I Have a Problem!
I havenít seen your
hive. I donít have any idea whatís
actually going on. This list is by no
means a comprehensive encyclopedia of problems
and solutions for what might be wrong with a
colony of bees. Itís a general guide
toward to figuring out whatís actually wrong and
how to fix it. So donít blame me if things
donít turn out well or how you think they
should. My advice on this matter is free
(plus ads) and worth every penny. It is my
intention to help you learn how to keep bees
effectively. It is not my intention to
hold your hand through every trial and
tribulation. They are your bees. I
trust that with enough education and effort and practice that
you will be able to handle them yourself.
But if you are stumped or just need a clue as to
where to go from where you are, Iím here to
The first thing to do is relax. Things
canít get much worse. The first thing we
do is attempt to figure out why it died.
Some people call this process a Ďpost
mortemí. What youíre going to do is look
closely at the hive with your powers of
deduction figure out if there is something you
could do in the future to give the bees the best
possible chance of survival.
Iím hoping to build a ĎPost Mortemí page at
some point in the future, but this will have to
do for the time being.
The first thing to do is look at the state of
the dead cluster if there is one. How big
is this cluster? Is there more than one
cluster? How close is the cluster to
honey? If there is a decent sized cluster,
and no honey or if there is simply no honey left
and itís the cold season, it could very likely
be that the hive simply starved to death.
This may or may not be your fault.
Hopefully, you left enough honey for the bees to
survive the winter. However, sometimes you
get a hive which continues brooding all winter
and uses up all their stores. You want
hives that properly regulate the size of the
cluster and donít continue making brood out of
season. Is there brood in the
cluster? Sometimes a cluster will have to stay on the brood and
can starve to death inches from honey because they can't get to it
during a cold snap.
Next, check the bottom board. There will
usually be some bees. Look closely for
mites. Get a magnifying glass if you need
to. If there are obvious large numbers of
mites, thatís probably your cause. Focus on raising resistant stock.
Hopefully if youíve been following my advice,
you have several other hives and you can make up
splits or nucs later on.
Ultimately for me, the reason a hive dies or is
about to die is not that important.
Thereís nothing Iím going to do with the hive
other than requeening which canít be done once
the hive is dead. The focus instead is to
keep enough hives that deaths are a benefit
rather than a detriment. Pests and
diseases offer you the opportunity to eliminate
weak stock naturally. Success in
beekeeping is not defined by how many or how few
hives die every winter. Success should be
defined by achieving what you want, making a
certain amount of honey or in my case learning
how to keep bees completely treatment-free.
There are mites everywhere.
This one is simple. You have mites.
But so does everyone. Itís a symptom of
modern beekeeping. Itís nothing to worry
about. You have a couple choices. If
you keep nucs around to house spare queens, you
can eliminate this queen and unite this colony
with the nuc. On the other hand, you have
the opportunity to test out this stock to see
just how many mites they can handle.
If you have enough mites to be seeing them all
over the place, there is likely enough of an
infestation to ultimately kill the hive.
It may be enough of an infestation to even kill
off the resulting hive if you unite.
If you have other hives like I recommend, losing
this one wonít be that big of a deal. Make
sure the hives has what it needs to survive and
see how it plays out.
If youíre looking for a way to kill the mites
outright and save the hive, you wonít find the
solution in treatment-free methods. If you
must, you might consider doing things like
powdered sugar or FGMO fogging. But I
donít do those, never have done those, and donít
know how in truth. If you do, you should
just forget my site right now, because that's not what we do here.
I do beg you to not do
anything to contaminate your comb or to throw
off the microbiological balance in your hive.
I canít find the queen.
Thatís okay. Letís look for signs of the
queen. Look for open brood. Look for
eggs. Familiarize yourself with the
progression of honeybee larvae. If you see
eggs, that means that there was a queen laying
within the last three days. If you see
capped brood, that means there was a queen
laying sometime within the last three
weeks. By gauging the ratio of open to
capped brood and the approximate ages of the
brood, you can figure out how long ago it was
that the queen quit laying. If you see
eggs, donít worry about it, sheís probably in
there somewhere, and if she isnít, the bees will
still have plenty of chances to make their own
If you donít see eggs and maybe there is no
young brood, itís time to look for queen
cells. Itís possible this hive has swarmed
or is in the process of superseding their
queen. Queen cells along the bottom of the
frames are likely swarm cells. Cells
hanging out of the middle areas of the frames
are likely supersedure cells. If there are
queen cells, there is nothing to worry about;
the bees are on the ball. If you liked
this hive and it had good traits, you might
consider cutting out some of the cells and using
them to start new hives.
If youíre now sure the hive is queenless, move
on down to the next couple of topics.
I accidentally killed the queen.
