Thursday, April 27, 2017

Absconding: Why is my Hive Empty?

Your hive is empty? What the heck happened? Beekeeping always has an element of chance when it comes to success.  For every successful hive, there is always the chance that a hive will abscond. Absconding is when an entire colony just ups and leaves their current location in search for a new home. While swarming is a very common action for a colony to take, absconding is much rarer. It can happen any time of year but is most common during the first few weeks of a brand new colony or later in the fall.


There are many variables that can drive a colony to abscond. A few of the of those reasons could be:
  • Lack of Resources: One of the most common reasons is the colony deciding that there is not enough resources available to them in the area. Even if your hive has shown signs of effective foraging and activity, a quick change in the environment can cause trouble. If a colony is new in a hive and, let's say, during a dearth they are unable to find resources at their normal foraging spots, they could decide to pack up and relocate. Slightly similar to swarming except since the colony is so young, it is better for the whole colony to relocate rather than split into half. If you notice that weather conditions are hindering your colonies foraging, it is always best to provide sugar syrup using a feeder.
  • Foul Odors: This can most commonly happen with newly painted hives. If you paint your hive and don’t give it a couple days to air dry completely before installing your bees, the fumes and odors could drive the honey bees away from the hive.
  • Pest & Robbing: Robbing is when honey bees try to invade a different colony and steal some of their resources, whether it be stored nectar or provided feed. Even with an entrance feeder, larger pests could try and dig into the hive to try and feed off the feeder or even the bees. Depending on the severity of robbing, this could potentially cause a colony to abscond. To prevent robbing, keep a watchful eye on your hives activity and the nectar flow. Robbing happens most often during dearth’s or times of minimal resources, so if you notice that your bees are not foraging as much, you may want to reduce the entrance size to help provide your bees with less room they have to protect. Click here to learn more about robbing.
If you discover one of your hives has absconded, there are a few options you have to help build a new colony back up:
Splitting a Hive into a Nucleus Hive
  1. With a second colony that is very strong, you can split the colony and use a portion of it to build up a new hive. To split, select 4-5 frames from the strong colony that include a wide variety of available brood and resources (eggs, larvae, capped brood, and stored nectar). Move these frames into an empty hive and fill in all available frame space (in both the new and old colony) with drawn comb or new foundation. You can allow the colony to try and produce their own queen, but it is recommended to source your own queen and introduce her on your own.
  2. Started your hive with a package or a NUC? There is always the option of sourcing bees out again. Local Bee Associations are a great place to start when looking for the best ways to get bees in your area.
  3. Speaking of Associations, you can always get in contact with fellow beekeepers to see if they have any swarms or hives they are willing to split with you.
The best prevention against absconding is observation. You do not want to open your hive constantly for that could cause just as much disruption with your hive growth (inspection every couple weeks is still recommended), but keeping a watchful eye on their activity in and out of the hive can provide you just as much information.

Absconding is something only a small number of beekeepers ever have to worry about, but it is wise to understand the possibilities and stay informed.