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Tossing and turning and thinking of bees

Although I don’t like to admit it, I spend many winter nights worrying about what’s going on inside those boxes. Saturday night was typical. For some reason, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. absolutely convinced that my two most populous colonies had starved to death. No matter how many times I retraced my winter preparations, I was sure they were dead. I got up and paced through the house, flipping on the outside lights as if that might help.

Beekeeper anxiety

My husband assigns my nocturnal behavior to “high anxiety,” but I’ve heard of plenty of other beekeepers who have the same problem: worry, sleepless nights, and self-doubt. When you’re new to beekeeping, anxiety comes from not knowing what to do or not understanding bee behavior. After more experience, anxiety comes from realizing how many things can go wrong. In my case, I remember the mistakes I’ve made in the past and fear repeating them.

On Saturday night, I kept envisioning the colony I killed several years ago. That summer had been especially dry and very little honey was produced. Although I harvested exactly none, I was forced to feed my bees throughout the winter. I was feeding on a calendar schedule, checking every ten days and adding feed as necessary.

Losing focus

But I wasn’t paying attention. As spring approached, the populations were rising and that largest colony was bursting at the seams. Amazed at their growth, I was already making plans for splits. But then the inevitable happened: ten days between feedings was suddenly too long. By the time I stopped by to feed that colony, it was gone. Dead bees filled the space between every frame, covered the bottom board, and lay thick on the top bars. Every last morsel of food was gone. I thought I would be sick. How can any one beekeeper be so stupid?

Although that was several years ago, I think about it often. I had all the knowledge necessary to prevent the death of that colony but I let it happen anyway. What was wrong with me?

Thinking of bees

So I suppose those dead bees were in the back of my mind on Saturday night, the first snowy day of the season. But still, as a natural-born worrier, I can get hung up on just about anything: mites, moisture, mice, or moths. There is almost nothing I haven’t done wrong somewhere along the line, and those mistakes live in my memory, always ready to haunt me.

I think the treasure trove of personal errors is the one thing that most separates new beekeepers from experienced ones. In one of may favorite posts of all time, I was so much smarter then, I write about how second- and third-year beekeepers know everything, but after that, it’s all downhill.

In truth, you know less and less with each passing season. The more you learn the less you know. Or, put another way, the more you learn the more you realize the intricacies, the exceptions, the dilemmas, and the trade-offs. You learn there are no easy answers, no black and white. Those who know it all, know nothing. Those who know nothing are wisest of all.

Newbee angst

I was amused to get an email this past week from an obvious newbee. He was frustrated. He wanted to know why my opinion contradicted that of his mentor. He asked me to justify what I’d written. He said he wanted facts, not opinion, and he didn’t want to hear the words “it depends” ever again.

I felt bad for him, but I can’t help him. If he sticks with beekeeping, which I kinda doubt, I can imagine him in ten years, beginning every sentence he utters with those same equivocal words.

Checking on my bees

Anyway, early Sunday morning, wearing pajamas, boots, and a headlamp, I went out in the cold and dark to count the dead. When I lifted the lid of the first hive, the warm and moist air that rolled over me felt like a locker room. About fifty pairs of antennae rose like rabbit ears from between the frames, followed by fifty pairs of eyes. They looked at me in disbelief. “Like, really?” they seemed to be saying. Their tray of feed was untouched.

The second hive was no different, so all that worry was for naught. But that’s beekeeping. The way I see it, I squeaked through one more day with all my colonies intact. But tomorrow? That’s a whole different story.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Thinking of bees in winter
In the long winter months, I spend a lot of time thinking of bees and everything that can go wrong. © Rusty Burlew.

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Comments

Sarah
Reply

Well, I’m comforted/disheartened to hear my night-time bee-induced panic attacks are normal. I, too, went out to my hives yesterday, after convincing myself Saturday night that they were overrun by mites and all dead. I opened the top…same experience you had. I used my long sweeper-stick (technical term) to pull out dead bees from the bottom board…and swept out a total of maybe 20 from the 5 hives. So I guess mites haven’t killed them all…yet.

