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Should you try to save a failing colony?

Lots of new beekeepers ask how they can save a failing colony. But the real question, I think, is should you even try? Could you be doing more harm than good?

If you find a colony that is obviously declining, you have three choices. You can let it collapse (or exterminate), you can combine it with another, or you can try to revive it. But before you decide, you need to make an educated guess about why it’s collapsing in the first place. Only then can you make a good decision about the next step.

I say “educated guess” because sometimes, even after we evaluate all the evidence, we are still unsure of the cause of failure. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying because sometimes the reason jumps out and we learn a lot in the process.

What to look for

The first thing to do, weather permitting, is to inspect the colony frame by frame. Some things to look for include:

  • Does it have a queen?
  • Is there any brood?
  • Are food stores readily available?
  • Do you see signs of brood disease?
  • Are there signs of varroa mites, such as guanine deposits or deformed wings?
  • Do you see signs of other predators such as mice or shrews?
  • Is the colony being attacked by other invertebrates, such as wasps or plundering honey bees?
  • Is excrement accumulating inside the hive?

Deciding on the next steps

Your decision on whether or not to try save the remaining bees should be based on what you find, but also on the time and resources you have available. Trying to save a dying colony may require much time and effort, and the colony may die anyway. On the other hand, the process can be a valuable learning experience. The go or no-go decision should depend on what you find as well as your goals.

What lies within?

When you search for your queen you will either find one or not. If there is no queen and the colony is very small, there is little chance for recovery, even if you add a new queen. If bee numbers are too small, there may not be enough individuals to defend the hive, care for the queen, forage, and raise brood. Plus, brood rearing will get off to a slow start, because a tiny colony can only care for a small amount of brood.

But the more important question is, “Why is there no queen?” If you see no queen and you see signs of disease, I would delete the rest of those bees rather than try to save them. Most bee diseases and parasites are transmissible from hive to hive, so why let the remaining bees infect a healthy colony?

Different problems require different tactics

If the colony is dying of Nosema, brood diseases, viruses, or mites there is no reason to combine them and no reason to allow them to drift. Spreading disease is not what good beekeepers do. I would recommend killing the remainder (a spray of soapy water works well) and cleaning up the equipment in the way recommended for the particular problem you find.

Treating for mites in an extremely weak or dying colony has no real advantages. If the colony is dying from mite-vectored viruses, the bees that remain are most likely already infected with virus. So even if you kill the mites, the bees will not recover. At best, they will die in the hive. At worse, they will spread mites and disease to other hives.

If the hive died due to American foulbrood, you need to burn the hives to contain the spread of disease spores. If you don’t want to burn your bees, I suggest killing them first and then burning the equipment.

New evidence suggests that some bee diseases are transmissible between bee species. If this is true, allowing diseased bees to remain in the environment may be hurting the native species as well as the honey bee. This is a serious issue that needs to be considered.

You find the queen and she looks fine

If you find a queen and she looks normal, look carefully at the brood. Is the brood in a tight pattern? Is it mostly worker brood or mostly drones? Are the bees caring for the brood or ignoring it?

Look carefully here. Just because you have a queen doesn’t mean she is functioning properly. You could have a drone layer. You could have an inbred queen laying diploid drones, or you could have an infertile queen and laying workers.

In a case where the queen isn’t functioning properly, even when no disease is present, there is no point in feeding, treating, pollen supplementation, or any other stop-gap measure. Without a laying queen, the colony cannot continue. If you want to save the remaining bees you can provide them with a new queen or provide them with frames of open brood from which they can raise a queen. Remember, though, it takes time, food resources, and plenty of workers to raise a new queen, and in a dying colony you may have none of those things.

Re-queening doesn’t always work

Re-queening may seem like a simple solution but as I mentioned above, if there are not enough bees to take care of the colony, you may be wasting your money. The best queen in the world cannot reverse a dying colony if she doesn’t have a clean environment, an adequate work force, and plenty of resources.

If you decide that the present queen is fine, or if you decide to re-queen, you can add capped brood to the hive. Capped brood will begin providing workers almost immediately, and the influx of bee-power may be enough to turn things around. But you can’t get something for nothing. Remember that while adding brood helps one colony, it weakens the other. Make sure the donor colony is strong enough to withstand the loss.

