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One dead and one almost dead collony.

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Guard Bee

Joined: 30 Dec 2013
Posts: 51
Location: England, Shropshire, Shrewsbury

PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2018 11:32 am    Post subject: One dead and one almost dead collony. Reply with quote

Hi all, its a long time since I've been on here. I spent much of last year abroad and been neglecting my two hives somewhat. I came back for Christmas and on a warm day around the beginning of Feb saw a couple of bees leaving one of my hives on cleansing flights so thought I was doing ok.

Anyway, I went away for another trip before the weather warmed up and now I'm back I have discovered a problem. One of my hives. The one that was the biggest and looked really strong midsummer last year is totally dead. No bees, hardly any dead bees and also no honey and loads of wax moth silk and cocoons. A bit of mouldy, manky looking pollen but nothing obvious as to why.

The other as almost dead. There's quite a lot of honey left but only a handful of confused looking bees (maybe half a comb if they were all gathered up) clustered sadly around one solitary capped brood cell, no sign of a queen and with so few bees she should have been easy to spot. Its also being raided by wasps and there's a pile of dead bees around the entrance.

In both hives, I found a number of dead bees that look like they died emerging from their brood cells, some of them still in there, some with just the cap chewed off and a couple halfway out seeming to have gotten stuck or died from the effort. Is this a clue to the culprit?

I've been keeping bees for 5 years now and this is my first loss of a strong, successful hive. I'm wondering what might have happened and what I should do now.

Here are a couple of pics:
From the dead hive.

Almost dead five.

Since I do still have some bees in one hive I'm wondering if there's any chance I could save them by buying and introducing a queen? Or are there just too few, or risk of some disease or other problem?

Thanks for your time, Duncan

Last edited by semiautonomous on Sun May 06, 2018 11:22 am; edited 1 time in total
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2018 7:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Duncan

So sorry to hear that your colonies have failed. If it is any consolation you are not alone. Bridget posted a week or so ago to say she had suffered huge losses this year. I lost one and I have at least 2 others that are weak. One is a conservation hive, so I haven't looked in at them but the other is a poor queen and I am starting to wonder if the agricultural crops that have been planted nearby in the last couple of years are starting to take their toll.

Unfortunately 2 or your 3 photos don't seem to have been authorised for 3rd party viewing, so I can only see the one with brood hatching.

The hive that died out and had very few bees and no honey sounds like they may have swarmed last summer and were left queenless or had some sort of queen failure. The other one it is difficult to say.... remind me what type of hives you have and where the entrances are. With the weather we had in the past couple of months and centre entrances on a TBH and no rearrangement of honey combs, it is possible they starved even with plenty of honey in the hive
If varroa is the culprit you should be able to tell by turning the brood combs upside down and looking into the top of the cells. Many will have little white deposits of fras (not to be confused with white crystallized honey deposits) in the top of the cells if there has been a bad varroa infestation.

The chances are that those remaining bees are old and near the end of their life and would not be fit enough to help a new queen get a new colony established so you would probably be wasting your money on buying a queen at this stage. Better to let nature take it's course and hope that a swarm or two come along and to repopulate. It is surprising how swarms find and repopulate dead out hives.
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Golden Bee

Joined: 31 May 2010
Posts: 1551
Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Sun May 06, 2018 8:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And as I said in another thread, lots of experienced bee keepers have had 25, 30% or even higher losses this winter. Isolation starvation has apparently been common with the initially mild weather followed by a prolonged cold snap. (This is what the seasonal bee inspector told me after a visit due to EFB being found in the area late last year on his follow up visits last week and the week before where it was cut short when rain came along. My colonies all had at least a super worth of stores when he came, some because I didn't get around to harvesting which in retrospect may well have been a good thing.

If like mine your hives only get inspected during harvesting or when the bee inspector comes along, I am not sure what can be done to avoid isolation starvation other than making sure they do have enough.
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Guard Bee

Joined: 30 Dec 2013
Posts: 51
Location: England, Shropshire, Shrewsbury

PostPosted: Sun May 06, 2018 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your thoughts guys.

Yesterday I shuffled the surviving colony around a bit. Put in a follower board and closed the entrance they were using and opened a smaller entrance on the other side to try to stop the wasp attacks. That must have upset the survivors too much though because today they're virtually all gone. Glad I decided to ask here before ordering a new queen.

Barbara, The hives are both based on Phills plans circa 2014 ish with eco floors, although now their empty I'm thinking of removing the floors or at least redesigning them. A big queen bumblebee has set up home in the empty one so that might have to wait for a bit :-p. Anyway getting off track. The one that totally died outright is a 47" with an entrance at the end of one side. July last year I think they had about 10 combs of honey stored already. The other one is 34" with the entrance around the middle.

I'm thinking you may be right about isolation starvation being a possible culprit for the smaller one. I saw no sign of varroa on the survivors but I'll have a look at the brood combs later to double check.

I'll leave them both empty then and hope a swarm or too like the look of them. One of my swarms from a previous year that set up home in a neighbours chimney is still going strong so maybe some of them will come back.

P.S. I'll try to fix the photos, that hosting site has been updated since I last used it and it's much more confusing:?
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