Glenn Nichols
Reply

If you worry about your bees starving that much put a winter pattie inside and a quart jar of syrup insulate the hive with felt paper they use for roofing install a solid bottom board they will be bee fine.

Rusty
Reply

Glenn,

You must live in the south. I use a 12-pound candy board with moisture quilt, but I don’t have them on yet. They do indeed have winter patties right now, but they can tear through those in a couple of days. I don’t use use syrup in winter.

Jasmine
Reply

How I absolutely agree with you, Rusty. Had the same experience exactly after I had lost one colony to varroa, another to wax moth, and a third simply up and left. I woke at 5.00 a.m. convinced that the third colony had absconded due to my late application of ApiLife, which I had read somewhere could contribute to CCD. Tossed and turned and waited for the dawn, when I pushed my bee suit over pajamas, struggled down with head lamp, convinced the remaining colonies would also have disappeared and desperate to remove the offending ApiLife. Found all safe and sound and confused by the early morning visit.

The more we know, the less we know. The more we learn, the more we need to learn. And probably we need to trust more to instinct and less to learning. And this is supposed to be fun! Like raising children – some wonderful moments, but an awful lot of stress!

Diana
Reply

My standard cheerful response when asked about my bees, “as of (date of last inspection), they look good!” Unexpressed is my ever-present anxiety: “What’s happening NOW?”

AramF
Reply

Jasmine,

In my experience, the wax moth cleans up a colony after it is dead, not while it is still living. The culprit that killed your colony is out there undiscovered.

Rusty
Reply

Jasmine,

That’s a good catch on Aram’s part, and he’s right. Wax moths are actually scavengers that like to take advantage of a weak or dying colony. If you lost one to mites, it may have actually have been two. And while we’re on the subject, what is often called absconding, especially in the fall, is actually collapse by varroa. You can see more at “Absconding bees or death by varroa?” So maybe it was three.

Suzanna
Reply

Dear Rusty,

I have lurked here a long time, reading your posts, enjoying the banter between you and your many corresponders, learning a ton of things along the way. You are my first go-to for any question I have about beekeeping. I deeply value how respectful you are of the bees and how you, even with all your experience and knowledge, are still learning. I am not lurking today. But posting. It was the thing you said about the 50 pairs of antennae rising like rabbit ears 🙂 It is all about them, the work, the heartache, the learning, the rising joy. It’s all about them. And if there is the tiniest reward of some honey on my toast or some wax for my art then that is a bonus. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing yourself here.

Rusty
Reply

Suzanna,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful praise. It’s always heartwarming to know someone liked what I wrote.

Chet Calhoun
Reply

I’m worried about not having enough honey stores in my double deeps. I have some med frames of honey so what if I find some frames in those double deeps that are not even fully drawn out, could I replace those with the med frames just for the winter?

Rusty
Reply

Chet,

Absolutely.

Deborah klughers
Reply

Thanks for posting this.. we share similar experiences.

Don
Reply

If it is not the bees, it will be something else keeping us in fret mode in the wee hours of the night.

Trudy
Reply

What good timing you have! I was laying awake last night with the same thoughts. I have repeated this every year and wondering if I am the only one awake worrying about my bees. After five years it still does not get easier.
Thank you again for sharing 🙂

Anne Marie
Reply

Rusty…and here is me thinking I am the only one suffering sleepless nights because of the lovely little bees. I am a newbee this year and I am making all the mistakes. I wake early mornings and the thoughts that prevent me sleeping are many. I make hives in bed. Wonder what timber do I need. I am thinking of varroa and wondering if they irritate the little bees. Does the mite make them itchy. I am wondering are they cold, have I overfed/underfed them. I am obsessed with the little bee.tches and every morning me and my two stray cats have to go and just look at the hives, say good morning and I am thrilled to see them flying if there is a little sunshine. Such joy!

