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Author Topic: Starved hive... reuse the comb next season?  (Read 3546 times)
ineclipse
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« on: January 01, 2011, 11:59:59 PM »

Hi folks... well, unfortunately, my first post here on the forum is not good news...
I have 2 TB hives, one of which has starved.
My question is - is the empty comb, of which there is plenty in the hive, salvageable for use in the coming season?

I was planning on building a few more hives for the coming season - some for packages, some for bait hives, and am thinking to divvy up these empty combs among them to give the new residents a head start. Kosher or not?
 
I believe the reason for starvation is not disease or cold-weather related, as the honey stores are completely exhausted and other then some evidence of mites on the bottom board, I see no other evidence of problems in the hive. I had made a conscious decision to be completely 'hands-off' with this hive to see how it would do, so I guess there is no surprise at the result. They just ran out of food and without me stepping in with fondant or such, they were doomed. I'm trying not to regret the decision and just accept the lesson learned. (My other hive is surviving but weak, and I see it going down the same road... I am going to fondant that one up starting tomorrow.)



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Any thoughts?

Thanks!
J
« Last Edit: January 02, 2011, 07:36:05 AM by Robo » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2011, 07:41:19 AM »


My question is - is the empty comb, of which there is plenty in the hive, salvageable for use in the coming season?


Absolutely.  Drawn comb is a very valuable resource and will give you new bees a tremendous boost on building a new colony. The new queen can start laying in mass on day one and not have to wait for comb to be built.

From the pictures you provided, the comb looks in excellent shape and dead bees head first in cells is a sign of starvation. 

You now just need to protect the comb until your new hives are started.  Depending on where your located (please update your location in your profile) it may be cold enough that you don't have to do much other than screen off the entrance so that mice can't get in.

Welcome to the forum.
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ineclipse
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2011, 11:11:54 AM »

Hey, thanks Robo!
It's interesting, I've also been told that due to the inherent nature of swarming bees to want to get busy straight away in their new home drawing out new comb, that this old comb might just be ignored! I can see the logic in that, of course, but it left me wondering then why beeks sometimes use old comb in swarm and bait boxes...? (And yes, this empty comb is in great shape - it's only from this season, which is why I really hope to see it used and not just stuck in the melter.)

As for preserving the old comb... my hives are mouse guarded so no issue there, but what about moths and such? Should I not just remove the mouse guard and cork that hole up as well? Or having screened bottoms, will they still get in no matter what? I could take them inside, but maybe the cold is better...?

And what's your take on removal of the bee corpses from those cells? There are also a few dead larvae remains and even some old bee bread. Should I try to clean these combs up best as I can and then stick them back in the hive?

Lastly... (sorry... so many questions!)... Do you think I can use one of these or an empty comb in the weakening hive, to paste fondant on to and insert there? (It's about 45' here today, so don't know if it's too cold to do that.)

And as for where 'here' is... I see you are my neighbor! cheesy  I've added my location as "Catskills/Hudson Valley" ...I'm located down in the foothills, nestled happily between the Blue Mountain area and Woodstock.

Thanks for all your help and time! (It is highly appreciated!)
~J

PS - Thanks for inserting my photos!
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2011, 12:46:09 PM »

It's interesting, I've also been told that due to the inherent nature of swarming bees to want to get busy straight away in their new home drawing out new comb, that this old comb might just be ignored!
That's a new one to me.  Every swarm trap that I have had a swarm move into always used the bait comb.

Quote
As for preserving the old comb... my hives are mouse guarded so no issue there, but what about moths and such? Should I not just remove the mouse guard and cork that hole up as well? Or having screened bottoms, will they still get in no matter what? I could take them inside, but maybe the cold is better...?
Moths are not a problem this time of year. If they are protected from mice, I would just leave them be.  They are very brittle and susceptible to damage if you start handling them.

Quote
And what's your take on removal of the bee corpses from those cells? There are also a few dead larvae remains and even some old bee bread. Should I try to clean these combs up best as I can and then stick them back in the hive?
Just gently brush of what you can.  Don't attempt to clean the cells, you will do more damage than good.  The new bees will clean them out quickly.

Quote
Lastly... (sorry... so many questions!)... Do you think I can use one of these or an empty comb in the weakening hive, to paste fondant on to and insert there? (It's about 45' here today, so don't know if it's too cold to do that.)

That is an excellent idea.  Not sure your source of fondant, the consistency (or additives).  But another option is lay the combs on the side and pour granulated sugar into the cell followed by a little spritz of water.   
I fed some light colonies yesterday,  so the weather is fine.  Get it done today if possible as I think it will get cold again starting tomorrow.

Quote
And as for where 'here' is... I see you are my neighbor! cheesy  I've added my location as "Catskills/Hudson Valley" ...I'm located down in the foothills, nestled happily between the Blue Mountain area and Woodstock.

