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Winter Hive Inspections to Start 2011

Although 2010 went out cold and snowy in Varina, Virginia, 2011 came in like a Spring day. Jan 1 popped up into the mid-50’s with intermittent Sun and a little wind throughout the day. Effectively, it was a perfect day to peek in on the beehives, so that’s what I did.

Hives at the Westover Apiary

All of the hives looked really good with a few exceptions, which I will explore later in my post. I was surprised by the fact that the majority had not even ventured into the upper supers yet. Most still had a fair amount of honey in their primary brood chamber and the honey was right where it needed to be. The clusters were in various places (they were not all on the east, west, north or south sides ), so nothing to be gleaned there. I did  not break the clusters apart, but was able to find most of them by either removing the top super (or two, in some cases) or by simply looking down into the hive. The latter mechanism worked great on any of the hives that I put a white political sign under a screened bottom board. I could really see the bees against the white material.

The first exception that I found was at the Haupt apiary (only 1 hive here as of right now). This was a really strong hive with a full deep of honey above them. They were still strong (or so it seemed), but they had a ton of dead bees out front. This is not a huge deal, as I have seen dead bees in snow before, but I do not recall seeing this many. I wish I had snapped a picture of them. The one difference between this hive and the rest of my hives is that it basically has no protection from the North or West. It receives direct wind from across a large field. Could it be that this lack of protection is causing more fatalities? I am not so sure. Early on, I subscribed to the school that temperatures do not matter – lack of food matters. Until I leave that school, I will write this observation off to an anomaly. Another delta with this hive is the lack of direct Sun in the middle of the day. I must say that I have not been a fan of this location for some time now, so these doubts may simply be my subconscious building a case to move the location.

Busy Bees at the Curly Hive

The second and third exceptions occurred at the Mountcastle Apiary. The Albo Hive is clearly suffering. They have a nice amount of honey, but the cluster is pathetic. I am not hopeful that this hive will make it. In truth, this Hive has never been a superior performer, so it is all for the best (I prefer to look at hive losses as ‘improving my gene pool’). The Westover Hive was a real anomaly. They were huge. More bees here then anywhere else (as far as I could tell.) The worst part about this was that the cluster had already moved up into the upper deep. This is definitely not normal (for what I am used to), but it may not be bad. A beekeeper to the west of Richmond had bees in his upper deeps in early December and he was not concerned. So, that’s one positive spin…

Finally, the Overwintering Nucs are doing great. I have some frames of honey for them (to be used in mid to late-Jan) and will continue to monitor them the most (for both educational and to help them make it through the Winter.)

So, where am I with all of this? The unprotected hive with lots of dead bees is educational. No work involved here – just wait and see. The suffering Albo hive is more of a ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario. Nothing to be done here but wait and see (I would have to be insane to feed an underperformer and encourage the propagation of these genes!). The Westover Hive is another story. I said that I would not feed my hives this Winter, but this queen has been too daggone strong for me to let perish due to lack of food. So, this is where my only ‘work’ lies in the coming weeks. They may need some frames of honey or some sugar (Mountain Camp Method), if they eat through their food. The hive felt heavy and I could see full frames of honey on the edges, but I did not break this hive apart (the cluster spanned from the top of the top deep all the way into the bottom deep – it was in the 50’s, so they were spread out a bit).

One final note for any new beekeeper reading this. The main thing, in my opinion, about doing Winter inspections is to never get into the thick (cluster) of the bees. Only mess with the edges. Folks will say that breaking the cluster is bad just because you do not want to mess with the dynamics of the cluster. Quite frankly, that’s not why I stay clear of the cluster. Within the cluster, near the center, is the Queen. I never put her at ANY risk in the Winter (where the heck can I get a replacement queen!?) So, I never go there. Guess I’m chicken=)

3 comments to Winter Hive Inspections to Start 2011

  • Doug Ladd

    One thing i struggle with is “What Type” of hive/bees do i want to propagate and what is “normal”. Some starins of bees carnies etc overwinter in tiny sometimes baseball size cluster and use very little honey and this is normal for them. Then there are thos monster italian hives that rear brood and huge clusters not matter what and eat tons of honey and this is normal. So i personally am tyring to refine my own “specs” for what type of genes i want to propagate. To be honest i have some hives that are very italian and require feeding (the nature of italians), then i have hives that are dark mutt carnies that all year did very well but stayed a little smaller and have cluster the size of a grapfruit consistantly across many of my locations.

    So i dont know what i am getting at other than you need to see what a norm is for different types of hives and decide what type of bee you want to propagate. I have been leaning towards a smaller cluster type of bee to limit my feeding (and this is coming from someone who doesnt mind feeding at all).

    One other note about dead bees, we have had an unusall long spell of cold weather, which has kept the bees in cluster much longer than before, so i assume what i am seeing and you are too is the constant “normal” death rate piling up over a long time between hive cleanings vesus a usual year we have weekly breaks they can clean so you never really see the huge one pile, you see many small piles over time…I hope thats what i am seeing. I am seeing about a cup full maybe two…

    How about you? any pictures of the larger pile?

    Thoughts?

  • Pretty good question, that one. What kind of bee do I want? I guess I would say one that produces a lot of honey, builds up nicely, can swarm without setting the colony back, is immune to diseases/pests, can survive any winter and will occasionally clean up my garage for me so that the wifee doesn’t start hollaring at me=) I’d be in high cotton then! Heh.

    But, in all seriousness, I would say that I am looking for a bee that does all of the above to ‘some degree’ (except the garage cleaning…). So, to the heart of your question, how do I tackle the task of beekeeping with this kind of goal? First, I have to decide how this bee would ‘come about’. How can I get back to having bees very much like the bees that my Pop kept in the 70’s? As a hobbyist, I have decided that the best way to do this is to use my strongest hives to expand each year, make sure that each hive is given a good geographic location (I can’t blame a hive for doing poorly in an area that is forage-poor) and let the weak ones die (I might combine weak with strong in the future). Finally, I am going to try to get my hands on any wild hive that I can! I am aiming for the ‘super mutt’, so to speak.

    I do believe that this strategy is very risky in today’s environment. But, I can currently handle the risk for the sake of the knowledge.

    As to the ‘dead bees’, I honestly can’t say if it was 1 cup or 5 cups. It was a bunch. I am used to seeing anywhere from 10 to 20 dead bees near the hive. I believe that most of the dead ones get carried off. Your thoughts about the length of the cold sort of hit home here a bit, making me wonder if this hive simply didn’t get to carry them off like they normally do. I will definitely take a picture if I see this again.

  • […] weight of the hives and cracked the inner cover on both of the hives at this new out yard. Per the earlier post, I had concerns about both of these […]

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