The bee research group in my country, bijen@wur, organized a symposium last month which I didn’t attend. One of the speakers there was bee researcher Dennis van Engelsdorp (weirdly dutch sounding last name, translates to “English village”). He presented statistical data from a beekeeper survey that suggested that annually replacing to much of the comb (50% or more) negatively influences colony health. Often the idea of replacing comb is to prevent buildup of pesticides and/or pathogens, but it also looks ugly blackish comb. But the data shows that beekeepers who replaced 50% or more of their comb compared to beekeepers who don’t replace any, lose more colonies over winter.
It is unclear what causes this, the survey was not comprehensive enough for any analysis like that but the data is clear. They suggest not to replace more than about 20% of your comb annually. I was aiming to replace about a third of the comb but according to this information I will have to amend that. Apparently reusing comb from old colonies is also not advised as it also caused more winter deaths. The only problem is the lack of additional information in the survey. For instance it is unclear what the origins where of the reused combs. Perhaps the old colony died of disease.
So much is unclear, it wasn’t a study but only a survey. What is clear is that you shouldn’t renew to much of your combs annually. See the accompanying video for yourself (there is also a link to the web page in its description):
I may be able to acquire a new colony with hive soon, from a beekeeper who want’s to reduce his number of colonies. I’m not sure yet on the details on this colony or if I actually will be able to get it but I hope I will, certainly now I’m slight unsure on the survival of my remaining colony. I would have liked to begin the season with two colonies, which I would have done if both my colonies had survived, but having at least one colony of bees is I’d say a prerequisite for being able to call yourself a beekeeper. When you have more than one colony you can supplement one colony with a possible excess in the other, either with stores or brood or a queen(cell). That is, if my last remaining colony/queen is still viable. Which I hope to find out on tomorrow when the temperature is predicted to exceed 18 degrees (64 F).
There is also a little voice in the back of my mind saying that it would be a bad idea to hand me another colony, seeing how the last one and perhaps the last two fared. I guess I’m going to ignore that voice and if the chance presents itself I will gladly take on a new colony. I would like to have about 5 colonies in total, in a few years. I suppose that way my beekeeping life will be a much more relaxed one. Loosing one colony would be regrettable but not catastrophic. When you have “x” chance on losing each colony you are expected to loose a percentage of your colonies over winter. Say each colony has a 20% chance (made that up on the spot) not to survive winter. If you then have 5 colonies you will expect to loos one colony over winter. This is a bummer but an expected risk of being a beekeeper, it comes with the territory. But losing a percentage of your colonies when you only have two, can easily mean you lose all your colonies and in a sense you will have to start over.
If you have also paid money to acquire a carnica or buckfast queen then losing that colony also means loosing an investment. Now for me that isn’t the case as of yet, although I do plan on becoming either a buckfast or carnica beekeeper in the future and maybe even try my hand at queen rearing. For now I’ll just concentrate on the colony in the apiary.
Edit: I went to the apiary today. Beautiful weather, warm and sunny although there was a lot of wind. I went mainly to find brood and eggs. I checked all the frames this time and I found caped brood, larva swimming in their food and eggs. There wasn’t all that much brood in my opinion. But perhaps that is just my inexperience and this amount of brood is normal for the time of year. If I had to guess I’d say there was perhaps a little over one side of a frame of brood divided over three frames. The frames also containing stores, fresh pollen and either sugar syrup or honey.
I also found the queen (see image to the right). This is the first time I have seen this queen because she was reared late last year. I thought she looked slightly small, compared to the other queens I’ve seen. Perhaps that is the reason she doesn’t give as much brood. I’m just speculating here. Time will tell as I can’t replace her before the swarming season in June.
(a short update mainly written 6 days after the fact)
The temperature is a sunny, record setting 18 degrees here in Groningen (the Netherlands). As I knew it was going to be warm I went to have a look in my remaining hive. At first I was planning to do some major “remodeling”. Like reducing the size of the hive and cleaning out dead bees. But more experienced beekeepers advised against this and to wait with this major work until the end of march. So I just took a thorough cursory (can you say that?) look, to check if they had enough stores and see if I could find what we in Dutch abbreviate to BIAS, Brood In All Stages. Stores galore but I didn’t find any brood. I didn’t go through every single frame, only the two or three center frames in both brood boxes. I also forgot to check for eggs but I didn’t find any larva or closed brood. I don’t know for sure but I guess that isn’t a good sign. Perhaps I should check better in a week or two or I will have to clean out a second dead hive when all the long living winter bees have died off. There were bees with pollen coming in not all that many nor did they seem to have full pollen baskets, this then would be a positive indication for brood.
No brood would have to mean that the colony is without a queen. I hope this isn’t so but seeing the luck I’m having with bees so far I’m not keeping my hopes up. If the colony is indeed without queen there is no hope for them as there is no possibility to replace the queen at this time of year. Queen rearing will not start for a few months yet and the first queens will most likely not be ready before June. So all I can do right now is wait and hope for the best.
I Never thought keeping bees would be this difficult or stressful.
Apparently I was too soon with my celebration that both my hives survived winter. As it would seem that my second colony, which was the weakest by far, didn’t make it after all. There were apparently too few bees to make it through the colder nights since the last time I checked. Beside that the frames on the outside of the hive were filed with mold, quite badly (the first picture above). My parents made the discovery of the passing of the colony today. They also made the pictures. If I have to make an artificial swarm this year I’ll make sure to keep it at my local apiary so I don’t have to make the thirty minute drive to check on my bees in my parents garden. I also wasn’t taught that you could keep an artificial swarm next to the original colony, but you can (when taking the right precautions).
Looking at the top-bars it doesn’t look good but reading this article (as well as this article from the same source) I gather that mold in a hive in/after winter is not so strange. This second colony had the old queen (from 2010) that I was going to replace this year anyway but loosing the entire colony was not part of the plan. I guess I’ll have to see it as a learning experience, that what I actually should have done is combine the colonies at the end of summer to create one strong one. But I reasoned that if I were to do that I would be left with one colony anyway because my first colony looked to be strong enough to survive winter I was in no real danger of losing that colony. So I gambled the second colony and I lost.
Now the time for questioning my decisions has arrived. What could I have done better? What could I have done to ensure the survival of the second colony. I think the answer to that is most likely that I shouldn’t have placed the hive in a food desert, which my parents home apparently is. There are some gardens in the vicinity, my mothers being one, but I guess they weren’t enough to support a viable colony, most is farmland. The smaller town at bout 3-4 kilometres (2-2,5 miles) apparently was slightly too far and/or didn’t have enough flowers for the bees.
To end on a more positive note; my wife took these pictures bellow in the city where we live. Crocuses are literally all over the place, especially in the parks but also by the roadside. I will visit my city bees in my first hive (to which I should simply refer to as “my hive”, as it now is my only hive) this weekend to do some housekeeping. Select which frames I will scrap this year and which will last for another year, reduce the size of the hive from two to one brood box and see if they need some additional feeding. Then I will leave them to their own devises for about two weeks?