We are neighbors then,  I live up near the Ashokan reservoir. 
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ineclipse
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2011, 01:04:39 PM »

Excellent answers Robo, thank you so much.
I just whipped up a batch of fondant this morning and is cooling outside. Made some proper bea tea and packed it best I could with standard granulated cane sugar - same as I used for the tea. Don't know if I've got it dense enough, but maybe it doesn't need to be so completely thick if it's going into a comb. Hope to spread on the combs in about an hour. Glad you think the weather is good enough today. Kind of borderline I guess compared to yesterday.

Regarding the moths, more a general insect concern for March/April if we get an early spring... having those rotten bee corpses might attract something before I can get any bees on them. I'll just monitor a bit when it starts to warm up.

Thanks again and I'll return here with the outcome.

Happy New Year and may you and your colonies prosper in 2011!
J
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ineclipse
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2011, 01:11:26 PM »

...or... maybe I want to ensure that the fondant is completely thick enough, so not run the risk of stimulating the queen (assuming she's alive!) to start laying in early January!
On the other hand, I am definitely in triage mode with this colony... so maybe I shouldn't worry about stimulating them...

Wow... bees.
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2011, 01:31:31 PM »

Regarding the moths, more a general insect concern for March/April if we get an early spring... having those rotten bee corpses might attract something before I can get any bees on them. I'll just monitor a bit when it starts to warm up.

Moths don't usually pose any issue until later than that.  You might get some small black beetles with orange dots, but they pose no harm to the wax.  They only eat the insides of the corps, which actually makes the celan up for the bees easier.
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ineclipse
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« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2011, 12:10:29 AM »

Below you can see the fondant comb I made for inserting into the hive. This was 5-6 lbs of fondant on to one comb - both sides, with plenty of room to spare. Was concerned the comb was getting to heavy, but in the end I could have packed on another pound or two without worry. Strong combs!

When I opened up the hive I realized the girls were already at the end board with no space beyond the cluster to sneak the fondant comb. So I put it in as close to the back of the cluster as I dared to go and have no idea if they will actually discover it there and use it.

I then thought to take a peek further back in the hive and sure enough I found quite a few combs still with decent honey stores. Seems the cluster formed mid-hive and chose to head east, abandoning all the honey to the west. I brought these combs forward to just behind the fondant comb (I know, the honey combs should come first before the fondant... I'd already been messing with the hive too much and wasn't expecting to find this honey... so that's where it went.)

The only issue of possible concern on inspection of the honey stores was the discovery of what looks like some bad brood... see the last photo below. Can anyone tell me if this is an indicator of anything problematic?


Fondant spread on comb.

Fondant comb ready to go into the hive.

The hive and it's lost honey stores.

Capped honey missed by the bees.

More capped honey... they are missing a bunch of it.

Bad brood??


Thanks again,
Jason
« Last Edit: January 03, 2011, 06:51:02 AM by Robo » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2011, 06:58:52 AM »

That doesn't look like dead brood to me.  Appears to be pollen and honey/syrup.   Did you feed them sugar syrup?  The white chunks could be sugar crystals.  the others look like pollen and honey/syrup.  If you fed them bee tea, that is what could be giving it the nasty looking color.  Everything appears to look good to me.

Looks like you did good and they have plenty of stores now.  Probably the biggest obstacle they have now is just keeping warm.  How big was the cluster?
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2011, 09:25:53 AM »

Ineclipse,

One of the things that a beekeeper should know in preparing a hive for winter in cold regions, is how many frames of brood are present about mid-September.

Many beekeepers do little more than "hefting" the hives, then feeding the light ones, for their winter prep.

Brood raised in September is what will carry the hive through till spring. You can always feed a light hive. but you can never make up for lack of fall brood production.
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ineclipse
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2011, 04:18:55 PM »

Hi Robo - fed them exceedingly little during the year, and nothing at all since Sept. When I did feed, it was a chamomile-dandelion-thyme tea.
Those white blobs are what led me to think brood, but now I'm just thinking its fermented honey.

The cluster size is my worry. It's difficult for me to tell exactly how big it is... I'm guessing it spans no more than 3-4 combs, and right up to the end board. I could try removing the bottom board and looking up through the screen, but unfortunately there are just enough dead bees on the screen to completely block my view. However, when I tried a gentle puff on those bees to scatter them for a view, I ended up with a lot of buzzing from agitated bees on the combs above! So there's some bees in there for sure!

