Reusing comb and stores from lost colonies

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New Bee
Mar 11, 2018
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Dear All

Could I please ask your advice?

My parents used to keep bees and I've recently started myself, but the little I know about bees is at least thirty years out of date. I did a lot of reading about Verroa and then got started with two colonies last year.

I inspected them a week or so ago with a view to starting feeding. Sadly I've lost both.

Bees were seen flying from both hives in early January but when I opened them up one had just a handful of dead bees on the comb, a single cluster of perhaps two or three dozen. The other had perhaps two or three hundred dead bees on the base board.

I'm not really sure what I should be looking for but I've consulted the pictures in my little book of bee diseases and I can't see anything obvious.

I had a severe robbing problem in late August last year. I tried reducing the entrances, mesh guards and finally a sheet over each hive but after two or three days of really frenetic activity I had to relocate one of the hives a few miles away. I left it for three weeks before bringing it back, the robbing didn't reoccur bit I think I lost a lot of bees as a result. Both colonies seemed to bounce back and seemed ot have sufficient stores by COctober. I also fed both hives in October.

When I looked last week I'd lost both colonies but the hives had stores left, one has half a dozen capped supers and both have a lot of honey in the deeps so I assume they didn't starve. There is a little mould on some of the brood but most of it seems ok.

Thinking about this year, I've put a deposit down on a nucleus hive and plan to set up two or three bait boxes this weekend in the hope of attracting a swarm.

Here are my questions:

- Would you recommend trying to reuse any of the comb with the new colonies I hope to start this year?

- Is there anythink I should be doing to sterilise the hives and/or comb before setting them up as bait boxes or introducing a new colony?

Grateful for any thoughts.

Charlie A
Personally I would reuse the comb provided the colony didn't suffer from a brood disease. I'd freeze or fumigate the frames to stop wax moths and scorch the boxes to be on the safe side.
How did you treat your colonies for Varroa?
Used, empty comb for bait hives with a bit of lemon grass oil.

Good luck :)
Dear Charly,

I am not sure where you are located and this may change the situation, but it may be that you queen bee has not been able to produce enough winterbees last autumn. At least the small colonies suggest so. The robbing issues may indicate that your colonies have been hungy during late summer. As a result the colonies lower their brood produce. Resulting in a smaller amount of the long lasting winter bees. In the Netherlands rule is to have fully wintered the bees by half september (varroa treatment and feeding if you do so). This may differ across the world of course.

This seems to fit your description. Sadly i lost two hives this winter because of a very late cold period when the colony lost contact with the food. All the food was in the back while my bees were in the front. Hunger shows by the dead bees that are IN the combs. A sad sight.

If there is no disease in the hive you can store the combs in a freezer untill your fresh colonies arrive. Or you could use them to attract a fresh colony during may :) good luck with your second start.

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Dear maddydog and e.slegh

Thank you for your advice and reassurance. I'm planning to set up a couple of bait boxes this weekend and will try to cadge some freezer space to store the best of the combs.

As far as I know, freezing combs will kill insect pests such as wax moth, but is not effective against spores such as chalkbrood or Nosema. If you want to be safe, treat the combs with acetic acid before re-using.

Put 'sterilisation' in the search slot of - Beebase -. There are several PDFs with information to download.

PS: and next winter, keep some candy or fondant above the frames so that the bees have easy access to food during cold snaps - particularly as spring is approaching.
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As far as I know, freezing combs will kill insect pests such as wax moth, but is not effective against spores such as chalkbrood or Nosema.

Freezing combs is effective against Nosema Ceranae, which is the most common one now.
I was actually thinking of empty comb but yes a very good point.

Aw. Charlie. I feel for you.

From what you say there were not enough bees, in that they could not get to the food. When it gets properly cold they will "cluster", really cold and they go "tight", cluster really tightly.

They can detach (unhook) their wings and pretend to fly to warm themselves up, then they can move to the food. But if there are not enough to make enough heat, they cannot move, so the die.

One possible solution is to leave "contact blocks" (of sugary stuff) across the top of the frames, they tend to "eat upwards" so if they are running low on stores wind up in contact with food.

It sounds like you did the best you could with the robbing (probable root cause of disaster). My plan if this happens is "Miller feeders". Because you can shut the hive to "ventilation only", but keep the bees fed and if you are prepared to add pollen substitute in one side, keep them brooding too :)
Freezing combs is effective against Nosema Ceranae, which is the most common one now.

Thank you, Hivemaker. I did not know that - that freezing is effective against ceranae (but not necessarily against apis), and that ceranae is now the most common form of Nosema.

Either way - treating combs with acetic acid still seems the best option as it covers both (and I don't have a large freezer).

I don't think Charlie needs to worry about this for now because it seems very likely that his bees died of starvation, rather than Nosema (but if it was me, I'd treat the combs).
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Heat is also effective for killing Nosema Apis, heating hive equipment and tools to 60c for 15 minutes or comb at 49c for 24 hours.
So treat with acetic acid then store in the freezer and you covered all the bases.

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