Sunday, May 1, 2016

IS IT WINTER LOSS? submitted by beekeeper Gerard

All through winter I heard buzzing in all 8 hives.  On warm days there were bees coming and going on cleansing flights from all 8 hives.  It appeared that all 8 hives survived.

On April 14 I reversed the hives and cleaned off the screened bottom boards.  Hive #7 was a mess.  Dead moldy bees jammed from the west wall to between the second and third frames, from the bottom of the lower deep up through the second deep and a medium super.  The screened bottom board had an inch of dead moldy bees completely covering it.  Yet bees were coming and going, bringing in yellow pollen, looking good from the outside.  The living bees, clustered, might have been the size of a small grapefruit.  Still had frames of honey.

The other 7 hives appeared very good.  Lots of bees, very few dead on the screened bottom boards, bringing in lots of yellow pollen. No K-wing, no signs of DWV.  All looked well.

Since I wanted to get through all of the hives that afternoon I didn't look for evidence of queens.  I just reversed the hive bodies and cleaned the screened bottom boards.  I left #7 with one deep and the medium super.  There weren't enough bees for two deeps and the one I removed was the worst of them.  Needed serious cleaning. 

I set out community feeders 100 feet or so from the apiary and fed 2 gallons of 1:1 syrup with essential oils each day for the next 4 days so the bees could add to whatever stores remained in the hives.  They cleaned out the feeders in 3 hours each day.

On April 17, 3 days after reversing the hives, I went looking for queen evidence in all of the hives.  I did not find evidence in hives #4, #6 and #7.  Two of my colonies, #3 and #8 were very strong, so I took frames of brood and honey along with the workers from #8 and put them in #7 to help build the population.  I also shook workers from another frame to get a decent amount of bees to keep the brood warm.

Since northern queens were not even started yet I ordered (3) queens from California on 4/18.  They were sent overnight on 4/20 and I introduced them on 4/21.  Due to rainy weather coming I had to analyze them two days later whereas I usually wait a minimum of three days.  The colonies seemed to be okay with them.  In all three hives there were several bees on the cages facing the queens and attendants.  No hostility.  So I directly released them and watched them go down the combs and disappear.  I also shook more bees from #8 into #7 for a little extra insurance.

I will be checking for queen evidence on the next nice day, of which it seems we have so few lately.  I listen every day to the buzzing in the hives and watch the outside activity and all looks and sounds well.  But I won't know until I go in.

These three colonies were unquestionably doomed on 4/17 if there had been no intervention.  They may still be doomed.  Are these winter losses?  It didn't look like it on 4/16. 

The sand was just about out of the hourglass for #7 whereas #4 and #6 had very strong populations.  I thought it strange that there was no evidence of a queen in those two hives for as strong as they were.  I checked again before introducing the new queens, but nothing.  A lot of very clean cells in the brood chamber, and pollen and honey in the outside frames.

I would call #7 a winter loss with no further ado.  Probably 90% of the fall/winter bees had died along with the queen and the colony was in its final days.  #4 and #6 have me puzzled.  Why was there no evidence of a queen with so many workers and relatively clean screened bottom boards?  When and how did they disappear? 

I've had die outs before.  Bees piling up outside the hives starting in January/February and going silent in March.  That's been my understanding of a die out.  None of these hives went silent......yet.



Fred Ransome said...

A "hive" has a definite life. It is usually defined as the time as headed by one queen. When the queen dies, she must be replaced. In the winter there really isn't a way for the hive to raise an emergency replacement.

You didn't mention the age of the queens in the three hives that were in trouble. It could be the queen reached the end of her natural life.

Also, during egg laying the queen consumes her weight in food each day. In essence she is a big filter for any contaminants (virus's, pesticides, etc.) in the hive food supply. These contaminants could build up to a toxic level in the queen way before it harms the sorter lived worker bees.

Gerard Schubert said...

Good points.

The queens were first year. #6 was a Carniolan that came in a package last spring, #4 and #7 were queens introduced in July, 2015. I remember thinking last fall that if I lost any hives it would be #4 or #7. They just didn't build up all that strong. Queens could've been deficient, but it was October and not a time to requeen. I have to be more proactive sooner.

Since the queens eat only royal jelly, and royal jelly is produced by young bees, wouldn't contaminants be filtered out? I haven't researched that.

Anonymous said...

I also had good looking hives in March only t see the dwindles in April and no evidence of brood. Total of about 6 hives, first time this has happened for me in my 6 years of having bees