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Help with diagnosing dead hive

 
Jerry Ward
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Let me first say I'm in S.E. Michigan and we had a record winter for snowfall and cold so that may be the reason for the hive dying out.

I am running 2 Langstroth hives, mainly because they were given to me and I first tried nuc's (which you can only get for Langstrogh, at least in my area). The first hive had a family of mice move in around December, I had the gap at the bottom board way to big. After I chased the mice away I put those hive bodies on my remaining hive, this would assure they had plenty of stores. I estimate the hive died out sometime in February and confirmed it the middle of March. Today I tore the stack apart and there were a lot of bees, all dead. One deep was very heavy and I would guess it was at least 75% full on honey. All of the hive bodies had several frames full of honey. There were many cells on homey comb with bee butts sticking out, so I assume they were eating.

I am an unsuccessful beekeeper for several years now, unable to get a hive to successfully overwinter. The last two years they hive had a lot of honey in the spring. Any advice would be welcome.

Thanks
Jerry
 
Cj Sloane
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Consider a Warre; Peronne; or Topbar hive.
And listen to the 4 Reverence for Bees Podscasts starting with this one.
 
tel jetson
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really hard to say without a lot more information. my first thought is that give manipulations in winter are very rarely a good idea.
 
Jerry Ward
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Well today I see a few bees coming an going. I assume it is just robbing by a nearby hive, however one bee is standing in the landing area with her tail in the air.

Here is a short video
 
Quintin Holmberg
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Jerry,
Comb with bees butts sticking out of them are a sure tell sign the colony died of starvation. More inspection would be necessary to tell you how that happened when there were full frames of honey available. Starvation is most likely the cause, though.

Here in MN, 98% of the beekeepers use Langstroth hives. The reason for that is quite simple ... a methodology for the bees to store enough honey to make it through our winters is not well known, if known at all, in anything else. The pros at the UofM Bee Lab are starting to experiment, as well as some of the more experienced, with TBH. However, at this point, as a beginning beekeeper, if you need to overwinter a hive in a northern climate, you're using the right equipment. How you manage your bees inside that equipment is what matters.

Unfortunately, you are too far away to take the UofM Beekeeping In Northern Climates short course. It's a great course. However, you can buy the booklet. They have spent many decades developing a method for managing colonies in the great frozen north. It's not complicated.
http://beelab.umn.edu/Resources/Beekeeping_manuals_videos/index.htm#northern

Once you can make it through a season or two doing what has been proven to work, branch off and experiment with whatever you want. At least then you'll know the basics of what it needs to do. I'm looking forward to doing so myself in another season or 2.
 
tel jetson
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I know of at least one person using Warré hives successfully in Alberta. he's generally quite happy to share his methods and experience. doesn't post here, but he does follow David Heaf's Warré yahoo group.

that Beekeeping in Northern Climates is accompanied by both a guide to treating honeybee pests and diseases as well as Successful Queen Rearing Manual makes me immediately suspicious of the methodology likely to be contained therein. because Langstroth hives include, by definition, a large amount of unused space at the periphery of the hive, their internal climate requires more energy to control. add to that the requirement of periodically opening the hive to remove brace comb that would otherwise fix the frames in place defeating their purpose, and you've got a hive that involves a lot of disturbance to the bees' atmosphere and business.

Langstroth equipment, can, however, be used in a manner that allows the bees to build all the way to the walls without obstruction. top bars can be used in place of frames. you may build top bars expressly for that purpose, or you can pull your existing frames apart and use their top bars. frames and foundation can be expensive, so I would understand a reluctance to destroy them. instead, you might sell them to another beekeeper and use the proceeds to buy some lumber to build appropriate top bars. add a top cloth instead of a crown board, and you've got a rather bee-friendlier hive than you started with.

or you can use Langstroth hives as they are designed. plenty of people do it. plenty of people like it. plenty of people routinely suffer catastrophic losses or quickly get burnt out by all the manipulations that are generally recommended.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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I understand that people are going to be immediately suspicious. I would expect nothing less of established practices from the folks on this forum.

No, it does not adhere to all the principles advocated here. Yes, they are more traditional in their approach. However, they are responsible in what they advocate for, unlike traditional commercial beekeepers, and their system does have a high success rate of keeping bees alive over a long and arduous winter. I'm sure other methodologies can be adapted to do so as well but, it's all experimental and neither I nor the OP seem to be knowledgeable enough to experiment, yet.

