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May runs a close second to the busiest time of year for beekeepers, with July honey extraction rightfully holding first place. Right now, we’re running around determining which hives are ready for supers and, in some cases, adding second supers for the overachievers!

What about those underachiever hives? Although it’s probably a waste of time, most hobby beekeepers will nurse our underachiever hives until the very end—meaning, until they are dead. We pour all of our love (and money) into saving these not-so-fortunate bees, all for what? To cure what ails them, of course. At least that’s what we hope.

Over the years we’ve tried a multitude of tricks to save weak hives, some of which have been successful in bringing a hive back into production. There are, however, hives that are just too far gone. That’s when you accept the circumstances and move on with your head held high. After all, statistically, 40% of hives die each year.

Identifying a low-performing hive

This is a hive that is nestled between or along with other thriving colonies with no visible difference whatsoever, yet it struggles with consuming syrup, low brood production, and low forager activity. Overall, it’s a weak hive.

Why is this hive different from the others?

Did the hive have a higher mite load than its neighbors? If so, did you retest after treatment? It is understood that hives with higher mite loads (continually) fail to thrive. This could be a queen issue, in which case you should requeen. After a full brood cycle, you should see the colony start to improve. If not, the problem could be one of the following.


Bees that are placed closer together drift. It is my observation that hives that underperform tend to be the ones that bees drift away from. Why would that be? The populations can’t seem to increase, the queen is laying, but it just can’t seem to keep those bees coming back! Location, location, location! It may sound crazy, but I am convinced that there are locations on the earth where bees don’t want to live. We’ve had multiple bees on a platform where colonies one, two, and three did fine; number four didn’t; and five, six, seven, and so on did fine as well! Why? Beats me. I have no idea! But when we moved that one failing hive to the end or in another position on the platform, it almost instantly started growing and doing better! Why? I have no idea! Studies have shown that bees on a platform don’t do as well as bees spread apart or placed in a horseshoe pattern. Drifting is a big part of it. When bees drift, they share mites and viruses and can deplete the forager population simply because the bees don’t return to the hive. Having said all of that, try moving the weak hive to another location in the beeyard. You might be surprised how it makes a difference! If it doesn’t, move on to the next suggestion.


Rotate out old comb

It is possible that your frames are the culprit. Older brood comb can become so old that the cocoon buildup (from years of brood rearing) is so extensive, the queen and workers just simply don’t want to work it. Read this short article on how to rotate out old comb. Once done, the odds are good that the colony will start to improve.

Strengthen the hive with bees

As mentioned, population is typically a big factor in a hive’s ability to thrive; therefore, adding bees can often boost a weak hive. Do you need bees, brood, or resources? Maybe all of the above! My best recommendation is to add a frame of capped brood about to emerge (dark brown) and a frame of nurse bees tending open brood about to be capped (large larvae). Insert the capped brood frame at the outer edge of the brood nest and the open brood in the center. The capped brood should emerge within a few days, and the nurse bees tending the open brood will be aging into forager status within a week or so. Between the two, a population boost will ensue, and health should improve shortly thereafter.

 Check out this video showing how easy it is to utilize brood from a thriving colony to boost the population of a weaker hive.


Listen as Tara Chapman gives us some good advice about whether or not to save a hive.

Feeding weak hives

Feeding nutritional supplements can make a big difference in a hive’s health. Products like Complete, Super DFM (dry powder distributed on top of the brood frames) and Apis Biologix are known brood boosters and should become part of your regular maintenance routine if they aren’t already. There are times, however, when weak hives won’t take syrup. Why? It seems illogical (in my best Spock voice) that a hive with virtually no resources wouldn’t take nectar, especially now! More times than not, it’s a population —better yet—a forager problem, and adding bees can help.

When all else fails

If you have only three frames of bees or less, odds are you aren’t going to be able to add enough frames from neighboring colonies to save the hive without hurting the donor hives; therefore, combining hives is a good solution. But some weak hives should not be combined with a good hive. If a hive is truly a “failure to thrive,” you’ve tried all of the above, and nothing has helped, I’d cut my losses and let it go. If you are certain you don’t have any disease issues, freeze the frames (minimum three days) that are in good shape to use later.


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