That’s a magnificent photo, thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Anne Marie,

I’m glad you like the photo; I like it too.

MarianA
Reply

I’ve had the experience, too, Rusty. I HATE those wakeup dreams!

This post had me reflecting on how local beekeeping is. You’re worrying about winterizing your hives, I’m concerned with the next set of Santa Ana winds (10% humidity, 100+ degrees). You worry about rain, I worry about lack thereof and the nectar dearth that inevitably follows (which could last spring).

I constantly have to translate beekeeping from someone else’s “normal” to mine.

Just keeps things more interesting.

Rusty
Reply

Marian,

I have the same translation problem. When people write and don’t say where they are, I have to guess based on clues in the text. I’m often wrong, but the upside is I’m learning a lot about world climates!

meenu
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Lovely compilation. 50 pairs of antennae rising like rabbit ears.. haha.. loved your post. Thank you for sharing.

Linda S.
Reply

I have awoken many nights worried about my bees as well (also a natural born worrier…). I have only had my bees since May and am already worried about winter (as much of a winter as we get in NC compared to where you are.) Gonna be a loooonnngg winter!!! I’m only confident about my bees for the 5 minutes it takes me to get my bee suit off after an inspection….then I start worrying all over again…..I can only do what I can do and hope that the girls can overcome any mistakes this newbie makes….🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 All that being said, I love this journey!! ❤️🐝

Cathy Wilde
Reply

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m only in Year 2, but wow, 2017 has been all about the So Many Things I Do Not Know. Your blog is a source of great comfort, and I appreciate how you work to balance knowledge with wisdom.

frances I Moore
Reply

Rusty I worry about my bees all the time too. It’s like worrying about my children. I do every thing I know to do and now it is up to them, they have to help them selves. I lose a lot of sleep. I check my hives every day. I have bought a stethoscope, to listen for them, I have brought a heat sensor to check for them in cluster, and I bought a camera thing to send the end in with a light to see my bees, and I still worry. I guess we are true bee keepers. We love our bees. U do a wonderful job with your writings, keep them coming, u are great thanks.

James Hagerman
Reply

Rusty,

I think there should be a practice of Yoga for beekeepers at times like that when self doubt and worry creep in the head of a “GOOD” beekeeper.

It’s because you care and “know” that you think about what can go wrong.

Keep up the “Mindful Work” of staying ahead of the bees,

James

MarianA
Reply

Perhaps a meditation program, but instead of “ommmm….” use” use “buzzzzzz……”

Jerry
Reply

Rusty,

Like Suzanna, I have been lurking here for a long time. And also like Suzanna, you are also my first go to when I have questions (that is fairly frequently by the way). Thanks so much for your passion and all of your efforts. Like I tell my family all of the time, I love working with my bees more than anything, but it’s the only “hobby” I’ve ever had where nearly every lesson is a hard one…

Rusty
Reply

Thanks, Jerry.

Jeffrey S.
Reply

Hear hear Rusty,

Worry, worry, worry, and anxiety attacks, rolling, flipping, flopping and, “I’m up!” Yet what can I do at 2:30 in the morning. I know how you feel.

I was going to go into my hives this weekend to add some cedar shavings to the quilt boards and place sugar blocks over the clusters for all. Unfortunately the weather man has changed the forecast and predicted 10 deg F for Friday night. So…rain or shine, by Wednesday this week, even if I have to hold the flashlight between my teeth after work, I have to get this done before then. I think I’m well prepared, but I always seem to be behind the eight ball anymore.

Well, I must go now, I have to get the sugar blocks out of my freezer so they can warm up by tomorrow. For some reason this quote just came to mind, “Slow work takes time”. It seems to be the theme lately.

