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How are the bees surviving this winter?

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default How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by BertieFox on 4th January 2011, 1:48 pm

Most bees make it through the winter and then die out in early spring once they start foraging and breeding quickly, as the beekeeper doesn't give them enough food at this stage to keep them from starving.
I checked our 'apiary' yesterday as the sun came out, and was very worried to find only three stocks actually flying. I popped on my veil and did a fuller inspection and was surprised to find that two stocks had already expired completely. One was a nucleus hive, so perhaps explainable if we didn't feed it enough, but the other was a hive with two full size brood chambers. The bees had starved in the bottom one while there was a full box of honey in the upper chamber. I guess the reason was that we'd mistakenly left a partition board between the two, though the bees had access to the top box through a hole in the board.
Anyway, it is already time to check on your bees to make sure they have sufficient stores for the rest of the winter.
One of our nucleus hives is still surviving though it looks very short of food and I'm wondering about how to give them candy or something else. I'm worried about disturbing the cluster by giving them a whole frame of sealed honey from the other hive, though I might try this if we actually get a really warm day before next month (not too likely I guess.)
I'd be interested to hear how others' hives are doing during this cold weather.
It's surprising how what I thought was the best stock has already died while a swarm I hived in a hurry in a box that doesn't have a floor and is open to the ground below is still surviving and seemed quite numerous when they flew out to attack me yesterday!
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by AngelinaJellyBeana on 4th January 2011, 2:00 pm

I checked mine on Saturday. Complete with suit, just in case! There were a few dead bees on the landing strip and some on the ground, which I cleared up, not many so no worries. I lifted off the lid and crown board and was greeted by a few flying up and landing on my veil (scary moment!) and lots crawling around. The 2 big blocks of fondant I'd put on just before the end of November had all gone so I put another block on and replaced the crown board and lid. Didn't lift any frames out to inspect further, I'm more inclined to leave well alone as much as possible.

Had a quick look at the hive yesterday and there were more dead bees on the landing strip so looks like the girls have had a bit of a clear out but so far all seems well. I now just have to get over my nerves again after being stung recently ready for Spring
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default Fondant or candy

Post by BertieFox on 4th January 2011, 2:15 pm

Thanks Angelina.
Just wondered what recipe you use for your fondant or candy. Although we've kept bees for years on and off, I've never used this before and I want to give some to our surviving nucleus in the near future.
The recipes in bee books and on line are really various and I wonder what you find the easiest to use?

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Guest on 4th January 2011, 2:40 pm

This is Phil Chandler’s (the natural beekeeper/"biobee") fondant recipe

5lbs of white granulated sugar to 1 pint water (or 2kg to 500ml) and 3 tablespoons of organic cider vinegar. Bring to the boil, 112decC “soft ball”, stirring constantly to prevent burning. When all the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is thick, syrupy and clear add a good dollop of honey and pour into a deep dish and allow to cool.

Our bees were alive and kicking when checked after the last cold patch....still a long way to go!

We were surprised by the local (1000+ hive lady) keeper says they expect to loose 1/3 to 1/2 their colonies on a normal year (which this isn't). We are not too sure why. It may be the -15/-20 deg C we can get or maybe the tendency for early starts to the spring in March followed by some very cold nights around -10degC. Last year was the first time we have not had 21 hives in the woods next to us so we are concerned that last winter finished them all off!

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Chilli-head on 4th January 2011, 2:52 pm

I went with my FIL to look at his bees over christmas. It seems his hives are attracting some unwelcome attention - something fairly large has been having a go at chewing its way in ! Distinct teeth marks and some bits splintered off the edge of boards leaving a narrow opening. Fox or badger, perhaps ?
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default Thanks

Post by BertieFox on 4th January 2011, 2:59 pm

Thanks for the fondant recipe. I shall get to work on that this evening.

On so many hives dying out over winter, it's interesting how Langstroth in 1865 was blaming beekeepers for just letting their bees starve.

He compares this to other farmers and wonders just what would be said about a stockman who allowed half or two thirds of his cattle or flock of sheep to starve to death during winter or spring for the sake of giving them a little more forage. He says beekeepers have no excuse for this, especially when sugar is so cheap. And he says it is less cruel to kill the stock with sulphur in the autumn (as used to be done) than to overwinter and allow them to starve to death.

I found myself agreeing with him and although we've let several stocks in the past perish in this way, just from neglect, I'm determined for it not to happen this year.

Without being anthropomorphic, of course bees can suffer in their own way, and starving is not a good death!
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by AngelinaJellyBeana on 4th January 2011, 3:05 pm

I mainly fed mine as I only got them as a nuc at the end of July so they hadn't had a lot of time to build up much in the way of stores. They were fed on sugar syrup at the time as recommended when I got them.

and I cheated and bought the fondant Embarassed but next time will have a go at making some
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Guest on 4th January 2011, 3:18 pm

Chilli-head wrote:- something fairly large has been having a go at chewing its way in ! Distinct teeth marks and some bits splintered off the edge of boards leaving a narrow opening. Fox or badger, perhaps ?

