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Dealing With Weak Hives Going Into Fall

By: Chari Elam

Odds are at some point you will be forced to contend with a weak hive. To take it one step further, going into fall and winter is the worst time for this to happen!

There can be a number of reasons why a hive is weak – an over population of Varroa mites topping the list. It may seem as though we harp on Varroa mites, but the truth is they are the most common cause of colony issues! 

Many studies have been done on whether we are justified in spending the time and energy to nurse a hive back to health. These studies seem for the most part to be logic based – Time + Expense = Result. Most would agree it makes little sense to put your time and money into a hive if the result won’t be favorable.

Hives typically not worth saving

  • Less than 2 frames of bees (not enough workers to support even being requeened)
  • If there is widespread evidence of DWV (Deformed Wing Virus) or other disease(s).
  • Queenless long enough to have established laying workers.
  • Unstoppable robbing. (No matter what you do they keep coming back.)
  • Hive's inability to keep their box clean. (This indicates a failing workforce and typically found with little population)
  • No food (honey or pollen) being brought in or stored. (No foragers)

Now might be a good time to tell you what those studies revealed. More often than not hives did not respond favorably to efforts to save them when any of the previous factors where in play. With that in mind, it seems more logical to focus on colonies that are in better health and cut your loss on those that are too far gone

Hives with a chance of saving

  • More than 3 frames of bees still performing daily duties albeit not thriving.
  • Recently Queenless with good population and resources continuing to be brought in.
  • Little DWV, increased mite load but no other presence of disease.

Steps for repairing a weak hive

  • First efforts in nursing back a hive should start with a Varroa test and treatment if warranted. If you skip this step, you are wasting your time.
  • Boost health by applying Super DFM
  • Requeen if possible
  • Add nurse bees from a healthy hive
  • Combine with a hive of equal or greater strength
  • Feed strategically – feed heavy syrup (2:1 or pre- made syrup) and keep small amounts of pollen patties on the hive through November.
  • Repeat Varroa test prior to November - ensure low mite loads going into winter.

Combining colonies

This is a valid recovery system in certain instances. There are some hives that just can’t or won’t grow even when we’ve done everything right! The ONLY colonies worthy of combining or those that have a low mite load and no sign of disease. Combining hives with high mite loads only perpetuates the diseases and will often cause even greater issues.

Steps for combining

  • Identify both the weak and receiving hives in your bee yard
  • Low mite counts on both!
  • Smoke the entrance to both hives heavily
  • Remove the outer cover from the receiving hive
  • Feed internal feeder (or other) and place a pollen patty on the top bars of that hive
  • Lay a piece of newspaper directly on top of the top bars (over the pollen patty).
  • Place the weak hive on top of the stronger hive and return the outer cover!
  • Done!
Combining hives is easy! Watch
 this 2 part video on what you need, 
and step by step instructions on how to accomplish it!

It is really important to monitor this hive. Go back in a week and verify the newspaper is chewed through and you still have a laying queen. This gives you the opportunity to change or correct anything if it didn’t work. Continue to feed through fall. Odds are in your favor you’ll have a much better hive going into winter!

Part 1

Part 2

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