The guide to pests is not as suspicious as it's name implies. It's an identification guide with an emphasis on what healthy brood should look like. The only product lists are in the mites section and they stand adamantly against any miticides or synthetics for any disease or pest.

The queen rearing class is offered due to demand. They do not advocate for it nor do we ever do session on queen rearing in our club.

It's a traditional approach with a responsible twist. Dr. Spivak would say "learn about bees. Once you know enough about bees, you'll be prepared to experiment with equipment." We gotta learn about bees from someone and we're not going to learn it here or from someone in Alberta. My opinion is that I should learn from the people around me that are successful then adapt it to the principles I believe in and that I can make work. How can I expect anyone to help if I'm doing something completely different.

For us in northern climates, that's langstroth hives with a more traditional approach. Traditional does not necessarily diminish the reverence required.

Ok ... i'll get off my box now and go back to lurking in the background.
 
tel jetson
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Quintin Holmberg wrote:No, it does not adhere to all the principles advocated here. Yes, they are more traditional in their approach. However, they are responsible in what they advocate for, unlike traditional commercial beekeepers, and their system does have a high success rate of keeping bees alive over a long and arduous winter.


can you tell us a bit more about the methods? at the very least, it sounds like a step in the right direction away from conventional beekeeping practices, which is encouraging from a university.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:The guide to pests is not as suspicious as it's name implies. It's an identification guide with an emphasis on what healthy brood should look like. The only product lists are in the mites section and they stand adamantly against any miticides or synthetics for any disease or pest.


I'm confused. what is the purpose of inspection if treatment will not be practiced? identifying healthy brood by removing brood comb has the rather detrimental effect of chilling brood and stressing the colony, which seems particularly egregious if it is only to satisfy curiosity. adding stress to a colony by inspecting for disease or pests can easily result in increased susceptibility to the very disease and pests being inspected for.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:The queen rearing class is offered due to demand. They do not advocate for it nor do we ever do session on queen rearing in our club.


I suppose that part of a land grant university's mission is to respond to just such demands. still, it seems a bit dissonant to provide instruction on a practice that is not condoned.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:It's a traditional approach with a responsible twist. Dr. Spivak would say "learn about bees. Once you know enough about bees, you'll be prepared to experiment with equipment." We gotta learn about bees from someone and we're not going to learn it here or from someone in Alberta. My opinion is that I should learn from the people around me that are successful then adapt it to the principles I believe in and that I can make work. How can I expect anyone to help if I'm doing something completely different.


you make a reasonable point, and I won't try to talk you out of your choice. consider, though, that learning about bees using tools that don't respect their natural behaviors and requirements might be counterproductive in the end. you say Dr. Spivak's methods are better than those practiced more widely by conventional beekeepers, and I believe you. but I personally believe that there are limitations inherent in Langstroth equipment that prevent real understanding of bees. I've been wrong before (once or twice [or many thousands of times]), though, and I'm quite certain that I'll be wrong again.


Quintin Holmberg wrote:Ok ... i'll get off my box now and go back to lurking in the background.


nah. if you were suggesting that the route you've chosen is the one and only reasonable option, I would encourage you to do just that (go back to lurking). but, at least in my opinion, you've done no such thing. dialogue is important. I believe discussing a diversity of practices will enrich our little beekeeping forum here. reasonable limitations do apply, of course: advocating artificial queen insemination, for example, is right out.
 
tel jetson
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Jerry Ward wrote:Well today I see a few bees coming an going. I assume it is just robbing by a nearby hive, however one bee is standing in the landing area with her tail in the air.


bees will sometimes fan Nasanov pheromone to indicate a nectar source to other foragers. if a swarm has moved in, it is considered a good indication that the colony has accepted the hive. unfortunately, that isn't the only possibility.
 
Jerry Ward
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My biggest problem with starting with something other than Langstroth is getting started. I've had two packages I tried to put into a top bar hive and they just took off. With the Langstroth I was able to get a couple of nucs which let me keep bees all summer. I also then built up some comb the next year I got some bee packages and put them in the hive that was lived in last year and they stayed.

