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My bees left! How to prevent absconding

You are a brand new beekeeper. Three days ago you proudly installed your first package of bees according to directions that you read a dozen times. Today, covered in protective gear from head to toe, you open your hive to make sure the queen has been released from her cage.

What you find is shocking. The queen has been released all right, but every last bee is gone. Missing. AWOL. You are heartbroken. What happened? What did you do wrong?

Absconding is rare in European honey bees

Simply put, your bees absconded. They checked the place out but decided to look for something better. I like to compare it to house-hunting: you walk in a place that looks okay from the outside, but inside you are not quite comfortable. It’s not terrible, but it’s not you . . . so you keep looking.

Absconding can happen any time of year, triggered by things such as lack of food, frequent disturbance, loud noises, overheating, bad odors, parasites, predators, or the presence of chemicals. Regardless of all the possible reasons, absconding is rare—it doesn’t happen very often.

Of all the absconding colonies I have seen or heard about, the vast majority left brand new hives. It’s not because the beekeepers are new, it’s because the hives are new. New wood has certain odors, as does new plastic. New hives do not have that homey, lived-in smell that bees seem to crave. As a result, they often leave the first chance they get. A colony placed in a new hive is like a swarm hanging from a tree—the bees have options, they are not tied down, they can leave whenever they like. And sometimes, they do.

Bees rarely abscond from used equipment, so seasoned beekeepers seldom consider it. I can’t even remember the last time I installed bees in a completely new hive, but it’s a fact of life for new beekeepers who are starting with a package instead of a nuc. Hardly seems fair, does it?

How to prevent absconding

So how can you prevent your new package from leaving? Here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Do not paint the inside of your hive. If you already did paint it, let it air out completely before installing bees. New paint smell may overwhelm any other attributes of their new home.
  • The same is true for new wooden or plastic hives and frames: let it all air out to dissipate the smells as much as possible.
  • Do not let the queen self-release. Instead, wait until the workers have started to build comb and then release her by hand. Once the furniture is arranged (new comb is in place) the bees are less likely to leave.
  • You can put a queen excluder under the brood box so the queen cannot leave. Don’t forget to take it out after a few days, however, because drones won’t be able to go through it either.
  • While morning sun is a good thing, afternoon sun may cause the temperature to spike inside the hive. When the colony is just getting started, it may not have enough members to keep the place cool.
  • Put the hive on a hive stand so it is less likely to be bothered by skunks or other hungry predators.
  • Do not open the hive more than necessary, especially in the first few days.
  • Do not run a lawnmower, rototiller, leaf blower or other loud equipment near the new hive. Once a colony is established, it will put up with these disturbances on occasion. But early on, when the colony is first settling in, any of these annoyances may cause it to leave.
  • Used comb, even just one, can go a long way toward making your bees comfortable. If you have a disease-free comb, by all means put it in your new hive.
  • Feed syrup. The presence of syrup will stimulate the workers to build comb, and the sooner you have comb, the less likely your bees will abscond. If possible, spike the syrup with a scent they like—a drop of lemongrass or anise oil works well.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

New-bees-on-new-wood-Chiot's-Run
New bees on new wood need special handling. Flickr photo by Chiot’s Run.

Comments

Brad Raspet
Reply

Very good list… the only other thing I do with new hives is spray each frame (plasticell) with sugar syrup both sides before doing the install.

Rusty
Reply

Another good idea.

Debbie
Reply

Rusty, love you & love this site. One of these days I hope to install a real bee hive. For now I am taking care of the other pollinators in my area. I so want to harvest honey, but seems a little self-centered at this point. (Live in the city with neighbors with kids) but can’t wait to hide a small bee hive in the corner of my yard. Thank YOU!!!! for teaching me what to expect & how to take care of these little buggers. One of these days…. now I am starting with mason bees.

Rusty
Reply

Debbie,

As I always tell people, I love honey bees but my real passion is with the little wild bees, of which I will never know enough.

Bil
Reply

I burn the inside of new hives with a blowtorch or even a couple of fistfuls of hay. The only time I had bees absconding was when I tried varroa treatment with a thymol based product.

Thanks for your blog, I look forward to reading it, but I don’t know how you keep it up. It must be very time consuming.

Rusty
Reply

Time consuming? If you only knew . . .

