Preparing A Weak Hive For Winter

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Today I’ll answer the following questions: What is considered a weak colony? What causes a hive to become weak? What action should be taken to strengthen a weak colony going into winter?

While some hives are easy to identify as weak, other hives might be only marginally weak. Often it is easier to identify a weak hive when the beekeeper has other hives to compare it to. So let’s consider what we would look for determining the colony is weak.
1) Adult bee population
2) Amount of sealed and open brood
3) Amount of pollen, nectar and capped honey
4) Queen’s laying pattern
5) Diseases and pests

Colonies in the south require fewer bees and food resources to survive the shorter winter season. However, in the north colonies require more bees for warmth and insulation and more stored food resources (honey and pollen) to feed on during the longer winter seasons. Depending on where you live, you will need to adjust your evaluation somewhat.

First, what should the population be? We want to see lots of bees in an established hive, preferably, bees covering both sides of every frame. Of course, there will be fewer bees in the hive during foraging hours, so examine the hive prior to or after foraging hours (10am-5pm).

Many beekeepers make the mistake of seeing lots of bees this time of year and fail to realize that all adult bees in September will be dead in 45 days. This means all the adult bees you see will be dead by the middle of October. This means we need to be equally concerned about the amount of brood.

good broodSecondly, there should be an ample amount of sealed and open brood. Here is an image of capped brood. New beekeepers may confuse sealed brood with a frame of sealed honey. Here’s some difference: Sealed brood is sealed with a dryer looking wax capping, almost like velvet or fabric in appearance. Honey is sealed with wax that looks wet or lacking texture. If you are still in doubt use a toothpick to examine what is below the capping. You’ll know immediately whether it is filled with honey or a pupating honey bee.

A strong colony consisting of two deep hive bodies will have a total of 10 or more frames of sealed and open brood in the hive, usually at least 5 frames in each deep box. These brood frames will be located near the center of the hive box. If a hive only has one or two frames of brood in each hive body it is a weak colony and something is wrong.

Because the queen reduces laying during extreme heat and when the days begin to shorten in fall, it is essential that you continue feeding your bees during the fall. This extra food will allow the queen to continue laying eggs and provide the brood you need in November and December. When these bees emerge, they will be bees of winter physiology and will live 4-6 months. There, you must feed you bees 1:1 sugar water with a teaspoon of pollen powder so the nurse bees can feed the young larvae. You need approximately 40,000 bees in a colony to provide the clustered heat to survive the winter.

We recommend using a top feed, never an entrance feeder. Our top feeder allows the beekeeper to feed from the top without being bothered by bees while feeding them both sugar water and pollen powder.

Thirdly, a strong colony will have sufficient nectar, honey and pollen stored in combs. Since a strong colony will have 10 frames of brood, and some of these frames contain open brood, lots of resources are needed to care for young developing brood. A weak colony may only have 1 or 2 frames of pollen. A strong colony will have 4 or more and the same is true with nectar. But keep in mind that these resources will usually be shared on the same frames with brood. Often bees will make a rainbow appearance on a frame, with the brood being in the center, pollen next and nectar/honey on the outside edges of the frame. This all must be taken into consideration when assessing the content of a hive.

I overwinter with one full honey super above two deep boxes. Plus, I place my Winter-Bee-Kind feeding system on for winter. Specify an 8 frame or 10 frame hive when placing your orders. This is added insurance that my bees will not run out of resources.

Viability TestFourthly, evaluate your queen’s laying pattern. A well mated queen should have a beautiful laying pattern. To evaluate our queens we use a brood vitality test. Pull out a frame of sealed brood and identify a section 10 cells by 10 cells. Now count the number of open cells within this 10 x 10 cell square. Subtract the open cells from 100 and this is your brood viability. Usually 85% and higher is acceptable, but you may want to select your own criteria.

waxmouth11Fifth, check for diseases and pests. Strong colonies control pests and diseases much better than smaller, weak colonies. For example, a strong colony will not allow wax moths to destroy the hive. They will kill moths and carry out wax moth larvae. Strong colonies are much better at controlling small hive beetles and other pests and diseases.

When Small Hive Beetle (SHB) and wax moths are present, the colony is usually very weak. Diseases can also spread in a weak colony because fewer bees in a colony means fewer bees that could be controlling the disease.

Usually there are two options available when faced with a weak hive. First, it can be combined with a stronger colony using the newspaper method. This is demonstrated in our online class, „A Day In The Apiary With David.” Be sure there are no pests or diseases in the weak hive before you combine it with a strong colony. Otherwise, you might weaken the strong colony by combining. When combining hives, pull out the queen in the weak colony and lay sheets of newspaper on the top of the strong colony, just above the frames of the brood nest. Poke a few holes in it so that the bees between the two opposing colonies will gradually become familiar with each other, as they eat through the newsprint.

A second option is to strengthen the weak hive. This means that you will need to feed the weak hive. Do not use an entrance feeder as this may entice robbing. Instead use our Burns Bees Feeding System. Try to feed pollen as well. Our feeder provides an area to insert the pollen patties. If the hive is weak going into winter, be sure the queen is good and then begin to feed the bees 1:1 sugar water with 1 teaspoon of our pollen powder per quart.  Continue this feeding regiment until the hive becomes strong with more brood and more stored food. Since our feeding system comes with two feeding holes for sugar water, you can place one jar of 1:1 and one jar of 2:1. 1:1 stimulates brood production and 2:1 will allow the bees to store it for winter.

