Thursday, July 12, 2012

07-10-2012: Triple Disaster Strikes

After having pretty decent success for a first time beekeeper, I have finally run into problems.  Lots of problems.  Maybe even major problems.  Ugh.

Top Bar Hive:

My friend Keith and I opened up the Top Bar Hive (TBH) and noticed that the bees really hadn't built up any more comb in almost four weeks.  From the outside they seemed fine but on the inside was a different story.  After looking at the first few combs things seemed good.  There were honey and pollen stores and the bees moved calmly over the combs.  Then I started noticing this (see the red circles)
Lots of dead larva.  Black larva.  Very spotty brood.  Lots of empty cells that appeared to have no eggs in them.  Perforated cell cappings.  Not good.  Well, maybe since it has been VERY hot lately, it has caused a lot of the brood to die and the workers are still in the process of clearing the dead out??  Lets look at the next frame

More of the same.  A few healthy looking larva here and there but more of the same evidence as before.  I am a little familiar with some of the brood diseases but now I really need to know what is going on.  American Foulbrood?  European Foulbrood?  Sacbrood?  Or just me overreacting?  Crud.  Anyone have any experience with this?

The last sign of bad news on this hive was when I checked top bar #1, the one closest to the entrance.  Notice anything?

Count the number of drones on this comb.  Holy smokes you almost can't see any workers!!!  Is that because most of the drones like to hang our near the entrance?  By the way, we did spot the queen on comb #2, so maybe they just like to be near her too?  Sure seems like a TON of drones.  So if having some brood disease wasn't enough, now I have a drone laying queen or even a laying worker???  Awesome.

White Hive:

This hive has been running behind Green Hive for a while now.  But as of late, it has appeared that the population was catching up (at least from the outside).  So, upon opening the hive I was happy to see many bees covering all the frames

As I mentioned, I had been worried about the progress of this hive since it seemed way behind the Green hive and during the last inspection I had found the last four frames completely empty.  Thankfully this was not the case this time.  I inspected each frame finding nice stores of pollen, honey and nectar.
I was not expecting this monster frame of almost SOLID honey!  I should have known just from the weight of the frame and I pulled it out.  You wouldn't think it would be so heavy but when you are trying to lift it by the two small tabs at the end and trying not to squish any bees, these frames can really pack on the pounds!  Now that the bees were covering all the frames, I added the second box.  I took two frames of brood from the lower box and moved them up into the new box and replaced those frames with new foundationless frames.  Of course this wouldn't be a "Triple Disaster" if I didn't find another problem!  There was a bit of brood comb built onto the bottom of these frames and to make them fit into the new box I had to remove the comb.  It was a bit gross as I scraped it off with my hive tool and a whitish liquid ran out (sorry baby bees).  Since I now had a piece of comb where all the brood would die, I decided to open the comb to see what was in there (in the name of science of course).  Well, this is what I found

If you look closely, I have circled in red two small brownish red dots.  Those are the now infamous Varroa mites.   GRRRRRR!  I have heard that "everyone" now has Varroa mites in their hives but I held the false hope that mine would not be among them!  Now I have to track down my recent issue of "American Bee Journal" and re-read the article about doing powdered sugar shakes on the bees.  This is a technique that does two things: The powdered sugar loosens the mite's grip on the bees causing them to fall off and in the process of the mite falling off, you can count them to see how bad the infestation is.  Guess I'll be planning on doing that in the near future.  LAME!

Green Hive:

If two issues weren't bad enough, here comes number three!

Two weeks ago I was excited to add the second box to this hive.  It was bursting with bees and there was always a lot of activity at the entrance.  Last time I checked, there was no new comb built on the empty frames.  I was kicking myself for not bringing up a few existing brood frames into the new box to encourage the bees to expand there.  Well, two more weeks have gone bone and now it looks like they are making some progress.  You can see the comb, right?  The dripping honey from the ruptured cells is just one of the casualties of an inspection.  One frame out, lets check the rest...

What the heck is this?!?!?  Holy smokes they decided the build the comb PERPENDICULAR to the frames!!!  No!  You can see in this photo there are two frames side by side and the comb is bridging from one over to the next.  Nicely wrapped around my support wires of course.  AHHH!  Seriously, what am I suppose to do with this now?  To my surprise, the bees have almost filled the entire box in two weeks!  Should I go in like King Kong and just destroy all the comb simply so I can have straight comb??  I guess this is one of the dangers of using foundationless frames.

