This post briefly describes our 2018 winter successes and failures.
We started winter with eight hives (our top bar hive, one single deep wooden hive, one single deep plastic hive, four double deep EPS foam hives and one triple deep EPS foam hive). Our goal was to over-winter five or more hives. We reached our target and managed to get seven hives through until spring. Only our own feeding mistake prevented us from a 100% over-wintering success rate.
Let’s start with the failures for the winter season and then move on to the positives.
Firstly we had a day of extremely high winds. Two hives had their hive straps blown apart. One of those hives lost their lid (an EPS foam hive) and of course it rained that day. Luckily we had a hive feeder attached and the rain collected in the feeder and didn’t drench the colony. A close call indeed!
All eight hives survived until late August. We fed the hives in late August in preparation for spring and after this we lost the colony in the wooden hive. We knew the wooden hive was our weakest link. It had struggled all season primarily due to poor food sources, which we supplemented. It also had two queens for more than two months and when it was time to close up for the winter we had to place several frames of honey from other hives in it to ensure the bees didn’t starve. We know the bees didn’t starve. When we inspected the hive four days after we found the queen dead on the landing board there were just five bees head first in the comb. The entire contents of the hive had been cleared out except for the wax. The Bluebees board at the bottom of the hive had a few dead bees trying to the bottom tray. At the bottom of the tray we found the usual hive waste as well as some sugar syrup that had begun to harden.
We suspect the cause of death was beekeeper error. When using the sugar syrup bag we replaced the lid on the hive and felt a slight amount of pressure against the lid. We assume the lid was putting pressure on the bag and pushing syrup out quicker than the bees could consume it. We further assume that the syrup has fallen onto the bees and pooled on the bottom tray. This syrup on the bees we suspect has chilled the colony and caused them to die. Once the colony was killed we assume the other colonies in the apiary have robbed the unguarded hive of all its stores.
The successes for the winter season.
We were able to split our first hive and it has survived the winter in good condition.
None of our hives needed supplemental feeding during the middle of winter. We were able to wait until we were getting a few warmer days before we opened the hives.
It didn’t seem to matter whether we over-wintered the bees in single, double or triple deep hives, they all survived. This was an experiment to see how different configurations would fare. We believe in the concept that bees heat the colony as opposed to the idea that they heat the space they are given. Therefore it shouldn’t matter how big a hive is, the bees only produce enough heat to keep the cluster warm. Rusty Burlew has written a very concise article about the topic here. We will continue to monitor the progress of each hive for this season in an attempt to gauge if one configuration was more effective than another.
The final success we had was we were able to prepare additional nucs, boxes and hives in anticipation of expanding our apiary this season. This was not a bee success but it was certainly a time management success.
The lessons from this winter are:
- All EPS hives need an addition weight on the lid. Will have started making flat wooden weights to cover the entire lid. This will weight the hive down but also prevent the cockatoos from eating the foam hives, which was a problem we faced in summer.
- Don’t overfill sugar syrup bags, buy larger bags or feed more regularly;
- When you fill pressure on the lid check the bag straight away – even if it means allowing more cold air into the hive. Better to lose a few bees than an entire colony.
- Six full depth frames of honey were sufficient to over-winter hives in our region during this winter (which had slightly cooler than normal temperatures and less rain than usual)
- This season we will start our winter hive building/preparation for expansion now. We will allocate time all season to building new nucs and hives rather than waiting until winter and feeling rushed.
We would love to hear about your successes, failures and lessons learnt. As beekeepers we never stop learning. Feel free to leave comments relating to your experiences below.
Thanks for reading, enjoy your journey!