Nancy
Reply

Thanks, Rusty! Our club has 6 or 7 NEW beekeepers this season and I’ll share this on our page.

While I agree with giving new packages “lovingly-used” used equipment (indeed, spent yesterday parceling out old frames of drawn comb into the new deeps), I have to add a bit.

An experienced beekeeper in our region had 7 of 22 colonies abscond last season. He uses plastic foundation and has been heard to tout it on the basis that “you’ll never have to fool with it again.” When a couple of us had a chance to see some old brood frames of his, the wax was black, including burr comb that hadn’t been scraped away.

So, one more reason not to like plastic (besides my perception that bees don’t) is that it makes it too easy NOT to change out foundation. The sound thinking is to change every 3 years.

If I may, a Public Service Announcement to new beekeepers (of which I was one, 2 years ago): Beware of advice that benefits the beekeeper and not the bees. Like plastic, as noted, and using all mediums because “You’ll only have to handle one size and all your frames will fit in all your boxes.” Nothing to do with the bees’ requirements, you see? (Just me, but it seems they make a nicer brood nest in deeps.)

Best of success this season with your new adventure, and with yours, Rusty!

Thanks again!
Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

“The miracle is not walking on water. The miracle is walking on the green Earth.”
-Thich Nhat Hanh

Rachetwench
Reply

About 4 years ago, I decided to start keeping bees again. I had kept them when my kids were small, 25+ years ago, but had to move out of state and couldn’t bring them. So, when my dad expressed an interest, I was gungho, and even recruited my youngest son to help build a beautiful, big, top-bar hive. I insisted on local bees, so I got in touch with the local beek association and its president offered me a swarm he had snagged from inside a power transformer (the power company guys were very thankful for the removal, and pleased they were able to go on working without being stung, too).

I paid $95 for a swarm that consisted of about 600 bees, more or less, with their new queen, all in a ragged old cardboard nuc box that had only one tiny round (about 6″ in diameter) piece of drawn-out comb. Because I didn’t know any better, we ‘installed’ the girls in the spanking new TBH and made sure to include the tiny piece of comb to make them welcome. That was at about noon on that particular day.

At around 4, I checked on them, only to find my pretty little queen toddling about on the ground!! I picked her up, returned her to the hive, and hoped she would stay. VERY long story short, the next morning the hive was empty, and the few foragers who did remain (possibly the ones caught out overnight) were being picked off by those giant brown hornets. All I could do was stand there and cry.

Part of what upset me was not that they had absconded—they left because there was simply not enough comb prepared for her to lay in—but that the president of the beek association charged us so much, even though he acknowledged (when we met him to pick up the bees) that there simply weren’t enough bees with the queen! He also refused to return my phone calls and, to this very day, denies any wrongdoing (which is the prime reason I refuse to participate in that particular beek association. If this is how their ‘president’ behaves, then what are the members like?!?)

Aside from that, I found myself extremely well-read on the subject of absconding and was able to install a new package the following year without any issues. All that said, you can surely see why I tend to shy away from beekeeping associations, and also why I depend so heavily on your website, Rusty, as well as Michael Bush and the FaceBook groups to which I belong. I learned my lesson, paid for it, and am now educated enough to have a clue about the whys and wherefores of colonies that abscond. Thanks very much for the article. I’m going to pin it on my FB group page so that maybe another new beek won’t have to suffer through an entire colony absconding (especially when it’s a preventable problem!)

Glen Buschmann
Reply

I expect that the beek prez from your particular association barely represents the entire association. Many an association president, from bees to blooms – or computers, or dancing, or … you name it – is chosen not from a huge slate of candidates, but as the only one who steps forward. I’ve seen more than a few newcomers eagerly nominated for some post just by volunteering. You might be surprised by the diversity of attenders, including quite a few who would be horrified by your bad experience. And where else can you hang out with people unafraid of some stinging insects.

Megan
Reply

Rusty, our state apiarist mentioned at the last bee club meeting that if you try to hive your own swarm, they will abscond unless you move the colony about 5 miles away. He also said you can bring them back after about a month has passed. That was news to me, but it seems to make sense. Have you heard that?
Thank you!
Megan
P.S. our club has a new Facebook page, and I’ve linked your blogs on yellowjackets, miner bees and mason bees. Thank you for those also!

