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Small Hive Beetles, a Failed Split and first Robbing Attempt

This past weekend, I did my last deep inspection of many hives until August. There were plenty of good signs and it will be interesting to see how the bees do over the next few months. I harvested several 5 gallon buckets full of honey and still have two more hives to harvest from! It’s a pretty good harvest for me (considering it is my first, I guess anything is good), but I know a fellow in Buckingham that has already harvested 200 lbs of honey! I could take a bath in that much honey…

Small Hive Beetle Larva on Frames

Small Hive Beetle Larva on Frames

In the inspections, I found several hives that were loaded with honey in their brood supers (Deep-Shallow, in most cases). In one (of three) hive that still has a  ‘2 Deep’ setup, I found literally every frame in the top Deep was capped with honey. My back still hurts from moving that thing. I have some drawn deep frames now (see the sad story below) and will probably go out this weekend to swap out 3 frames with these empty ones. I do not mind a hive superceding in July/August – in fact I love it – but I do not want them swarming. A swarm in July/August is just a waste of bees. The chance of them establishing a colony that can last through the Winter is next to Zero. There’s simply not enough time to build up. So, by giving them a bit of space in the Deep, they should go back to work (and forget about swarming, since they have space again) and I’ll have to check them again at the end of the month to see if they are full again… Maybe I should have purchased the extracting basket for Deep frames (this is the one millionth time I have said I would never do X and then changed my mind weeks or months later…)

There were several hives that were also a bit light. Most of them were jammed full of capped brood, but they simply did not have the stores that I expected (or had seen on other hives.) This was not purely location-oriented, although I did find some locations to be better then others this year (but 1 year does not a pattern make – still, it’s good to record it.) Logically, the bees should not be bringing much in at this point, so you would think they will be net consumers of whatever they have. If August rolls around and they have less honey then this past weekend, this will be born out. But, I am interested to see if they can simply maintain what they have (and subsequently add to it during whatever nectar flows in the  Fall.) I am also interested to see how much honey the heavier hives eat. Many folks have firmly told me that they eat into the stores come July. It makes sense, but I want to see it. Plus, I’d like to see if different bees eat into it more then other bees.

All in all, I checked on 18 of my hives. Most of them appeared to be doing well (some better then others) and I was able to make sure nearly all of the queens were marked, so that I will know for certain if a swarm/supercedure happens this July (I had some swarms last July, which I discovered after the fact.) But, there were two big problems.

The first problem occurred with Blue Byrd (a split off of William Byrd, which was a 2010 split off of Westover.) I mentioned in an earlier post that I had personally caused what appeared to be a minor Small Hive Beetle invasion on Blue Byrd. Well, it turns out that my efforts were all for naught (I took what I thought was the only problem frame and froze it – I didn’t see evidence of SHB on any other frames.) I checked this past weekend and Small Hive Beetles were in all of the frames. I never saw the queen (she should have emerged a couple of weeks ago) and the hive looked horribly. SHB larva (maggot loooking things) were going through all 9 deep frames of (mostly) capped honey and pollen. A few wax moths had even started to join the fray.

This was so discouraging at that moment that I had to put the hive back together and go sit down to think about what to do next. There were probably a couple of pounds of bees left, but nothing else of value. I have 2 other, strong hives nearby (that I had just done full inspections of and they were rocking.) This hive was like a ticking time bomb (that may have already gone off.) I bet several thousand SHB larva were crawling in it.

Well, after I manned up, I went back to my home apiary and picked up a brand new setup (deep, bottom board, top) and put 9 frames of foundation and 1 old drawn frame of wax (that I was going to melt this week.) I returned to the outyard and shook the bees off of the deep frames (and into the new setup) and put them in my car (they went directly into my freezer). I put the new setup in the exact same position as the old hive. I will return tomorrow or Thursday to have another peak. I am not sure if I should even risk combining them with another hive at this point – I am tempted to just shake them off in my home yard or in the outyard and then put the hive in my car to let it bake in the sun while I am at work. I may combine them just to experiment, but I may not be brave (or foolish) enough to try it. We’ll see if I see a bunch of SHB in them on the next inspection or not (I really wonder if they are doing anything, as I gave them no stores in the new setup.)

