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I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here. Along the way, I've passed a number of certification levels and am now a
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Friday, July 20, 2012

A Sad Day in the Life of a Beekeeper

Right after lunch today, I inspected the hives at the Morningside Community Garden.  The yellow hive has been washboarding every time I've stopped to check onmy tomatoes and the blue hive looks like in the picture below.  So I've been worried about the state of the blue hive - is it going OK?  Is it dwindling?

Today I checked it out.

The top box on the blue hive has two frames of comb that I moved into it for a ladder, but nothing else.  The box below it, though, is filled with capped and uncapped honey.  The last time I looked, the only honey was capped.  The bees are bringing in something - I don't know what it is, but all of my midtown hives are bringing in nectar - and there are frames being filled.  The frame below is from the blue hive; the next photo is a frame from the yellow hive.

At this time of year, unless I have reason to be concerned, I am only looking in the hive to see:

  1. What is the state of their stores?  Are they eating honey or putting it in the comb?
  2. Is there a queenless roar, or any other reason to suspect queen problems?
Otherwise I just shut them back up.  The only maneuver I did was to add bottle caps to the tops of the inner covers to increase ventilation.  Wonder if that will stop the washboarding?

Then I returned home to check on SOS1 - this hive has been hard to get going.  We made a split from Colony Square much earlier in the year and because the bees were so mean, we named it SOS (Spawn of Satan 1).  These bees seemed unable to make a good queen.   Their first queen was poorly mated; their second queen while mated OK was a poor layer and slow to build up.  For all I know they even made a third queen.

Last Thursday I went through the hive.  I didn't see the queen (which I should have paid better attention to) and I noticed that the numbers were still way down.  I added two frames of brood and eggs from my strongest hive at my house to help them increase their numbers.  I thought if they hadn't done any better, this week I would combine them with SOS 2 right next to them.

So I opened the hive - no bees.  There were about 30 bees on the inside of the top cover.  I think they were newly emerged bees from the frames I gave the hive last week.  There were no more bees, no honey, no nothing in the hive.  There were remnants of eggs and brood on the two frames I added last week.  The bees were gone and the wax moth larvae were already in the bottom box.

I shook the 30 bees onto the inner cover of SOS2.

I've now lost four hives - and all have absconded.  The only good news is that all of them were free bees - well almost all of them.  The first hive to go was my top bar hive which was a swarm collected in Decatur. 

The second to go was my hive in Rabun County.  That hive was a purchased package from Don in Lula in 2011, but I had assumed they wouldn't make it through the winter and had purchased two packages to replace the two Rabun hives.  Then I found to my joy that one dead hive had a swarm move in (and it was thriving last time I was up there) and the other hive was doing well up until the beginning of June.  I didn't go through it to find out why they had dwindled.  There were still bees in that hive, but I don't think they had a queen and the SHB had taken over.

Last week just before adding a new box and only a week after seeing the queen, my Little Kitten swarm absconded.  They left nothing behind.

And then today I lost SOS 1.  I feel deeply disheartened.  The only saving grace is that most of them were free bees.

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  1. Anonymous10:11 AM

    Tillie, I've also lost 3 hives to absconds in the last couple of weeks here in central NC, including a very strong one, and when I consulted with my local inspector he suggested a cause I hadn't even thought of: small hive beetles.

    He said that locally, he saw a huge spike in SHB infestations when the weather turned 3 weeks ago from way too hot to slightly cooler and very humid. Beekeepers who had not seen a single adult beetle yet this season would come back and find the honey gone and bees absconded, leaving behind nothing but doomed capped brood and SHB eggs. Apparently the warm winters and early swarms led to high honey production and lower than average bee population per hive, a great recipe for SHB to take advantage of. It happens so fast that the bees leave before the combs become slimed.

    I don't know if something similar is happening where you are. But you're definitely not alone in seeing an increase in absconding hives this summer.

  2. Linda,
    Sorry that you lost these hives it is saddening. Hoping this is the end of your hives dropping of this season.

    I have one hive I'm worried about lots of SHB (killed at least 30 - 40 today) no queen. Good news is a nicely finished queen cell at the bottom of one frame and a big larva in another cell on another frame. No damage by the beetles yet but there are a lot of them. I did notice they seemed very loud, that queen less roar you mentioned I guess.

    First try on your word verification, completely un readable. Doubt I'll post any more comments with the difficultly of posting here.


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