Well, at least there is one frame in here that is "mostly" straight.  Good grief.  After my hands were running with honey and being flustered after my findings in the other two hives, I just gave up and decided to just close up the box.  At this point the bees were just going nuts from all the honey being all over the place.  Funny thing is that in the mad rush of pulling these frames and putting them back in, I don't recall seeing any brood in these frames.  I think they were solid nectar/honey.  So, would you just let me "bee" and just chalk it up to experience?  Or would you rip it all out, brush the bees off and make them start all over again?

Sigh.  Anyway, with so much honey in this box and the bees having built on almost all the new frames, I decided to put a honey super on.  Thankfully it has FOUNDATION in the frames!

Thanks again for reading and please leave a comment if you have any thoughts about the issues I'm having!


  1. I am very sympathetic. One of my hives has nothing but problems, too. Those bees with do what they will do.

    When I've had bad cross comb, I've cut it out. The little bumps I leave in as long as I can get the frame out. When the bees had a good queen and plenty of space, they built straight.

    The more I learn about my bees the more I realize how important a good queen is. Is it time to requeen? What do the experts on the forum advise?

    1. I thought things were going so well too! =)

      I was tempted to cut it out but it just seemed like so much comb (and honey) that would go to waste.

      Yeah, I need to go on beemaster and ask. Thanks Robin!

    2. That comb and honey won't go to waste if you hang onto it. You can practice crushing and straining, or put the whole thing in a jar and let it ooze. That's what I did with my honey burr comb. The other comb - with larvae or pollen, etc, I put in a plastic bag and stuck in the freezer. It'll add and up and be good for candles, or salve or something.

  2. wow- what a busy day of inspections!

    I can't tell from the pictures if the TBH has any disease or not. One thing that might help is if you perform the "rope" test. Stick a toothpick (or other) into a dead larva and pull it out. Depending on if you get a long, sticky rope like substance to pull out or not, it helps identify whether disease is present and if so, what type.

    I've never tried foundation-less frames, but have heard that on rare occasions, the bees will draw the wax in patterns other than what the beekeeper intended. I've talked to others, who say when it happens to them, they cut the cross-comb, and used big rubber bands, string, zip ties, whatever-it-takes to put the comb back into the frame straight.

    Apparently the big rubber bands, string, ties etc doesn't bother the bees. It only takes a week or so for them to permanently re-attach the comb with fresh wax, and then you can cut the bands, string or ties off.

    Whatever you decide to do, keep us updated!


    1. Yeah, I am finding that three hives actually take a lot more time to inspect than what I thought it would.

      I have read about the toothpick test. Good reminder! I'll give that a try next time I open that hive up.

      The rubber band method seems like to easiest to implement. I think I'm going to bring a change of gloves out too. There was so much honey dripping all over the place. I can only imagine what it would be like with me cutting pieces apart and putting them back in the frames!

      I had such good comb on my other foundationless frames, I guess the only "mistake" I made was not moving a few of them up into the empty box to give them a straight guide. I DID do that in my white hive so I'm eager to see if that made a difference.

      So far no one thinks I have AFB or EFB. I had one person think that it was Chalkbrood. We'll see if feeding them helps at all and I'll do the toothpick test too. Hopefully no ropey brood!!

      Thanks Chris

  3. I'm late to the game on the reply to this, but to help them build straight comb, it helps to have drawn or preferrably capped comb flanking each foundationless frame. What are you using for your comb guide? I've used paint stirrer sticks and then switched to craft sticks.
    Good luck.

    1. Always appreciate the feedback! Yeah, moving already drawn out comb up into the empty box does help. They've done a much better job of building straight when I tried that on White hive. For a comb guide I just used craft sticks glued into the grooved top bar and they coated it with melted beeswax. Sometimes they just ignore it =) I guess I've learned that when the population is low this isn't much of a worry since most all the bees cluster together and build comb close together. When you add a new box to the hive and it is FULL of bees, they go all over the place and build comb and don't necessarily have a neighboring "straight" frame to use as a guide.