absconded (with some help).

Hives can just abscond no mater how good or long you have been keeping bees - it happens.

Mother nature can be a right witch

I would however say you need to mark your queen and when doing inspections look for her. It helps save on guesswork and If I don’t find mine, I go back the next day and look, for piece of mind.


#12

It is interesting the different advice you can get. In my local club several of the old timers are forceful, to the point of being offensive, about not looking for the queen during inspections. Saying that people looking for the queen is always the reason for a queen death. In fact one of these guys pretty much starts every session he’s a part of with this admonition.


#13

Only if you are careless and bump the frames - I saw a lad at our meeting being so careful not to bump the front of the frame he scraped every single frame back - we were looking for the queen as well.

No one else said anything after the inspection I commented that he needs to be more aware of the frames


#14

It is a tough balance. I had definitely been scared to disturb the brood box and investigate things too deeply, while things appeared to be going well. Once I saw the ants entering and looked in the top and realized the bee count had decreased dramatically, I contacted my mentor who said he’d help me look and see if there was still a queen. By the time he came, two days later, there was nothing left of the original colony.
Anyway, I’ll go to the next local beekeeper meeting and see what’s happening to other hives in the hood.


#15

I’m afraid the bees moving in was the death knell the damage would have been done by then


#16

Destroying swarm cells is one thing you should not do. Bees will make more and they will make them on older larvae. Queen cells can be made on 3 day old larvae, these will be sealed 2 days later and the swarm is gone 2 days after the brood box is looked in. You mention your mentor said the colony was fine but he didn’t spot the queen. Did he see eggs? Can you ask him?
We are all trying to help you understand what happened. I don’t care a jot about how much honey you took.
I mentor three local beekeepers. One of them keeps her bees just outside her kitchen window and I can tell you she missed a swarm and a cast. I went in to help her and we ended up releasing fifteen virgin queens to sort themselves out. If she hadn’t called me she would have lost mote than the prime and cast she did so …you CAN miss a swarm.
You also talked about not wanting to disturb the bees too much. In the season you MUST look through the brood box for swarm cells weekly or every 10 days if your queen is clipped.


#17

I remember him saying he saw brood and inspecting it, but I don’t remember specifics about eggs.
What does it mean for a queen to be clipped? I haven’t seen that expression before.
Thanks for the information.


#18

A clipped queen has one wing tip cut off to prevent her from flying, thus preventing her from swarming. But her hive may supersede her instead so it is no guarantee of anything really.


#19

@lizgarf Some people mistakenly believe that clipping the Queens wings will stop her from Swarming.

She still will be able to fly but not far.

Some Hives may look to the Queen as damaged and raise a Supercedure cell - away from the Queen to replace her.

Personally I would not recommend or risk this - it is like cutting dog’s tails off only the consequence could be loss of queen and hive - it is a risk


#20

You say it’s important to look for swarm cells, but what would you do if you found them? All I have read to prevent swarms is to give them more room, which is what I had done with the third super. Would you have tried to figure out if the new queens were viable, like you did for your mentee with the fifteen queens?