Bear? Shocked

Badger probably!

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Compostwoman on 4th January 2011, 6:30 pm

On what evidence do you assume "badger, probably" , Zoe?

Badgers will dig up Bumblebee nests, but I have not heard any local beekeepers complaining about badgers getting at their hives.

HONEY badgers do rip hives apart but of course they are different to badgers...

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 4th January 2011, 7:25 pm

Bees survive the cold weather by clustering together in a very tight ball to conserve heat and caulking their hive with propolis to keep the draughts out. They will generally not break the cluster much to go out foraging so if there was a board between them and the fondant they would be unlikely to venture out the front door to find it, so to speak.

It is best not to open the hive too much or at all, if possible, during the cold weather as they will lose a greatd eal of their 'stored heat'.

I am surprised at the natural beekeeping method giving sugar as I thought I recalled that being anathema. If you haven't depleted their honey stocks there should be no need to provide extra sweeteners.

Catering fondant is the generally preferred offering among the beekeepers of our local society. You can buy it in bulk from bakery suppliers.

Rats, mice, voles, all manner of small mammals will have a go at getting into hives in the winter when they are hungry - hence the need to put mouseguards on the hives. Badgers have been known to go for hives but their preferred methid is to stand up and tip the thing over rather than nibble at the doors, as I understand it.

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Compostwoman on 4th January 2011, 8:32 pm

That is what I understand badgers to do as well Billy. Not have a bite or claw but knock it over.

Badger's teeth are actually not that powerful in themselves, being mainly designed for straining earthworms through...their jaws are very strong but the teeth less so....


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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Guest on 4th January 2011, 8:36 pm

Compostwoman wrote:On what evidence do you assume "badger, probably" , Zoe?

The claw action is the give away.
Phil Chandler lost a hive in March to a very hungry badger.

And if you want more evidence I quote a book for you:

Badgers, by Earnest Neal and Chris Cheeseman, 1996
Sometimes honey bees from an apiary may swarm and make a nest in a hollow tree. If discovered by a badger in an accessible situation, it will tear the bark away with teeth and claws and in an incredibly short time devour much of the honeycomb. Occasionally badgers attack bee hives in isolated situations. Several instances where recorded when hives have been over turned to get at the honey, the badgers destroying or reducing some colonies in the process (L. Webb, pers. comm). On another occasion, 4 strong colonies where devastated one June. The badgers appeared to have nosed off the lids of the hives; abundant claw marks on the sides showed how they had separated the supers (boxes containing the honeycomb) from the brood chambers below (Dines 1981)

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Compostwoman on 4th January 2011, 8:42 pm

Yes, I have a copy of that book as well.

But even that doesn't say more than " occasionally badgers attack beehives..."

So I think to say "badgers, probably" in your comment above, when in fact it could be any number of other causes, is pointing the finger at a badger prematurely.

And I DO know about badgers, even though I don't keep bees ( but have had relatives who did and have helped them sometimes)

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Post by Guest on 5th January 2011, 9:02 pm

Shocked

It looks like there is some warm air moving up from the south-west over the next few days, so if it does not rain constantly, I will take the chance to inspect our little darlings.
bee bee2 bee bee2 bee bee2 bee
bee2 bee bee2 bee bee2 bee bee2
bee bee2 bee bee2 bee bee2 bee

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Compostwoman on 6th January 2011, 12:05 am

Hope they are all OK WT

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 6th January 2011, 9:48 am

I would be very wary of inspecting until the bees are flying. The ambient temperature needs to be at least 14 degrees, preferably 17, or you risk chilling the brood. We don't inspect ours until late February at the earliest. Ypu can peep in the top before this but actually extracting frames etc is a v risky business otherwise.

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default Chilling the brood

Post by BertieFox on 6th January 2011, 10:16 am

Just shifting the lid on our hives was sufficient to bring out a large group of bees the other day and that was at 2C!
I'd agree that disturbing the winter cluster would do a lot of damage especially in low temperatures, but it's a good idea on a warmer day to see how they are progressing with their stores. Candy (fondant) can be placed directly on top of the cluster or even between the frames.
Langstroth even poured a thick warm syrup over his clustering bees (in extremis) though I don't think I will try that!
Bees will use up far more of their stores if disturbed at this time as it means agitation and movement, requiring lots of energy. That they CAN recover is borne out by the fact we've had hives completely overturned in gales in the past. We've picked them up (carefully) half a day later and the bees have managed to re-establish the cluster, but it's not to be recommended!
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Mike on 6th January 2011, 2:41 pm

Not a bear.

When bears discover a bee hive the evidence isn't some tooth marks and claw scratches. It's a smashed open hive. I'm not saying that it would be impossible to construct a bee hive that would be "bear proof", just rather impractical. Here where bears are a factor necessary to have the hives in a bear proof enclosure like a box with chain link fence walls or a strong electric fence to keep them far enough away so as not to be able to discover the hive (once they know its there, the electric fence will not be a strong enough deterent).

