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Author Topic: weak hive today  (Read 938 times)
Pond Creek Farm
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« on: December 14, 2008, 08:25:07 PM »

It was warm today (6o's) so I checked on how things were going.  I had to take hive top feeders off anyway.  I opened the first hive and saw that the bottom deep was all but empty of bees (although there were some stores there).  The upper deep had only two frames of bees.  I put some dry sugar on top of newspaper and closed up.  With such small numbers, should I simply see what happens or try to combine them in the winter?  The other two were fine, a bit light, but fine.  I put in some dry sugar as insurance and closed them as well.
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steveouk
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« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2008, 08:30:21 PM »

Leave them alone. they reduce down in size over the winter. just keep feeding them
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BjornBee
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« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2008, 09:12:23 PM »

PCM,

(assuming disease in under control)

Looking back and finding the reason why they are down to two frames may be the best thing you can do. Learning from mistakes or at least what to watch for that led up to this, is always worth something.

My first question is to go back to the middle of September, and ask how much fall brood was being raised. If you can not answer that question, it is something you should know in the future. Too many beekeepers see hives with large numbers of bees in September, and just assume that the hive is ready for winter. But if all those bees are aged summer bees, then the hive is giving a false hope for survival.

Hives need three complete 20 day brood cycles to raise enough fall bees to go into winter and give them the best chance for survival. Fall raised bees are biologically different than summer raised bees. And I have found, that many colonies at least around here, are coming up way too short in the amount of fall brood, without pre-fall flow feeding. This early feeding ensures they start raising fall brood prior to the fall flow. I have found out that if the bees going through August, wait till the fall flow to start, then start raising brood, they do not have enough time to raise the proper amount of fall brood.

And so what happens, is the beekeeper looks and finds a rather healthy hive, with lots of bees in September or October. But the colony is not raising enough fall brood. Then as the fall progresses into winter, the summer bees are quickly killed off through attrition. By early January, the cluster is far less than what was started, and far less than what it should be. And a severe cold snap basically freezes the bees in cluster.

Then the unsuspecting beekeeper equated the bees in cluster and with bees head first in the cells which are bees trying to heat the cluster, as signs of starvation. And you hear the comments about how honey was just a couple inches away.

But it was not starvation. It was early winter attrition and a lack of fall brood that doomed the hive. Starvation had nothing to do with it.

Bottom line....Beekeepers should know how the fall flow is in their particular area. And adjust stimulative feeding to ensure a proper amount of fall brood being raised. Anything less, and your hive will not make it.
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Pond Creek Farm
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« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2008, 10:44:14 AM »

Would not leaving sufficient honey on the hive accomplish the same thing, or do you recommend acutally putting feeders on regardless of the amount of honey left by the beekeeper for the bees' winter stores?
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« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2008, 01:02:40 PM »

I think it's more a question of how big of a cluster they have built up going into early winter, and how many of those bees are new young ones.  Feed should be left in adequate amounts, but I think we're talking more about new young bees.  It's hard to maintain a colony on old bees which won't live past december...you need plenty of new young ones that were raised to live through winter and can last until after brood rearing starts back up.  If there aren't sufficient numbers left to help rear brood once brood rearing starts back up, it might not matter how much feed is left.

I have colonies that go into winter with large clusters and some that have gone into winter with small clusters.  With the exception of my Russians, I hold out more hope for the bigger clusters making it through and being strong.  If a small cluster does make it through, they might not be anything more than a dink next year without some serious help, or they may freeze due to too small of a cluster size to generate adequate heat. 

A small cluster that dwindles over the early winter can in some cases die in January or February, regardless of how much feed there is. 

I hope this answers what you were wondering.
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BjornBee
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« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2008, 01:33:05 PM »

Would not leaving sufficient honey on the hive accomplish the same thing, or do you recommend actually putting feeders on regardless of the amount of honey left by the beekeeper for the bees' winter stores?

PCF,
No....on both accounts. My comments are about having enough young bees as 1of6 commented. No matter how much honey you leave, or sometimes how much internal feeding you provide, it comes down to having enough young bees going into winter.

I have found that nothing beats external open feeding to simulate a flow, and stimulate the queen, into early brood or extending the fall brood season. The past few years here, we have had drought in July and August, inadequate flow in September, and early frost that kills off the nectar source.

