Beekeeping Information

The Honey Bee’s Enemy #3 – Starvation

At the end of my last post I showed you following picture:

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This has been a common theme in all my hives when I opened them this January. The bees have overwintered well this year and colonies look strong and healthy.

There are many more risk factors which might affect your bees in a negative way. However, for now I will limit my posts to the three main reasons why beekeepers keep losing bees every winter. I have posted reason #1 and reason #2 over the past few weeks and today I am going to conclude this series with the Honey Bee’s Enemy #3 – Starvation!

Bees eat honey! Yes, this is for real, they are not producing honey as a treat for us humans, they need honey to survive! Fortunately for us, during a good summer a colony can produce much more honey than what they will consume during the winter. We call this surplus honey, this is the extra honey beekeepers get to harvest. The amount of honey bees need to overwinter varies by region, however, here in the Pacific Northwest I try to leave them about 80 pounds of honey. This is a full deep brood box of honey. I overwinter most hives in two deep brood boxes.

I do check the weight of the hives throughout the winter and I also add dry sugar as previously discussed in the moisture post. In case you missed it, here is another picture of the emergency sugar sitting on the inner cover.

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All my colonies are doing well and I have not lost any yet. That being said, winter isn’t over and we have two more months to go before the first flow of nectar will come into the hives. Be aware, if colonies are strong in January, they will also consume more honey, the queen will start laying more eggs, larvae need to be fed, etc. If you don’t keep an eye on your hives during the next couple of months your bees might starve to death. Look at sugar as a cheap insurance policy. Your bees might have enough honey to get by until the next nectar flow, but that extra sugar can be their life insurance in case they do run out of honey.

Beekeeping Information

The Honey Bees’s Enemy #2

In my last post I talked about the Honey Bee’s Enemy #1 – The Varroa Mite!

Today I want to point out another common bee killer – Moisture!

Bees can survive very cold winters as long as they are dry. I am always being asked if bees hibernate and sleep through the winter. If you are a beekeeper you know the answer, but if you are new to beekeeping you might be wondering what those little bees do all winter long.

Bees need to stay warm to survive, they manage to keep the temperature in the hive around 90 to 95 degree Fahrenheit (32-35 degree Celcius) year round. In the summer, maintaining this temperature means they need to cool the hive by fanning with their wings and by bringing in water. In the winter, however, they need to generate heat, which they accomplish by forming a big cluster of bees and by shivering their tiny muscles.

Now if you combine the warm temperature within the hive with the cold temperature outside the hive you will get a lot of condensation. If you don’t protect your bees from moisture caused by condensation, they will not survive the winter!

The warm air from the bee cluster will rise up and hit the cold top cover, condensation drops will form and it will rain on your bees inside the hive.

By no means would I call myself an expert and just like with everything else there are many options. Do your research before implementing new measures.

Below you can find my simple approach for moisture management and so far I have not lost any bees to moisture.

In the spring time I use top feeders which seem to work well and in the winter I fill those feeders with wood shavings to create a layer of insulation above the inner cover. I also add emergency feed (dry sugar) on top of the inner cover. The sugar absorbs a lot of moisture and helps keeping the bees dry while providing food reserves. Between the inner cover and feeder I add an Imirie Shim to provide more space for sugar. Last but not least I add a piece of styrofoam on top of the feeder before I close up the hive with the telescoping top cover.

For better ventilation and to give the warm air more space to escape I place a small wooden shim between the top feeder and styrofoam piece.

This method has kept my bees dry for the past two winters!

Setup:

  • Deep brood box
  • Inner cover
  • Imirie Shim
  • Fill air space of Imirie Shim with dry sugar
  • Top feeder with wood shavings
  • Styrofoam cover
  • Telescoping top cover

Some Pictures:

Shim between feeder and styrofoam (Note: the telescoping top cover will come further down to cover the gap and to keep rain out. I just lifted it for the picture. Just make sure you have enough space under the cover for warm air to escape.)

Imirie Sim on top of inner cover and space filled with sugar.

Feeder filled with wood shavings for insulation.

Styrofoam inner cover on top of feeder.

One more Note:

This winter I have added a piece of ply wood which covers 4 hives for better rain protection.

Great colony size in January!

Beekeeping Information

The Honey Bee’s Enemy #1

We are still a few months away from the official start of the 2018 beekeeping season.

However, now is the time to start thinking about your equipment for the summer and also start thinking about your treatment for Varroa Mites. Depending on your choice of treatment you might have to start now.

I have treated with formic acid during the last two years and have had good results. Formic acid cannot be applied until the temperatures warm up (label indicates 50-85 degree F). For now, I will continue to monitor the food supply in my hives (until it warms up I will only add white granulated sugar).

Sometime in March temperatures should be high enough to start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup and I usually add some pollen supplements to boost my colony strength.

Once I am done with my spring feeding I will treat for mites. It is a necessity to support the overall health of the colonies. I want to make sure they are strong and healthy as April rolls around.

See below, not even the queens are safe from the mites. If you look closer you can see a mite on the Thorax of the queen.

Queen with Varroa Mite

Beekeeping Information

Not every bee swarm can be retrieved

Most of the time we get lucky and a swarm of bees settles in an area which is easily accessible, but last season this one was by far out of reach. I had to get the ladder to confirm, but it was way too short. If you look closely you can see the swarm hanging at the very top.

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