How did you do it? Donít do that
One thing that happens form time to time is
that people will pull a box off a hive and set
it right on the ground. Thatís a bad
idea. Youíre gonna squish bees and one of
those bees could be the queen. I use an
empty super or other box set crossways from the
box youíre setting down. That means that
only four areas of ĺĒ square will be sitting on
the box below and the chances of squishing
anything will be greatly diminished.
Another thing to do is to not pull frames from
the middle of the box while the box is
full. When you are wanting to get into a
box, first pull out the frame on the near edge
or maybe the second frame in where the queen is
not likely to be. Set that frame aside and
then you can scoot the hives apart before you
pull them out. This way you wonít roll and
squish as many bees. A careful and
conscientious hobby beekeeper should be able to
manipulate the whole hive without killing more
than a couple bees on average.
If you did kill the queen, the hive is now
queenless. Proceed to the next topic.
hive is queenless.
Okay, with the above information, you have
decided your hive is queenless. First, do
you have other hives? If you do not, you
need to get on the phone and find out if any
of your friends have a queen available or maybe
you have a local queen producer.
This is a problem, and I canít help you on this
front if you havenít taken my advice and kept
multiple hives. Victory favors the
prepared. Youíre at the mercy of the
availability of queens now. Not having
support hives leaves you with big gaps in your
ability to keep bees sustainably.
Do you have a nuc with a solid queen?
Fantastic. Simply merge the queenless hive
with the nuc. You can do a newspaper
combine by placing a piece of newspaper with a
couple slits in it between the boxes and allow
the bees to get acquainted slowly. Rarely
will there be mass fighting. Another way
to do it is to place both hives in neutral
boxes. Bees know immediately that they are
no longer on home territory and fighting is
Do you have another hive or two?
Excellent. Even if the queenless hive had
progressed all the way to the laying worker
stage, there is a simple solution. Place a
frame of open brood from one of your other hives
in the queenless hive once a week for at least
three weeks. The pheromones in the brood
will suppress the laying workers and eventually
they will make a new queen from larvae on the
frames you are adding. Even if there is
already a queen in there, youíll still be
completely okay as adding brood will help if for
no other reason than new brood means more bees.
One of the ways you can tell your hive is
queenless is by finding laying workers.
You can't really tell them apart, but there are
two telltale signs. First, you may have
multiple eggs in cells like this:
Photo by Allen Newberry
Click on the picture
to see the full resolution version. Some
cells have as many as six eggs, a pretty sure
sign of laying workers. Sometimes a new
queen will lay a cell with an extra egg or two,
but when it's this bad, it's a different
situation. The other sign is drone brood
everywhere, even in worker cells. Drone
brood are capped with big dome cappings whereas
worker brood are only slightly domed or flat.
queen looks ill.
This happens. Iíve seen several queens
which didnít look well. They can look
greasy or the segments in their abdomen arenít
straight. As long as sheís doing fine,
leave her alone. The bees may be preparing
to supersede her anyway. There is always
the option of requeening or combining with
another colony. Remember, doing nothing
rarely makes the situation worse.
Itís almost winter and the bees donít have
If this is your fault, you need to learn from
your mistakes and take less honey. Be less
greedy. However, sometimes a hive is
simply not adept at collecting honey. If
itís the hives fault, the best thing to do with
this hive is off the queen and combine it with
another better performer. You want hives
that produce honey, and this one isnít working
However, there are sometimes other problems
during the course of the year which result in
hives with no honey. Sometimes there is a
failure of one or more honey flows. At any
rate, feeding may be necessary.
I only recommend feeding
granulated sugar. To do this, youíll need
a space to put it in. On my hives, I use a
shim top entrance I call the Parker Shim©.
It creates a 7/8Ē space above the top bars on
the top box. Itís enough space for a few
pounds of sugar. I lay down a paper towel
of the proper length on the top bars and then
pour granulated sugar on it. Some say to
wet it a bit, but when I did that, it turned
rock hard. Perhaps I wetted too
much. Iíve found that as long as the bees
arenít flying, the sugar will soon become moist
with water evaporated from the cluster
below. If the bees are flying too much,
theyíll jump right in and haul all that sugar
out and dump it. So donít put it on too
soon. In fact, the best time may be later
in winter when the bees are actually out or just about out of
honey. They will be right at the top of the hive where you can get
to them and you can place the sugar directly in contact with the
So the options are feeding or letting natural
selection take its course. Sometimes you
can find queens whose hives are exceptional at
overwintering on a very minimum amount of
stores. I find that my particular brand of
indifference naturally breeds bees that are
frugal and keep smaller clusters during winter.
I see swarm
Congratulations. Youíre about to witness
one of the wonders of beekeeping, the
swarm. Many beekeepers see swarming as a
bad thing and kept bees have been bred not to
swarm. But breeding bees not to swarm is
like trying to breed the sex drive out of a
dog. Animals which donít reproduce go
extinct. Healthy hives swarm.
