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Queenless and being robbed?

 
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2014 11:54 pm    Post subject: Queenless and being robbed? Reply with quote

I'm looking for some advice fairly quickly. I purchased a hive from a well known apiary in north Boulder, CO which contains 8 brood combs with very little brood, no fresh eggs, is gathering pollen steadily, but has very little honey. I have three dedicated drawn combs for honey behind the combined comb but they are empty. I suspected robbing last week and closed the hive for 24 hours. When I re-opened it I reduced the opening with 1/8" hardware cloth to about a 1"x2" opening. I have a really bad feeling that they have been robbed and are queenless. I did not see fighting at the entrance but I did see some fighting in the hive. The workers are busy gathering but there is also a lot of aimless activity in the hive.

At this point, I am tempted to close the hive, provide water and powdered sugar and leave them closed (with ventilation) for 48 hours. It may cause the robbers to assimilate and also to give them time to focus on raising a queen. I saw a one queen cell but I have never heard of them only creating one emergency queen cell.

Any thoughts?

dK

PS - I am a newb with only a year under my belt so be gentle Wink
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Dexter's shed
Scout Bee


Joined: 16 May 2014
Posts: 307
Location: Grays, Essex, UK

PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 5:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

queen cells are different from emergency cells, you have said yourself, very little in the way of eggs/larvae, perhaps they only had one viable option
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dexter's shed wrote:
queen cells are different from emergency cells, you have said yourself, very little in the way of eggs/larvae, perhaps they only had one viable option


Great point. I'm too close to this to be thinking clearly.

I noticed last night a string of bees strung across the gap between my deepest brood comb and the first honey comb - ~3 inches - and they were hooked together leg-to-leg. There were 4 bees total in the chain. Is that related to robbing or something completely different?

Never a dull moment as a new beek!
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1581
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 2:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi

Sorry to hear you are having problems.

I'm curious as to how big the entrance was before you reduced it? If it is robbing, I" x 2" is still way too big. Try half an inch square. Don't worry if they have to queue to get in, as that will help prevent robbers. I would much rather reduce the entrance right down than close it altogether. Make sure there is no other way in and perhaps even but a piece of clear plastic over the front so that there is enough of a gap for bees to get in and out but will hopefully baffle robbers.

If they have been robbed you will find the honey comb ripped open. It is very different to the way bees open their own honey stores as they want to preserve the comb for reuse. When robbers have been in it looks like it has been ransacked and you will usually see chunks of comb cappings on the hive floor.

When did you buy the colony and what was it's make up when you got it? ie. How many frames/combs of brood and stores? Is it a Langstroth or a TBH? I'm a bit confused by your initial post as you say it contains 8 brood combs but then you say it contains very little brood. Roughly how much brood is there and at what stage? Is the queen cell occupied and at what stage (open or capped or has it hatched)? Where on the comb is it? (on the edge suggests a supercedure cell, in the middle of the comb is usually an emergency queen. Perhaps the original queen was failing. Closing the hive up completely, if you have a virgin queen that needs to mate, is not a good idea.

Sorry, lots of questions and no real answers! I'm not sure about feeding them powdered sugar. Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned but if I felt feeding was necessary, I would go with light syrup, just because it's as close in format to nectar as we can easily provide.

If the colony is not strong and being robbed, then that can certainly cause the queen to stop laying, so you may not be queenless or you may have a young queen developing.

Good luck with them and if you can provide a bit more information then that would be helpful.

Regards

Barbara
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madasafish
Silver Bee


Joined: 29 Apr 2009
Posts: 880
Location: Stoke On Trent

PostPosted: Wed Jul 16, 2014 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DurangoKid wrote:

I noticed last night a string of bees strung across the gap between my deepest brood comb and the first honey comb - ~3 inches - and they were hooked together leg-to-leg. There were 4 bees total in the chain. Is that related to robbing or something completely different?

Never a dull moment as a new beek!


