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When to Give Up on a Hive

You've worked hard, spent money, maybe made a bit of honey, but now your hive looks terrible. There aren't many bees, the wax moths are starting to move in, and robber bees are stealing what honey is left. When is it time to give up on a hive vs. trying to save it? The graph on the next two pages is designed to help you with that decision. Whether a hive is worth saving or not depends a bit on the time of year, and the history of the hive. As you can see on the chart, a hive with 3 frames of bees going into winter has virtually no chance of survival. However, a hive with 3 frames of bees in early spring has a decent shot at survival. Any time of year, there are some critical elements to consider when deciding if a hive is worth saving:

  1. Is my queen healthy, young & laying well? If your queen is a year or more old, has a poor brood pattern, and isn't laying much when seasonally she should be, it's going to be tough to save hive that's already weak.
  2. How long has your hive been weak? What's the history of the hive? If you split 2 weeks ago, then give them some time to grow. But if they've been 2-3 frames of bees for months, something is clearly wrong, and it's time to combine them.
  3. Are mite levels low? If mites are high, then hives will struggle to grow.

A hive not worth saving...

You've determined your hive isn't worth saving. Now what?

You essentially have 2 options.

  1. Combine your weak hive with a stronger hive. We've got an article and video on pg. 55 about exactly how to combine hives!
  1. Dispose of the hive & save the comb. If your hive has very little to no brood, only a few frames of bees, and winter is approaching, or if your hive has a high mite load, it is better to dispose of the hive and store the comb than combine it with a stronger hive and risk spreading mites & disease. To dispose of the hive, the best thing to do is to remove the bottom board and lid one evening, put the deep box in a trash bag, and place it in a freezer for 1 day. This will kill the bees, and any wax moth or SHB eggs or larva. Then, shake the dead bees out of the combs, and store the comb in wax moth crystals. You can reuse the comb for starting a new hive next year. Preserving the comb is critical, as it is one of the most valuable aspects of the hive. Starting over next year will be much easier and faster with a drawn comb!

It is always disappointing and frustrating to lose bees, but the national average loss rate is 44%...even for commercial beekeepers! Learn from mistakes, and try again!

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