Rusty
Reply

Megan,

No, I have not heard that. I’ve been hiving my own swarms forever, sometimes only two feet from the original hive, and I have never, ever had one abscond.

Jared
Reply

What a prophetic post! I read/skimmed this article just before we picked up our first two packages of bees. One week later and one packaged was gone (http://www.empirebeefarm.com/2014/04/the-honeymoon-is-over.html). It’s interesting that with two identical setups one left and the other didn’t. Thanks for the list. We’ll be making some adjustments next time…

Rusty
Reply

So sad . . . but hang in there. These things happen.

Nathanael Carper
Reply

My bees absconded! My first hive swarmed, I put them in a box, within hours they left.

You won’t believe if I tell you, I’m probably the first person who experienced this, but my swarm was only the size of your fist. So unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ll survive.

Rusty
Reply

Nathanael,

Nothing here surprises me. Fist-size swarms are common, especially if they are secondary or tertiary. Did you see the queen? One way to get them to stay is to put the queen in a cage until they settle in. Also, adding a frame of open brood helps, if you have one.

Nathanael Carper
Reply

No, I didn’t see the queen. I didn’t think they would leave. I asked another beekeeper if the bees would survive, she said no.

Rusty
Reply

That’s correct. Chances of a fist-sized swarm surviving on their own are very small, but it does happen, especially in warmer climates. If you manage to hold on to a swarm like that, you can boost them with brood from another hive, and then they have a fairly good chance of surviving.

Nathanael Carper

Thanks! I’ll try to remember this stuff next time my hive swarms! Thanks again!

I’ve also just got back from my hive, and a new queen is emerging from her cell. I put my ear to the hive and was listen to them buzz when I heard little piping sounds. I had heard these sounds before, and new it was a challenge to any other queen to battle.

Rusty

That is very cool! I love to hear them piping.

Davy
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Very nice blog. Thanks for doing this!

I’ve been keeping bees for 6 years. We keep between 6-8 hives up in Québec, Canada. I started fall feeding my bees on the 20th Sept. All the hives were doing great. Yesterday, I checked out the hives after a 3-week absence in the apiary. I figured it was OK in the fall to let them be. Never had any problems before. Two of my hives were completely empty. The bees are gone. No dead bees, no more food in the ‘miller’ feeders. Bees were present 3 weeks ago. I’m stumped! I’d never heard of absconding bees before. Not sure this is what happened. It’s pretty late fall… cold weather up here now.

The other hives, which I should mention have younger queens, are still doing fine. The 2 missing hives were my best hives this summer. New Zealand queens… 2 yo. Perhaps I should’ve changed them late August.
Just thought I’d share this… Maybe you have ideas as to what could’ve happened. I’m thinking they didn’t like the formic ‘flash’ treatments.

All best!

Rusty
Reply

Davy,

I don’t know how the summer went in Québec, but large parts of North America experienced a long and deep nectar dearth this year. I think the reduced amount of winter stores, together with the formic treatments, was enough to push them over the edge. Please read “Why do honey bees abscond in the fall” for more detail. You are not the first to have this happen. Altogether, I think honey bees had a tough year.

Tiffany
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I’m a new beekeeper and have really enjoyed using your site as a resource. Thanks for all you do here!

I set up two new hives this spring from nucs, and everything seemed to be going fine, even through the hot, dry summer we had in central California. I had not done a frame-by-frame inspection on my hives for about 8 weeks, but was checking on them almost daily from the exterior. I realize now I’m not experienced enough to rely on this method yet. A few days ago I noticed no bees flying from the stronger of my two hives. When I opened the hive, it was completely empty. No honey, no brood, no bees; but there were 6 queen cells!

What do you think happened to this hive that seemed so healthy? I’m hoping to learn from this loss and do a better job with my remaining colony.

Thanks, Tiffany

Rusty
Reply

Tiffany,

It is impossible to diagnose from a distance, but based on the presence of queen cells, it sounds like the colony went queenless and tried unsuccessfully to replace her. But, like I said, I’m just guessing.

Another possibility is that they did produce a queen and then absconded with her. Why? Sometimes a heavy mite load can cause them to abscond, or a lack of honey, or an excess of predators.