That is how they make wax combs..
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

madasafish wrote:
DurangoKid wrote:

I noticed last night a string of bees strung across the gap between my deepest brood comb and the first honey comb - ~3 inches - and they were hooked together leg-to-leg. There were 4 bees total in the chain. Is that related to robbing or something completely different?

Never a dull moment as a new beek!


That is how they make wax combs..


Thank you. I didn't know that.
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 4:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Barbara wrote:
Hi

Sorry to hear you are having problems.

<snip>

Good luck with them and if you can provide a bit more information then that would be helpful.

Regards

Barbara


Hi Barbara,

Sorry for the rather scattered post. I will try to fill in the gaps.

Due to travelling out of the country I dropped off one of my empty TBHs at the apiary in April. They filled the hive with one of their packages and set it out in the apiary. I picked it up on 24 June and drove the long distance back to the farm.

I only opened the hive once during the first 10 days after I received it and that was only a cursory examination. I didn't try to locate the queen but kept the intrusion short. The hive was 1/3 full at that time. The comb was so covered with bees that it was hard to see. I did shake a few bees off and noticed that there were no eggs or open brood. I saw only capped brood and pollen. A few days later I began to see many new bees emerging and doing their orientation dance and clumsy landings.

Fast forward a week and I began to notice the bees acting perturbed. There was a lot of hovering around the entrance and they were less tolerant of anything near the hive. I noticed some wrestling at the entrance and a number of bees just running around aimlessly inside the hive - in contrast to than their usual purposeful behaviour. During all this there was a steady stream of workers arriving loaded with pollen. I closed the hive after dark and checked early in the morning for visitors. There were two dozen bees attempting to get in so I left it closed for 24 hours (with ventilation) assuming they were robbers. There was no other way in or out of the hive.

Over this past weekend I went in and performed a much more thorough inspection. I did not see torn or roughed up comb as you mentioned nor cap debris on the floor. Most of the comb in the front of the hive was empty but covered with bees. I saw only a little capped brood and pollen. The combs were light in weight and I didn't see very much honey. I also saw one capped queen cell down near the bottom on the outside edge of the second bar from the entrance.

The two drawn combs past the bee space (one bar + 1/8" spacer) toward the rear are developed almost to the edge of the hive but are completely empty.

Regarding feeding - I don't usually feed except late fall to early spring. It is so cold and dry here during winter that syrup doesn't flow. It turns to rock. I use finely powdered sugar (confection or baker's sugar) in the bottom of the hive.

I misspoke regarding the entrance. The normal entrance is 3/8" x 6". I reduced it to 3/8" x 1.5" upon reopening the hive and it remains at that size. The remainder of the entrance is covered with 1/8" screen.

Apologies for the tome but I hope it paints a more accurate picture of where things are.

dK
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1581
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the extra info but I'm still mystified. 2 dozen robber bees there first thing in the morning is a concern if you can be sure they were robbers and not just late foragers. I would certainly reduce the entrance down further to at least half of what you have now but you could go further still. They will manage with as little as 1 bee space, so 3/8 x 3/8 should prevent robbers and still allow them access and since it seems they don't have any brood to feed at the moment, it shouldn't cause them a problem. If you want to use something to block the hole that they can eat through to open it up again, then that will allow them to regulate it. Newspaper for instance or beeswax. Just ensure if you use newspaper that it doesn't absorb moisture and swell to fill the whole hole. It's unlikely that robbers will hang around and try to eat through the blockage especially with a queue of foragers lining up to get through.

It's good that the queen cell you saw was capped but all the more important that you keep that hive open now, to allow her to get out and mate.

Regarding feeding:-

light syrup 1:1 or even 0.5:1 in spring and summer will stimulate brood production and comb building because it simulates the nectar that they would get from flowers.... ie a weak sweet liquid and is readily consumed.

heavy syrup 2:1 in late summer and early autumn helps the bees to top up their honey stores for winter. It is still a liquid, but needs much less evaporation of water to be stored for the winter, so they can take it, put it into cells ripen it and cap it quite quickly for use later.

sugar or fondant in mid winter is an emergency food for when stores are running out and it is unsuitable, as you rightly point out, to put liquid feed in the hive for a number or reasons. It tides them over a difficult time when survival is key, but I would guess it's like living on dried food/concentrates for us and of course it requires water. Usually in winter, there will be condensation in the hive and plenty of moisture outside the hive for them to access and they don't have any other work to do other than keep warm.

