Wednesday, September 28, 2011
LESSON 109: HOW TO PREPARE A WEAK HIVE FOR WINTER (www.honeybeesonline.com 217-427-2678)
Proverbs 24:13 “Eat honey, my son, for it is good; honey from the comb is sweet to your taste”. Hi, we are David and Sheri Burns from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms in central Illinois. We know that you are reading this because of your interest in beekeeping. Thank you for choosing us to help you become a successful beekeeper! Please allow us the opportunity to provide all your equipment needs as well as your bees and queens!
For readers joining us today who are thinking about getting started in beekeeping, we have developed a special page just for you, to help answer fundamental questions on how to get started. CLICK HERE HOW TO BECOME A BEEKEEPER
In today’s lesson I want to address a very common question, especially this time of the year. This question is mostly asked by people with more than one hive. Beekeepers with two or more hives often observe that one hive can be weaker than another, and may not be building up as well. They wonder if they should combine it with a strong colony or re-queen and feed it heavily in the fall. So, I thought this would make a great lesson. Before I get into today’s lesson, take a look at this photo.
I know it may look like another ordinary egg in a cell. Something is different. Obviously, the base of the cell does not look shinny and clean. It’s not. This egg was laid in a cell that was half full of pollen. I noticed it while grafting.
Why would a queen lay an egg in a cell with pollen? Since it is half full of pollen the cell does not have enough room to allow the developing bee to pupate. To me, it appears the pollen bed was actually manipulated toward the center to accept the egg, as the center appears smooth. So I’ll keep you posted on what becomes of this egg. If it is made into a queen cell, then it will be a staggering discovery.
This is the sort of work that we are constantly doing here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, watching for new clues and trying to unlock so many honey bee mysteries that have not been solved.
LESSON 109: HOW TO PREPARE A WEAK HIVE FOR WINTER
This lesson will answer the following questions: What is considered a weak hive? What causes a hive to become weak? What action should be taken to strengthen a weak hive going into winter?
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A WEAK HIVE
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 at to qualify a hive as “weak.”
1) Number of adult bees
2) Amount of sealed and open brood
3) Amount of pollen, nectar and sealed honey
4) Queen’s laying pattern
5) Diseases and pests
6) Number of drawn comb
Colonies in the south require fewer bees and food resources to survive the shorter winter season. However, in the north, the 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, number of adult bees. Let’s not get too technical here. 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).
Secondly, there should be an ample amount of sealed and open brood. Here is an image of sealed 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’re still in doubt when examining your hive, 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 always be located in 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. Keep in mind that the queen reduces laying during extreme heat and when the days begin to shorten in fall and winter.
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. Rarely is the brood, nectar and pollen on separate frames.
Fourthly, evaluate your queen’s laying pattern. A well mated queen should quickly lay 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.
Fifthly, 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 larva. Strong colonies are much better at controlling small hive beetles as well.
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.
Lastly, how many combs are drawn out? This depends on the time of year. A new colony will have to draw out all new comb. If spring is wet and cooler, very little comb will be drawn. Colonies will draw comb out best during a heavy nectar flow. A healthy colony may be misdiagnosed as a weak hive simply because of poor weather conditions. Once conditions improve, the colony may pull out comb in a matter of weeks.
WHAT IF I TRULY HAVE A WEAK HIVE?
Usually there are two options available when faced with a weak hive. First, it can be combined with a stronger colony. 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 a frame feeder or a top feeder. Try to feed pollen as well. If the hive is weak going into winter, be sure the queen is good and then begin to feed the bees two parts sugar to one part water. Continue this feeding regiment until the hive becomes strong with more brood and more stored food.
There is really no advantage to nursing along a very weak and small hive. It will only attract pests and diseases. If you combine a weak colony to a strong colony in the fall, you can always divide them in the spring, giving the split a new queen.
TIP OF THE DAY: Do not leave a queen excluder in an overwintering hive. The colony may move above the queen excluder and strand 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.
EMERGENCY 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 that feeds the bees, provides insulation of the top to reduce moisture and allows trapped moisture to escape through the top. Order our Winter-BEE-Kind board by clicking here.
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
Posted by Long Lane Honey Bee Farms at 12:02 AM