I’ve heard similar stories by the dozen this year and I think it may be related to the hot, dry weather. But modern production queens often die in the early fall. I have no idea why, but it happens a lot. It’s a good idea to check for the queen in the fall to make sure she is present and laying. She won’t be laying nearly as much as in the spring, but there should be some brood.

You should also look at the empty honey comb and see if the cells have smooth edges or ragged edges. Ragged edges suggest the hive was robbed; smooth edges may mean your bees ran out of food before they left.

Nathanael Carper
Reply

,

Several weeks ago I found my hive deserted. When I opened it, it was filled with wax moth larvae. There is still some honey in there, and a few dead bees too. They were a healthy colony too. I’m guessing it’s CCD, what do think?

Nathanael

Rusty
Reply

Nathanael,

The presence of wax moths suggests it was not CCD. In fact, a lack of scavengers is one of the signs of CCD. Also, CCD is usually associated with large-scale operations and is not so common with hobby beekeepers. That’s not to say it is impossible, just not very likely.

They probably went queenless and died, or else they absconded due to heavy mite load, lack of food, heavy predation (including wax moths), too much heat, not enough water, or some other reason. Be sure to check for white deposits of guanine in the empty brood cells, which can tell you if mites were a problem.

Anita
Reply

Hi! I bought a beautiful cedar Warre style from my neighbor, when her bees swarmed (her hive was packed to the gills) she installed them for me. Things have been great, for the past couple of months, building beautiful comb….then they just absconded! We are in Oregon, we had a mild winter so there is plenty in bloom and we made sure there is fresh water available. The hive receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Not sure what we did wrong 🙁

Do we leave the comb for the next batch or remove? Any suggestions on how we do a better job for them this next time around? Thanks!

Jamie
Reply

This is very helpful! A friend had me come get a swarm at her house. I was so excited! My first swarm. We have 3 hives at the moment and 2 more complete set ups that needs bees. I went out to her house and got them. Got them home dumped them in a brand new set up. The stuck around for a full day. Today we noticed them buzzing around and eventually landing in one of our trees. I figured it had something to do with the new frames. Hopefully they will stay put till tomorrow. I will spray the box with some Honey B and put a couple frames of drawn comb.

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for the valuable info and I’m hoping you can help.

I definately made a few of the mistakes listed here which I think left me with a queesless hive I think. The reason I’m not 100% sure if the queen absconded or was killed because 1) i have not seen her whenever i did an inspection and 2) i have not found any brood, or eggs or larvae.

I installed a package of bees 4 weeks ago into a brand new Flow hive, although the brood frame was coated with tung oil months ahead and the hive was placed outside 6 weeks before the package was installed. I had foundation-less frames because that is what included in the Flow package.

I installed the package in middle of the day when it was nice and warm, followed instruction, made sure the queen was alive and well. She was in her plastic cage and i removed the plastic cover and placed her on the bottom of the hive on a screen bottom board as it was going to be a warm night for bees to eat through the candy and release her.

The next day i decided to purchase another hive and package of bees and installed it at my friend’s house as he has lots of fruit trees that need pollinating. However the 2nd hive was a standard 10 frame Langstroth hive that came with foundation frames. The bee package was installed the same way but later in the day while it was still warm and plenty of light.

Four days later i checked on the flow hive and she was out of her cage, but couldn’t see her. The bees were building comb and i continued to feed them and left them alone. I drove over to my friend’s place and checked on 2nd hive, they were doing well and have also started to build comb. The queen was out but couldn’t see her. I clearly need to learn how to spot the queen.

I did another inspection 2 weeks after and that is when i started noticing the difference between the hives. The bees in the 2nd hive that had foundation frames seemed to be doing better, they had built more comb and on more frames, as oppose to flow hive my backyard, there seemed to be fewer bees and the comb building wasn’t as much as the 2nd hive i placed in my friend’s yard.

Concerned by what i was observing, i did more inspections and tried to look for the queen and couldn’t see her. i also couldn’t see any brood or eggs where my 2nd hive i could clearly see brood, eggs and larvae so i was sure the queen was there and she was busy doing her thing.

After reading your article I’m quite sure i was the reason why my hive is queen less.

A week after installing the package i mowed the lawn and i got close to the hive with mower.
I opened the hive way too many times.
I started with foundation-less frames.
I released the queen too early (for foundation-less frames) i should have waited a bit longer till the bees had build more comb.

