Simply Resourceful

Simple ways to be more conscious about how we use our resources.

Combining Two Hives & Wax Moths

After the honey harvest in late July I didn't have any plans to go into the hives until September to check honey stores for the winter.  Big mistake...with the wet summer we've been having, the honeybees have struggled to find nectar sources sufficient enough to bulk up their food stores.  One would think that a lot of rain means a lot of flowers, but what we forget is that rain washes away the nectar from the flowers and/or dilutes it. The second week of August I noticed some changes to the hives.  There was a lack of activity coming and going from the hive and I could actually hear an audible angry buzz coming from within the hive.

Doing a quick inspection showed me that one hive was completely queenless with NO brood but sufficient honey stores (ironically this was the hive we stole honey from, but perhaps they robbed from the other hive even with entrance reducers in place).  The second hive that was a new package this spring had a queen and a patch of brood about the size of a softball but absolutely NO food sources.  What an odd combination: one hive with a lot of food stores but no queen and the other hive with a laying queen but no food.  It didn't take long to decide that I should combine the two hives and make one colony.  Normally a beekeeper would use the newspaper method poked with holes to combine the two hives, but I thought we were in dire circumstances and just combined the two and filled their feeder.  An inspection a week later showed more brood and eggs, and this week normal activity outside the hive.  I think I may have intervened at the nick of time before both colonies failed.  The chances of this hive surviving the winter?  We'll see...

This pictures shows typical signs of a queenless hive: spotty drone brood which indicates one of the workers is laying unfertilized eggs.  Notice the capped honey in the corners of the frame. 

I took this picture a week after combining the two hives.  I was happy see eggs and larvae which hopefully indicates the queen has been accepted by the new colony and is healthy.

After we're finished inspecting the hives, Paul likes to puff the smoker!

Another sorry end to this post is the discovery of wax moths in the supers we removed from the hives when combining them.  This was first year wax and has now been eaten up by the darn wax worms.  I have never had a problem with these in the past but when colonies are weak they can't fight them off.  At what point does a beekeeper just scrape off the wax and start over?  Only one frame was really infested so I will scrape that one but the others I was thinking of leaving for the bees to clean up next spring.  Thoughts anyone?  In the past I had managed to find room in the freezer to freeze the frames before winter storage, but this year the freezer is packed to the gills.  Well, now that the frames are infested I managed to remove a few steaks for dinner to fit one frame in the freezer at a time.  Before freezing I banged the frames against the cement and the worms fell out.  What a pain.  Jon did capture a pretty good video showing the larvae burrowing in the comb.  See below!


Emma Mercer September 9, 2013 at 6:11 PM  

That sounds and looks interesting. I have always been fascinated with bees and beehives and producing honey but i've never really tried it. I think it's scary. Bees are scary. It's good to know that you were able to successfully combined the two hives. Goodluck on this project.

Christopher September 11, 2013 at 11:03 AM  

I too had wax moths from a colony that dwindled and died in the middle of this summer.

It's almost impossible to get them little guys out, they're so tiny when they're in a young larva state, they're barely visible!

Freezing frames for at least 24 hours is really effective, but so is dunking your frames underwater for a day if freezer space is limited.

The worms won't survive the waterboarding (as it were).

You'll want to take care in how to store them the rest of the fall until the freezing cold winter arrives, or more will appear.

If the frames just have a few tracks/holes in them the bees will fix them and reuse them next year. If they're covered in slimy mess, or the worms ate through a patch of honey/pollen you'll probably want to scrape that frame down.

Either way, glad you caught them early and was able to combine hives to save both colonies!

Holly September 11, 2013 at 1:31 PM  

Thank you for all the information Chris! I may try the water technique you mentioned. For storage the frames are in a plastic bag stored inside a Rubbermaid tote in the basement.


Erik in TX May 21, 2014 at 8:37 AM  

If you can get the wax moth worms/larvae out of the comb, chickens love to eat them.

Wax moths are nature's way of clearing out dead hives. They eat up all the wax and it opens up the space for other critters like birds or squirrels to nest (if in a tree cavity) or for another swarm of bees to move in and draw their own new comb.

Holly May 22, 2014 at 7:54 AM  


As annoying as the wax moths are, your comment reminded me that even wax moths have an important role in nature. It's always difficult to decide when we should intervene and help the bees or to let nature decide. In this case, the colony wasn't strong enough to fight off the wax moths. I like the thought of moths cleaning out old tree cavities for other animals and future colonies. Honeybee diseases do live in the comb so the moths can be controlling that too by eliminating the old comb! Thank you for reminding me that even "pests" have a purpose.

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A weekly update on our adventures of trying to be more self-sufficient by using resources wisely. We explore a variety of topics that most broadly fit in the "Homesteading" category, i.e. beekeeping, organic gardening, edible landscaping/fruit forest, food preservation/canning, woodworking, soap-making, and environmental stewardship.

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