At this point, weíre beyond the time where you
prevent swarms so what do we do with this one
which is about to happen or has already
happened? If they really are swarm cells
and the hive has not yet swarmed and you donít
want to lose the swarm, the best thing to do is
a big multi-directional split. Take the
original queen and some bees and start a nuc
with her. You can use a mating nuc if you
have one around. Then leave one frame with
a queen cell on it in the original hive.
Then separate the rest of the frames with queen
cells on them into other nucs. If there
are multiple cells on a frame, you can cut them
out and separate them in to even more nucs if
you want. At the very least, you now have
a bunch of nucs with replacement queens for
other hives. At the most, you now have a
bunch of new hives. A little later
on, you can recombine the failures or recombine just to have your one original hive again.
Do not simply cut out the swarm cells and call
it good. Itís not likely to work.
They want to swarm. If they swarm leaving
no cells behind, you now have a queenless hive.
To do this, naturally, you will need to be
prepared. Victory favors the
prepared. You should have a handful of nuc
boxes already made up for such occurrences as
I think my hive swarmed.
Not much you can do at this point. Try to
catch the swarm. Do your best to assure
that the new queen is not hindered in mating.
I just got stung.
Unless youíre allergic, itís good for
you. Some say to chew up plantain and
stick it on the sting for effective instant
relief. I havenít tried it. I just
deal with it for the few seconds that burning
pain is there, and then go on working. In
fact, I recommend that you donít use
gloves. Knowing that stings are attracted
to clumsy beekeepers will help you learn to
handle the hive effectively and
efficiently. You can use gloves if you
want. Everyone gets stung. Itís not
a big deal. The more you get stung, the
less you will be affected by it. However,
it will always hurt. Don't let any old beekeeper tell you otherwise.
hive fell or was blown or was pushed over or
the lid was blown off.
The first thing to do is to get it back upright
and assembled and all in place. Beware,
the bees may be very angry. This needs to
be done as soon as possible because open hives
means the bees are open to the weather and
robbers. Missing lids are very troublesome
as the bees will be exposed to rain. This
is another reason why itís always good to have
spare equipment on hand in case something has
been destroyed or lost. It's also a good
idea to have gear available so if necessary a friend can fix it while
you're gone. I had this happen to me once and was very fortunate
to have a friend who was not a beekeeper but who was also not scared who
could stack things back up for me. The best idea is prevention,
but backup plans are also good.
My colony has American Foul Brood.
AFB is a bad nasty disease. It is
extremely virulent and may be impossible to get
rid of without drugs. The best course of
action is the time honored tradition of burning
infected hives. This kills the spores and
assures that susceptible bees will no longer be
allowed to procreate. Run your hive tool
through a dish washer or boil it. Wash your bee suit
Fortunately it seems that treatment-free
beekeepers have very little AFB. In my nearly 11 years as of this writing, I
have not seen a single case. Other
treatment-free beekeepers I know are similarly
unaffected. However, that is not to say
that it doesnít happen. We are fortunate
in modern times to be able to take advantage of
the many decades of burning affected hives that
came before us. But if we become lax in
our enforcement of this policy, a time may
return when AFB is a more consistent
menace. Just as a side note, beware of
acquiring hives or nucs which have been treated
with antibiotics to get rid of AFB. Once
treated with these substances, the resulting
microbial imbalance and the persistence of the
AFB spores virtually assures that the disease
will rear its head again. That goes the
same even for hives treated
Since treatment is out, it's time to pay the piper
and do what is necessary not only to end this
issue but to eliminate this highly communicable
disease from spreading. You're going to have
to burn the hive. You may be able to save
the boxes and ends, but you're going to have to
burn the frames and bees. If you don't have
a way to rehabilitate the boxes, burn the whole
thing down. If this hive is on a stand with
other hives, you'll need to separate it. One
way to do it is to put each box in a big tough
trash bag and then haul them to wherever the burn
site is. If the hive is standing by itself,
you can stuff the entrances with rags or grass and
torch the hive from there.
The options for rehabilitating the hive are a
few. One old common method was to take the
empty boxes and scorch them thoroughly on the
inside. Another method is to have them gamma
irradiated to kill all living things in
them. One method which is more common lately
is doing a wax dip. Many beekeepers are
doing this these days as a method for preserving
the wood. But if the temperatures are high
enough for a long enough period of time, the AFB
spores will either be killed or encapsulated
permanently rendering them inert. So if you
have any of those options, you can go that route.
However, the only other option is to burn the
hive. I know it's painful to do, but it must
be done. This disease cannot be allowed to
have any quarter in any managed hive. This
technique has allowed AFB to be as rare as it is
today. The practice must be continued.
If you have any suggestions for other problems
that need to be addressed, please email me via the
contact page and I will do my best to make