So, the last time i opened the flow hive was 2 weeks ago and i’m going to wait till next week when i will take another look and if my hive is in-fact queenless i will go and buy a new queen and use one of the brood frames from the 2nd hive to put into my Flow Hive. Hopefully this will sort things out.

I’m still not 100% sure on the steps of re-queening. I have a 2nd hive that is well and producing and would like to use some of the brood from that one. But i’m not sure how to go on about re-queening. Any help is greatly appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Edmun,

First things first, I have trouble counting up the weeks from your description, but at this point I would be worried about laying workers. About three weeks without a queen or open brood will give worker ovaries a chance to develop. Once you get laying workers, the whole question of what to next gets more difficult.

As soon as possible, I would take a frame of open brood from the standard Langstroth and put it in the Flow hive. The pheromones from the open brood will help to suppress worker ovaries and buy you some time to get a new queen. Then I would get a new queen and introduce her in pretty much the same way. Put the cage in for a couple days, and then either release her by hand or let the bees release her.

Before releasing her, gently push the bees off the cage with your finger. If it is easy to brush them away, that is a good sign. If they hang onto the cage like their lives depended on it, or if they try to sting her through the cage, then wait a couple of more days.

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for your reply and suggestion. I did a quick inspection yesterday and i couldn’t find any signs of laying workers such as multiple eggs in a cell nor i could see any bees going in abdomen first. Actually i couldn’t see any brood, not open, capped or drone brood. The bees seemed to act normal, doing their cell inspection head first.

In-fact they don’t seem to have build any more comb from last time i checked on them which was 2 weeks ago and the number of bees seem to be allot less than what i put in when i first installed the package.

I could see capped cells with white thin capping which contained what seemed like sugar water from the time i was feeding them and there were also cells which had pollen in them… but no new comb.

I got a phone call from the local bee keeping supplier and he told me that bee packages will be available in the next few days. what do you think i should do? what are my options?

thanks in advance.

Rusty
Reply

Edmun,

Possible options:

1. Place a frame of open brood in the queenless hive to see if they can raise a queen. This is getting more difficult as time goes on because you are losing bee population by attrition.
2. Combine your current two hives into one. At least you won’t lose the rest of the bees in the weak hive.
3. Buy a queen and try to introduce her into the queenless hive.
4. Buy a new package and combine it with the weak hive (or not).
5. If you don’t want to combine the weak hive with another, just shake the bees out of the hive. Most will drift into you other hive (or hives).

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

After careful inspection of the hive, i discovered multiple eggs in a single cell which confirms i have a laying worker bee.

We’ve discussed how to get rid of laying worker, but do you recommend getting a queen or should i just let the bees raise a queen ?

the apiary officer from my local bee keeping association thinks that there is 70-90% chance of a locally raises queen returning to the same hive after her mating flight.

what do you think ?

Rusty
Reply

Edmun,

1) When newly mated queens start to lay, they sometimes lay multiple eggs in a cell. So one or two cells like doesn’t tell you much. And remember, you don’t get “a” laying worker, you get dozens or hundreds.

2) You can do either, but take into consideration how many bees are left to do the work. Raising a queen will take a couple of weeks, and then you need another two or three to get her mated and laying.

3) That’s probably about right. They get eaten by birds, hit by cars, travel through clouds of pesticide, get washed away by rain, and some even get lost. It’s a dangerous business.

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks for getting back to me.

I took pictures of the cells and I would love to show you, but I’m not sure if this medium allows me to upload photos. So I have uploaded some to Flickr and hope you can access them.

https://www.flickr.com/gp/92565827@N08/0196zy

The hive in question doesn’t have a lot of comb built. It has 2 frames with about 70% comb drawn and another with about 50% drawn. There 3 others with about 10% drawn. So there isn’t a lot of comb.

The cells I noticed with multiple eggs weren’t just 1 or 2 or even a dozen, there seems to be a lot more. I also notice larvae in many of the cells, white larva that was nicely tucked into the cell. so I’m not sure if they going to turn into drone cells as some have been capped.

I’m getting another complete separate hive with package bees in the next few days and I’m going to be installing them into an 8-frame Langstroth hive on the same stand maybe 10 inches away from the problem hive. Do you think that’s enough space between the 2 hives or do I need more space between them? Or should I even put close to the problem hive?