I'm afraid if I built some Warre hive bodies and put a package in they would just take off like happened with my TBH. At least with my Langstroth equipment I got some old comb to entice them to stay when I spend almost $100 for a package of bees. If I can catch some swarms I would feel more inclined to take a chance on Warre. I'm also considering "gluing" some comb from a Langstroth to a Warre with some melted wax and go from there.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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Ok, so I'm not super experienced but I'll try to do my best with what I've learned over the last 1 1/2 years ...

Methodology ... Keep in mind this is still honey production minded and those are where the method will deviate from permaculture.

To get through winter, they advocate for three, full brood boxes. Its a matter of having enough stored honey and bee populations to get through 6 months (seriously). You encourage this by strategically timed reversals (swapping boxes around in the stack). The reversals encourage the bees to fill the boxes by using their natural inclination to move up the hive structure.

I read yesterday (after my first post) a simple solution to this, actually ... don't harvest in fall. not sure how that will work, yet. But, the model is a production model so, it's based on taking all the extra honey in fall leaving only what (we think) the bees need to get through winter. It works 95% of the time. It was such a simple revelation when I read it in one of Wheaton's posts I almost did a Homer Simpson ... "Doh!" ... harvest in spring when the bees have taken (what they think) they need.

As for foundation, there is no specification in the model. Most use foundation, of course. But, both classes I've been to have shown and instructed on how to use foundationless frames. They have a couple rods that add strength to the frames. I think I might try a colony of them next year. It will be an interesting experiment to see how mite levels compare.

Yes, swarming is frowned upon. With such a short season, there won't be any honey to harvest if the bees swarm. If it's late enough in the season, they won't make it through winter, either. And, the bees that took off stand almost no chance of survival.

Inspections ...
I've never been told I have to tear into my hives all the time. I mean, they encourage first year beekeepers to pull frames in order to learn what things are and look like but they're very clear that it will hamper production. The production mentality works for us with this one. Outside of that and popping the lid to peek at the outside frames (which doesn't necessarily require frame removal) to see if another box is needed, I've always been told to leave the hive alone and let the bees do what they do.

Frankly, when it comes to disease and pests, the Bee Lab and Club say the same thing you guys do ... strong, healthy colonies. I guess the one exception would be mites. We are instructed to do a powdered sugar test twice a season to a sample set of bees and treat if necessary.

Queen Rearing ...
This is a topic I am woefully ignorant on. I don't know anything about how it's done nor do I know the specifics of why permaculture circles are against it. I'll learn over time, I'm sure. All I can do is defend the bee lab by indicating that in a major metropolitan area of 1.5 million people, there is one, 30 member class a year for this topic. At least I think there is only one.

The rest of us must be too busy doing reversals to care ...
 
tel jetson
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Quintin Holmberg wrote:It was such a simple revelation when I read it in one of Wheaton's posts I almost did a Homer Simpson ... "Doh!" ... harvest in spring when the bees have taken (what they think) they need.


I don't think the bees "think" about what they need, they just eat the honey necessary for them to stay warm enough to survive. because of this, harvesting during heavy nectar flows makes a lot of sense. harvesting during good flows also dramatically reduces the risk of robbing.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:As for foundation, there is no specification in the model. Most use foundation, of course. But, both classes I've been to have shown and instructed on how to use foundationless frames. They have a couple rods that add strength to the frames. I think I might try a colony of them next year. It will be an interesting experiment to see how mite levels compare.


personally, I think the foundation issue is a bit of a red herring. I absolutely believe that the best option is to allow the bees to build the size and arrangement of cells they choose. but if leaving out foundation is the only nod to the bees' natural wisdom, well, that's a rather small step in the right direction.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:Yes, swarming is frowned upon. With such a short season, there won't be any honey to harvest if the bees swarm. If it's late enough in the season, they won't make it through winter, either. And, the bees that took off stand almost no chance of survival.


if swarms stand almost no chance of survival, the genetic predisposition to swarm at inappropriate times will not survive in the gene pool. if, on the other hand, a swarm does survive, it will be a source of drones and queens that are well-adapted to local conditions. either of those seems like a positive outcome to me. and I can almost promise you there are feral colonies in Minnesota that propagate successfully by swarming. they might be rather scarce these days, but if they're allowed to, they'll recover. that would involve beekeepers developing locally adapted colonies rather than importing bees from elsewhere that will dilute the feral adaptation.

