Our challenge on our first Field day was to learn how to prevent hive losses and to help us understand why we have hive losses -particularly over winter.
Jeff Robinson and Lindsay Moir went through both hives at the Club site that we lost this winter to check what were the causes and how could we avoid this happening in the future.
These are my notes from their talk, they might help you to diagnose what went wrong if you too have experienced the loss of a hive over winter.
Key Points to Check:
- Position- is the position of the hive good for capturing the best of the morning and winter sun
- Wet conditions
- Is there vegetation close up against the hive?
- Is the hive tilted forward for drainage?
- Do you have a mesh base?
- Is the base dry?
Observe the front of the hive.
If there are dead bees- check for deformed wings or mites.
Do you have a Top Feeder on board for winter?
First check your hive diary/notebook -check all the details you recorded about the hive the last time you visited.
8 week cycle-for developing a strong box of bees at the beginning of the season.
If the Q laying now, help by offering good feed and sugar syrup to build up numbers.
Remember it takes 8 weeks to develop a worker bee- 3 weeks to hatch, 4 weeks growing up. 8th week a field bee collecting nectar and pollen.
In the Spring the bees wake up with the help of running the honey from the old frames onto the brood/ Queen workers.
Sugar syrup for Spring -you use the spring/ summer concentration of 2 parts water to 1 part sugar.
Winter feed is thicker. I just make it up – i jug full of boiling water stirred int 8 cups of sugar into ice cream containers- 1.5 ml holes in the top and use upturned in my top feeder boxes.
Queen breeders get ready now so they start raising queens in September.
Secret in the breeding is the feeding.
To allow for hive growth I move my boxes of bees down from their winter warm position at the top box to the bottom to give them room. To easily and quickly check hives in cooler weather when you need to avoid chilling the brood I move boxes aside to check bottom box if cold. Put in an insert feeder with green bracken or ladders – bird netting bubble wrap.
Don’t use fermented honey syrup because you will kill the bees.
Heave your boxes to check for weight of bees in the hive. (A quick check method.)
On observing the frames of the first dead hive, we saw:
- Bees heads in bums up – hungry bees
- Damp conditions, ventilation problems, lack of warmth
- Mouldy frames – bees need to be free of poor frames and need good ventilation,
How to help reduce this problem in your hive:
You can use another hive mat with a hole in the centre and feeder directly above
You can add polystyrene to fill the space or newspaper to absorb the moisture
You can add extra feed -pollen substitute or treatment strips, ‘Hive Alive’
Oxalic acid strips – be careful make sure mite count is low less than 35% infestation
Or use alternate treatments, Bayvarol or Apistan or Apivar- suggest use a hole punch and toothpick to put more securely into the hive.
Remember to put food near brood and your choice of varroa treatment
2-3 frames of bees need to be a box of bees and will need a box of honey to get through winter.
They can keep themselves warm but they struggle with moisture in the hive.
I use mesh boards as ventilated hives all year round.
I move my top bee box down to the bottom
The clue is when you see wax built up on the hive mat or them drawing out wax comb they are on the move.
On checking the next frame we saw dead brood and mould so it was important to check for AFB. Using the measure- if you can see eggs you can assess whether your hive has AFB or not.
If you uncap a cell and you are checking if you see a ‘cast’ a bee past the egg and grub stage you haven’t got AFB because the bacteria affects the larvae-pre-pupa stage and the bees never grow past this stage.
We also saw dead bees with protruding ‘tongue’
‘Protruding tongue in fully formed bees CAN be a sign of poisoning. Other issues can also produce extended tongue ie death due to varroa.
AFB scale with ‘tongue’ is thought to be brain parts this is comparatively rare if seen it is definitely AFB.’ -Lindsay Moir AP2 inspector
This first hive had many problems but bee heads and chewed comb indicated hive was attacked by wasps and due to diminishing numbers brood got chilled. Food stores were low and dampness set in.
The second dead hive had two mice in it.
Reduce entrance, remove chewed, destroyed and contaminated frames.
A final reminder for us all is that hives need to be in the morning sun – this is the best position for a hive. I’m reminded of being told on my beginners course that my hive deserved the same sunny spot on your section that you would put your house.
If you have found this helpful please send some feedback to help me judge if this would be good as a regular follow up to our Field Days.