Look forward to your suggestion and thank you so much for all the help you’ve given me so far.

Cheers,
Ed

Rusty
Reply

Ed,

Great photos, but definitely a laying worker hive. You’ll notice multiple eggs, eggs not in the center of the cell, and eggs laid on top of pollen. You’ll also notice the bees building up the rim of brood cells, and placing bullet-shaped caps over the drones that are in worker-sized cells. Drones are too big for regular worker brood cells, but laying workers put them there anyway. And yes, all the larvae are drones.

I see one queen cup that was probably built earlier and really nice white caps on the honey.

Ten inches apart is fine for the hives. Laying workers aren’t contagious, so it’s not something that’s going to spread.

Edmun
Reply

Thanks Rusty,

How much time should I allow between putting a brood frame into this hive and installing a new queen once I have get rid of the laying worker/s?

Or should I just let them make a new queen?

Rusty
Reply

Ed,

Getting rid of laying workers is a process. If you read the post on laying workers, you will see that new ones will keep developing as long as there are insufficient pheromones to suppress them. The idea with open brood is you keep adding a new frame every few days until the worker ovaries slowly become suppressed. They didn’t start laying overnight, and they won’t stop overnight. It takes time.

Until the worker ovaries are completely suppressed, they will probably kill an introduced queen. I don’t know how long it will take, but you will just have to watch the colony and see what it does. Once they start building queen cells, they are probably ready to accept a queen.

“Fixing” a laying worker hive is tough even for experienced beekeepers. It might be a good learning experience, but lots of beekeepers find the effort is hardly worth the results, especially when you are stealing so many brood frames from other hives that you are impeding their development.

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

You bring a very good point, “fixing a laying works is a tough thing even for experienced beekeepers” . This will be even tougher for me as I am new to beekeeping and I only have 1 other hive that is starting up and don’t want to impede their development.

It would be a different story if I had other hives that were stronger and few seasons older.

Since the package bees are available now, do you think I should get rid of the bees and the comb they have built with laying worker eggs and start from scratch with new foundation frames and new package?

If so, what is the best was to get rid them without killing them and still use the equipment for new frames and package of bees?

Cheers,
Edmund

Rusty
Reply

Edmun,

What I would do is shake the bees off the frames a few yards from your other hive. Some of those bees will combine with the queenright colony. But you don’t need to get rid of the comb, eggs, larvae, foundation or anything else. Your new package of bees will use what they want and get rid of the rest. Some of the drones may emerge, which is fine. The multiple eggs will be removed by the new bees. The less you mess with the frames, the better. Your new package will love the freshly built comb.

edmun
Reply

Thanks for all your help Rusty, greatly appreciate it ..

I just hope one day i can return the favor.

Thanks again..
Edmun

Edmun
Reply

Rusty,

Just way of update, I installed a new package today into the problem hive just like what we discussed. I took the whole brood body 30 yards away shook all the bees off the box and made sure there wasn’t a single one hanging on, placed it on the bottom board, then shook the bees of each frame and returned them to the empty brood box one by one and made sure all the bees were off the frame.

At the end of it, there were about 6 or so bees that were not flaying off the tarp. I squished them…

Then I opened the package and took the queen cage out, she looked fine. They had build comb around her which I think is their way of showing acceptance, removed the plastic cover and made sure the candy was there, placed the cage on its side and poured the bees into the hive.

Hopefully the laying workers are gone and the new bees start working and building comb and use some of the resources that were there.

I do however have a questions. What if there is 1 or more laying workers that still made it to the hive? Will they kill the queen once she is released?

Rusty
Reply

Edmun,

No, the queen will be safe. It turns out that all colonies contain some laying workers, even large healthy ones. For some reason, a few bees have their ovaries develop and they begin to lay eggs. The other workers can detect that these eggs are different, and they remove them. So it is not a problem to a have a few laying workers in a queen-right hive, you just don’t want large amounts.

Edmun
Reply

Hi Rusty,

you have no idea how much you have put my mind at ease. I was so worried that a single worker bee was going to kill my queen.

Thanks again for all your help and guidance .

