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Author Topic: Walt Wright and Weak Colony  (Read 2198 times)
tillie
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« on: February 16, 2009, 10:34:51 PM »

I have a very weak colony - I actually thought it was dead.  I opened it last Friday and still thought it a dying hive because I only saw about 150-200 bees in a baseball sized cluster and saw no brood or queen.  But I took my camera and snapped pictures and in one of the pictures, the queen is right there in the lower center of the frame. 

But this hive is doomed if I can't add bees.

Walt Wright in a 1996 article says:  "Because we winter with two hive bodies and a shallow feed box, we can remove the feed box with patrolling bees and place it over small clusters to supplement healthy bees. The super can be returned on a cold morning."  He goes on to say that at this time of year (February) "you can't improve the situation by moving brood."

Two questions:

1.  What does he mean by saying that the super can be returned on a cold morning?

2.  I am terrified that I will by accident move the queen from a strong hive if I take a frame of bees to put on this very weak hive.  And do I have to do anything to neutralize the bees when I move them such as spray them with sugar syrup or put vanilla on the tops of the frames to keep them from killing each other?

Thanks in advance,

Linda T in Atlanta

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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2009, 10:42:45 PM »

Linda, I want to hear what the answers coming will be.  I have no clue what Walt Wright means by a shallow feed box, that befuddles me.  I had to read that several times to see if I could figure it out.  If you shook some bees into this weak colony, I am pretty sure that there would not be any fighting.  You know that others will chime in,I want to know too.  Good luck with this teeny tiny colony.  It may shock and surprise you.  Do you remember that colony that I overwintered with the terrarium heater inside it?  It was only a couple of hundred bees, but it has turned out to be my survivor stock, a super, super great colony.  It is the only one with those genes that I have left.  All my other 8 colonies died. Don't ever give up on this teeny tiny colony.  Have a great, most wonderful day, Cindi
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2009, 10:52:43 PM »

I think he means he winters with two deeps and a shallow. 

I can understand moving a shallow to a weak colony to add bees, but again there's the problem of possibly moving the queen from the strong colony (maybe he uses a honey excluder?) 

I don't understand why you would ever move that super back to the original colony if the idea is to add bees to the weak colony....

I want this colony to survive and don't know if I can make it happen, but I sure am going to try.

So the question still is how at this early part of the season can one best add bees to a weak colony?

Linda T in Atlanta
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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2009, 10:55:21 PM »

linda, if you have frames of capped brood, that's your best bet.  the queen usually won't be on there because she's laying elsewhere.  you can smoke that frame a little before you move it.  she'll usually move off in short order and you'll still have a lot of workers on there.  or...find her first and make sure you don't take that frame.  smiley

about the boxes....i have no clue.  kind of sounds like you put that super on your hive and when it's cold, you take it off because the bees would have moved down to the cluster?  seems shaking some workers in would be easier....
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« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2009, 11:43:03 PM »

Open them up and pour a tablespoon of honey directly on top of the frames. String the honey on top of the frames. Do it every couple of days. I've kept a hive just like that going thru winter here in DFW. I've also brought them in the office here at the house when it is below 50 at night. Keep entrance as small as possible. Hopefully keep out robbers.
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2009, 06:29:41 AM »

I think he means on the cold morning,the bees will have moved down out of the sha;llow to rejoin the cluster.Then the only thing you are moving back to the original hive is the box,minus the bees you gave to the second hive.
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2009, 07:02:29 AM »

I am concerned about moving brood because there are so few bees - wondering if there would be enough nurse bees to care for those brood.  I guess if the brood is capped there is no need for nursing but there is a need for warmth....and it was below freezing last night.

buzzbee - that makes sense about the box....the bees move into the cluster below and the box is free of bees more or less to move back to its original colony if needed.

Linda T in Atlanta
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2009, 07:11:10 AM »

Linda,
I would wait until the first warm day when the bees are flying, and just swap locations. The weak hive will add forage bees, and there is no way the queen can get moved.

Not sure where Walt was writing from, but I would imagine in Georgia, even North Georgia, you could probably take some frames of bees from another hive, IF you can find the queen.

If you can not locate the queen, then swap the locations. Just remember to do it on a day when bees are flying.
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2009, 08:37:21 AM »

Call Walt and ask!!! He is more than willing to discuss bees. I have spoke to him twice about NM and he has even dropped me a line or two on the subject.

