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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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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When the Train Has Left the Station.....

You know all those movies where the one person drives speedily to the airport only to see the plane lift off as they reach the runway?

When I went to Lithuania, I committed to the trip months ahead of time.  I also evaluated what I needed to take, what should go with me, what could I leave at home.  Something major, major would have to happen for me to change my plans.

The bees are still there this morning, but they are ready to go.  I should have seen it.  I should never have put the robber screen on - I think they started planning then.



While I can't find anything about absconding in Seeley's books, Malcolm Sanford (Keeping Honey Bees) says, "Absconding rarely occurs in colonies in temperate regions where European bees are usually kept, but it may occur if colonies are under threat from disease, pests, or depletion of forage (pollen, nectar, or water)."

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping   doesn't discuss absconding but defines it as "Absconding resembles swarming except that  no bees are left behind in the parent colony.  The entire colony leaves its hive."

I can't find any description of preparation to abscond.  Usually in my experience the bees take all the honey.  There is one honey super still on this hive unless they emptied it this morning - which is not typical of absconding unless their tummies are full with the other honey supers.  Just like in robbing, there are shards of wax below the hive.  These are shards from brood frames and are brown rather than white:



You can see them under the hive below the screened bottom board.  



And why are the shards brown?  Because before a hive absconds, they empty the hive.  This means that they leave no or very little brood behind.  I've seen them carrying out larvae over the past few days and congratulated myself on having such a hygienic hive.....but that's not what they were apparently doing....

So now I know that before absconding you'll see young larvae being carried out, typically they empty the honey cells, and no pollen bearing bees are coming into the hive.  As a matter of fact, I think the bees out flying are scouts and are dancing to advertise new space.  I saw several rather frantic dances like Seeley describes taking place on the front of the hive. 

The bees flying in this morning were light, carrying nothing, and only doing a scout job.  The working bees this morning were the ones in the hive, still removing larvae.







One theory would be that these bees are sick and that's why they are absconding, but it looks more like they were clearing out the young to leave.  

Last night before I went to sleep, I read on Beemaster that one way to stop absconding would be to do what one might also do when hiving a swarm: put a queen excluder between the hive and the bottom board so that the queen probably can't leave.

So that's what I did a few minutes ago.  I took the hive down to the bottom board where there were tons of removed larvae.  BTW, I looked very closely at the larvae both in person and with the zoom on my Picasa viewer at the computer.  I do not see any Varroa mites.  I think these are healthy bees, sacrificed to the hive's wish to abscond.  



I put on a queen excluder (I do actually own several even though I never use them in the hive.  I use them to drain cut comb honey!).


This should hopefully stop them.  I checked the bottom board carefully and did not see the queen.  Unless she's really skinny, she should not be able to go through the excluder and the hive will stay.  Beemaster says I should leave the excluder on for at least three days.

If this hive survives, then the disruption should help with a varroa problem in that the bees have interrupted the brood cycle and thus the Varroa cycle as well.

I totally tore off the robber screen in case that was what was bothering them.

So maybe the train has left the station, but maybe I put a big enough boulder on the track to keep the departure at bay.  We'll see.

P.S.  I was at home on a phone appointment at 11:30 AM when the bees started the swirl of a hive that is leaving.  They swirled and swirled, but didn't leave since the queen couldn't come through the queen excluder.  They are still anxiously flying around the hive but haven't left.  I hope I did the right thing.  

There is no nectar flowing in Atlanta and even though the statistics say it has rained on 38% of the past 224 days this year - greater than 1/3 of the days, it seems to me as if it rains almost every day.  If they leave, there are no better areas for nectar collection around, so best if they don't.  If they are leaving because of disease, then who knows if it would be better for them not to be here.  


16 comments:

  1. I'm really sorry that you're having so much drama with this hive, but I really appreciate your write up. It's fascinating - and only a matter of time before something similar happens here. I have very mixed feelings about robber screens. I didn't use them last year and my best hive was robbed weak and didn't survive the winter.

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  2. I have been thinking of using robber screens this season (I'm in New Zealand) but am definitely having second thoughts now! Thank you for sharing all this, sad though it is.

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  3. Would feeding help as well, Linda?

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  4. I had no idea that when a hive absconds it removes the brood first. Thanks for continuing to have a great blog, and share your experiences with us!

    Chris
    Show Me The Honey Blog

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  5. This is incredible. Thank you so much for writing about this experience.

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  6. Western Wilson, They have food - two supers of honey - one completely full and the other half full. They have remained in the hive for the last two days and things look normal except for the queen excluder.

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  7. I had a nuc that was continuously showing the same behavior last year. I put a piece of plastic queen excluder over the entrance to keep the queen in and eventually 90% of the hive just took off without her. They would swarm out and ball up on a branch nearby then an hour or so later realize they had no queen and go back. Did that for a few days then finally I guess just decided they hated that nuc box so much they would rather be queenless some where else than live there with her.

    I added some frames of larva from a larger hive and kept the nuc going but it was too weak going into Winter and eventually did die out anyway.

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  8. I've never heard of this before! Do you think it's just because of the poor weather and nectar flow? Was there much honey in the hive to begin with? I'm feeling anxious for you and hope you're successful in keeping them put!

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  9. Linda, Its very possible what your experiencing is caused by small hive beetles. Usually bees will abort lots of brood if you have a significant SHB problem. This is because the beetles oviposit in the cells and the bees abort the brood to rid the eggs and larva. Keep an eye out for small hive beetle larva around the entrance of your hive. you may also notice SHB larva worming through the combs. They will even cause the honey to ferment and ooze from the comb. Keep smashing the buggers.

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  10. Anonymous8:48 PM

    Really interesting thanks

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  11. Fascinating post. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  12. Anonymous1:24 AM

    Any update on how things are going?

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  13. Update today - thanks for caring! I've just been snowed under and away from the blog.

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  14. I tried to comment on another post but do not think it went through. Lost my second hive this year - they absconded from my top bar hive after looking great three weeks ago. I had the one next door (Langstroth) go queenless and I did not reduce size fast enough and wax moths took over :( This one had wax moths in the brood comb but I think that wasn't the cause, just the aftermath. I feel much better that you have had this happen to you, thanks for sharing both the good and bad experiences!!

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  15. I tried to comment on another post but do not think it went through. Lost my second hive this year - they absconded from my top bar hive after looking great three weeks ago. I had the one next door (Langstroth) go queenless and I did not reduce size fast enough and wax moths took over :( This one had wax moths in the brood comb but I think that wasn't the cause, just the aftermath. I feel much better that you have had this happen to you, thanks for sharing both the good and bad experiences!!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I tried to comment on another post but do not think it went through. Lost my second hive this year - they absconded from my top bar hive after looking great three weeks ago. I had the one next door (Langstroth) go queenless and I did not reduce size fast enough and wax moths took over :( This one had wax moths in the brood comb but I think that wasn't the cause, just the aftermath. I feel much better that you have had this happen to you, thanks for sharing both the good and bad experiences!!

    ReplyDelete

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