In April of 2022, Philip and I moved the very first livestock to Kowalski Mountain. Four colonies of honeybees were relocated from Florida to the homestead. We selected our strongest colonies and provided them with extra space and resources they needed to survive on their own. Admittedly we would have liked to have returned sooner. However, a busy year kept us from traveling to the homestead. We finally made the return trip in late August. We eagerly prepared for a bountiful honey harvest. Also, we prepared to treat the colonies for varroa mites and complete a full apiary inspection. When Philip opened that very first hive, it didn’t look good. We could only hope that the rest of the bees would fare better. Unfortunately, after a few hours of working in the bee yard, we finished a very disappointing apiary inspection. This is what we are doing when the bees are not flourishing.
One of the first tasks that needed to be completed before we could work in the bee yard was Philip needed to mow so that we could even work. The field was full of waist-deep grasses and abundant flowers throughout the entire property. He wanted to mow early enough to allow the bees to calm down after mowing to allow us to work. Bees can be challenging to work with at times but irritable bees make for a miserable beekeeping experience! Therefore he mowed early, the day before we planned to work in the apiary.
At first impression, the bees were active. Foragers were coming and going, returning with their pollen bags full. The pollen was a rainbow of colors, yellow, orange, and white. The fields were full of resources. The drought in Kentucky has made farming difficult around the state. Still, our creek was very low, but had areas of water, certainly enough for the bees. The pond was but a mud puddle, but still, the shore was lined with pollinators of all kinds, retrieving the water they needed.
All signs looked as though our bees were doing well. You can imagine our disappointment when we realized the bees are not flourishing.
Very Little Honey Production
As we were packing for the Kentucky trip, we packed the honey extractor and three five-gallon buckets in anticipation of a bountiful honey harvest. It was quite disappointing to see frames 45% drawn out and many completely empty.
Bees produce honey as food stores for themselves. We can only pull the abundance of honey. As a rule, the brood boxes will have a combination of brood and honey. Any honey in those boxes belongs to the bees.
Honey supers are added above a queen excluder. A queen excluder prevents the queen from laying eggs in the honey super. She is larger and not able to pass through, while the worker bees can. These boxes are dedicated to honey production. Any honey in these boxes will be harvested for our needs.
While all the bees had honey supers, we left all of the honey for them. Even still I worry if they will have enough to survive their first Kentucky winter.
Another sign that the bees are not flourishing is limited brood. Brood frames are frames that the queen bee is permitted to lay eggs in. Ideally, brood frames contain honeycomb full of eggs, larvae, and pupae. After about 9 days of feeding the larvae, the bees cap the brood cell to allow for the next stage of development.
Healthy brood frames will have consistent brood patterns. Queen bees are meticulous in their habits. Spotty patterns, also called shotgun patterns indicate an unhealthy colony. As you can imagine, maintaining a large hive takes an army of bees to do so, however, if resources are slim, the colony will slow down brood production. More bees would require more resources to feed.
Our brood frames had some consistent patterns, but others were spotty. Some of the frames had very few capped brood. All signs the bees were surviving but not flourishing.
On a positive note, we did find eggs in all four colonies. We were able to see the larvae in a few brood cells that ripped when the frames were separated. Varroa mites reproduce in the capped brood frames. Philip inspected the torn brood cells and we did not find any varroa mites in the cells! A bonus for our colonies.
All of our colonies had new queens when we took them to Kentucky. However, in the colonies, we found quite a few supersedure queen cells. While we found signs of queens in all of the colonies, by the evidence of fresh eggs. We only found two of the queens and neither was marked. We typically mark our queens when we find them with a marker designated for the year of the hatch.
Philip hypothesizes, that the bees may have requeened the colonies. When a colony is not pleased with the behavior of the queen, they will replace her. Since the colony depends on the queen for survival, they will ensure that survival by replacing a queen they are dissatisfied with. This would take time and would delay the production of brood in the colonies for more than 30 days.
Why Did Our Bees Not Flourish?
The four colonies we took to Kentucky were strong. They all had new queens and were already producing in the early nectar flow seen in Florida. Why our honeybees did not flourish is really a mystery to us. Since we were not there to monitor them, we couldn’t make changes to help them.
The bees were moved at a time of year when the temperature was appropriate. While Kentucky is not as extreme as Florida, the temperatures are similar and the chance of frost was minimal. The last frost date for our area is around May 10. We did move them there around the last week of April, but to my knowledge, the area did not dip below freezing in that time frame.
The bees had an abundance of resources. When we left the fields were already filled with blooms. Flowering trees and early wildflowers filled the fields. The commercial soybean fields of our neighboring fields were being planted and would provide an early summer nectar flow.
While we were running errands we visited the local beekeeper’s supply store. We shared some of our struggles and I asked her how other local beekeepers had fared this year. She said that some beekeepers had pulled honey early and were even getting in a second draw. I have to say, that news disappointed me even further. I guess we will never know why our bees are not flourishing. The stress of the long move and transition to Kentucky has certainly been challenging for them.
See the Full Apiary Inspection
Helping the Bees to Flourish
We are mindful that winter is coming. It’s vitally important that the bees are able to recover and have sufficient food supplies to survive their first Kentucky winter.
Feeding the Bees
While we were in Kentucky we began feeding the bees right away. We feed a sugar water solution in top feeders. One of the colonies was draining the jar every day. We kept it full throughout our stay and left all of the feeders full when we left. Unfortunately, our feeding jars are small and won’t provide a supplement for long, we are brainstorming ways to be able to leave the bees additional sugar water for long amounts of time.
Reduced Hive Space
We reduced the size of our biggest hive. Since it would be so long before we would return, Philip had given the strongest hive an extra honey super. Since the bees were not producing we took that extra space away so they could concentrate on a smaller space. In this particular hive, he also moved the queen excluder up a box. It previously had only one brood box, so now it would have two brood boxes dedicated to the colony. This allows the queen more space to lay eggs.
Philip fed the bees pollen patties. It’s a pollen substitute that provides the protein and nutrients that the bees need. He also gave them dry pollen powder sprinkles across their frames as an additional substitute.
Philip left areas of wildflowers. One of our main goals on this workcation was to mow the fields. Philip had said he wondered when the dearth in Kentucky started. A dearth is a period of little food. I said to him it started the day he mowed the fields. This removed the abundance of flowers. While it’s important we maintain our pastures so that the land does not take them back, we left areas unmowed where the flowers were abundant to leave some closer sources of pollen for the bees.
Varroa Mite Treatments
We treated the hives for varroa mites. Honeybee colonies are routinely treated to prevent infestations. Thankfully we didn’t find signs of varroa mites. We treated the colonies with HopGuard3, as we did the rest of our honeybees in Florida.
Continued Support for Bees That Are Not Flourishing
One of the most important things is we will need to offer continued support. As we head into winter, the hives will need to be properly winterized to help the bees survive the winter. We will need to continue supplementing the bees to ensure they have the resources they need for survival. Thankfully it’s hunting season as well which is a time of year when Philip makes frequent short trips to the homestead. He will be able to keep a closer eye on the health of the colonies in hopes that we can offer them the most support we can to help the bees become flourishing colonies.
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.
Pin This Image to Help Us Grow
Here is some good information on how you can help bees.