Abandoned Bee Hives (Part 3)

Management Plan and Progress thru July

By Dana Stahlman, Master Beekeeper, Author, and retired OSBA President

Editor’s Note: This is the third installation in Dana Stahlman’s account of analyzing a surviving colony found in an abandoned bee yard. Dana’s experience and informative pictures make for interesting and instructive reading. Thanks Dana! 

If you have read and followed this story from the beginning, some issues have been resolved with the progress of the hive and their queen. The bees were transferred, and the traits of the bees justify producing some daughter queens for future evaluation. I would like to add that it is important for all beekeepers to evaluate honeybees for the ability to survive winter, and share outstanding stock with friends and club members willing to do the same.

The management plan for this queen required clipping a wing and marking her. These accomplished two things: it would be easier to find her in the hive when I inspected it and second, it would prevent her from leaving with a swarm.

Photo of abandoned hives and new hivesThis is a picture of the hive in April just after the transfer. In the background is the equipment that was discarded, and over the hill beyond my property, the woods from which this hive was recovered. The abandoned hive equipment was burned.

The management plan was to replace the old comb with new and save as much brood as possible. I am convinced that beekeepers with old dark comb in hives have a harder time controlling disease than those who have newer comb. This was confirmed with an inspection of my bee hives by the state bee inspector on July 1, 2013.

In early May, I gradually began replacing the old frames with new foundation. The schedule was to replace one old frame each week. The old frames contained brood I wanted to save and thus I put an old frame into a nucleus hive I used for raising a queen each week. The idea was to remove these old brood frames from the nucleus hives as soon as the bees all emerged from their cells and before a new queen started laying eggs in the nucleus hive.

That was the plan, but as you know, sometimes we just don’t follow through completely. By July 1, I had not removed several of the old frames from my nucleus hives raising queens from the abandoned hive queen. The bee inspector found chalkbrood in two of these small hives containing the old brood frames. At the time the frames were removed from the abandoned hive, I did not see any chalkbrood. By the time the new queens were laying eggs in the old frames and the state inspection was taking place, chalkbrood was present. Note: the nucleus hives were made by taking bees from other hives I own, and not from the abandoned hive. No chalkbrood was found in the abandoned hive of bees or any other hive I had. I am looking forward to the evaluation of the comb and bees taken from my hives by the state inspector. The bee inspector took samples of bees as well as small sections of comb with larva to be sent to the Beltsville, Maryland lab for analysis. This I understand will include a check for viruses as well.

Thus, the old comb is now all removed and hopefully with it—the chalkbrood. No mites were observed and I was rather pleased with comments made by the inspector. I am now waiting for the report from Beltsville regarding the bee and comb samples taken.

I have had an interest in raising queens and things have gone well with this hive. I have produced a few daughter queens for future evaluation and have tried to pass the genetics to other beekeepers who have an interest in raising better queen stock for evaluation. I invited a few students from a queen class taught this spring to graft larva from this queen to raise additional queen stock. So far, stock from this queen is being evaluated. I have no idea of the success or failure of these daughter queens. Hopefully, the individuals evaluating this queen stock will follow through giving me feedback on how well the stock does.

Thus, I can report that this one hive of bees (abandoned and surviving for a period of time without any human action to manage them) is surviving, thriving and doing well. Current evaluations indicate the bees are gentle, have been able to clean up chalkbrood, seem to be active earlier in the morning than other hives, overwintered with a good population of bees and continue to build up into a productive hive, and—depending on inspection reports from the USDA Beltsville Lab—are free of disease. I have done nothing regarding treatment for mites or provided supplemental feeding to help them build up faster.

The only way to truly evaluate this queen from the abandoned hive or any other queen is to have a number of daughter queens spread out among a number of individuals willing to add their own observations and evaluation.

Special notice: I am a retired queen breeder and no longer sell any queens. However, I am willing to share any genetic material from this hive as long as a person or group is willing to arrange a visit to graft and use their own equipment, supplies, etc. to produce a few queens for research and evaluation. Email me, and please put “Kelley Newsletter request for grafting” in the subject line. Requests may be limited based on the response. There is no charge or fee to anyone grafting from this queen.

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