As to the frozen frames, it has been 72 hours and I am sure the SHB are dead (don’t listen to that nonsense about SHB living at -40 degrees.) But, each frame has those daggone larva in them. They say that a bee will not eat the honey after a SHB larva defficates in it. Well, I wasn’t about to put these frames into a thriving hive, but I did take one and put it (well away from any hives) in my home yard. I cut some cappings off and let it sit in an open super under my shed.

In 2 hours, the bees cleaned it like you wouldn’t believe. They ate every bit (I guess they tossed the dead larva on the ground.) I took the frame this afternoon and put it back in the freezer, just in case some wiley SHB laid a few eggs in it during the day. So, for the ‘glass is half full’, I should have 9 drawn deep frames that are empty. I have never had that many and it opens up some management strategies/options/experiments. Regardless, I would rather have my hive of bees back…

In addition to the SHB  fiasco (just to recap from the earlier post, I am 100% to blame for this, by squashing that honey up against the side of the super and leaving it like that), the Geronimo hive was unable to make her queen. Again, blame the beekeeper, as I went into the hive 14 days after I put the eggs in to have a look and damaged one queen cell irreparably. I thought I could see others deeper in the hive and stopped the inspection, but I wonder now if that was the main one. She looked great, except that she was white and soft and not ready to be pulled out of her queen cell… At any rate, this hive was still holding its own, with a full Medium of capped honey and a full deep of empty (mostly) drawn frames! Sheesh. Well, this is why you start a bunch of Nucs in the Spring. I took one of the Nucs that I had recently put in a Deep and combined them with this hive. Normally, I’d say that I have a strong hive in that outyard now, but with the recent luck, I wouldn’t put any money on it. Hopefully, this weekend, I will find a combined hive with lots of stores and ready to build up for Winter.

So, several lessons this past weekend, about inspections (how to do them and when not to do them) and taking swarm cells from strong hives (that was why Geronimo ended up without a queen in the first place.)

Finally, I had my first robbing attempt this past weekend. The home yard has a couple of strong hives that need moving out and one of them has decided that their neighbor’s honey is better then going out and working to bring in their own. Again, I caused the problem. I use top feeders to great effect, but this time I put one of my migratory covers on top of the feeder. In addition, I left it open longer then I should (went back to get another gallon.) Finally, I did not have an entrance reducer on the hive (they were strong…) I came back to find robbing in full earnest. I had seen plenty of dead bees outside of many of my hives and new that robbing was starting to ramp up, but this was the first full scale assault.

Fortunately, I THINK I resolved it for the time being. I dropped a wet towel on the hive and waited until after dark to come and install a robber screen. This is VERY important. If you install one in the middle of robbing, the robbers who are in the hive will learn how to get back in (as they will have to leave from the new exit on the screen.) The next day, I found many bees trying to get back in, but the two days following have shown fewer and fewer would-be invaders. I think the migratory cover is not helping, as several invaders are always crowding at the cracks along the top trying to get  in, as if they can smell the syrup through the cracks.

What are my lessons here? For one, I now do my feeding right before or at dark. Secondly, now that it has started in the yard, I need to get the strongest hives out of here this weekend. There is a robber (or two) about and I have found (from past years) that once you start moving hives out, one day the robbing just stops. It is clear to me that the main hive (or two) that is responsible was moved out of the yard. I’ll probably move 3 or 4 hives out this weekend, all to outyards with strong hives and start each of them off with robber screens (only 2 are to the point when I normally move them – fully drawn deep and 70%+ drawn medium.)

Overall, it has been a bloody past few days. When I step back, things still look great. I have to remind myself that you can only learn by experiencing the bruises (well, I can only learn that way.) So, I keep saying that it was a good thing to only lose 2 hives. Hopefully, I will not be back here later this month talking about similar lessons with other hives. I’d like to keep the Summer losses down – Winter is tough enough…

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