Combine with caution

The third option for handling a failing colony is to combine it with another so that you can save the bees, if nothing else. Above all, be certain that the weak colony is free from disease and parasites before you combine. And when you do combine, use standard techniques such as introduction through newspaper.

As with all aspects of beekeeping, there are dozens of ways to handle a failing hive. But regardless of the method you chose, you should begin by assessing the colony to find why it is weak in the first place. Once you make that educated guess, you can let it die (or exterminate), combine it with another, or try to turn it around. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but remember this: We want to save the bees—all the bees—so keep the larger picture in mind, especially when diseases are present.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Should you try to save a failing colony?
What’s up? Unless I know why a colony is failing, I will not combine it with another. ©Rusty Burlew.

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Brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast for bees?

Here’s a question that pops up this time of year: “Can I substitute baker’s yeast for brewer’s yeast when I’m making pollen substitute?” Truth is, I don’t know what the “official” answer is, but here’s my take on the best yeast for bees.

Both baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but they are different strains bred for the characteristics that bakers or brewers want. Basically, these yeast feed on sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. In the end, your beer is carbonated and your bread rises. The alcohol remains in the beer but cooks out of the bread.

Dietary brewer’s yeast is dead

The brewer’s yeast that is commonly sold as a dietary supplement is a by-product of the brewing industry. It is the dead yeast that remains after the brewing process is complete, and it is sold as a dietary supplement because it is high in nutrients. Ironically, it is especially high in the b(ee) vitamins. These nutritious, but dead, bodies will not cause fermentation.

The sludge you see at the bottom of an unfiltered beer is made of little yeast skeletons that are super good for you, so always tip up that bottle.

I should mention that you can also buy live brewer’s yeast for brewing, but that is much more expensive than the big containers of dead yeast commonly available. Yeast for starting a batch of beer is usually packaged in small units and sold at specialty stores, so you’re unlikely to buy it by mistake.

Baker’s yeast is alive and well

The baker’s yeast that you find in the grocery store is live yeast, meant for making raised baked goods. If you were to add live baker’s yeast to a pollen patty that contains moisture and sugar, your patty might begin to ferment, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol in the hive.

Nutritionally speaking, both baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are essentially identical, and we know that honey bees can withstand high levels of carbon dioxide. But we also know that honey bees can become intoxicated from imbibing too much alcohol.

Most likely not a problem

However, if we assume “the dose makes the poison,” I think we would find the amount of alcohol produced by the pollen patties to be negligible. First off, conditions for fermentation inside a hive are not ideal, and secondly most of the alcohol will evaporate in the warm confines of the hive. If the fermentation really got going, however, the patties might lose much of the sweetness that makes them attractive to honey bees in the first place.

In my opinion, using baker’s yeast would not be a catastrophe. Certainly if you already made patties with it, I wouldn’t pull them out of the hive. On the other hand, I think it makes good sense to use the right ingredient for the job. If you use dead brewer’s yeast, you will save money over buying live yeast, and you don’t have to worry about fermentation or buzzed bees.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Save baker's yeast for baking and use brewer's yeast for bees.
Save your baker’s yeast for baking and use brewer’s yeast for bees. Pixabay public domain photo.

Nuc or package: how to buy honey bees

One of the first problems a new beekeeper confronts is how to get a colony of bees. If catching a swarm is not in the cards, or if an entire established colony is not for sale in your area, you are left with two choices: you must buy either a nuc or a package.

While this is often a polarizing topic in beekeeping circles, I tend to be pragmatic about the whole subject. Good arguments exist for either option and sometimes you simply must take what is available. At other times, the new beekeeper has unwittingly made the decision by his choice of equipment.

What is the difference between a nuc and a package?

Before I get into the pros and cons of each, I want to define these two very different options.

What is a nuc?

A nuc(leus) colony is the central core, or heart, of a larger colony. In essence, a nuc is a small colony living on 4 to 5 frames. It has all the components of a fully-grown colony, including brood in all stages of development, workers in all stages of development, most likely some drones, and a laying queen. In addition, it usually has some stored honey and pollen.

Because there are no standards, nucs vary tremendously between sellers. Some sellers specify exactly how many frames of brood are guaranteed. Some say how many frames of adult bees to expect. Some offer a frame of honey and pollen. Some only specify the number of frames in the box, such as 4-frame nucs or 5-frame nucs. Also, some may be on deep frames and some may be on medium frames. Because of all the differences, prices are all over the map. It is up to the buyer to ask questions and learn what he is buying.

