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Drone Bee
Sep 16, 2009
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I think I read on this forum that you can check if a colony is still alive by putting the varroa board in for while and then examining it for signs of life. I've left one under one of my hives for 3 days and all I can see on it is what looks like bread crumbs. There's quite a lot concentrated in a band that probably corresponds to 3 or 4 frames near the front of the hive, so the cluster could be in this position. I guess this is a good sign, but could someone tell me what the crumbs are. Removed cappings ? - they dont look like wax.
If they are real big crumbs - you could have a colony of mice. If fine crumbs it will be cappings, or rather uncappings now. If you are finding no varroa, that is good. You could collect these crumbs and check to see if they melt at about 60 degrees.....but no need as that is what it is.

It is a sure sign that the colony is going along quietly. Hefting the hive gently should give you an indication of the amount of stores remaining. As a beginner(?) you may need some practise and a scale of some description can help to gain experience, so you are able to guage when extra food is required, or in your case you have three colonies to compare, which helps. Now you know where the bees are you can compare back end with front end. Remember that stores at the back may not necessarily be available if we have another cold spell.

Only earlier today, I checked on the nuc in the garden - not seen anything flying lately although the other three full colonies adjacent to it have been flying to some extent on warmer days. No hum from a tap on the hive but lots of bees at the top when I parked a kilo of fondant over the feed hole. That was their first feed, so I can now monitor how they chew into the grub as it is in an upturned plastic take-away container.

Regards, RAB
Exactly like that Admin !
Look more like bread crumbs than wax though!

However, they taste more like wax than breadcrumbs.
As others have said what you are seeing are the chewed up cappings from stores. They are an excellent indication of the size and location of the cluster that is non intrusive.

I see you have 3 colonies, check them all I'll bet the clusters are all different:), I use a "balanza" luggage scale to check the weight of my hives - An OMF, commercial brood, crown board and roof +bees and a good level of stores adds up to about 30kg. Once the queen starts laying again and there is brood to be fed the weight falls quite dramatically and that is when to feed.

Until spring has truely arrived the best advice I can give to all beekeepers is resist the urge to have a quick peek - non intrusive checks only.
:cheers2: Mike
However, they taste more like wax than breadcrumbs.

There were three, maybe four, distinct colours of crumb in the photo Admin showed.

Brown - in patches in a circle under the centre of the hive
White - generally outside that area
Yellow - inside and near that circle
Pale brown - outside that circle

Brown: I reckon that it is the chewed-out cocoon after the emergence of an adult bee, part of which will be from the capping too. Demonstrates active brood raising.

White: crystalised honey or sugar stores being cleaned out of cells about to be used. Maybe some wax and some dropped wax scales too.

Yellow: spilt pollen from the area in and immediately around the brood nest.

Pale brown: general tidying up of old comb.

SixFooter - those brown crumbs of cocoon are probably telling you that they are actively raising brood, a good thing. However they probably also contain the faeces of the pupa. Please tell me that you didn't eat it!!

I've got two lines of light brown sawdust, very few mites, but also a few silvery wax flakes. What are the new wax flakes about - are they building new comb at this time of year??

Gavin, No I didnt eat it. That was a joke because of the breadcrumbs subject.
Thanks for the detail in the answer. Perhaps not as silly a question as I thought it might be.

No. Certainly not building comb!

You may have some unwanted fauna. Wax moth perhaps. No need to worry about it if there is. Checking would do more harm than good. All you need is a live colony at spring. If they are still going, they still have a chance. Keep them warm and fed. You started late with a small colony. They may be slow getting going in the spring, but if they get that far I am sure you will get help to speed them on their way.

Regards, RAB

I saw new wax scales in the floor debris of the hive of one of last year's apprentices the other day. These flat, oval transparent scales secreted by workers but dropped and lost through a mesh floor. I took it to mean that Karen's bees were needing wax to cap brood cells.

all the best


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