Dawn
Reply

Yes, I have been worrying all week. I only get to visit my hives on weekends. I put my ear to the box and give it a light thump to hear the buzz. I treated with OAV in August, but still got high counts in October so treated again with Hopguard (sequential treatments after reading your article). I think it killed a bunch of bees. It is mostly in the Carniolan hive, so I’m thinking it might be ok since the have smaller winter clusters, but I’ve been extra worried about them. I checked on them yesterday when the snow let up and saw a bunch of little eyes peering at me out of the upper entrance and one brave girl even did a quick little flight.

It is very much like raising children. You do everything you possibly can, then all that’s left is the worrying 🙂

Sarah
Reply

Wow Rusty, your middle of the night anxiety about your bees is actually very reassuring to me because I am constantly having newbee nightmares and 2nd guessing everything I’m doing!! Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge and yes your concerns that even YOU have :} Its all very helpful and reassuring to read all that you post :}

Now for my big questions. I’m very concerned for 1 of my 2 hives. It was a swarm I rescued in August and it is what i would consider weak in numbers going into winter. The bought hive is very strong and has tons of bees, but not the weak hive….. only 1 brood box which has some honey frames in it. I’ve been feeding them nonstop since i got them but fear they will not make it thru the winter. I am a definite newbie as this is my first year having bees myself. I’ve observed other people in the past but this year i’m on my own!! Anyway, this weaker hive are dream bees to me, they are soooo nice and calm and never give me any trouble… i don’t even have to wear a bee suit to handle them most of the time. However the hive that I bought this spring , the bees are as mean as hornets and if i even walk past their hive, they come after me! They are a holy terror and have only gotten worse as the season has progressed even though I handle them very slowly and gently. Anyway, I so want to keep the nice hive alive thru the winter but with this NW MT weather, i fear it isn’t possible given their low numbers so i am considering combining the hives, someting i read about just today, but is that a good option? I also read a person can stack a weak hive on top of a strong hive with a double (?) excluder or soemthing but wow, i am clueless and panicking here….. can you give me some suggestions?

The weak hive had been thriving and its numbers growing well this late summer and early fall but we had a freak weather front move thru when i was out of town for a week and apparently the 50 mph gusts of wind blew the tops off my hives (as well as inner covers) and so for several days the hives were exposed to freezing rain and cold temps and it really hit them hard, especially the weak hive. I lost tons of bees when that happened. Prior to that happening in early October, I think they were doing fine numberwise to survive the winter, but not now 🙁

If I were to take some of the extra frames of honey and/or nectar from the strong hive and put them in the weak hive to help bolster their supply for winter, would it make enough difference if there are too few bees in the hive already? How few bees is too few and how does a person know? What about taking some bees from the strong hive and putting them in the weak hive to bolster the numbers? Will they accept each other or fight? The strong hive has 2 brood boxes and a honey super all full. ( I didn’t take any honey from either hive). I really really want to keep the nice bees alive. Is there such a thing as combining the hives and keeping the nice queen to reign for ALL the bees or how do such things usually work? The winter weather has hit early and hard here already, catching us all by surprise and that’s adding more challenges as well. Any insight and suggestions would be most appreciated! Thank you so much!! :} I am most appreciative of all you regularly share, even if you can’t answer my specific questions (due to mail volume, etc 🙂 Thanks again!! ;D

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

You hit on most of the options.

1. You can combine and keep the nasty queen.
2. You can combine and keep the nice queen.
3. You can boost the weak colony with honey, brood, or workers from the strong colony.
4. You can stack the colonies with a double-screen board and keep both going.

It’s really up to you.

I think that overwintering with one colony is risky. So, if it were me, I would use the double-screen board. You put the strong hive on the bottom, then the board, then the weak one. The board has entrances that can be opened or closed, so you open one that is not on the same side as the hive below. This helps the bees learn which one to use. The heat from the large colony rises through the double screens and warms the colony above.

Before you do it, you may want to add a frame of brood (if available) from below, but it may not be necessary. That is a judgement you have to make. They won’t fight. Just make absolutely sure there is no queen on it.

