I delayed writing this post, as I had need of time to compose myself. Poor Apple hive is no more – I feel very sad about it.
The cause: Basically it had too much of a mite load during late summer, and there were too few nurses to look after the brood. Gradually the hive got weaker and weaker, and even though I had the miticide strips in, the new crop of undiseased bees had nobody to look after them and keep them warm. I should have quit the harvest sooner, and put the strips in weeks earlier. I suppose that the age of the queen was also important in this, as she was starting to lose her effectiveness, and the brood pattern was beginning to have gaps.
I discovered the problem when feeding the chickens – there was a strange ‘thrum’ in the air, and when I looked around to find the source, there was a constant stream of bees back and forth to the neighbours. The hive was being robbed out by the neighbours 7 hives – they had 8, but lost one to mites as well.
I have since inspected the remains of the hive, very thoroughly. Nobody wants AFB (American Foul Brood), so inspecting a failed hive is not just important – it is vital. My brood showed no signs of ropiness (when a stick is put in to dead brood, AFB deaths will kind of stick to the stick, and the sticky stick will have a rope of brood mush which stays stuck). My brood were just squishy, not sticky or ropey, and didn’t have two of the other signs – bad smell and a sticking up proboscis. There was PLENTY of evidence of mite damage, but it was sad seeing the frozen or starved bees of the next generation, healthy but dead – the mite treatment had worked, just a little too late. I have also now blocked up the hive, so it cannot be robbed further. I will cut out any frames with dead brood, put in new foundation, and get it ready for spring time swarms/splits.
My other hive is still doing well, and the mite strips have done their job. I did need to feed it – and have made a little box which goes on the top of the hive to put sugar feed into. This will be the first year I have had to feed them, but sugar is fairly inexpensive.
I feel bad – this was a potentially avoidable loss, but I am consoled by the knowledge I have gained, to be able to prevent it in the future.
On the other hand – my neighbours have 7 hives, 6 of them from swarms from just 1 hive this last spring – they have not requeened, and so have lots of hives, with lots of honey, with swarm prone genetics. In the spring I will definitely be leaving clean, empty, hive boxes around the place in the hope of collecting some free hives. If this approach is successful, however, I intend to requeen to provide better genetic traits.