The weather is still rather mild this year—at least in comparison to past years. The bees are starting to cluster up during the very cold nights and are flying on days when the temperatures reach into the 40’s and above. Avoid opening the beehives unless you suspect something is wrong and then only on a sunny day when the bees are flying.
In recent years, hive loses range from 30% to 50% even with commercial beekeepers. There are many who have hive loses this high and they are generally good, diligent beekeepers. Possible reasons for hive losses over the winter are:
- The queens do not survive or are not healthy or viable
Very Weak Hives And Weak Queens
The best remedy for weak queens is re-queening in August or early September. Combine weak hives with stronger hives preferably in September or October. But don’t give up on a weak hive this time of year—it may still make it through the winter. Keep the supplemental feeding available for them. Bees are very resilient.
Downsizing a beehive that has a reduced population for whatever reason is an option to consider. Beehives in single eight and 10 frame deeps and even in five frame nucs can be successfully over wintered. Providing adequate supplemental feeding is essential. If you decide to downsize a beehive, only do this on a warm, sunny day preferably in the 50’s, 60’s, or warmer with little to no wind blowing.
Moisture In The Hive
Bees will die from cold moisture or even freeze because of too much moisture in the hive. This may be due to a lack of adequate ventilation. There needs to be a reasonable size bottom entrance opening around 2 inches or so and many beekeepers provide an upper entrances with a ½ to 5/8 inch hole in the top front center –usually in a candy board or 2” spacer. This will allow for some moisture control as well as an upper entrance for the bees. Many references discuss other options for moisture control.
Starvation may be due to a lack of adequate stored honey and pollen in the hive or the hive clustering in one location and not moving to an area with food. Supplemental feeding with candy boards, winter patties, etc., can help avoid die outs due to starvation. Additionally, having the bottom entrance centered helps because the bees tend to cluster toward the side or position of the lower entrance.
Some beekeepers provide a little supplemental feeding through November with the use of a winter patty between the brood boxes. Beehives without food stores will require some source of supplemental feeding like candy boards, sugar fondant cakes or winter patties. Normally, place these on the hives in early December. Just having several frames or even a medium full of honey/pollen in a hive may not be adequate for sustaining the hive through December, January and February.
Varroa Mites And Viruses
It has pretty much become accepted practice to treat for Varroa Mites in September and then again shortly after Thanksgiving or early December. The recommended late treatment option is with Oxalic Acid because the queens have most likely stopped laying and there is little to no brood. Temperatures in late November and early December are not conducive for the use of other treatments. Be sure the weather is warm and the bees are not clustered on the day that you treat them.
Lastly, it is advisable to provide some type of wind break for the beehives if one does not exist. Some beekeepers wrap the back and sides of hives with roofing paper. Some beekeepers put up a type of windbreak fence and some relocate their hives for winter so as to provide a place safer from the cold winter winds—caution if moving/relocating—be sure you fully understand the process in order to be successful.
Now is the time to make sure that your unused beekeeping equipment is properly stored for winter and to start working on any repairs needed to your beekeeping equipment.