Sarah
Reply

Wow, thank you so much Rusty. Your calm and very helpful replies are most appreciated!! I’m in a bit of a panic over these poor things with winter hitting so early and hard and really appreciate your suggestions. My biggest challenge is the weather because it’s not been or will be above 40 degrees so the bees are already lethargic, etc. and I hate to disrupt them as I’m afraid they’ll break from the cluster and then die….. especially the hot hive whose bees are committing suicide if I get anywhere close to the hive!! When the sun comes out, they are trying to go for walkabouts but they are freezing and dying not far from the hive. I see them in the snow and where they’ve hit and flapped around before they froze 🙁 That being said, i will definitely stack the colonies with a double screen board and try to keep both going that way.

Is there such thing as an official double screened board or can a person just put screen on both sides of a eke and put entrances on opposite sides of it? Would using a screened bottom board on top of the bottom hive instead be an option so that the bees in the top hive would have a regular entrance to use or ?? I could put a screened eke on there as well to make up the 2nd screen…. is the 2nd screen so the bees can’t try to sting each from one hive to the next? I looked up a double screened board at a bee supply place and see the different entrances. Do I need to put a landing board under one for the top hive? Will the double screened boards stay on all winter or how long do I leave them that way? Sorry to ask so many questions! I’m reading and watching everything as fast as i can to learn but I’m obviously not fast enough to prevent/deal with all these challenges right off the bat!! 😐

With the 2nd hive stacked on the first, would this be the correct order of layers from the ground up…..bottom stronger hive, then its feeder eke, then the double screens, then the top hive, then the top hives feeder eke, then the quilt board and then a ventilation eke and then the telescoping lid? Or what order do you suggest? WIll the excess moisture from the bottom hive be a problem for the top hive or will the quilt board be sufficient for both hives would you think? How thick of a layer of chips should I use in the quilt board when combining the two hives given our had winters in NW MT?

I don’t know if there are any frames of brood in the strong (mean) hive at this point because I’ve not wanted to disrupt the bees since the cold snap because they then commit suicide in the cold 🙁 I also don’t know if the weak hive has any brood at this point either because I’ve not wanted to disrupt their cluster either 🙁 Could I take a frame or two of mean bees out (rapidly) and put into the weak hive (making sure there’s no queen on the frames) to help bolster the population of the weak hive or would they all start fighting?

Again sorry for all the questions. And thank you again so much for your patience and sharing all your knowledge and experience!!! You are a lifesaver!!! :}

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

Too many questions here. First, I think you are exaggerating the “suicide” thing. Dead bees in the snow is a good thing. The colony is staying clean and healthy because the dead bees are being hauled out. In summer, a normal colony loses about 1000 bees per day. It’s much less in winter, but it’s not zero. Some will fly out when they are close to dying, some will be hauled out, but it’s all necessary.

Next, read about double-screen boards here. I’m sure you can make one if you would rather. Yes, the second screen keeps the colonies from contacting each other. Yes, you leave it on all winter.

You are stacking the colonies because one is small, so I think just a normal-size moisture quilt will work fine. The only issue I see is you cannot block the airflow from the bottom of the stack to the top. So the feeder cannot be solid; air must be able to pass through.

Your order sounds fine. Since it’s cold, I would not bother moving brood around, just go with what you have.

Brian T
Reply

Nice, timely post Rusty.

Finally got the insulation boxes on today. We’ve been in the freezer for about a week now and I hadn’t got them built so the last couple days have been a frenzy in the shop.

I kept saying to myself “It will be fine, they’ll cluster, they need a good chill to slow down, etc…”

The 5 over 5 Nuc was priority, and the 4 large hives were second. All went well today as it was a sunny -5C, could work without gloves.

There is little more I can do now until stores check in early December. I used your no-cook sugar board plan, thanks for that. They all had a full deep of honey as of October 24th. Sugar board, upper ventilation and insulation. I need some sleep, so will leave the country for a few weeks.