Another major difference between nucs is their age. In my opinion, the very best are over-wintered nucs. In other words, the small colony is a cohesive unit that spent the winter together with their queen. Healthy overwintered nucs are likely to explode in the spring, giving you a vibrant, populous colony in no time.

Other nucs are made up immediately before the sale. The colonies may have been in pollination service, for example. After pollination, the colonies are divided, given queens, and sold as nucs. Sometimes this type of nuc doesn’t do as well simply because it is not yet a cohesive whole. The bees may supersede their queen, or they may get off to a slower start. Although most of these nucs do fine, the buyer should ask whether the nuc was overwintered or newly established.

What is a package?

Bees can also be purchased in a wooden shipping box that includes a can of feed and a newly-mated queen. These boxes are usually sold by weight and come with 2- or 3-pounds of bees. Like the bees in newly-established nucs, the bees in the packages may have recently come from commercial pollination service. Frames of bees are dumped through a queen excluder into a funnel. From the funnel the bees are measured into a shipping box until the right weight is reached. Then a newly-mated queen in a shipping cage is added to the package along with a can of syrup.

Some of the bees in a package may be related to each other, but most probably are not. Certainly the queen is not related, which is why the beekeeper most introduce the queen slowly to the newly installed package. Some of this depends on how long the bees were in transit. For example, if the package is put together, shipped overnight, and delivered the next day, the queen should be introduced slowly. If the package is in transit for a week, queen introduction should be simple.

Quality issues

Both nucs and packages pose quality issues which may be difficult for a new beekeepers to sort out. A nuc, for example, should be checked to see that it contains what the seller advertised. In addition, it never hurts to do a cursory inspection for brood diseases and parasites. This, by itself, is almost impossible for a new beekeeper. You may want to seek the help of a mentor, especially the first time.

Likewise, package bees may arrive in bad shape. Before accepting delivery, the beekeeper should be sure the queen is alive and looking healthy. You should also gauge the number of dead bees on the bottom of the cage. For an in-depth discussion of what experienced beekeepers believe is an acceptable number of dead bees, see this post: Dead bees in a package: how many is okay?

Logistical issues

For nuc buyers, a number of different options exist. Some sellers merely transfer their bees into your box. Some will want to trade new, unused frames for the frames containing the bees. Some will sell you the frames that contain the bees and put them in a cardboard nuc box which you needn’t return. Some transport them in a wooden brood box which you must return. Again, read the terms of the sale so you know how to prepare.

For package buyers, there is often a deposit on shipping boxes, so you need to learn how to get your refund. Usually, there is a time limit and a damage deduction. Make sure you know the terms of your purchase.

Nucs vs packages, pros and cons

This next section is divided by issues that new beekeepers may experience. The issues that matter to an individual beekeeper will vary depending on experience, resources, region, and personal taste. Only you can decide which option works for you.

Type of beekeeping equipment you have

This may seem obvious, but I’ve helped a number of beekeepers wield hacksaws and wirecutters to make their nuc frames fit into their top-bar hives. This is not only a pain, but it’s not good for the colony. So please note that most nucs come on frames that fit into a deep Langstroth hive. If you have something other than a deep Langstroth, check with the seller. Some may have medium Langstroths available. Most will not have anything that fits into a top-bar hive. If you have non-standard equipment, you most likely need to buy a package.

Availability

In the US, packages seem to me more widely available than nucs. Nucs tend to be pre-ordered and are often not available on the spur-of-the-moment. Packages are also ordered in advance, but sometimes you can place a last-minute order with a bee club that is making a large purchase.

That said, you may be able to find a late season nuc in your area long after all the packages are gone. In short, sometimes the decision of what to get is dictated by what is available.

Time of year

Packages are usually available before nucs, especially in the northern parts of the country. So if getting started as soon as possible is important, you may want to buy a package. Be aware, however, that even though the package comes earlier, the bees will have to work hard to catch up with an established nuc. You may do better by waiting for the nuc if that works with your schedule.

Expense

Nucs are generally more expensive than packages. The difference may be insignificant if you are buying one or two, but may be prohibitive if you are buying 20 or 30. This is necessarily a personal decision.