I'm thinking to pull down a corner of that screen to clear some of those corpses out of there... what do you think?
Also - if I do determine that the cluster is small, would it be of any help to try insulating the hive more? (I've got a pretty good windscreen up of straw bales, but not much for actual insulation on the hive.)
J
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ineclipse
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2011, 04:26:15 PM »

Thanks Bjorn.
By mid-September there were not many combs of honey stores at all... maybe 3 or 4 only. I reported this concern at my local bee club, and was told to not yet worry, as the goldenrod was just coming in. So I did not feed.
I then was away from mid-Oct to mid-Nov, and by the time I got back would be too late to get a closer look specifically at the combs. (At least I think that would be too late to want to actually go inside the hive...) So I just did my best guessing by getting underneath and looking up through the bottom screen. Seems I didn't guess too well. And now, unfortunately, I can no longer see through the screen on the surviving hive from the dead bees accumulating.  huh
Best,
J
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2011, 04:48:20 PM »

Thanks Bjorn.
By mid-September there were not many combs of honey stores at all... maybe 3 or 4 only. I reported this concern at my local bee club, and was told to not yet worry, as the goldenrod was just coming in. So I did not feed.
I then was away from mid-Oct to mid-Nov, and by the time I got back would be too late to get a closer look specifically at the combs. (At least I think that would be too late to want to actually go inside the hive...) So I just did my best guessing by getting underneath and looking up through the bottom screen. Seems I didn't guess too well. And now, unfortunately, I can no longer see through the screen on the surviving hive from the dead bees accumulating.  huh
Best,
J

Ouch.....sorry to hear the bad advice coming from your local bee association. I think telling anyone nowadays to wait for the fall flow to correct a light hive, is way off the mark.

For whatever reason, honey totals, and fall honey in particular is not what is once was. Yes, before all the disease and issues of today, there was once a time when harvesting 40 or 50 pounds of goldenrod was common. It is not anymore unless perfect conditions and the stars all align.

The decrease of honey is probably connected with disease and other issues that prevent a hive from reaching it's full potential. And anyone (not talking to ineclipse) waiting for a fall flow to ensure the bees have enough to go through winter is asking for problems.

Just to be clear, my earlier advice was with the assumption that the hive was already packed and the fall flow was nothing more than feeding the fall brood cycle. Which is what anymore around here is to be expected. This past fall we had a great fall flow, compared to previous years. And all of it was consumed raising brood. My light hives started September being light and ended being light. My heavy hives started September and ended being heavy.
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ineclipse
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2011, 07:19:23 PM »

Hey Bjorn...

Quote
...sorry to hear the bad advice coming from your local bee association. I think telling anyone nowadays to wait for the fall flow to correct a light hive, is way off the mark.

I guess I should have been clearer... no one at local bee club told me not to feed (assuming that's what you mean by 'correcting' a light hive)... the not feeding was my choice. They just told me 'not to worry' - a pretty common refrain in the bee world it seems! Smiley   ...meaning that a light hive in early Sept is not the end of the world and can be dealt with. I was told I 'could consider feeding through mid-October', and I chose not to, and guess I have learned my lesson.

Quote
my earlier advice was with the assumption that the hive was already packed and the fall flow was nothing more than feeding the fall brood cycle.

Are you saying that I should expect a 20+ comb TBH to be full of honey by labor day? Neither of mine were even close to that, and if they were, why would I need to feed at all in fall? Guess I'm not so straight on the best feeding cycles.

Thanks,
J

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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2011, 07:48:47 PM »

I was just making reference to my original advice that while it's important to have lots of brood in the fall, it means little if they do not have the feed to survive the winter. While I can not speak about your individual hive and the abilities to store comb, I think most new hives will come up short the first year after needing to draw out comb and store enough for winter. That is one of the reasons I have a problem with the common idea of a hands off approach or vague suggestions by some that one should not feed "artificial feeds". I actually think feeding the first year in most cases is necessary for first year success.

As to your bee club, I feel they did fail you. By suggesting "not to worry...the fall flow is starting", definitely played into your decision to NOT feed. Or at least that is the way I read it. Yes, they may not of directly told you to not feed, they did however suggest that the fall flow would correct any shortcomings of honey stored in the hive. Which borders on very bad advice.
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ineclipse
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« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2011, 09:18:52 PM »

Thanks Bjorn.
Definitely got your advice about being prepared for fall very clearly now.
I also understand what you're saying about the bee club advice, though I see it a little differently and perhaps I got something lost in the translation.
Amongst other things, I will start my new hives much earlier this year (didn't start these two until 29th of May), and feed when in need.

And... I'll be building a few more TBHs this winter with much improved designs from what I built last spring. Will probably bring some design questions here to the forum very soon - particularly about supering. I see on another recent thread that you have also been supering TBHs (...and couldn't help but note your admission that you were also "hands off" with it.) Wink  Sorry that you lost that one. (Guess the only hive I'd super this year is this one if I can manage to get it through the winter!)
Hmmm... for all I talk about wanting to let my bees bee... I'm not entirely sure if supering a TBH is really all that 'hands off'.

Looking forward to a successful year - ie. fun/happy, in the beeyard and wishing you the same.
J

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« Reply #16 on: January 11, 2011, 10:12:40 AM »

I reused comb last year. Some of it was packed with pollen, but the new bees hauled out the pollen anyway. However, they did use all the old comb. Good luck!
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