Have the article ready to reference.

His # 931-468-2059

I got his # from his NM literature.
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2009, 08:38:40 AM »

Linda

I just went through this (I'm in up in Rome).  I hope I am understanding your problem.  But if you are combining, you better do a newspaper combine or either the old colony bees will be killed or the new.  I took advice (from the forum archive) on non-newspaper combining and it lead to one weak hive instead of a nice strong hive--paid $20 for those extra bees too.  They fought and I had an entire shovel full of dead bees in the bottom of the hive.  I got a second batch of bees and I put on another deep on top of the paper, put in a sugar feeder and closed them up, cut slits in the paper and everything went fine.  Now I have a hive that may be ok.  I will never, never, ever, never combine without paper again.  Oh, I put some lemongrass on the paper to mask the pheromones better.  

I would like to hear more from BjornBee on moving the box.  I wondering how this would be different from robbers coming to rob a hive.  Don't the hive bees know the difference due to the "smell" of the different bees.  Isn't that why robbers are attacked at the opening?  I watched this at my hive last week.  There is a feral colony in the area and they were robbing my small hive.  I am new so these questions are not accusations, just for my knowledge.
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« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2009, 08:53:17 AM »

Swapping hive locations does not start or promote robbing.

Forage bees coming back to the hive, are loaded with nectar and pollen. They exhibit no signs of robbing or aggressive behavior. So they are more than given a pass into the hive. You can watch them enter, come back out as they are confused, take a brief flight, go back in, etc. They are more tuned into the location than the smell.

If you watch a hive being tested by potential robbers, they swoop in, back off, swoop in again, and are testing the defences of the hive. The guard bees know the signs and automatically sense these bees. They will make a motion towards these hovering bees.

Forage bees on the other hand, come straight back to the entrance. They are loaded with stores, they are tired, and exhibit none of the classic behavior that alarms the the guard bees.

Hive swapping is a true and tested method of equalizing hive strength, and bolstering a weak. I do it all the time in nuc building.

Hope this helps.
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« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2009, 09:30:31 AM »

Bjorn

That is really cool.  I don't have a lot of texts and so get most of my info here.  So, is it then the queen's pheromone that causes new bees to attack when you are combining?  When I did the non-newspaper combine, it appeared the bees in the old hive came up into the new box with the frames of new bees and attacked them?  So I was assuming they "smelled" a foriegn odor and attacked the new comers.  I learn something each day I log on.  Thank you for that.
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« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2009, 09:44:16 AM »

Certainly many things go into it. Was the one hive (half) queenless for a period of time?

Personally, I would never combine colonies unless I used a newspaper method, or as a minimum, smoked them heavily and sprayed them down with sugar water. This way, by the time they clean themselves up, they are more likely to not sense the differences.

Yes, the queens pheromones come into play with combining etc. But if the hives are properly prepared, you use techniques that take away or minimize problems, you should have little problems or loss.
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« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2009, 09:50:17 AM »

Yes.  I prepared the hives by allowing one to go queenless for 2.5 days. Sprayed both heavily with sugar and lemongrass.  The old hive was already aggressive, maybe that was the problem.  It looked like they came up.  Should have removed the other as soon as I saw that.  Always paper for now on.

Tillie, sorry for crowding your thread!!  I hope my novice questions have helped you too.
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2009, 09:55:00 AM »

Cindy Bee says if you move bees at this time of year that it is a good idea to paint the tops of the brood box of the hive into which the new bees are moving with vanilla or anise to confuse the smell.....FWIW

Walt Wright was writing about bees in Tennessee at the time 1996 - he is now, I think, in Huntsville.  I thought I'd start reading all of his articles and the first two addressed my problem of a deeply weakened hive - he was writing about trachael mites decimating a colony, but the upshot is the same - tiny cluster in February in the South.

Linda T in Atlanta
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« Reply #15 on: February 17, 2009, 10:47:08 AM »

when you take you frame of brood, shake some workers in there too.  if you don't want to take brood and workers from the same hive, get some workers from another strong hive.  they'll be ok.  capped brood is pretty hardy.  i think it was MB that posted the things about temps and capped brood.  you might check his site.
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« Reply #16 on: February 17, 2009, 07:03:58 PM »

Yes.  I prepared the hives by allowing one to go queenless for 2.5 days. Sprayed both heavily with sugar and lemongrass.  The old hive was already aggressive, maybe that was the problem.  It looked like they came up.  Should have removed the other as soon as I saw that.  Always paper for now on.