Watching the colony start from scratch

Many new beekeepers have enjoyed watching their colony start from a package. Like a swarm, the packaged bees have nothing to begin with, yet they soon manage to build a complete and viable colony. Watching the progression is a rich learning experience. Other beekeepers prefer to start with an established colony, especially when they are unsure of their skills. Either preference is fine.

Feeding

Almost without exception, packages must be fed to get them started. Nucs may not need to be fed at all, or only fed for a short time.

Absconding

A certain number of newly installed packages will abscond in search of other living quarters. This seems to occur most frequently when the hive is brand new and contains no attractive odors. For a more in-depth review of this, see “My bees left: how to prevent absconding.” Beekeepers can reduce the chance of absconding by keeping the queen caged until comb building begins, providing plenty of feed, or using a queen excluder under the brood box. The chance of a nuc absconding is much, much less.

Supersedure

As with absconding, the chance of supersedure is less with a nuc than a package. First, the queen in a nuc is already laying. But the queen in a package must first be accepted by the bees. Then she must begin laying. If she is found to be lacking as a queen, the colony may decide to replace her. The supersedure may succeed, but it certainly slows the entire process down and could result in loss of the colony.

Local conditions

If you buy a nuc from a local supplier, the queen is more apt to be bred locally and so be adapted to local conditions. The queens included with a package are usually from the southeastern states or northern California and are adapted to those conditions.

Intimidation factor

A number of people have told me they preferred a nuc because they were afraid of shaking a package of bees into the hive. For a new beekeeper, I can see where that may be scary. But if nothing else, beekeeping is rich with alternatives. If you don’t want to shake bees out of a package, you don’t have to. See this post for an alternative method: Easiest package installation ever.

Multiple queens

Several people have complained to me about multiple queens in their packages. The first sign of this may be eggs before the queen is released, or the presence of both a dead queen and a live one. Multiple queens in a package occur when a small queen somehow passes through the queen excluder when bees are shaken into the funnel from their frames. It is just something that happens and it usually irons itself out. If you discover it when they are both still alive, you probably should remove the extra.

Africanized honey bees

You have a greater chance of picking up some Africanized honey bee genetics if your queen was open-mated in the southern states. If this is something you are worried about, a local nuc with a local queen will make you more comfortable. If you live in AHB territory, you may want to know more about your queen’s genetics as well as her mating history, but remember there are few guarantees in beekeeping.

Brood breaks

One of the nice things about a package is the brood break. For a while, that new colony has no capped brood, a situation that can greatly reduce the Varroa mite population. For this reason alone, some beekeepers prefer packages.

Other diseases

It seems that nucs can carry brood diseases, parasites, and pests more effectively than packages. Because packages start out with nothing and build their new home from the ground up, they generally have less of a pathogen load to begin with.

I’m not saying they are free of problems. They are not. Packages can and do have mites, viruses, and other diseases that they carry with them. But in my experience, I’ve seen more transmission of brood disease with nucs than packages.

This can occur when the seller routinely treats his bees for diseases like American foulbrood or European foulbrood. If the treatment suppresses disease but the buyer doesn’t know about it, the colonies may develop symptoms once the treatments stop. The key here is to buy from a reputable seller who is proud of the nucs he sells and will stand by them.

Diseased nucs are unusual, but they do happen from time to time. Be especially on guard if the frames appear old, black, or moldy. A seller who appears to be unloading old or sub-par equipment should be avoided. Frames don’t have to be brand new, but they should be structurally sound and the combs should be in good condition.

And the winner is . . .

Personally, I never recommend one system over the other unless the beekeeper has particular concerns that can be addressed by one or the other. Both methods work, but they both have upsides and downsides. Decide which of the factors are most important to you and then make your decision based on that. Just remember, you can succeed easily with either option.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

A package of bees can be intimidating to a new beekeeper. © Rusty Burlew.

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Thermal imaging for beekeepers

Last week, a dusting of snow showed me exactly where the cluster in my top-bar hive had gathered. Dead center on the uninsulated gabled roof were two circles of meltwater, so I knew the cluster was right below it. “Aha!” I said. “When my Flir One thermal imager arrives, I will test it on the top-bar hive.”

Sure enough, my very first thermal image showed the cluster centered top-to-bottom and left-to-right. There is something reassuring about viewing it, all snug and glowy, in the middle of winter.

Top-bar-hive
Here is my top-bar hive with the cluster right in the middle. © Rusty Burlew.

