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Author Topic: Help diagnose a lost hive  (Read 4452 times)
TwiceOnSundays
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« on: February 19, 2011, 12:00:17 PM »

Hi folks, I just discovered my hive was lost this winter and am looking to learn from the situation, any ideas are appreciated.

I finished my first year of beekeeping, my hive struggled for most of the year and went into the winter with limited stores.  I fed them am a lot in the fall to try to get them through the winter.

We had a lot of snow in late January (I'm in southern Wisconsin).  On Superbowl Sunday, I went out to check on them (it was mild) and I was delighted to hear s good solid buzz inside.  I poured
Some sugar on the top inner cover, and I unblocked the entrance (only a single bottom entrance) it had been blocked by snow, and also several dead bees that I cleared out.  Later that day I noticed a few bees had left the hive and were dying in the snow around the hive.

Then we had a week of very cold weather, so last weekend I went out to check if they needed more sugar and discovered that the whole hive was dead. 

I brought the hive inside to clean it out and see what I could learn.  There was no food, and many bees face-first in empty cells.  So, I'd conclude that they just starved and couldn't get to the sugar I left.

But there are a couple of concerning things:

First, there is a lot of brown junk on the top of the lower deep frames, and splotches all around the upper deep.  My reading would normally indicate nosema, but I'm wondering if the entrance was blocked for too long and the bees had to dedicate in the hive, moving to the top area, away from the swarm, to do so.

Secondly, the hive smells terrible.  It's a sweet , rancid smell that permeated the entire house.  It could be related to issue 1, or it could be that the dead bees are relatively fresh, in that when I was pulling some out of the cells, they have pretty fresh, gooey insides.  I'd imagine a couple pounds of decaying bees has some smell, but it also seems to have affected the combs too.  A piece fell off and my daughter was going to take it to school, but just the comb was pretty rotten smelling.

Lastly, there are some light signs of mold on one of the middle frames. 

So, my primary concern is trying to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it, and secondly determine if I can reuse these frames and if there are any precautions I need to take to do so.

Any input is appreciated.  I've already determined that my hives next year will have a top entrance for the winter, and. I'm going to take more care to make sure it's well-ventilated.  I have a screened bottom that I thought would make noisier a non-isse but the mold says otherwise.

Thanks much!
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D Coates
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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2011, 02:35:01 PM »

I am not an expert.  From what you describe, I'd say they starved and started to decompose.  You said they were struggling for a while so they may have been winter hearty.  The brown in the hive could be nosema but it could be other things too.  Unless you have them tested, and it's confirmed I wouldn't worry about it.
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T Beek
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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2011, 02:54:20 PM »

Bummer.  The brown spots were likely bee-poop, but 'could' be nosema.  Without seeing a picture it's hard to determine if it was more or less than normal accumalation. 

TOP entrances should be considered, especially if bottoms can be covered up by snow and prevent cleansing flights.  How was the moisture/condensation?  Was it Dry or wet inside? 

Was any of the sugar you left them still there, or was hive completely void of anything?  Once feeding starts we cannot stop until bees start bringing their own in.

Dead bees can stink pretty bad.  Clean it all up as best as you can, leaving as much comb as possible to re-use on new bees.  They will take care of the rest.  Welcome to beekeeping.

thomas
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2011, 06:41:12 PM »

Sounds like they starved to me.  I just lost one too.  A friend called me and said their was lots of dead outs reported in his beekeeper meeting.  One guy lost 27 of 30.  I am really worried now that any more sub zero cold snaps will keep knocking out colonies stuck on brood. 

Good luck with your next bees.  You better hurry and order em now!  You wont be the only one needing a replacement.
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Trot
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2011, 07:51:06 PM »

It sounds like a classic die-off from moisture, rot and of course starvation.  
Mouldy and mushy combs in center is as bad a moisture problem as it gets.  Poor creatures went the hard way!  Cold, wet, starved with gut full of crap!

I keep at it, but I gues people just don't read?  If they do, it seems to go in one ear and out the other?  
I hate to point fingers here, nor am I looking for an argument - but there is no need for bees to suffer like this.
I constantly harp, that upper entrance is needed, for many a reason.  In this case all of the reasons are represented, came together in one hive?  
That is rare.  
Just one of the above mentioned problems will do them in....

Especialy this, last season is for many a beek loaded with problems.  Hives are not set up for weather conditions that you people are experiencing lately.  Things were working fine before, but this winter all of your 50 states had snow, at one time or another!  Even Hawaii!?
Your bees are not used to this kind of weather and/or fast changes as we experience the lately.  They don't know what to do, but eventually figure things out, cause, cold automatically sort of brings them together and survival instinct eventually takes over.  But all that takes time - where our "northern bees' know, even foretell the weather in advance and act accordingly.  In a way, for northern bees life in the extremes is a bit easier. . . .