I assume that if swarms are not allowed, increase is provided through splits. especially combined with treating for mites, I believe splits can cause a lot of trouble, but I won't go into that just now.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:Inspections ...
I've never been told I have to tear into my hives all the time. I mean, they encourage first year beekeepers to pull frames in order to learn what things are and look like but they're very clear that it will hamper production. The production mentality works for us with this one. Outside of that and popping the lid to peek at the outside frames (which doesn't necessarily require frame removal) to see if another box is needed, I've always been told to leave the hive alone and let the bees do what they do.


that's good. even just pulling the roof off, though, can set the bees back weeks depending on the strength of the colony, the current weather, and the style of hive among other things. and breaking the bond between the crown board and hive body can be fairly traumatic for the bees. if they've had docility bred into them, they probably won't mind too much, but that's not a positive trait in my opinion.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:Frankly, when it comes to disease and pests, the Bee Lab and Club say the same thing you guys do ... strong, healthy colonies. I guess the one exception would be mites. We are instructed to do a powdered sugar test twice a season to a sample set of bees and treat if necessary.


hmm. what's the recommended treatment for mites?

the biggest issue I have with treating for mites is that it promotes the reproduction of virulent mites and weak bees. if a population of mites kills the colony of bees they reside on, they will hurt their own reproductive odds. it is not in their evolutionary interest to kill the colony, so if the natural course of things is allowed to play out, mites will become less troublesome in rather short order. from the bees' side, if a colony is not able to handle infestation by mites, their line will be removed rather quickly from the gene pool, which is clearly (to me, at least) a net benefit.

when treating for mites is introduced into the equation, both those results are reversed: virulent, nasty mites that would otherwise suck themselves out of existence are encouraged, as are weak, poorly adapted honey bees. that's bad for the beekeeper doing the treating, because it will lead to perpetual treating in the future. and it's bad for other beekeepers and feral colonies close by because drones from treated colonies will spread both weak honey bee traits and virulent mite traits to other colonies.

Quintin Holmberg wrote:Queen Rearing ...
This is a topic I am woefully ignorant on. I don't know anything about how it's done nor do I know the specifics of why permaculture circles are against it. I'll learn over time, I'm sure. All I can do is defend the bee lab by indicating that in a major metropolitan area of 1.5 million people, there is one, 30 member class a year for this topic. At least I think there is only one.


there are a number of different ways queens are reared artificially, and a number of different problems with each. I think the consensus around here would be that artificial insemination would be the very worst, though there might be some little bit of disagreement as to why it's so bad.

all artificially reared queens, though, are what are sometimes called "emergency queens." they weren't fed a queen's rich diet from the get-go, but only after a beekeeper got around to picking out their eggs for queens. emergency queens are an important mechanism for the bees in instances where the existing queen dies unexpectedly: they allow the colony to survive which would otherwise perish without a queen. but they aren't terribly well-suited for the job and wear themselves out rather quickly. this seems likely to be the reason that most conventional beekeepers re-queen their hives every year (or maybe every two years if they're stingy). naturally-reared queens, raised by the bees either in preparation for swarming or to supersede an older queen, have rather longer productive lives.

anyhow, I think I've gone on long enough for now. I hope it doesn't feel like I'm shutting you down, Quintin. just trying to provide some counterpoint to your very informative post.
 
tel jetson
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Jerry Ward wrote:My biggest problem with starting with something other than Langstroth is getting started. I've had two packages I tried to put into a top bar hive and they just took off. With the Langstroth I was able to get a couple of nucs which let me keep bees all summer. I also then built up some comb the next year I got some bee packages and put them in the hive that was lived in last year and they stayed.

I'm afraid if I built some Warre hive bodies and put a package in they would just take off like happened with my TBH. At least with my Langstroth equipment I got some old comb to entice them to stay when I spend almost $100 for a package of bees. If I can catch some swarms I would feel more inclined to take a chance on Warre. I'm also considering "gluing" some comb from a Langstroth to a Warre with some melted wax and go from there.


you're on the right track. bees are much more likely to inhabit cavities that have been previously occupied by bees, or at least made to seem like they have been. rubbing old comb around the inside of any new hives is a good idea. attaching old comb to top bars can help, too. freezing the comb first would kill any wax moths, though wax moth debris is reported to be very attractive to swarms. propolis tincture helps. lemongrass oil helps. installing the bees close to dusk helps.

fortunately, it's not an either/or situation. you can proceed with the Langstroth equipment that seems like a safer bet to you, while also trying out Warré hives. in stacks of two, Warré boxes are well-suited to use as bait hives. they're simple and cheap to build unless you want to get fancy. set them up someplace likely (check Seelley's recommendations), get yourself on any local swarm lists you know of, and spread the word to health departments, fire departments, police departments, exterminators, animal control, craigslist, that you're after swarms. you'll be well on your way to weaning yourself off those expensive purchased bees and all the stress that comes with them.
 