Heat converted to visual images

So here are a few observations on my first attempts at thermal imaging. My husband helped me with this post by providing the comments in the gray boxes. He said the information comes from a Wikipedia article on thermography, the specifications of the Flir One, and his vast knowledge of engineering.

Hive-4-front
This thermal image was taken of the front of hive #4 and clearly shows the position of the cluster. The other two hives on this stand are empty. © Rusty Burlew.

Thermal imagers work by converting heat into electronic signals which can then be recorded and viewed on a video monitor. The Flir One imagers designed to work with smart phones have two lenses, one to take a normal digital photograph of the scene, and one to sense heat gradients. In the final photo, the heat gradient is overlaid on the photograph so you can see where the heat is coming from.

Hive-4-back
This is the back of hive #4. Because the cluster is in the front, the wooden in the back is less warm. © Rusty Burlew.

Thermal imagers do not “see” inside the hive, but rather they detect heat coming from the hive. For example, the two photos shown here were taken of the same hive, one from the front and one from the back. From the front, the cluster is clearly visible, but from the back it is not. This tells me that the cluster is very close to the front of the hive because the wood in the front is warm.

Since the thermal imager detects heat, it does not show the cluster from the back of the hive because the wood back there is not nearly as warm. From the bees’ point of view, it makes sense that this cluster is in the front of the hive because that is the side facing the sun. The bees take advantage of existing heat whenever they can.

Rich says: In a nutshell, what the beekeeper sees is the heating of the wooden hive caused by radiant and convective heat transfer from the cluster to the walls of the hive. In turn, the emissivity of the wood is detected by the camera and converted to visible light, allowing the beekeeper to inspect the hive non-invasively.

A single image, taken from one side of the hive can reveal a source of heat, which is good evidence that there is a colony present in the hive. This single image obviously reveals the height of the colony. This alone is useful because a colony that is very high in the hive may be out of food and need supplementary feed.

An image from two adjacent sides, or even three or four sides, will help triangulate the location of the colony in longitude and latitude. The colony not appearing on one or more of the sides is likely to indicate the colony is distal from the image side, or that a draft within the hive is cooling the inner surface on that side. It is very unlikely that this result is indicative of a camera failure.

Features included in the Flir One

These little cameras are loaded with features. You can choose different color palettes to view the photos either before or after you take the picture. Different palettes show the heat gradients in different ways. You can easily take the photos and then scroll through the pallets to find the one that tells you the most.

The Flir One offers a choice of color palettes. Generally, the user should choose one that gives detail on the temperature gradient. For example, a large white mass provides less information on the cluster of bees than an image with white in the center and multiple colored rings. The finer gradient image helps in deducing where the center of the cluster is.

You can also read the temperature in degrees C or F, or turn that feature off so you don’t see it in the photo. With a single swipe of the screen, you can remove the thermal image overlay and see the plain digital photo underneath which is helpful to better see where things are.

Thermal images around the house

As soon as Rich saw the thermal images, he (mis)appropriated my phone to take photos of windows, doors, and roof penetrations looking for heat leaks. Plus he discovered that the dog’s nose is really warm, white hot actually. Just saying.

The Flir One is useful for finding thermal leaks on houses. This is not a frequent use, but repairing these leaks, which can occur when water is entering too, saves energy, improves comfort for occupants, and prevents damage from becoming even more costly to repair as the problem lingers undetected.

Pump-house-hive
This hive is behind our pump house. You can see the cluster and also some heat leaking out of the upper entrance. The pump house has a heater inside to keep it from freezing, and you can see heat leaking out around the foundation.

The range of temperatures for thermographic images is -50°C to over 2000°C. The Flir One IR cameras operate in a much narrower range, with a “scene” temperature of 32°F to 212°F, perfect for beekeepers checking hives and homeowners looking for thermal leaks at their home. The Flir One may not be a good choice for a technician analyzing the performance of a boiler producing super-heated steam because its range of performance is too low. Infrared film is sensitive in the range of 250°C to 500°C, also of little use to beekeepers.

Worth the price if you can save some bees

Hive-3
I was amazed to see the bees in hive #3 were in the candy board or just below it. The upper entrance you see is between the upper brood box and the candy board feeder. © Rusty Burlew.

Although I was hesitant to plop down money for the imager, I believe it may have already saved two hives. All my hives have candy boards in place, and I had no intention of checking on them further until the first of the year. But much to my amazement, the images show that two of my colonies have already moved up into the candy boards. I knew they were short of food going into fall, but this was unexpected. Time to buy more sugar.

