A Nonviable Honey Bee Colony

These bees should be stronger by now. I plan to combine this weak colony with a strong colony in the spring as soon as I’m able.

Anyone paying close attention to my videos will have noticed the bees in most of my other hives are covering several frames, all the frames in the top box in some cases, which is something I don’t mind seeing at this time of year as long the bees are well fed with their own honey or sugar bricks. A pitiful frame of bees like this isn’t good. I’m not sure if a single frame of bees is ever a good sign.

Not looking too good. (March 13th, 2022.)

When I consider that a cluster of bees, under perfect conditions, can double in size in about a month, I look at these bees and ask myself, “How big will this cluster be in a month?” If the answer is, “Not too big,” then I’m usually done with them. I can keep the colony alive, but usually the queen is failing for whatever reason and no matter what I do, the colony never rebounds.

So yeah, the plan is to combine whatever bees are left into a stronger colony with a healthy queen hopefully some time in April, May at the latest. My days of heroic measures to keep a failing colony alive are behind me. But…

If I was to be heroic, I would remove the poop-stained remnants of the sugar brick that are in the hive now and place a sloppy wet protein patty over the tiny cluster, and then sit a another clean brick of sugar over the soft patty. I might wet the sugar with a bit of spray first, or even (though I’ve never done this) butter the bottom of the brick with crystallised honey. Like I said, heroic measures.

Partially consumed sugar brick. (March 13th, 2022.)

The Balancing Act That Is Beekeeping

This struggling little cluster of bees might do better if I gave them a supplement feed that was wet, namely fondant. They might be able to consume it quicker than dry sugar which needs moisture to be dissolved before the bees can digest it. That’s usually not a problem for a large cluster of bees. Their respiration (humid breath) creates enough moisture for them to dissolve the sugar. But a smaller cluster can’t always produce enough moisture to dissolve the sugar. The bees consume the sugar, but not enough to make a difference.

I could block the upper ventilation in the hive so all the moisture stays inside and helps dissolve the sugar, but that extra moisture can leave the hive damp and cold at this time of year, which can put the bees, especially a small cluster, into a torpor they can’t escape from, and they still slowly fade away and die. This beekeeping business is tricky sometimes.

No offense to beekeepers in other parts of North America who can order nucs by April, but you might not know how good you’ve got it. I was talking to someone today who said if we could have nucs (or mated queens) by the end of April, it would double the length of our beekeeping season in Newfoundland. And I think he’s right.

March 26th, 2022: I posted an update on this dying colony on Facebook:

March 28th, 2022: The story continues with These Bees Are Goners.