It happens every year about this time

I get email from beekeepers this time of year mostly asking what to do with weak hives. For example: I know it’s been a long time since I’ve reached out to you. Things have been fairly successful this year so I have not thought to contact you until today. I just came in from the colonies very disappointed. The honey stores and the larvae are just not there. The bees are as busy as they’ve seemed all year – even observed many with full pollen pouches entering the hives. I did not see the queens in either colony but don’t always get to see them. Went out to put last mite treatment in but left each without doing so. I’m afraid we’ve failed again! I plan to put feeders back on top to try to give them some kind of chance but doubt that they’ll make it through the winter. Not sure if merging them with colonies at a distance (another property all together) is feasible? Would happily give them to you to help them survive but I do know they have mites – though the count on the bottom boards is low. 

What I find is usually the issue is that newer beekeepers are  not proactively dealing with mite infestations and related queen issues. My response to the above :

As you may know by now, I’m a firm believer that mites and the diseases they carry is the number one issue beekeepers face. Because of this belief, I treat (some would say I over treat) three times during the season, This year was formic acid in the early spring, Apilife var after the honey flow slowed in early July and new this year, with Apivar which is a 45 day treatment and is still in progress. Also I use an alcohol wash mite count program which provided the data that I needed to be this aggressive with mite control products. The hives had counts around 3 – 5 mites per 300 bees before the finial treatment was applied. The proof will be next spring if I have better than average overwinter success. I re-queened everything at some point and combined weaker hives in mid September.

Because your hives have limited honey stores and brood, I tend to think combining would be better than just doing nothing. I’m guessing that your mite treatment has not been as aggressive as mine and with no data from alcohol or sugar shake I can only guess but the symptoms suggest that the hives are suffering from high mite loads and failed queens. If there is no eggs, larva or capped brood in either hive then both queens have failed and there is no real chance of overwintering. If there is some brood, the best queen can be used in the combined hive and the other queen removed. It is imperative that mite infestation be controlled and mite counts be determined. We are very close to the time brood production slows to almost nothing so there is limited time to get healthy winter bees.

What I do with the weak hives is to move all the brood, honey and bees from the weak hive to a less weak hive keeping the queen from the better hive. This was successful so far as the combined hive now has plenty of bees to cover the brood, care for the hive and send out field bees. With some luck they will make it through the winter. We shall see.

At each  hive inspection (approximately every two weeks) I looked for brood in egg, larva and capped stages. I also looked for capped brood that was being opened and I removed some of this larva to assess what condition  may have caused the opened cells. Many times mites were found even with treatment. The hives were feed a bit every time (no honey was harvested) so that brood rearing would be encouraged. As stated above the queens are all from 2018 and most of the hives are 2018 site built nucs.

There is always next year.