January 19, 2015

Breaking Down the Little Top Bar Hive

Marty had said that the colony died before the first cold snap, so I'd been assuming that mites were the problem. Breaking down the hive, this is what we found.
  • Was too much honey harvested? Honey was plentiful with at least 2 "frames" of pollen.
  • Cappings on the brood combs looked normal, so I ruled out AFB. There was no discernible "brood nest" but I believe the spotty pattern is a result of good housekeeping.
  • DWV. I didn't see deformed wings among the dead, but with a hygienic colony that's normal. A thin layer of dead bees on the floor is a sign IMO that our bees were good housekeepers. 
  • Mite Count. There were plenty of dead mites in the debris pile, which is to be expected with any Winter colony. As the bee population drops toward the end of the year, the mites-per-bee ratio goes up. Then as the bees die, the number of mites on the floor will seem disproportionately high.
  • Mite Poop. Loads of it! At first glance the brood combs looked clean. When I rotated one so I could see the cell roofs… totally different story. Look at the 11th photo in the slideshow.
I have a theory that colonies started from packages will fail no later than their second Fall. How to prevent this in the future? I've already decided that our next colony will be treated with MAQS and/or Fall requeening every other year. I'm determined to be a better beekeeper, and for me that means keeping my hives close. The outyard thing isn't working for me but since I haven't gone through enough VIT to not anaphylax (?) due to bee sting, I'm on the fence. 


Solarbeez said...

That's so sad. So you think it's varroa that did your hive in? I've had DWV before in a couple of hives, but I've never treated. Last year I had a Warre hive that dumped out a large pile of dead bees. That hive took a long brood break, like most of the summer and then started building back up in late September, a full box of honey in October. They seem to be doing well now mid January. I'm on the coast in Oregon. It rarely snows and once in a while it's sub freezing at night, but seldom during the day. Maybe that's the difference. Your comb looked so good too, but
I was surprised to see so little brood. Is that typical?
So sorry to hear about the neighbor from hell. That's got to be tough to deal with.

HB said...

@Solarbeez I am a pretty casual beekeeper, so varroa and starvation are the only things I really consider when a colony is lost in Winter. Not one comb was completely devoid of honey, so I ruled out starvation from overharvesting immediately. Marty (our mentor and hivesitter) subscribes to drone culling, saying it removes 98% of mites if done properly. But I do not know if he practiced it on this particular colony. Our communication was lacking.

Given the colony died in October, the lack of brood IMO is a reflection of good housekeeping. These bees seem to have had VSH genes. I think they were pulling infected larvae out and were good about carrying them far away. There was never a pile in front of the hive. I wish I had visited the outyard more often, as surely we would've seen DWV and done something. Tracking strips, maybe?

The bees died before any cold or snow, so I do not think temperature was a factor. Also, Marty custom-made am amazing insulated roof for us.

I have been confounded by the bee math and Bee-atrice. I wish my colony had swarmed, for the brood break, too. It is hard restocking every other year. This bee break for us is making us think hard about whether to keep bees again or not. Do we start again? Maybe in another state away from the next-door NFH.

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