I was first convinced of the value of these cameras when I saw the images taken by Maine beekeeper, Judith Stanton. She saw a mouse nest in her hive and was able to take it out before it did serious damage. Awesome. The take-home message here is important: if you see something weird in your photo, don’t blame the camera. Instead, open that hive the first chance you get.

Open your hive, share your finds

If you are confused by the results of a thermographic image, you should consider opening the hive to learn what is happening. Then you can inform everyone, through a comment, of what the anomalous observation was and what you found in the hive so that we all learn more.

I’m in the process of setting up a gallery of hive thermal images. If you want to include your photos, you can email them to me (rusty@honeybeesuite.com). Be sure to say where in the world you are.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Flir One for iOS and Android are available on Amazon.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

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Fall hive management: dealing with dinks

You have a small colony of honey bees that seems to have stalled. The frames of bees look normal enough, and they contain brood, honey, pollen, and a seemingly healthy queen. The bees are performing normal honey bee activities, but the colony doesn’t seem to thrive. Instead it just persists. Although the entire colony covers just two, three, or four frames, the bees seem happy with the status quo.

As a beekeeper, you are perplexed. What do you do with it? Can you get them through winter? Should you even try?

Colonies like this are often called “dinks.” They have been around as long as beekeepers, and every fall the same questions come up. Should you feed them, combine them, destroy them, shake them out, or just ignore them?

1 dink + 1 dink = 1 dink?

The truth is, over the years I’ve changed my philosophy about these grapefruit-sized clusters. When I first started out, I frequently heard the advice that a dink plus a dink equals a dink.

The thought was that if you combined two weak colonies, the combined colony will still be weak and unable to make it through the winter. So it was considered a stupid thing to do.

Instead, I was told to combine a weak colony with a strong one so that I wouldn’t lose any bees. The problem with this idea is that it assumes the dinky colony is healthy and won’t harm the strong one. But is that true?

Any colony that under performs does so for a reason. We might never know what the reason is or whether it is contagious. But unless we know for sure, why risk passing the condition to a strong and healthy colony?

For example, if the dink is weak because it is malnourished or headed by a defective queen, there is little harm in combining. But if the dink is weak because of a pathogen or parasite, we certainly would not want to introduce that into a healthy colony.

So common sense tells us that if we combine two dinks and the resulting colony dies, we haven’t lost much. But if we combine a dink and a thriving colony and the resulting colony dies, we have lost in a big way.

Shaking is worse than combining

Here’s another bad piece of advice I frequently hear: Simply shake the bees out of the dink at the edge of the apiary so the individual bees can move into other hives. In my opinion, this is worse than combining the dink with a good colony. By shaking a diseased dink, you can easily pass whatever it is to all your other colonies at once. How utterly efficient!

So what should you do?

Usually, I start thinking about dinks in August when I evaluate the hives for mites. If I have any hives that appear weak, I start by doing a thorough inspection. I lift every frame and check for brood diseases, I look at the brood pattern, count mites, and check for winter stores.

If I have more than one dink, and they appear healthy except for mites, I combine them before mite treatments. If I have only one, or if I have two with drastically different mite loads, I keep them separate and treat the one that needs it. The next decision is whether I want to overwinter these mini colonies.

Another old adage proclaims that “once a dink always a dink.” I don’t believe this is true. In fact, at times I have been shocked by the turnaround a dink can make, especially when you keep it well fed. It almost seems like they have an internal timer. Once their time comes, they’re off like race horses.

Cost/benefit ratio

The problem, as I see it, is that these small colonies can take a lot of work. If you are willing to put in the effort, you can often turn them around. If you are already pressed for time, it may not be worth it. So at this point, I’d say it’s a personal decision.

When I say lots of work I mean the bees may need constant feeding, they may need pollen sub, they may need insulation, they may need protection from robbers and wasps, they may need windbreaks and rain shelters. In other words, you personally have to make up for the small population. Your role changes from “beekeeper” to “ginormous nurse bee,” at least until the colony gets through the rough spots.

If you succeed, it can be quite rewarding. But if you fail you’ll wonder whatever possessed you to think you could keep the thing alive. I know because I’ve done both.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Can this dink turn around?
Can this dink be saved? Pixabay photo.