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Dealing with doomed colonies?

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rae 

Field Bee
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8 and 3 nucs...it's swarm time...
Regular forumites will know of our frenzied artificial swarming (and real swarming) earlier this year. In the space of two weeks, we went from two colonies to 8, spent a fortune in Thornes and started to worry about next year.

2 months later the story is mixed. The two original colonies are fine - ridiculously productive and I think we will be extracting (again) this weekend. Three of the splits are doing well, all on 9 frames of brood and have all been supered, and will need to be supered again next week end.

That leaves us with one split and two swarms. The split never managed to get its queen mated, and ended up with laying workers. The small swarm looked like it had brood, but as it was put in a nuc box with some broken frames (it was all we had), it was pretty hard to check. The big swarm got its queen mated and promptly got rid of her, choosing to raise new queen cells.

We merged the split with the small swarm (tipped the split out away from the hives, then separated with newspaper), and....nothing. If there is a queen in there, she's hiding both herself and the brood pretty well. The big swarm has raised its new queen....and she is a drone layer. Beautiful even pattern, all drone. All of the bees in these two colonies are now about 10+ weeks old.

I'm not going to merge either of these two colonies with the successful ones - I don't want to risk damaging good colonies. So the question is, how do you let colonies die off without causing trouble? I see two ideas:

1) Tip them onto the ground and remove the hive. The flying bees will make their way to the nearest hive and have to take their chances.

2) Wait until they've all died and remove the hive. I see this as a recipe for robbing, so it doesn't seem like a good idea.
 

Rosti 

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Rae, if you think they still have 'critical mass' to build before winter then although it is getting tight to get a queen mated is it worth a frame of eggs from one of your strong colonies as a 'last chance'?

If they are otherwise healthy and you are sure there is no queen then I think I would still consider uniting with one of the strong colonies in a controled way. If worried about disease in the comb etc then this instance I think I would do a 'shook' combination -

Receiving brood box, a bit of a spray with 0.5-1 sugar soln with a drop of lemon grass, then paper , giving brood box, no frames, bees knocked in and sprayed with same 0.5 - 1 sugar/lemon grass, leave them to it. Puts the introduced bees at a big disadvantage but protects the main hive, still more 'protection' for the introduced bees than some of the direct combo methods.

I understand your reluctance to disturb them given you want a minimum of two going into winter but ....

If you are going to tip them out then won't you simply be partially uniting, possibly with both your good colonies but in an u-controlled way?

If you leave them to a slow 'colony death' then aren't you exposing both your good colonies to any disease in the comb if they rob?

Tough call, if you are worried they are a real threat then you are left with blocking the floor and entrance and a cup of petrol over night (no, not set light to it!) then remove hive in the morning. Good luck.
 

rae 

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8 and 3 nucs...it's swarm time...
I'm not worried about disease, they all originate from our stock and there is no reason to think that any of them are not healthy. I'm just weighing up the risk/reward of saving some old bees on one side, with the possible damage to a good colony on the other. I know that the "big swarm" has a queen - albeit a drone layer, and I'm unsure on the other box. A test frame yielded no queen cells, so I think it is queen right, just either infertile or not laying (for some reason).

I know I'm rubbish at spotting unmarked queens - one of the good splits certainly have a good queen (9 frames of worker brood) and I haven't seen her in 6 weeks of inspections! I'd be kicking myself if I went and tipped a duff queen into a good hive and got my good queen killed.

Agree on letting them die off and risking robbing - I probably would be concerned about disease then. Doing them over with petrol....seems wrong after all the effort we've lavished on them.

I suppose the only other answer is to get a known good queen in - I'd be willing to risk the price of a queen on them. Anyone in Berkshire got a queen for sale that we could pick up this week? We're off on holiday next week, so this w/e is decision time!
 

Rosti 

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I'd be kicking myself if I went and tipped a duff queen into a good hive and got my good queen killed.
Yep, you're right there, must be sure you are removing your problem queens. On that basis I am with you, if in doubt don't combine -a tough one!
 

tonybloke 

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find and remove the drone-layer, then unite with the other colony. if test frames prove negative, there is a queen in there, she's just shy!
 

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