Cheers,
Edmun

Joseph Wolf
Reply

I see where you suggest self-releasing the queen period as a new beekeeper my assumption is that I put the queen cage into the hive like I normally would but I pull out neither of the wooden porch. The sugar candy inside the excluder will not be devoured by the worker bees from the outside in this case and once the queen consumed all the sugar candy she would still be trapped in until I release her with the corks which I would not do until there was plenty of comb drawn-out. Does that sound correct? Also comma How long should I wait for this to happen period I didn’t install on Saturday and on day 4 I looked at the hive and the queen had released from the queen cage and was gone with every other being in the colony.

Rusty
Reply

Joseph,

You can’t be absolutely certain that they won’t abscond, but it is less likely to happen once the workers start to build comb and give the queen a place to lay eggs. Nothing about honey bees is a certainty, but by waiting for comb, you increase your odds of success. The queen will eat the sugar and when (if) she runs out of food, the workers will feed her right through the screen.

Robin
Reply

Hi Rusty,

First, thank you for writing this blog I have found a lot of great information that I know will help. We are first year beekeepers and were so excited to get our bees which we did last Sunday. The hives we bought are mediums, the frames are plastic and we made sure to rub bees wax on them and sprayed sugar water on both sides. We made sure there was plenty of food for the bees prior to introducing them to the hives (Pollen patty, sugar water with Bee Healthy). Everything went well the first day and the bees were hungry as one of the food packages was completely empty in the cage.

Monday both hives were very active with the bees doing their thing and seemed to be adjusting to the area. Tuesday morning they were active as well but when we got home from work there was no visible activity and when we opened the hives they were both empty and the queens had been released from their holders as well. We were shocked not knowing what happened. We checked the area for the swarms but could not find them. There were some dead bees on the bottom of the hive and still a few flying in and out; not a lot about a hand full.

Is it odd that both hives absconded on the same day (one queen Italian and one Carnolian)? I was told that maybe the queen was released too early; would they leave because of that? The area we put the hives in gets all day sun the weather was very hot for this time of year on Tuesday (80). They only had one medium box to move around in and I’m thinking now maybe another box on top would have helped with air flow. Could the hives have been overheating? We have the hives on cinder blocks one block high over a bed of crushed stone maybe 3 feet apart facing south east. Is that too low to the ground and is crushed stone OK? Maybe they were being disturbed by the skunk that seems to hang around. We are just trying to understand if these things play a factor in this and trying to find out what we did wrong. The area they are in is secluded surrounded by trees protected by the wind, but the highway near by can be heard could that also play a factor? I want to try again but I’m afraid they will leave. The man we got the bees from said he would give us 4 frames with comb on them for the new bees do you think that will help? Since the bees absconded from these hives should we move them to a new location for the new bees. We were hoping the bees would come back LOL and yesterday there was some bees (10) bunched together on the front of the hive not sure what they were doing probably upset they were left behind LOL. I hope I gave enough information, any advice would help. I’m trying to get some new bees or maybe I should just buy a Nuc….. Not sure what to do next…. I’m Beeless 🙁
Thank you Robin

Rusty
Reply

Robin,

As I said in the post above, it is the new hives the bees are not fond of. Absconding from new wood or plastic hives is not unusual because they doesn’t smell right to the bees. It helps to keep the queen caged until the workers start to build comb, which means the queen will have a place to lay. Or you can put a queen excluder below the brood box until she starts to lay. All those other things you mention are probably not the ultimate cause of them leaving.

The frames of comb would be a huge help because they smell like bees and the queen would have a place to lay. You can use those and a queen excluder, if it will make you less nervous. A nuc is even less likely to abscond for all those reasons plus the presence of brood.

Mary Kay
Reply

I put a second swarm of bees in my hive yesterday. The first swarm absconded. I have taped the entrance closed over night. When should I open the hive?

Rusty
Reply

Mary,

Can you possibly put a queen excluder between the brood chamber and bottom board? That allows the bees to orient and learn where their new home is but it prevents the queen from leaving. It’s good to wait until the the bees have begun to build wax combs before giving them free reign. That should only take a day or two, and then you can remove the excluder (or the tape, if you are still using it).

Or, if you queen is in a queen cage, you can leave her in there until some wax combs are built, and then release her by hand. In either case, once the queen begins laying eggs, they colony is likely to stay put.

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