But in winter time the bears are asleep.

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Chilli-head on 6th January 2011, 4:41 pm

Definitely not a bear; they are rather uncommon in Hertfordshire Wink Foxes was FIL's guess, badgers was a thought that occured to me. His hives are weighted down on top, so not easily knocked over. Damage was mostly to the older hives, and mostly chewing at the edge of boards. I would have guessed looking at the marks teeth/claws of the order of 1cm long and a few mm wide.
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Sparhawk on 6th January 2011, 5:25 pm

Being a non beek & really not knowing anything about it, could rats do it?

'tis just a thought...

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 6th January 2011, 5:34 pm

If I had rats with teeth 1cm long and a few mm wide I would move house.

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default Bees 'n Rats

Post by BertieFox on 6th January 2011, 6:06 pm

I've never known rats ever do anything to disturb bee hives. Rats are too intelligent to risk it!
As said above, mice and voles are the real concern. Once one of these get into the hive and start nesting not only do they destroy comb and wreck the frames, but the bees will never touch the damaged frames again. Usually the bees die out. Whether the mice are able to get in and do the damage because the bees are already really weak is another matter.
These large scratches and nibbles on the hive are a mystery... did somebody mention skunks, if the poster is in the USA?
There's nothing about badger damage in any of the beekeeping books I have but both 'The Hive and the Honeybee' and the 'ABC , XYZ of Beekeeping' (American books) mention skunks.
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default Beestly beeze....

Post by BertieFox on 7th January 2011, 4:37 pm

I've just remembered why we have never before visited our bees in winter, even when we come bearing gifts of luscious comb honey and fondant!
The little ingrates just don't understand the gesture!
bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee :
There it was, today, mild and the sun poking through. Decided to give the little nuke some full combs from the dead stock.
I noticed all the hives were flying fairly actively, so I thought, this should be possible.
I no sooner got the lid of the nuke up when a host of bees emerged from it determined to announce a fatwa on me! I had to drop the comb I was bringing them and retreat to get the smoker. oops
When I finally got the smoker going (I'd like to see anyone use warm honey water spray in these circumstances!) I managed to get the lid off with a cover cloth over the top, and a good look at the nukes combs.... the little b's had plenty of honey secreted in there anyway!
So I then decided to do a good deed for another hive. This was a full size box where I'd hived a swarm when we'd run out of floors. It was sitting direct on the wet ground and the entrance was 95% blocked with long grass. It had a piece of board over most of the bottom though.
I decided it would be kind to get them on to a proper floor with a proper roof (the other one was precariously balanced and not a good fit)
You wouldn't think that a neglected stock like this would be so numerous in mid winter!
bee(bee): bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee :
I had to get my other half to help, but she got stung immediately despite her veil and gloves. I got stung twice on my legs through the trousers.
I persevered and got them onto a decent floor and stand, but I couldn't open them to see if they needed any stores.
keeper
To cut a painful story short, there were lots of bees in all the remaining hives, but I'm leaving them WELL ALONE now until there's a warm sunny day and they are all out in the sunshine collecting nectar.
I should never have read that book which suggested winter inspections, however cursory, and topping them up with candy.
bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee
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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 7th January 2011, 4:49 pm

The people whose gardens adjoin our field told us yesterday that they had lost all three of their colonies and their neighbour on the other side, who is a beekeeper of 35yrs of so experience had lost his as well. Due to the cold weather presumably.
So we went along and had a check on ours. Rather than open the crown board, I got down and peeped under the entrance giving a clear view of the base. If the bees had died there would be a large pile of dead bees at the bottom. There were none. As I was putting the mouse guard back in place a couple of bees came out to see what was going on. So I am reassured they have survived thus far. Going to check the hives in our other location at the weekend.

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default Re: How are the bees surviving this winter?

Post by Guest on 7th January 2011, 7:44 pm

I had a look in on my little darlings this afternoon after it stopped raining (a balmy 12 deg C fry )
Knowing how keen they are to greet me I went fully kitted up!

There was a good deal of activity at the hive entrance (good sign) and I gave them a light smoking with lavender stalks. Inside they were crawling over the comb but very docile in comparison with normal. I took the opportunity to take out some empty cross-comb and two bars (see below). I thought at first there was no honey but when I got back to the house I found a small area of capped cells. That is a relief, from the end I was working I could not see any capped cells. I now think the comb at that end of the hive was drawn but never filled, I suspect the inner combs probably hold enough stores of honey. To be on the safe side I have made some fondant and will smear this into some combs tomorrow along with the bars I removed today.

I have had a great problem with cross-combing this year. This means I will have a mamoth task in the spring to get everything straight so that I can lift out the bars. To this end I have started removing empty comb from the hive to make 1" starter strips on new top bars. Once the first big flow starts in the spring I will probably remove (cut out) all the cross comb except for that with brood. This brood comb will have to be shunted along and eventually replaced as the summer goes on.
Well that's the vague plan anyway!

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