Bees usualy stay under the top (is warmer there) and if they have to go, they have to go all the way down and out.  
Here they could not even go out - the entrance was blocked, if I get this right?
If there was even the smallest entrance, up top?  For one bee at a time?  They could easily went poop elsewhere, cause through the upper hole - outside is only a few steps away!   Bees being cold blooded, they can make it from the top - never from down below.  
Think about it people, would you go around the block, when you have the sh..., or just run two steps to the john across the hall........?  Which route would you take and keep the drawers clean?

And don't forget this all important part!  Lay a piece of Styrofoam on top of inner cover!  To keep the roof over their head dry!  
Where moist, warm air from the cluster, meets the cold surface of the inner cover, it will condense and in short time it will start to drip on them.  If it is too cold outside, frost and ice will form under this cover and make them awfully uncomfortable.  When the weather warms, or sun warms the hive, this will melt and drip on them - do them in!  
Wet bee is a dead bee!  Insulation above their heads will keep them dry and alive, of course if some other requirements are also met?
  
Keep those hives tilted slightly forward!  If using SBB it makes almost no difference, but solid bottoms are problematic if tilted towards the back!   Cry  shocked

Regards,
Trot
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T Beek
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2011, 07:23:10 AM »

We all know its hard to come on this forum and read what new beeks have done 'wrong' to their bees.  While unfortunate and frustrating we also know that without beeks like Trot who consistently try to 'learn us the right way' we and our bees would be doomed.

The problem for many, especially new beeks is there is SO MUCH conflicting info out there. 

Trot;  Have you seen the type of instructions that come with a basic hive kit lately??  Well, for Northerners, its almost useless, yet hundreds attempt to raise and keep bees that way 'because they know no other way.'

So I again say "thanks Trot and thanks to all you other beeks so willing to put up with the frustration of having to repeat, repeat, repeat and repeat the lessons we need to learn.  Many of you are quite good teachers (that certainly includes Trot), some are smart and they know their bees, but suck at trying to teach, so the newbeeks (and those w/ some moss growing on them) are always in wait for those who can and do teach.  It can take alot of time, but that's what winter is for, right?

Thanks again Trot and please remember, newbeeks are entering the glory of beekeeping all the time, so its not always that people aren't reading your posts (well some don't I suppose), just that new ones are coming on board every day Smiley

I for one hope this fact makes you even more willing to share (and teach) your beekeeping experiences.

thomas
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T Beek
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2011, 08:29:32 AM »

Hey Bee-nuts, where are you in NW Wisconsin?  I'm in Stone Lake.  Sorry, just noticed your location.

thomas
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« Reply #7 on: February 20, 2011, 11:28:34 AM »

Can you give us a little heritage/history on the queen?   How big was the cluster on dead bees?   How big of hive (# of hive bodies) and how of the space was filled by the bees vs. unoccupied?  When you last feed them sugar,  did you see excess moisture?

A lot of the symptoms you describe can be secondary.  If the hive has too much space relative to the number of bees,  you can find mold and moisture.  Even when a dry hive dies, moisture moves in and can give a false impression.   If the colony had dwindled enough,  the cluster can not keep warm enough to move to the stores you gave them. 

Dark brown fecal stains indicated dysentery (and perhaps Nosema).

I would not jump to the conclusion it is moisture related without considering queen failure.  Where they strong with plenty of brood in the Fall?
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Trot
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« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2011, 11:43:39 AM »

Thomas,

thanks much for nice and encouraging words of wisdom.  I much too often write something and than realize that is too 'direct' and that could perhaps ruffle feathers too much, so I erase and go away.  Much help, on this and other forums is good, but I constantly find that hives and equipment are not used and utilised to a degree for which they were intended.  Beekeepers are to eager to change, thinker and omit, as if they knew better than the 100 or more years of use and experience which is attached to the equipment that is the mainstream of our craft.

I do not blame the newbies?  Blame should go to those who manufacture and those who sell this?  They should realize that not all the equipment is going to 'experts and professionals!"  
Most, if not all, of today's equipment is no longer made the way it was, say 20 - 30 years ago.  In those days the inner cover had the entrance already cut in to it.  One can find other shortcomings whic are in/on equipment sold today - simply so done to save money.  Which IMHO is totally wrong and unfair to a consumer.
Granted, professionals and old salts don't need detailed instructions how to properly equip and use standard hive components - but newbies do!