Cj Sloane
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tel jetson wrote:...while also trying out Warré hives. in stacks of two, Warré boxes are well-suited to use as bait hives.


Do you mean two boxes with the topbars or two complete hives? I'm planing on doing this since I've been advised here that transferring NUC to a peronne is so much easier.
 
tel jetson
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Cj Verde wrote:Do you mean two boxes with the topbars or two complete hives? I'm planning on doing this since I've been advised here that transferring NUC to a peronne is so much easier.


the important part is the two boxes and top bars. a top cloth is important, too, so things don't get glued together immediately. the rest is optional. there has to be some sort of top, of course, and some sort of entrance, but they don't have to be the full-fledged Warré models. I tend to use as many Warré tops and floors as I've got around and jury rig the rest.
 
Josh Wells
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tel jetson wrote:I'm confused. what is the purpose of inspection if treatment will not be practiced? identifying healthy brood by removing brood comb has the rather detrimental effect of chilling brood and stressing the colony, which seems particularly egregious if it is only to satisfy curiosity. adding stress to a colony by inspecting for disease or pests can easily result in increased susceptibility to the very disease and pests being inspected for.


There are treatments that don't involve the use of pesticides but even absent those hives should still be inspected. Just one example of why would be American Foul Brood. If you have a have that gets it the sooner you find it and destroy that hive the less likely it is to spread.
 
Cj Sloane
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tel jetson wrote:
I'm confused. what is the purpose of inspection if treatment will not be practiced?

I think they will order a hive destroyed if the disease is serious (like AFB). We have to destroy the village to save the village mentality.
 
tel jetson
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Josh Wells wrote:
There are treatments that don't involve the use of pesticides but even absent those hives should still be inspected. Just one example of why would be American Foul Brood. If you have a have that gets it the sooner you find it and destroy that hive the less likely it is to spread.


fortunately, AFB can be tested for without actually removing combs. collecting bees for analysis from the top of the hive does the trick nicely and can be accomplished with very little disruption. sampling bees is also more reliable than visual inspection.

as an aside, leaving the colony's immune defenses intact by leaving the hive closed seems a better preventative measure than constantly opening things up to have a look. the latter I would compare to getting monthly CT scans to check for cancer: you'll find it eventually, because the CT scans will cause it.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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Josh Wells wrote:There are treatments that don't involve the use of pesticides but even absent those hives should still be inspected. Just one example of why would be American Foul Brood. If you have a have that gets it the sooner you find it and destroy that hive the less likely it is to spread.


Let's see if I've learned anything and attempt to answer this one for Tel ...

Every time you crack open the hive and especially when you start removing frames, you weaken your bees natural ability to take care of themselves. This includes the ability to fend off diseases. We would be much better off leaving them alone to defend themselves. Additionally, a hive that dies off from AFB is one that does not have the hygienic traits that other bees have demonstrated and, therefore, may be best left to die and not mix with the gene pool. Otherwise, we just perpetuate the never ending cycle of having to treat even though nature has already given a trait to help the bees accomplish this on their own.

Tel? Wadoyathink?

Also, the disease manual mentioned above does not contain any treatments for AFB that I recall. The class I went to outlined how to identify if a hive died of AFB and, if so, instructed to burn everything till it was a pile of ash.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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tel jetson wrote:fortunately, AFB can be tested for without actually removing combs. collecting bees for analysis from the top of the hive does the trick nicely and can be accomplished with very little disruption. sampling bees is also more reliable than visual inspection.

as an aside, leaving the colony's immune defenses intact by leaving the hive closed seems a better preventative measure than constantly opening things up to have a look. the latter I would compare to getting monthly CT scans to check for cancer: you'll find it eventually, because the CT scans will cause it.


DAMN ... you hit submit before I did!
 
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