Prop Up a Weak Colony, Or Not?

I have two honey bee colonies in my tiny backyard, both started from nuc boxes 35 days ago and housed in Langstroth hives. The bees in Hive #1 have been fed a water-sugar mixture just about every day. I added a second deep a week ago because 9 of the 10 frames in the hive were partially or fully drawn out — the colony was ready to expand.

Hive #2 wasn’t fed until the second week, but for the past week has had two Boardman entrance feeders installed. It doesn’t get as much late-afternoon sun as Hive #1, and the last time I checked a couple days ago, only seven, maybe eight frames had partially or fully drawn out comb on them. (I also pulled a huge ugly slug from the bottom of the hive the same day.)

Those are the differences between Hive #1 and Hive #2. Here’s a quick video I shot today that illustrates the differences:



Hive #1 is in fantastic shape as far as I can tell. If the activity outside the entrance is any indication of the health of the colony, then the colony in Hive #1 is doing three or four times better than the one in Hive #2.

It’s not uncommon to prop up a weak hive by installing a frame of brood taken from a stronger hive. But I’m reluctant to try anything like that because: 1) I already rolled the dice last week when I checkerboarded the brood frames after expanding Hive #1. I was lucky the colony was strong enough to handle having the brood all spread out. But if I chance it and mess with the brood again, I think I’d be pushing my luck. 2) I don’t have enough experience to try something like that. The queen would get squished. I know it.

I’m making a call to the one local experienced beekeeper I know, and if he says I should move a frame of brood from the strong colony to the weak colony, then okay, I’ll do it — if he supervises the operation. Otherwise, the plan is to wait until next weekend and add a second deep to Hive #2 and hope for the best. (I do a lot of that around here.) For all I know, Hive #2 could be doing just fine the way it is. So we’ll see…

November 2018 Postscript: Looking at the video again, I’d say both of the colonies are good shape. Nothing to worry about. I don’t know if I ever called that experienced beekeeper. It’s funny to see how insecure I was at this time, how, despite reading about honey bees and beekeeping for about a year before I got my bees, I didn’t know much of anything. Experience makes all the difference. I know what it’s like to have uneasy new beekeepers ask me questions about something I can’t answer without digging into the hive and seeing myself, and it’s not often that I have time to visit someone else’s beeyard. Aubrey Goulding, the only experienced beekeeper I knew at the time, was exceptionally generous with me when I started out. (I knew it then but I know it even better now.) He let me look into one of his hives when I know he barely had time for it. He came to my house and requeened a nasty colony for me (and showed me by example how to spot the queen). He even loaded up his truck with my hives later on when I had to move my hives to keep the peace with unhappy neighbours (I didn’t own a car until two years into my beekeeping). Other beekeepers who started out when I did gave me some homemade hive components (which I still use today) and helped me move my bees a second time (when I still didn’t own a car). I have a full-time job and other responsibilities that leave me with little time to help out new beekeepers these days. But I do what I can. Other beekeepers, whether experienced or not, are lifelines for new beekeepers.

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