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Is colony on the way out?

 
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Alan B
House Bee


Joined: 14 Apr 2014
Posts: 24
Location: Kent

PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2015 3:15 pm    Post subject: Is colony on the way out? Reply with quote

Further to my recent 'mystery ailment' strand (which appears to have been drone expulsion), I have a single Warre hive and have noticed a considerable dip in the number of bees going to and from the hive since a swarm took place some 4-5 weeks back (there may have even been more than one according to the neighbours!). The number of bees leaving and entering the hive continues to fall, but drones are still being expelled. Critically, there has been no pollen going in for I would estimate as at least 2-3 weeks. Of course some will say that I need to go in and find whether a) I still have a Queen and b) whether she is laying. It is not so easy with a Warre, so before I consider it, could it just be that I am witnessing a considerable lull since the swarm before the new Queen starts laying again, or am I witnessing the slow end of the colony unless I intervene?

Regards and thanks

Alan
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1565
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 10:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Alan

Unfortunately it could be either scenario and there is no way for us to tell. Traffic at the entrance also varies throughout the day and of course with weather conditions, so if you are observing for short periods at the same time of day that may make things appear quiet.
Your neighbours are almost certainly correct that the hive has swarmed multiple times.
My established colonies tend to go through what I term a "holiday" period after multiple swarming. This typically lasts 4-5 weeks after the last swarm. During this time, activity is significantly reduced and there is no brood. The colony already has plenty of honey stores and pollen and comb for their own needs, so there is no necessity for them to work. The bees live much longer than the average 6 weeks because they are not working themselves to death. This long broodless period also benefits the colony in respect of reducing the varroa mite population which cannot breed without bee brood.
Just when I start to think that all is lost, they grind back into gear and start raising brood.
That doesn't mean to say that this is what is happening in your hive, it's just my experience. I also had a hive swarm itself to death last year which really shocked me as I've never had that happen before, so I can't rule out that what you are seeing is terminal decline either.

I think you have to accept that if you are going to be a hands off beekeeper, then you allow them to live or die on their own merits. Only opening the hive when you think there is a problem is not the way to learn about bees in my opinion. You need to learn to recognise what is normal first. I feel it is important for beginner beekeepers to get to know and handle their bees, so that they are not trying to deal with an emergency on the odd occasion when they open the hive. That just makes those situations more stressful. If the hive has not been regularly inspected then breaking the boxes apart may be quite difficult as there will be brace comb and propolis welding things together.

I would add that I have done more harm by trying to help my bees without knowing all the facts than by leaving them to it, so my advice would probably be, just to sit back and observe.

Good luck with them whatever you decide

Regards

Barbara
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Alan B
House Bee


Joined: 14 Apr 2014
Posts: 24
Location: Kent

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Barbara

We had always decided that we would operate things on a non-intervention basis so had more or less already decided to just watch and learn. After I had posted I thought that there would be some that would think we were being neglectful by not "going in". Your words are very re-assuring and we will almost certainly sit it out.

Regards

Alan
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Barbara
Site Admin


Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1565
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 12:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pleased I was able to help you come to a decision.
I will be interested to hear how it turns out if you don't mind updating this thread. At the moment there is not much other evidence/reports of this "holiday" period behaviour being witnessed, mostly I guess because people feel the need to intervene and requeen, rather than risk losing the colony(the usual beekeeper reaction is to assume the colony has been left queenless and give them a new one), so I am always interested to read if/when other people observe it.
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Adam Rose
Silver Bee


Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 582
Location: Manchester, UK

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 3:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Barbara wrote:
Pleased I was able to help you come to a decision.
I will be interested to hear how it turns out if you don't mind updating this thread. At the moment there is not much other evidence/reports of this "holiday" period behaviour being witnessed, mostly I guess because people feel the need to intervene and requeen, rather than risk losing the colony(the usual beekeeper reaction is to assume the colony has been left queenless and give them a new one), so I am always interested to read if/when other people observe it.


Hi Barbara,

I don't have as much experience as you with this so I didn't say anything on this thread, but I believe I am seeing something similar on one of my Japanese hives that swarmed a lot ( the one that I described as having a significant population collapse and being a possible parent for the other Japanese hive where a swarm moved in ).

The swarm that moved in - mostly likely a cast if my guess at its parentage is correct - is also taking some time to get going. Last week, the population was doing fine but there was little or no pollen going in. That was probably about ten days after the swarm had arrived.

I have not been able to observe regularly since I have been on holiday and am traveling now, so we shall see how things develop.

I have also noticed a distinct lack of drones in my other hives. Since it's likely that the queens in both hives are virgins, that may have something to do with it. I believe that there are more drones later in the year, when the Himalayan Balsam and Rosebay willow herb gets going. Last year there were some very late swarms because the autumn went on for so long, but I think in a normal year this second surge of drones correlates with the supercedure season rather than the swarming season. If you think about it, supercedure is probably a more effective way of passing on your genes than swarming, since your genes are going into a functioning, healthy colony that is very likely to survive the winter and produce its own drones ( with your genes in them ) next year.

The colony in the tree in the same park had its population dip quite dramatically a month or so earlier, but I don't think that was to do with swarming. I think it was to do with the long period of wet cold weather we had. For the first time I noticed diarrhoea on the bark of the tree. It's now recovering, and I can hear the loud hum on the outside of the hive that I usually hear. I wouldn't be surprised if this colony swarms later in the year.

This is just more evidence that if you're not focused on honey production, then a temporary population collapse is not the end of the world. Most of us can tell stories of surprisingly small colonies that made it through the winter as well.

Also, it's very difficult to think like this when you first start out and maybe only have one or two colonies - I know I certainly did not - but if your colony swarms a lot and doesn't survive it will have left a perfectly designed home that is very likely to attract swarms next year.

Adam.
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peopleshive
Guard Bee


Joined: 07 Aug 2011
Posts: 51
Location: Central Scotland

PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 7:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Alan,
One thing I do that can take some of the guesswork out of knowing what is going on in a colony is to put round 'port-hole' windows in the front of each box. Very easy to make with a hole saw. I use a small square of perspex on the inside and a large cork jar tops to stopper the outside.

At all times you can then tell: the extent of comb building; the rough population size; where the brood is (the inside surface of the cork is often warm to the touch in this box); the state of the floor; the rough amount of capped stores. Knowing if/when to harvest is also much easier. Two post swarm signs are a reduced hanging cluster in the bottom box and disappearance of the honey surplus up against the window in the top box.

Maybe worth a try in future?

Well done for not interfering so far - my guess is that you are seeing normal post-swarm signs, as Barbara said.

Andy
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Alan B
House Bee


Joined: 14 Apr 2014
Posts: 24
Location: Kent

PostPosted: Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:45 pm    Post subject: Is colony on the way out? Reply with quote

Hi Barbara (and all)

You asked for an update on my watching brief of our hive.

Its been around 9-10 weeks now from what was probably a multiple swarming of our single warre hive. Drones have all been expelled, but the numbers of girls going in and out have continued to dwindle to the odd trickle of activity. Such bees that there are appear to start late and finish early in the evening, although I have noticed some occasional pollen going in. However, this hive has never been harvested since last July so there are probably reasonable stores in there.

I am thinking now that perhaps the post swarm holiday period of which we spoke might be looking more like the slow decline of a colony. However, I will report again in 2-3 weeks!

Regards

Alan
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