TIP OF THE DAY: Do not leave a queen excluder in an overwintering hive. The colony may move above the queen excluder and leave the queen to freeze to death below. And never leave a partially filled medium super on an overwintering hive. Only leave the super on top if it  has a minimum of 7 frames of sealed honey, otherwise the colony may move up but quickly run out of food.

wintercandyEMERGENCY FEEDING: In the event that your weak hive goes into winter, but runs out of food, we suggest you use one of our WINTER-BEE-KIND boards.

Winter-Bee-Kind For Winter Feed For Bees

In The summer of 2011 we introduced our Winter-Bee-Kind after several years of studying overwintering hives. We could barely keep up with production they were in such demand. We still make them right here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms but we’ve expanded our production methods to keep up with demand. So many beekeepers tell us that these are the only thing that gets their hives through the winter.

It is a one piece candy board that provides food, ventilation, upper insulation and an upper exit/entrance to help bees remain healthier during the winter.  With the built in upper vent, you don’t have to worry about snow covering up your hive’s lower entrance. The bees can still go in and out through the top vent spacing. We avoid shipping Winter-Bee-Kinds in hot weather and start shipping each November-March. You can place our Winter-Bee-Kinds on your hive anytime, even in the winter. Because it goes on top of the hive in place of the inner cover, and you are NOT removing any frames, it can be placed on the hive in cold weather. Just do it fast. Open the top, remove the inner cover and place the candy side down and the vent slot toward the front of the hive and you’re done. Click here to order your Winter-Bee-Kinds

Commonly Asked Questions
Q: Which way does the candy face in the hive?
A: The candy faces down just above the winter cluster. Normally, this means that the Winter-Bee-Kind would be placed on the brood box that contains the cluster. For example, if you overwinter your bees in a single deep hive body, the Winter-Bee-Kind would be placed on this deep hive body with the candy facing down toward the cluster. If you are using two deep hive bodies to overwinter, then the Winter-Bee-Kind would be placed on the top deep hive body. It is best to disregard the use of an inner cover, and simply place your top cover over the Winter-Bee-Kind.

Q: What about winter moisture?
A: Moisture can develop in the winter from condensation, a contrast of the heat the bees produce in the hive and the extreme cold temperature outside the hive. Condensation accumulates on the warm side, which means moistures collects on the inner cover or top cover above the hive. This can drip down on the bees and chill them during the winter. A Winter-Bee-Kind takes the place of an inner cover and any moisture that develops from condensation aids the bees in consuming the candy.

Q: How long will a Winter-Bee-Kind last on a hive?
A: On average about 3 weeks. However, a colony that has ample stored honey may not consume the candy board as fast or not at all until they need it. A colony close to starvation may consume a Winter-Bee-Kind within a week or two.

Q: Since Winter-Bee-Kinds are placed or replaced on the hive in the winter, can I open the hive up on a cold day?
A: It is best to place the candy boards on a hive when the temperature is above freezing and try to place the candy board on and have the hive sealed back up within 1-2 minutes. It should not take over 1 minute. Do not remove any frames in cold temperatures, only place your Winter-Bee-Kind on and off quickly. If you can choose the warmest day during the winter, that would be best. Try to avoid very cold, windy or rainy days.

Q: How do I refill a candy board?
A: It is best to send back your candy board and we will refill it for $7 plus shipping. If you are a good candy maker, you can do it yourself.

Q: How do I get one with a pollen?
A: Our Winter-Bee-Kinds contain pollen as well.

Q: Can I make my own?
A: You can, but you must experiment, because you do not want the candy to be too hard or too runny. The exact mix depends on your altitude, heat source and other conditions so it will be different from one location to another.

Q: Why was some liquid sugar dripping out of my Winter-Bee-Kind when I received it?
A: It is the nature of candy boards to be a bit on the dripping side even though the top may be hard. Do not be concerned if you see liquid sugar dripping out of your boards when you receive it. It usually means it was left on end during shipment for a prolong period of time. The bees will clean everything up and enjoy this soft liquid.

Q: How much sugar is in one Winter-Bee-Kind?
A: Approximately 5 pounds

Q: When do I put a Winter-Bee-Kind on my hive?
A: Any time! Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb are good months to place on the boards.

Q How often should I check my Winter-Bee-Kind?
A: Every two weeks, take a peek.

Q: Do you make Winter-Bee-Kind for 5 frame nucs or 8 frame hives?
A: Yes, check out our website to order, but carefully read the description to make sure you are ordering the correct size and type.

Q: Can the candy break loose from the board on the hive?
A: It rarely happens, but during extreme winter weather, the candy and separate from the board while on the hive. This is not a problem. The bees will continue to consume the sugar.

Q: When I place it on the hive, do I use my inner cover. Just how does it go on?
A: Winter-Bee-Kind takes the place of your inner cover. Simply place the Winter-Bee-Kind on the top of your upper hive body or super with the candy facing down, then place your top cover on top of the Winter-Bee-Kind. Be sure to use a rock or brick to make sure the wind does not blow your top cover off.

Thanks for joining us for another lesson in beekeeping. We’d love to hear from you and hopefully peak your interest in beekeeping. Feel free to contact us at:
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
14556 N 1020 E. Rd
Fairmount, IL 61841

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