Well, I will go now and hope that all those who read, know what I am trying to say?  
Another thing is, when we were young, starting out, we devoured all the books and knowledge that could be had, especialy in winter.  Winter is the perfect time to read, read and read some more...  Winter is time to make intelligent plans for the up-coming season in which mistakes from seasons past will not, should be repeated.  
Another important thing, to take in hand, as the new year/season starts; do not prepare bees the old way - the way the old timers do - the way we did it in the past years.  Times, weather patterns are changing drastically and I for one think that upper entrance with insulation under the lid is now more important than it ever was before.  
Just look what happened?  
This winter all 50 states had snow and cold temperatures.  This comes and goes?  Changes are frequent and quick!That is not normal and bees can not handle it.  They must have sufficient food in the hive, despite the fact that in years past certain amount was always enough and they could gather some more outside?  Now, one has to make sure that they have some, that they have more than they had in all the years past.   Times/ weather is a changing and one has to change with it or pay the consequences!  It is always easier to remove it, than to give it to them, when the need suddenly arises.
Well, I better go before I ruffle too many a feather.  But, be prepared - always for the worst.  It may cost a few bucks for pound or two of sugar, but that is far less what it will cost even for one lost colony.
 
You people down there are lucky.  Last year we were paying  $175 for a 4 frame nuc, with only two measly frames of brood and barely enough bees to cover the brood.  The other two frames should/must have the polen and honey - now they stick them in completely empty.  Also they must cull all useless frames/comb and save them for the nucs?  They are probably good people out there who sell good bees - but I am yet to find one in  my neck of the woods.  
And this year the situation will be worse, cause bees will be in greater demand!
The situation don't look too promising?  
It has became "dirty" business.  They sold me a cat in a bag, as it were - what will they sell to newbies?

Good luck to all...

Regards,
Trot    
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TwiceOnSundays
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« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2011, 12:24:13 PM »

Thanks for the info folks.

To answer a few questions:

There was very little condensation on the top cover, and not what I would call excessive moisture, but again since I'm new I don't have a lot to compare to.  The inner cover was dry.  And there was some of the sugar left on it, but I suspect because of the extreme cold they couldn't break to get to it.

The hive struggled all year.  They were extremely slow to build up, and without a good comparison (the one piece of newbie advice I should have heeded was to start with two hives, i think it would have been more apparent early that they were struggling).  I didnt confirm until July that they were being robbed pretty mercilessly.  Once i got that resolved, they took off and really were busting tail into the fall, and I didn't harvest any of their stores and was feeding them all fall.

As far as my prep, I read the beekeeping for dummies multiple times (which in retrospect im less impressed with) and attended the local beekeping starter seminar.  I don't claim to know a lot, but im starting to figure out that a good many vendors and book writers  aren't in the business of making me a successful beekeeper so much as in the business of selling stuff (which is why i sought out this forum).  How many hives come with a top entrance?  None that I saw.  I was aware of the option, but it certainly wasnt presented as a must have.

That said, I'll have one going forward.

Again, thanks for the input.
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TwiceOnSundays
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« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2011, 12:58:59 PM »

Oh, and the cluster of bees in the hive was probably 6-7 inches around.  Lots of them dead at the bottom, and a small number sort of frozen in time walking around the hive. 

I don't suspect the bees were terribly strong from the outset.  A more experienced beekeeper in the area got her bees at the same place (Dadant in Watertown) and hers were dead within a few weeks.  Circumstantial evidence, though.

Does anyone have opinions on wrapping for the winter?  I wrapped in tar paper, but I notice other beekeepers in my area do not, and some of the local advice I've gotten suggests that ventilation is much more important than insulation.
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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2011, 01:28:42 PM »

Does anyone have opinions on wrapping for the winter?  I wrapped in tar paper, but I notice other beekeepers in my area do not, and some of the local advice I've gotten suggests that ventilation is much more important than insulation.

Another controversial issue with beekeepers.  Some will say it holds moisture in the hive,  others will claim it gives solar radiated heat to the hive on sunny days allowing the cluster to move to more stores.   I use to wrap before moving to polystyrene hives.  Michael Palmer, who I consider very successful,  swears by it.    Is it required, No.   You need to decide which side of the issue best fits you.
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« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2011, 01:34:41 PM »

How many hives come with a top entrance?  None that I saw.  I was aware of the option, but it certainly wasnt presented as a must have.

It is not.  And from the sounds of what you have described, the hive was weak (poor queen?) from the start and not a moisture issue.
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« Reply #13 on: February 20, 2011, 01:42:11 PM »

I'm adhering to the advise I've tailored and combined as told by Michael Bush, Trot, BjornBee, and even Finski  Smiley, all of this forum, as well as other Northern Beeks too numerous to mention..Some will say otherwise but I believe that top entrances, in addition to bottom entrances, make perfect sense and likely "let out more than just heat" during winter months, which is very likely a good thing.  I used to wrap, then stopped, but may start again, but only the sides and back.