Hopefully, that explains why sugar at this time of year is not ideal. What they need now is something that is easily digestible and will give them a rapid pick up, rather than something that they have to dilute.
Think of a worker on a building site on a hot day and you give him a bottle of squash or even a sachet of crystals and say there's a tap(fawcett) over there..... imagine the expletives you would get.... compared to the one who you gave a glass of diluted juice to, who can drink it, hand you the glass back, hopefully thank you, and get back to work.

Best of luck

Barbara


Last edited by Barbara on Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 1:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Barbara. Your response was very helpful.

I will post a follow-up in another week or two as things unfold (hopefully for the better) in the event another tyro beek has a similar experience. In the meanwhile, we'll both have to settle for being mystified.

All the best

dK
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1581
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Strange things, that I haven't seen before, happening here with my bees too, despite the best weather and nectar flow we have had in years.
That's the fascinating thing about beekeeping. There is always something unusual happening to stretch the grey matter and make you ponder. Confused
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trekmate
Golden Bee


Joined: 30 Nov 2009
Posts: 1125
Location: UK, North Yorkshire, Bentham

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 2:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Barbara wrote:
Strange things, that I haven't seen before, happening here with my bees too, despite the best weather and nectar flow we have had in years.
That's the fascinating thing about beekeeping. There is always something unusual happening to stretch the grey matter and make you ponder. Confused


....or because of the best weather & nectar flow in years? Confused
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1581
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jul 17, 2014 3:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes John, I did wonder if it could be a double edged sword. After all, my bees are mostly dark mongrels. Maybe they just can't cope with this hot weather and plentiful harvest because they are acclimatised to cold damp British summers. Perhaps like me, they are suffering from the heat and too much sugar!
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am posting a follow-up as promised.

Since reducing the entry to a single bee space (thank you Barbara) the robbing has stopped completely. I am now seeing more capped honey on the top 1/3 of the comb and quite a few open honey cells in process.

Unfortunately, I still am not seeing any eggs or brood. I can only conclude that the hive has not produced a new queen. The size of the hive has continued to drop and the number of drones appears to be increasing (even though I am not seeing signs of workers laying). The only way I know of to bring the hive back to life is to donate brood comb from another hive - which I do not currently have.

Does anyone see the obvious that I might be overlooking?

dK
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I noticed today that the bees are dragging out drones and dumping them over the side of the hive. It seems awfully early in the year for that to occur in a healthy hive. Is this an indicator of something else going on in the hive?

dK
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 1:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have some excellent news to report! The weather was finally clear and sunny today so I decided to open the hive and look around. My curiosity was piqued by the sudden dumping of dozens of drones.

I was stunned to see at least 200 cells containing larva as well as capped brood on the 2nd and 3rd bars from the front of the hive. I also had a chance to see her highness on the third bar along with a cohort of attendees.

I am thrilled! The nectar flow continues to be excellent here with all the rain so I am hoping they can now grow to the point of being able to sustain themselves for winter.

All the best from 7,500 feet above sea level.

dK
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stevecook172001
Site Admin


Joined: 19 Jul 2013
Posts: 443
Location: Loftus, Cleveland

PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 6:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brilliant news DK. Looks like they're going to make it
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1581
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, I'm likewise overjoyed to hear that they are on the up.
For information, the lack of brood could have been because the hive was being robbed as this can cause the queen to stop laying.
So pleased that you were able to help them and they are now starting to build up.
So nice to hear a positive result.

Best wishes

Barbara
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DurangoKid
Nurse Bee


Joined: 15 Jul 2014
Posts: 36
Location: 7500', Durango, Colorado, USA

PostPosted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks to all of you for your PMs and helpful suggestions. Stopping the robbing appears to be largely responsible for getting things right again.

dK
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