What I am saying is you may need to analyze the local fall flow for northern areas, and augment feeding to ensure enough fall bees are raised. Waiting on the fall flow, or assuming that it will be enough on it's own, may not be enough.
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Brian D. Bray
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« Reply #6 on: December 15, 2008, 07:03:25 PM »

Would not leaving sufficient honey on the hive accomplish the same thing, or do you recommend actually putting feeders on regardless of the amount of honey left by the beekeeper for the bees' winter stores?

PCF,
No....on both accounts. My comments are about having enough young bees as 1of6 commented. No matter how much honey you leave, or sometimes how much internal feeding you provide, it comes down to having enough young bees going into winter.

I have found that nothing beats external open feeding to simulate a flow, and stimulate the queen, into early brood or extending the fall brood season. The past few years here, we have had drought in July and August, inadequate flow in September, and early frost that kills off the nectar source.

What I am saying is you may need to analyze the local fall flow for northern areas, and augment feeding to ensure enough fall bees are raised. Waiting on the fall flow, or assuming that it will be enough on it's own, may not be enough.

This is why I use open feeding methods most of the time.  A communal feeding station  some distance from the beeyard, next to a primary nectar source, such as an orchard or garden, works well.  Orchards and gardens are open sites for beeyards so the bees expect to harvest close by.  Putting out a couple of feeders, even before that source comes on line, allows the bees to build stores without causing robbing as internal feeding can. 
I feed the same way in the fall to help the bees build brood and stores for the winter. 
The most important things in overwintering bees is not how much stores they have or the size of the cluster, both can be false indicators for the reason Bjornbee states.  The most important factors are amount of young bees, availability of the stores to the cluster, and venting to control condensation.
A few things to consider:
If you have a small cluster of young bees in a large hive the stores on he outer edges of the hive may be too far from the cluster for the bees to retrieve if those stores are the only available during a cold snap.  A Cluster that begins as mostly old bees with few young bees in ratio the old bees will often die during the winter and plug up the hive entrance and the young bees can't get out for sanitation flights and die inside the hive. A poorly vented hive can have the condensation rain inside the hive, if that rain falls on the bees and the temps drop sharply you've lost the outer layer of the cluster due to freezing. 
I've overwinter bees in a 2 story 5 frame medium nuc, in the spring the cluster is no larger than a baseball, yet there is often 2-3 frames of stores (out of 10) left within the hive.  Why?  Because the space was small enough that the stores were close to the bees so that on warmer days they could go out from the cluster and mover the stores into cells within the cluster.  No cell was too far away as may have been the case in a single 10 frame hive.  A screened bottom board and a top entrance allows the moisture from the condensation to either vent out the top entrance or let the rain fall out below the hive. 

A 2 story 5 frame nuc hive of Russian bees will likely swarm by mid-May even if they are transfered to a larger hive body and oother swarm prevention tools are not used.  They build up fast, they will use the stores remaining in those 2-3 frames left over from winter and fill the hive within 5 weeks (5 weeks from mid-February--Willow pollen).  They build up so fast and use so much of their stores that even a short temperature inversion can cause them to deplete those stores and starve of starvation.
A Hive that dies of starvation usually has the following tell tale signs:  Lots of dead bees head down in the cells, no stores, except maybe some pollen, no brood except in the very last stage and those pupae will have holes in the cells from the bees checking to see if the pupae were still in the white (edible). Bees, during a dearth, will canabalize eggs and pupae in the white, starting with the eggs and working through the brood nest from youngest to oldest unhatched brood until all is consumed and the remaining bees die.  So You'll also find the worker bees head down in the brood cells as well as the honey storage cells, dying as they search in vain for an little nourishment.
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Pond Creek Farm
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« Reply #7 on: December 15, 2008, 08:34:38 PM »

Thank you all for your contributions.  I am very glad I asked this question because I never once thought to assess the brood in the fall to see if the hive was ready for winter.  I simply thought that adequate stores was the main issue and that if they were light, feed them.  This first year has been such a steep learning curve, but I am happy to keep climbing.  I must admit that my busy side appreciate the convenience of open feeding.  I like the idea of simply setting out feed away from the yard a bit and letting all takers come.  I have not enjoyed hive top feeders, and find I lack the time to run out in the field all the time to check baggies. I need to start making myself a checklist for the times of the year and what to be looking for.  Lists are my friends I find in remembering things to consider. 
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Brian
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