Tillie, sorry for crowding your thread!!  I hope my novice questions have helped you too.

Just for information sake:
Quote
Yes, the queens pheromones come into play with combining etc. But if the hives are properly prepared, you use techniques that take away or minimize problems, you should have little problems or loss.
It should be noted that lemongrass aroma mimics that of a queen bee, so using it in hives when combining them is more apt to make it appear to both hives are queenright when that may not be the case.  When combining it is best to do as BjornBee recommends:
Quote
Personally, I would never combine colonies unless I used a newspaper method, or as a minimum, smoked them heavily and sprayed them down with sugar water. This way, by the time they clean themselves up, they are more likely to not sense the differences.


When combining it is sometime prudent to use a masking agent to suppress the queen phenomores rather than enhance them.  Using Vanilla extract, peppermint or Speermint oils will work better in this regard. 
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« Reply #17 on: February 18, 2009, 06:18:29 PM »

I'm not sure what he meant.

>I think he means he winters with two deeps and a shallow. 

According to the diagrams in his Nectar Management publication, he winters in, from bottom to top, a shallow (usually full of pollen) a deep, and about three shallows.
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« Reply #18 on: February 21, 2009, 03:57:29 AM »

Wow, this simple topic got 'Jacked-Up'.

The idea is like Ken said.
You are taking warmed up forager bees from a stronger hive and forcing them to recluster with a weaker hive when the day cools. However, there is a fair chance that if consecutive days are warm, foragers will return to the home colony. So this works best in cool conditions.

The idea of adding much brood is foolish. The small population will not have enough resources to cover and care for brood.  It will freeze, die, and be a waste of a good resource. It would best to borrow a modest population from a strong hive and feed them to motivate the queen to begin laying.

The idea of merging a weak spring hive isn't so hot either. There's a reason the hive didn't survive. Tracheal mites, a virus, bad genetics, who knows, but do you want to spread it around? If you are at a potential loss of a couple hundred bees, swallow your pride and let it go. Clean the equipment and start with a new colony or split from the strong.

Just for the record, phermones are less of an issue in the winter. There are brood phermones the diminish during the winter when brood rearing slows.  And there are 'contact' phermones that also diminish as fewer bees have direct and reoccuring contact with the queen. This is why it isn't difficult for merged bees to remain on the surface of a cluster without combat.

Walt does a lot of different research. One can not say he always does this one set up and assume. Each article has to be taken for the complete information of that specific article. This is why people fail at his suggestions, they imply conditions that he doesn't state. Its what makes his info diversely genius and yet difficult to follow if you don't pay attention.
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« Reply #19 on: February 21, 2009, 07:51:51 AM »

Thank you, NWIN Beekeeper, you addressed everything I was curious about.  The article I was reading was about trachael mite decimation in the winter - because I have wondered why this hive has done so poorly.  I've had several theories.  The box below (the deep) in this hive has a few dead bees clinging to the frames and looks like a hive looks when it has absconded. 

So I have wondered if the bees in this second box are actually a hive that moved into the box after the original colony died.  I had a small absconded hive that I had in a nuc - they had been destroyed by robbing and in desperation had left their hive and were clumped on the ground.  I gave them a nuc and they moved in.  Suddenly one day they were all gone.  Lots of dead bees on the bottom board as if robbing had once again ended this hive.  So one of my pet theories is that this small group is the remainder of the nuc hive - the queen looks just like the queen who was in it.

Or it could be as you said, that the hive has been ill and that's why there are so few, so why would I want to spread the problem?  So far, I've given them food and haven't moved them into a nuc - it's been too cold here.  But I will move them on the first warm day and see what happens.

My strongest hive (has been around the entire three seasons I've kept bees and is bustling as I begin my fourth) was almost wiped out my varroa vectored diseases after my first season.  They rebuilt and grew and are now my strongest hive and best honey producer.

Thanks for the input, NWIN beekeeper.

Linda T in Atlanta
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