A little over a month ago I posted about robbing bees. It turns out that a colony had died and so some of the cleverer bees from the other colonies took advantage of the gap (nature abhors a void) and started stealing the unprotected honey.
It’s happened again.
I’d be panicking that maybe something was seriously amiss in my little apiary but I luckily had a visitor on the farm who is an expert apiarist, he works for the government in this capacity. He brought his right-hand-gal with him. They were kind enough to come into the apiary (smoker and hive tool in hand) to see if anything untoward was going on. I had my list of things for him to check ready:
Problem 1) I’d tried to save a dying, queenless colony (C2) a couple of weeks earlier by providing some young brood, hoping they’d make a new queen. He opened the hive and said to give up. There was clearly evidence that they’d tried to make a new queen (partially removed queen cell), but there was no queen in residence. The colony will die, the bees are “disheartened” and there is no turning them around, at least not in the middle of winter. She agreed and my suggestion to merge the hive with another using newspaper to separate them was frowned upon. The bees are too disheartened to even eat through newspaper and the risk of the remote chance that they have some disease is not worth adding a few bees to a winter colony in dearth. As it is a mid-winter dearth they have little chance of begging admittance to another hive. They are doomed. (Oh 😦 )
Problem 2) A reasonably strong hive (C1) had been experiencing high deaths, I suspected another pesticide poisoning incident. He inspected the hive and said it is fine. I spotted the queen, she is a lovely, fat thing the colour of caramel. This queen was from April. The colony was also requeened in January but that queen had died/vanished by the April requeening. I think we now have a good queen and the hive will do well over the winter. My expert did say there is plenty of honey and pollen stores but no indication of new food being brought in so, with a laying queen and a dearth on, a colony can run out of stores even when it looks like there is plenty. I’ll have to watch that with all my hives.
Question (not problem) 3) The swarm from 16 May (C3) is looking great. I asked my expert about it. He agreed that’s waaayy too late for a swarm (everyone agrees that). He noticed the bees were darker than my others (something I’d also noticed) and we surmised they are feral bees who moved into our apiary. This is apparently pretty common. We have created a giant lure which is fine with me. The swarm landed on the back of one of our hives and was easy to collect. It was the 2nd swarm to do that this autumn. (The first one didn’t survive.) Maybe this feral bee habit will help make up for our losses. 🙂
Problem 4) There was one hive (B1) that looked funny for the first time during this inspection. Bees were working hard to get into the small ventilation holes at the back of the lid. We looked out front (see the photo at the top of this post) and there were a lot of bees there too. We suspected robbing so opened the lid. All those bees out front were robbers. The colony is gone. No sign of disease or pests. Another failed queen, this one from the April batch. 😦 😦
Once it was dark and cold, I returned alone to my diminishing apiary. At night the robbers had gone back into their own hives so there weren’t been many bees in the hive. I loaded the 3 boxes making up Hive B1 (no colony in residence) onto my specially designed bee-hive-trolley (I didn’t know such a thing existed before moving to the farm and finding it in the shed). I put the boxes, undisturbed, in the honey room and went to bed. In the morning I discovered that a few bees had camped out in the dead hive and woke up in the honey room. Poor things couldn’t figure out how to get through the glass to go back home (no doubt with full tummies).
In the next couple of days, when the weather permits, I will distribute the frames of pollen and honey amongst the remaining hives. Waste not want not.
All of the original 23 hives were requeened this year, half in January and half in April. We’ve lost 3 colonies since then (including C2 which is in its final death throes). The expert tells me 4 dud queens (counting the one that was requeened twice) out of 24 is an acceptable rate. It could, in fact, have been higher but the colonies may have replaced any other failed queens that we installed in January without us noticing. This wasn’t really possible with the queens installed in April, that was too late in the year for them to replace a bad queen.
17% failure sounds like a pretty bad ratio to me but I’m trusting the expert. Anyone out there have any comments about what failure rate you might expect with requeening?
So, I’m about to have 21 hives in my apiary (B1 & C2 RIP). Still a lot, but each colony death saddens me a little. Yeah, I know, they’re just insects.