Today on another thread I came up with, quite accidentally, a new beek saying; "Beeks are as different as people are different"  who knew??? grin

thomas
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« Reply #14 on: February 20, 2011, 02:06:39 PM »

Some will say otherwise but I believe that top entrances, in addition to bottom entrances, make perfect sense and likely "let out more than just heat" during winter months, which is very likely a good thing.

Including the bees if you would listen grin

If it is all about ventilation, and not about quality of the queens,  I don't understand why we are seeing such a high rate of winter loss. huh

Back in the 70's, long before upper ventilation became so prominent,  5% winter loss was quite common amongst the beekeepers in this area.   Must be global warming......  But then again, I haven't noticed a higher die off with ferals in the last handful of years.  In fact, for some reason, the ferals I track have a lower failure rate than a lot of the beekeepers I know.
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« Reply #15 on: February 20, 2011, 02:11:07 PM »

 huh  C'mon, what kinds of treatments were bees getting in the 70's?  How many BIG commercials were there? 

thomas
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« Reply #16 on: February 20, 2011, 03:01:27 PM »

huh  C'mon, what kinds of treatments were bees getting in the 70's?  How many BIG commercials were there? 

thomas
I'm not following?  What does treatment have to do with winter ventilation?   Who's talking big commercials?

If your trying to imply higher winter fail rates are due to chemicals/treatments or commercials producing inferior queens,  I'll buy that.  But winter ventilation ain't going to make it better.
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« Reply #17 on: February 20, 2011, 03:27:05 PM »

Robo, you're the one who brought up the 70's and compared it to now Smiley.  I'm uncertain what exactly you are debating if you really want to know.  

Upper ventilation as has been explained eleswhere (there was a thread comenting on it todayin fact) actually began many years ago when inner covers had notches already placed in them, for ventilation(?).  

Upper ventilation, Its about as new as foundationless beekeeping I think, which goes back quite awhile.  

What is it exactly that "you" have against top entrances Robo, your argument so far, hasn't changed my mind.

And who said anything about treatment?  Not me.  I don't, with anything synthetic anyway.  I do agree with you that poor quality queens is an issue, but who's fault is that?  Blame must imply intent Robo and if there's intent then you and i and every beek out here should be calling them out and telling other s who they are grin

thomas
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« Reply #18 on: February 20, 2011, 03:58:22 PM »

Robo, you're the one who brought up the 70's and compared it to now Smiley.  I'm uncertain what exactly you are debating if you really want to know. 
Yes, I bought up as a comparison for the claim that upper ventilation is required/key to winter survival.  Back then, every beekeeper I knew used the standard Langstroth setup that the catalogs sell and had no where near the winter loss that we have now.  That is why I question all the ventilation claims.   Personally,  I think a lot of people are mislead into diagnosing their winter losses as ventilation/moisture related.  Just today, two people reported loosing hives and people jumped right to ventilation.  A little digging and questioning revealed they where weak going into the Fall (perhaps poor queens?)  Is adding ventilation to their weak hives next year going to give them a higher success rate?  I doubt it.

Quote
Upper ventilation as has been explained eleswhere (there was a thread comenting on it todayin fact) actually began many years ago when inner covers had notches already placed in them, for ventilation(?). 

Yes the inner covers did and probably still do have notches.  But they where used on the top lip of the inner cover and under the telescopic cover and were small enough that bees couldn't pass thru.  That is a far cry from an upper entrance at the top of the nest.

Quote
What is it exactly that "you" have against top entrances Robo, your argument so far, hasn't changed my mind.

Personally,  I believe heat retention is a higher priority.  The bees use less stores and build up quicker in the spring.   If people want to use upper entrance go for it. I'm not trying to convince anyone, I just like to give the opposing opinion so people can make an informed decision for themselves.  Too many people write off their winter losses to moisture.  The fact that ferals don't rely on upper entrances and excess ventilation also stands out in my mind.  If anything, I would find a mid entrance more appealing, that way you would still have heat retention above.

Quote
And who said anything about treatment?  Not me.  I don't with anything synthetic anyway.

Yes you.....
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C'mon, what kinds of treatments were bees getting in the 70's?
perhaps attempting to say you I can't compare the winter loss rate in the 70s without upper entrances to the winter loss rates now.
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« Reply #19 on: February 20, 2011, 04:38:33 PM »

robo and i disagree on plenty of things, but on this we do not.  especially when people insist on having and upper and lower entrance.  there is no sense to that near as i can tell.  if you want to test how bad this is, open your front door, turn on your heat, then open the flue on your (cold) fireplace.  you will feel the heat suck up and out of your house. yes, moisture may go with it, but how much dry cold do you think it takes to kill?

don't feed syrup late. let the bees seal the hive, and stay the heck out of it for the winter.  whatever moisture the bees create, they will deal with.  if the hive is well fed and prepared for winter, they do not need multiple holes in the hive to "help".  those same holes in a damp climate will let moisture in.
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