Best regards,
Brian
53N, 115W, El.850M

Gary Jackson
Reply

And then there are those awakenings that occur thinking “did I turn on the electric fence to keep the bears out?”

Carol Nelson
Reply

Hi Rusty!

Sorry about your bee anxiety. I just finished reading a book in The Honey Revolution Series: Feed Your Brain First, by R. Fessenden, MD, MPH. If you are waking up at night with anxiety symptoms it may be because your brain needs feeding, not your bees. Try eating 1-2 tablespoons of honey before bed so you will have an 8 hour fuel supply for your brain (glucose as well as fructose which your liver processes into glycogen & stores … like a gas tank for your brain). It certainly worked for me. Maybe this time the bees can feed & care for YOU. I would also recommend putting Feed Your Brain First on your reading list.

PS. Be creative with the 2 tablespoons …. honey in warm milk, juice, apple cider vinegar (1 Tbl) in warm water, licked off the spoon, chewed in the comb, in blueberry or elderberry extract in water. There are so many delicious easily digested & absorbed options.

Debbie
Reply

Here here Suzanna, could not have said it any better…

I had to laugh as I was reading this post. Sounds so familiar! I guess all us beekeepers are not alone in the ‘worry’ dept. I especially laughed about “how second- and third-year beekeepers know everything, but after that, it’s all downhill.” No truer words have ever been spoken. It’s funny how the ‘mistakes’ we make stay with us forever and we don’t dare make them again! I guess I should get out there and get all the hives wrapped and ready for winter before I start losing sleep!

Thanks Rusty for such wonderful posts. They always bring a smile to my face and I really enjoy them.

Nancy Ogg
Reply

I agree completely, Rusty. I got 3 hives successfully thru winter last year, and made a split which took just fine.

In the midst of winter preparations this fall, I lost 2: one absconded, for no obvious reason except that they had been overturned back in May, but promptly righted and were fine for 3 months after. The other was robbed on an “unseasonably, warm,” sunny October day while I was at market and got home too late to protect them.

And I had my mite treatments, hive beetle traps, feeders, sugar supply, wind wraps & moisture quilts all done or checked out and squared away ready for cold and rain.

Consolation? The split was not one of the ones lost. Nor was the big honey producer.

Your advice, insights and methods have been priceless for me and no doubt many others. Your unwillingness to let “so much can happen” get to you, is equally valuable today.

Wishing a snug winter to you and your region!

Nan
Shady Grove Farm
Corinth, Kentucky

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient, our most worthy and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only hope.”
– Wendell Berry

Helen Johnsen
Reply

One of my best, and favorite, beekeeping tools is my FLIR (forward looking infrared) which attaches compactly to my phone. With this, I can pop out anytime, when it’s not sunny, and verify my colony is thriving, without disturbing the propolized seals. It’s so comforting to know they’re alive and well and their changing position in the hive. Also, with practice, I can tell if there’s brood. I’ve had mine since I was a new beekeeper 4 years ago and with its aid, and lots of reading and preparing, I’ve never lost a colony overwinter. We’re in TN and have 11 colonies.

John Zone 5
Reply

Glad to hear I’m not the only one up at night worried about my bees, but I didn’t go out and check because I knew they would be fine. I’m a second year beekeeper and know everything.

Rusty
Reply

John,

Love it!

Lynn A Anderson
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Thanks so much for confirming I am not crazy!!! I have done the same many a 2 a.m. nite and also have grabbed my flashlight and tripped the motion light in the name of checking on my “Girls”. My husband just shakes his head but I know I can go back to sleep after all the drama.

Li
Reply

“Second- and third-year beekeepers know everything, but after that, it’s all downhill.” LOL! As a fifth-year beekeeper I can say with absolute certainty, “it depends.”

James Hagerman
Reply

Rusty,

Just saw the posts about the Flir camera attachment for your phone camera as your favorite piece of beekeeping equipment. I’m like a kid at Christmas, my Flir pro is coming this Thursday. Can’t wait to have a simple non-invasive way to “SEE” what’s up in the hives this winter.

