Last Entry Into Hives

At the beginning of the month I stayed at the farm for a few days. One of my objectives was to do a final check and prep of my struggling hives, readying for the winter months.

The year remembered:
I lost all my bees last winter. Examination showed that they simply froze. There was no evidence of any disease or infestation. Not surprising as there has been no evidence of it for the three years I have been working with the bees. There were plenty of food in the hives yet, so that was not an issue either. Still, I wondered until my neighbor Ezra mentioned he ran into the same issue and loss. Thus, this was a start-over year for both of us.

I started out with only two six pound packages of bees this spring. Funds were tight, so I had to start small. I started them in a couple of nucs that I had build and inside the barn, as it was darn cold after they arrived for about a week. A set of deeps were cleaned up and frames with some nice comb on them were prepped, set up in the field and the bees transferred to them once the cold and wet was done and we had a few days in the forecast that looked good.

Post Transfer and Summer:
I was not all that pleased with the two colonies to begin with. Several hundred of the bees died shortly after transfer. I had feeders in the deeps along with pollen patties to get them going for the first month. Even then, the population growth, number of cells with eggs and larve in them seemed low compared to other years. Over the next couple of months I tried to leave them alone as much as possible.

Food supplies, both pollen and nectar were in good supply in the wild, and yet I did not see the activity at the hive entrance that I had seen in previous years. These bees were struggling. By mid-summer, the population in one hive had reached a point where a second deep needed to be added. Yet the bees never really moved into that second deep. They stalled out. The other hive never reached a point where a second deep was needed. Concerning.

A seemingly good frame from the stronger hive…
Healthy Bees: In spite of the fact that there is low population, the individual bees look and act healthy. A clue might be that to the far right of the photo, a little more than mid-way down, there is what appears to be a queen cell with a larva in it. Perhaps this colony lost it’s queen early on….
Weak hive: Way too little population for having been in the hive for over 45 days!

Late Summer/Early Autumn:
By the time late summer rolled around, I was concerned. There were eggs and larve, but not in the numbers I would expect. And very little honey production! The bees were not prepping for winter. I started feeding them in October.

That finally seemed to give them a boost. Honey production went up, comb was being built, propolis generated to seal up the hive, and I saw more activity at the entrances too.

By the middle of October, I had decided to bring the hives back to the barn so that I could place them out of the wind and service and monitor them more easily. I place the hives in an open faced building, protected from the wind from the North, West and East, and open to the South, though other building protect that opening. And I did something different.

I placed the single deep of the weak hive on its base on a pallet, then placed a queen excluder with a piece of honey water soaked cheese cloth on top of the hive deep. I filled the feeder frame with 50/50 feed, then put the top deep from the stronger hive over the top of that. The feeder frame went into this lower deep. The deep with the cluster (and a good supply of honey at this point) went on top of the stack. This is where the cluster, and therefor, the queen is. So to summarize: I have a double colony, stacked hive at this point. A single colony in a single deep, isolated internally from a second colony in two deeps above. I have no idea what will happen….

Late Autumn/Early Winter:
It is hunting opener. The weather has been fair with temperature in the 40s during the day and only, finally, last night dipping down to nineteen. Snow is scattered about here and there. I made up candy boards as an extras precaution against too little food supply and put them in my hive stack.

Clearly, I am concerned with food supply, but I am also concerned with the architecture of the bees home. I have no idea if a dual-colony stacked hive is a good thing or a bad thing. To the best of my knowledge, no one does that. Assuming it works, it saves on my effort as well as materials and time. The bees can be cared for in one spot, and I theorize that the whole thing will be easier to keep warm. I also hope to gain from the airflow through the hive.

I really did not want to go into the hive(s) again this late, but several compelling reasons drove me to do so anyway: First, I wanted to get the candy boards installed for the bees. Second, I was worried about ‘breakthrough’ and subsequent fighting between colonies. Third, I wanted to check the general health, as they had been less weak and improving, but still of concern the last time I had gone into the hives.

So,…. I made up the candy boards during the first weekend of November, leaving them to dry on the counter in the milk house for a week while I went back to MN for treatments.

Candy board: Six Lbs of sugar with a cup of water, mixed thoroughly, spread on top cover and dried.

Upon returning this weekend, I sat down and planned out my break-in, listing every step of the whole process. I did so to minimize the time the hive was open and thus losing heat.

Stuff needed:
Two candy boards
Bee Tool
Drill + Half Inch Wood Bit
Duct tape

Drill half inch access in end of candy boards for ventilation
Remove wrap
Remove cover
Remove top deep
Remove second deep
Cover both with blanket
Remove cheese cloth
Remove queen separator
Check sugar frame in lower colony
Put candy board on lower colony
put queen separator over candy board
put cheese cloth over queen separator
put second deep back on (check sugar frame)
put top deep back on
remove inner cover
put on candy board
put on lid
put wrap back on

List made and memorized, I commenced. It went a lot faster than I thought it would, perhaps taking ten minutes total. Along the way, I noticed healthy clusters in both the top and the bottom colonies. There was more drawn comb, more honey, the 50/50 feed was half gone, and the bees were clustered just the way they should be. Other things I noticed: No standing water on the inner covers which would indicate high moisture and condensation. I had that one year and it is not a good thing! So I was pleased to note it not yet a problem. I have enough ventilation… , so far. And no sign of breakthrough between the colonies! The bees seem to be uninterested in the fact that they are living in a multi-unit dwelling.
The candy boards fit right in place and replace the inner covers nicely. The outer shell of insulation is staying in place and holding up well.


Time will tell….

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About Author:

Retired automation engineer (having had many roles leading up to that). Interested in agriculture, economics, cancer research, philosophy, embedded systems and SOC(System On Chip). Enjoy the family farm and my grandsons and playing around with Raspberry Pi and Arduino systems. A bit of web programming in Perl... growing plants.... and too many other things to list.

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