Wednesday, January 28, 2015

0 for 2: Another Deadout

Well, this winter hasn't been any better than last for the bees.  I lost the first hive in December and the other hive to that cold snap at the beginning of January. 

I'm so bummed.

I did a post mortem to find out what the problem was.    There was almost a gallon of sugar and honeyballs on the tops of the frames when I opened it up, so that wasn't the problem.   I took all the sugar off and am saving it for this summer in the freezer. 

When I looked at the cluster in the frames, this is what I saw.  [top pic].    That is the cluster.    The entire cluster.  Fist sized.  There just weren't enough bees to keep the cluster warm at sub zero temps. 

In November I went to a bee conference and attended a Q&A where I described my colonies and asked the advice of the state bee experts on whether I should combine the hives or winter them separately.   I had already decided that I needed to combine.   The experts said that they'd winter them separately, as nucs.  I figured they knew way more than I did, so I didn't combine.   That is the last time I follow the advice from the state experts instead of following my gut.   I lost both hives.     The only fix for small colonies in the fall is to combine them.   If they get huge in the spring, you can always split them.  

I took the bottom boards out to see what was what.   You can see on this board right where the cluster was.  Those three gold streaks are where the bees were hanging out and getting into their stores.

I looked carefully at the debris to see if anything popped out at me. 
This is a section of the debris.  I found a lot more varroa mites than I expected. 

I did a 24 hour mite board check in the fall and both hives had mite counts well below problem levels.   I'm not sure where all these mites came from - though this is 3 months worth of mites.

I've noted where some of the varroa are. There are many more varroa in the pic that I didn't indicate.  Can you see them?  If you blow the pic up, you can see many more.

Here's a larger section.   Blow it up and look for those little regular ovals.    There are a lot them here.

Conclusions -
Cause of loss:   Small colony size aggravated by mite load.
Lessons learned:
  • Combine small hives in fall.  Period. 
  • Don't believe everything the 'experts' tell you.
Since I want to treat as little as possible, I don't want to treat for mites every year, so the jury is still out on how I handle mites next year.

I have two 3# packages coming in April from Kelley Bee in Kentucky.  I got their Russians.   I've heard they do well here.  In addition, I met a guy who is going to have nucs this year.   He said I could get one.   If I go into winter 2015-16 with 4 hives, maybe I can get some to make it until spring.   

Goals for 2015.   Get the blasted bees through the winter!   Get a decent honey harvest.


  1. I am so sorry you lost both of them again. :( Definitely go with your gut next time. You have enough experience now to know what will work best for you.

  2. Oh, Rob. How discouraging! I'm so sorry!!!

  3. Oh, I'm sorry! I so wish that hadn't happened. How frustrating. But I know you, and you'll figure it out. You're the most awesomely tenacious person I know.

  4. That is frustrating =(

    You may want to try powdered sugar mite sampling this year instead of just mite drop counts. I've been told it is more accurate. Although I'm not sure what I would do if my mite counts came out very high since I don't treat either. Perhaps I would break the brood cycle or maybe try drone comb trapping. Would you do some sort of IPM if you had found the counts to be high?

  5. Mark - that is a good question. If the mite count were high in the fall, what would I do? [I just shrugged.] In the spring or summer, I'd probably re-queen and break the brood cycle, but in the fall.... I'm tired of losing all my bees, so chances are I'd try ApiGuard [the one shot strips, right?].

  6. Do you happen to read any publications like American Bee Journal? I think there was an article in there not long ago about Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS). Pretty effective and I believe gets to the mites under the cappings. Does not leave any residue in the comb. I think it is basically Formic Acid vapors. Maybe I would try that as a last resort if all the IPM failed and the mites were still ridiculously high. Randy Oliver also published his own study

    1. Last summer I shared the exact same thought as Robin did: "I'm tired of loosing all my bees". I've gone 5 years treatment free, and my bank account was screaming after replacing bees each year.

      I read an article by Randy Oliver, titled "Queens For Pennies", that helped convince me. I won't re-post the entire article but he basically says "Allowing domesticated package colonies to die year after year is not in any way, shape, or form a contribution to the breeding of mite-resistant stocks". Whoa! That shocked me, since that's what I was hoping to do: breed mite-resistant stocks.

      Last summer I applied MAQs to 4 hives after reading his own study, and I had no queen loss, very minimal bee loss, and when I checked yesterday (Early February) the hives are overwintering so strong I could make 2 or 3 splits from them and they'd still be large enough to swarm!

      I liked MAQs so much I'm going to make it a regular part of my summer routines. I can't say my small 4 hive success should green-light MAQs for anyone, but it worked for me.

      Here's an article/video I put together on my experience:

      I hope you're able to re-buy or catch swarms in the spring. I do enjoy your blog and wish you luck this coming year!

    2. Christopher - It was your experience last year that really put MAQs on my radar. If I see a mite problem, I'm going to use those. I think I can get them through my local Rural King store....I hope so! I've got 2 packages ordered for April. Fingers crossed, this is the year I get things really going.

  7. Yes!! That's the one! MAQS. I've heard good things about them and the Apiguard. The study I read said that the Apiguard was better overall, but a higher chance of screwup because you have to do it twice, 2 weeks apart [I think]. I'd use the MAQS - but only if I had to.

    At a bee meeting in Nov, I heard a speaker say that you should not fall in love with your queen - because the best way to stay ahead of mites, etc is to requeen Every Year. I kind of love my queens, but he had a good point. I'm still mulling that over.

    And have you seen this yet? Really interesting!! I contacted them about participating in field studies, but they're still a couple years out. Again - made me think a lot. It's hard to be treatment free.

  8. Thanks, I'll take a look at the link.

    Yes it is difficult to be treatment free. On a side note about that, not sure if you follow Michael Bush at all but he is the key note speaker at the Michigan Beekeepers Spring conference this year! I'm very excited!!

    1. I love Michael Bush. So calm. So reasonable. I have his book in the hardback version and I'm on his site all the time. I love that he is so active on I feel like he gives straight answers without trying to make people look dumb. I'm excited that you get to see him. Can't wait to hear your report.

  9. So I watched the video (very cool) and was looking at their website and it doesn't look like they have an actual "product" available. I wouldn't mind seeding some mushrooms around the woodline but I'm not really sure which ones to get. They must be developing the optimal combination or something right now? Is that why you said they were a couple of years out still?

    1. I had the same reaction. I don't know what mushrooms would work - they're in the Pacific NW with birch forests. I have no birch trees at all. I signed up for the newsletter and am hoping that they'll try fungi from other areas as well. They're still in academic trials - trying to convince the establishment that it really works? He said it would be at least 2 full years before they'd be ready for field testing. In the meantime, I'm going to mulch my berry patch [which surrounds the hives now] with bark mulch and pray for some fungal miracles. We're surrounded by woods and it's Indiana - fungi abound.

  10. Looking at the video again I see that he does mention "Garden Giants" and "Red Belted Polypore" mushrooms. He does have kits for Garden Giants, so maybe I'll give those a shot. It sure can't hurt!

    1. Thank you for looking again and finding that info. I'll check it out. Maybe I can find some already growing in the woods.....?

    2. Just did a google for Stropharia rugosoannulata kit and there are a bunch of places that sell them.

      Prices ranged from $18-$35. I'm thinking I have to try this. Now to find the perfect place.


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