James

WesternWilson
Reply

RE: the FlIR, a great little device but as I understand it does not work through hive wrapping??

Rusty
Reply

Janet,

The FLIR imager does not work “through” anything. It’s not like an x-ray that can see inside, it only detects the heat that is on the surface of the object, in this case a bee hive. If your hive is made of wood, the cluster heats up the wood, and the camera takes a picture of the heat that is “escaping” to the outside through the wood.

A wrapped hive may reveal heat on the outside depending on a few factors. Tar paper, for example, would probably show the heat pattern, as would wet fiber insulation. Dry fiber insulation would probably not reveal much, partly because the heat trapped inside would be uniformly distributed throughout the insulation, so the heat loss would be distributed and not show much detail. If you had a leak in the insulation, however, that would show up really well.

For more on how these camera work, see “Thermal imaging for beekeepers.”

WesternWilson
Reply

Winter is the hardest time for this beekeeper. I wrapped mine two weeks ago, the cold arrived one week ago. In winter, the die is cast, your summer/fall technique is now your only insurance, and aside from feeding, there is little you can do to help the bees. I hate that!

Rusty, you said you fed your colony through the winter…on candy boards?? I did a big run of queen cells late in the summer, too late really, as I had not had any luck with grafting and just decided to do one more round for practice. 27 took, and I built them all into single 10 frame deeps by wrap up but they are light on stores. All have in hive feeders, insulated, over the inner cover filled with dampened sugar. I have never carried a colony on emergency rations through the winter, got any hints or tips??

Rusty
Reply

Janet,

I normally only feed when necessary, but two years ago we had a very hot and dry summer, and by fall the bees had stored virtually nothing. I managed to overwinter the colonies by using candy board feeders under moisture quilts. The only problem I had that year was I fed pollen supplement too early, which built up populations too early. This meant that I had to feed even more.

I had read a number of accounts about adult bees thriving on sucrose. Apparently the adult bee in winter has limited demand for protein, but a high demand for energy. The sucrose works well because it provides “clean energy,” that is, lots of calories with few solids. Solids collected in the gut, of course, can cause diarrhea (honey bee dysentery).

Still, the bees need some small amount of protein, and once brood rearing begins, they need much more. So I made my candy boards with “free choice” pollen substitute. That simply means I embedded the pollen patty in the sugar, and the bees could choose whether or not to eat it (as opposed to mixing the pollen sub throughout the sugar). They ate it sooner than I anticipated, which yielded the big late winter colonies.

If I were doing it again, I would provide sucrose alone (no pollen sub) until after the winter solstice, and then add the pollen patty. Otherwise, the results were amazing, and my colonies did great the following year.

The recipe I used is here: A no-cook candy board.

Jennifer
Reply

I live for warm(ish) days and the signs of bee poop on the snow in the winter. Working a full time 8-5 (plus commute) work day means very little daylight time in the winter to do a proper check. The weather has to line up on the weekends which rarely happens. If walking outside with a flashlight looking for poop in the snow when I get home from work makes my neighbors look at me funny so be it, it’s worth a downtick in my hive anxiety.

Dave Hortin
Reply

I will stop worrying when both hives make it through the winter.

Kirsten Redlich
Reply

Posting query here, hope is ok. I have a 5-frame nuc with queen; I would like to combine with a 10 frame queenless hive. I would like the hive to be permanently in the current position of the nuc. The 10-frame hive is approximately 10m from the nuc at present. I am in Victoria, Australia. We are supposedly at the end of spring beginning summer, temps just beginning to get into the mid 20 degree range (celsius).

My questions are:

01. Would the newspaper method work if I were to transfer the 5 frames into a 10 frame body, considering that it would only be a few days before the hive numbers were up, once they were through the newspaper? I understand traditionally the stronger hive takes the ‘bottom’ placing with weaker on top?

