Why did our package of bees abscond?
bad news is --- the package
of bees we put in
the top bar hive Friday absconded
Monday. They only ate half as much sugar water as the other hive,
which should have tipped me off that something was wrong, but I didn't
realize there was a problem until I saw that the hive was empty and all
of the bees were clinging to the trunk of a nearby tree.
We tried to brush the
mass of bees (technically not a swarm, but they act like one) into a
bucket to be rehived, but I suspect the queen took flight because all
of the bees flew right back out and disappeared. So, we're down
to one hive and I'm trying to figure out why our bees flew the coop.
Searching around the
internet, I ran across these possible causes for absconding:
- Frequent disturbance.
I thought that since opening the observation
window didn't mess with the hive, I could look as often as I
wanted. But now I'm wondering whether the light coming in during
my frequent viewings didn't bother the bees and make them think their
colony was unsafe. Similarly, I left the screened
bottom completely open for ventilation, but that made it pretty
bright inside the hive --- perhaps I should have closed the bottom and
minimized my viewings for the first couple of weeks?
- Top bar hive. When
I read The
Barefoot Beekeeper, I remember the author recommending against
packages as a way of starting top bar hives.
But packages are the most prevalant way of getting new bees in the
U.S., so I ignored the author's advice. My internet searches,
however, turned up lots of top bar hive beekeepers with absconding
package bees. Something about the hive seems to make package bees
discontented, although there are workarounds to keep your bees in
place. Some keepers wire a few frames of wax to top bars, while
others spread wax and/or propolis along the inside walls. Others
just hunt down a nuc.
- Overheating. Mark's
gut feeling is that the hive got too hot in the scorching sun.
It's in the same location where our Langstroths once lived and is a
paler color, so I didn't think that would be a problem, but we're going
to put a thermometer inside the hive to test his hypothesis.
Since poo-pooing his hypothesis, I read internet reports that
overheating will cause a colony to abscond, so he may be on the right
- Africanized honey bees.
Our packages came from Texas, and the proprietors of the apiary admit
that their bees may have partial Africanized genetics. I didn't
think it would be a problem since the beekeeping company has bred the
meanness out of their bees, but I did read a report that Africanized
honey bees are far more likely to abscond than European honey bees.
- Flight path obstructions.
I turned the top bar hive to face away from the center of our homestead
so they wouldn't be buzzing into us as we worked in the garden. A
chicken wire fence sits just a couple of feet away from their entrance,
which I wouldn't think would be a problem, but I have read that bees
prefer hives without flight path obstructions.
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Other common causes of
absconding that aren't relevant to my disappearing package include:
lack of food, lack of space, and presence of parasites or
diseases. Bad odors can also drive bees away, and I did feel like
straw in my kill mulch under the hive was giving off a strong smell, so
that's a slight possibility.
If we can't find a nuc
to refill our top bar hive and have to wait for a new package next
year, I'll do things a bit differently. In addition to leaving
the bees strictly alone, I'll reduce the opening more, perhaps even
making a queen includer to fit over the entrance for the first week,
forcing the matriarch to stay put.
And three hours after
losing our colony, I realized what I really should have done --- called
in our beekeeping mentor for hands-on help. I was afraid that if
I delayed, the swarm would fly to a less accessible location, so I
muddled through trying to catch it myself and failed. But I'll
bet my mentor would have made short work of rehiving those bees.