02. If I do as above should I keep what was nuc at bottom?

03. Is there a better way of combining them, than the newspaper method?

04. Should I move the 10frame in one go to the permanent hive position or incrementally?

Any advice appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Kirsten,

Basically, you are doing two things: moving a hive a short distance and combining two hives. You need to consider them separately.

First, read “How to move a hive.”

Then, I think I would do it this way:

1. Transfer nuc to standard box right where it is. Add a double-screen board, or just a sheet of plywood on top
2. Close up large hive and move it at night, placing it above the nuc. Make sure it is well-ventilated and has water.
3. Keep the upper hive locked down for two or three days.
4. Replace the board with newspaper and let them combine.

Your questions:

01. It is important to have the larger colony on the bottom for combining just before winter when the heat will rise and warm the smaller colony. Otherwise, I don’t think it makes any difference.

02. Yes.

03. I don’t know of a better way than newspaper.

04. Move it all at once, but sequester for several days.

Or you can ask around for other ideas.

Kirsten Redlich
Reply

Just to add the queenless hive has a single supersedure cell capped. I will of course remove this (will make a 2 frame nuc, a ‘just in case’) but should I leave them without the cell for a period of time, prior to combining?

Rusty
Reply

No, you don’t need to.

Karen Babaian
Reply

I wish every newbee (and oldbee) would read this post. It explains a lot of the angst and self-questioning that we all experience. In the end I think and hope we all do our best and learn from our mistakes. Thank you for your words of wisdom!

Sarah
Reply

Thanks SO much Rusty!! You are veritable fountain of knowledge and experience!! :} Thank you so much for sharing it with us!!! :}

I went ahead and made a double screened board because it was much quicker than waiting for snail mail to deliver one from a supplier. :} I stacked my weaker hive on top of the strong hive for the winter. The mean hive is chock full of bees filling 2 brood boxes and even the honey super. Conversely, the weak hive is occupying a brood box and that’s all. I’m sure glad to hear that the ‘suicidal bees’ are normal. I have quit picking up the live ones from the snow and putting them back on their doorstep to try to save them, lol. ;} There are tons of dead bees from the weak hive but not so from the strong mean one, which puzzles me. From the numbers of live bees in the mean hive, i would expect them to be kicking out more drones than the weak, nice hive has…… maybe they’re just being slower to do it….. ;}

I’m curious if you think that any mean bees that might enter the nice hive will they typically accept each other once they are all more used to the scent of the other hives queen? Or will they keep doing battle? I do have the entrances open on opposite sides of the double screen board. Should I worry about dead bees accumulating on top of the double screen board under the nice hive? And finally, is it better to feed sugar patties than the winter patties one can buy? I know you put a pollen patty in your sugar board sometimes but not sure if you ever feed the Winter patties that are for sale from suppliers……

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience and giving me the suggestions for my bees. I’ll be anxiously waiting for Spring to arrive when i can open the hives and really see how the bees wintered :}

Rusty
Reply

Sarah,

I think stacking for warmth was the right thing to do. It looks like the weak hive has a problem, and that is why it is losing a greater proportion of bees. It may turn around now that’s it’s warmer. It’s hard to say.

There shouldn’t be much battling between colonies going on with the cold weather. Both colonies should stay inside for the most part. I wouldn’t worry too much about the dead bees, but if you get a warm day you can always sweep them out.

I prefer to feed straight sugar until after the solstice, and then I start adding protein. You can read what’s in the winter patties, but more than about 4 or 5% protein in early winter might cause honey bee dysentery. I like the powdered protein substitute because I can vary I how I put in the sugar. I use Bee Pro most of the time.

Kate Bucci
Reply

And this is why my other half and I begin every inspection (of 50+ hives) with “Well, there are bees”. Or occasionally, sometimes there aren’t. Glad to know I’m not the only one who wakes in the middle of the night 🙂

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